On Leaders Forged (or Not) in Manchuria

It is extremely difficult to try to generalize, but I think that we must consider this issue—including the problem of war responsibility—in a multilayered manner. I myself think that at present this is a theme for future research, not a time at which we can offer generalizations. Thus, let me just say a few words about the directions subsequent research might take and how we can try to place Manzhouguo in world history.

Although I have written about it in a number of articles, I think we need to reassess once more the meaning of Manzhouguo in postwar Asia. The legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party derives at least one of its bases in the fact that it won the anti-Japanese war which began with the Manchurian Incident. In this way, the fact that some Japanese argue for the legitimacy of Manzhouguo thus denies the very legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party. This dispute is unproductive, with a strong probability of the two sides following parallel tracks semipermanently.

Let me focus for a moment, though, on the importance of Manzhouguo on the Korean peninsula in postwar East Asia. First, in the Republic of Korea there were a number of men who were educated in Manzhouguo—such as Pak Chŏng-hŭi (1917-79) and Ch’oe Kyu-ha (b. 1919) who graduated from the Daidō Academy—and acquired power in postwar Korea. [Aikido had a curious prominence in its curriculum.—J.] In this instance, Manzhouguo served as a supply base for human talent. We certainly cannot say this was always the case, for the debate continues over what the “pro-Japan faction” in Korea was. I have only introduced a very limited number of such men in my own work, but in fact there were a large number of them.

In North Korea as well, Kim Il-sŏng (1912-94) derived one of the bases of his legitimacy in the victory against Japan in Manchuria, and this legacy continues for North Korea today. There are pros and cons, but the postwar in East Asia cannot be understood without Manzhouguo.

By the same token, as concerns wartime and postwar Japan, Tōjō Hideki (1884-1948) came to amass such great power by virtue of the unification of the military police (kenpei) and the regular police in Manzhouguo. It was the first case he confronted as commanding officer of the Guandong Army’s military police, when he was awakened to his administrative skills. Until that point, he had always been treated rather coldly in Japan, but in the process of his acquisition of power thereafter, the administrative experience tying him to the military police in Manchuria was to have critical importance.

Kishi Nobusuke spent only three years in Manchuria, but the money and personnel he put together at that time was to have a huge impact on postwar politics. Together with such men as Shiina Etsusaburō (1898-1979), Nemoto Ryūtarō (b. 1907), Hirashima Toshio (b. 1891), these mainstays of the Liberal Democratic Party all had Manchurian experience. At the time of the revision of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty (Anpo) in 1960, Kishi made a trip to Southeast Asia before visiting the United States. The reason for this, in Kishi’s words, was that, for Japan to cross swords as equals with the United States, it was best for it to assume a position as the leader of Asia. Only then, as he put it, would Japan be on an equal standing with the United States and thus be in a position to have the Anpo Treaty revised.

In reply to a question from an interviewer, Kishi noted: “My present feeling that Japan must become the leader of Asia is no different from the consciousness I had when I went to Manzhouguo. This has not changed in the least even in the postwar era. If indeed I possess a kind of pan-Asianism, then my present sense of things is completely linked to the time when I traveled to Manzhouguo.” Thus, his Manzhouguo experience—including the money he amassed—played an extremely important role in his career. Although a well known story, Kishi told a fellow bureaucrat upon returning to Japan: “It’s best to use money after filtering it.” The effectively plutocratic essence of the Liberal Democratic Party as it has come down to us now may then be said to trace its roots back to Manchuria….

The generation of Japanese prime ministers from Yoshida Shigeru (1878-1967), who was consul-general in Fengtian, and Kishi down to Fukuda Takeo (1905-95) and Ōhira Masayoshi (1910-80) all had Asian experience. When he was serving as a secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Fukuda spent over two years in Nanjing as an advisor on economic affairs to the government of the Republic of China. Ōhira worked in the Asian Development Board in Zhangjiakou and the liaison section of the Mengjiang regime.

Through the years of Fukuda and Ōhira, it was people who knew Asia as a tactile experience who served as prime ministers. Thereafter, Japanese policy toward Asia became thoroughly clumsy and unskilled. To be sure, the early men had stood on the side of the rulers, but they understood, as if it was experience acquired through their skin, about the vastness of the Asian mainland, the atmosphere prevailing there, and the enormity of the population. This also meant that they understood its formidable character. The prime ministers who followed them, however, lacked as a sense of touch this spatial understanding of Asia and China, and the influence exerted by this absence of experience on Japanese policy vis-à-vis Asia has been immense. In particular, from Hosokawa Morihiro (b. 1938) to the Koizumi Jun’ichirō (b. 1942) now, the continued blur of Japan’s Asian policy is, I believe, linked to a lack of Asian experience. I would even go so far as to say that there is no remedy for this lack of sensibility.

I by no means want to leave the impression that their role in colonial rule was a good thing, but the fact that the policies of Japanese political figures, including diplomatic officials, toward Asia has now entered a dangerous stage is, in my view, heavily influenced by the lack of experience—including that acquired in Manzhouguo—gained through the senses and not simply having seen the place but having lived there. This will remain a problem for the future. I would argue for the need for men and women who wish to become politicians to spend two or three years wandering about various sites in Asia.

SOURCE: Manchuria under Japanese Dominion, by Yamamuro Shin’ichi, trans. by Joshua A. Fogel (U. Penn. Press, 2006), pp. 238-239

And the same goes for would-be leaders from other parts of the globe. Well, I can’t quote any more from this book. I have to send it on to my brother who just finished teaching a course on East Asia.

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