ahorbinski: an imperial stormtrooper with the word "justic3" (imperial justice)
[personal profile] ahorbinski
Bibliographic Data: Young, Louise. Japan's Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Main Argument: Young argues that in the 1930s, Manchuria moved from the periphery of the Japanese imperial consciousness to the forefront, as Japanese constructed a new kind of empire in the northeast from the top down and from the bottom up, as shown in three areas: military conquest, economic development, and mass migration. Young concludes that the evolving relationship between imperialism and modernity resulted in a formation that she calls "total empire."

Historiographical Engagement: Carol Gluck, Japan's Modern Myths (although Young's conclusions are diametrically opposite from Gluck's)

Chapter 1: Argument, Sources, Examples Young argues that "total empire" arose from the ongoing social development of imperialist societies, coupled with the continuing global expansion of industrial capitalism, meant that metropolis and colonies were now more economically integrated, and also that they saw the rise of a new "social imperialism," in which social conflict in the metropole was projected onto the colonies. In this sense "total empire" is analogous to "total war" because "it was made on the home front. It entailed the mass and multidimensional mobilization of domestic society: cultural, military, political, and economic" (13). Empire was thus overdetermined, because so many components of society were in favor of imperialism; indeed, "their synergy or concatenation is what gave total imperialism its peculiar force" (ibid). Moreover (although not quite as clearly as James Hevia does in English Lessons, it has to be said), Young focuses on the transformations that Manchukuo wrought in Japan, and how those transformations then enabled further escalation in Manchukuo itself. She reads many sources from pop culture because "for the vast majority of Japanese, the ideas and symbols of popular culture, provided the primary medium through which they would experience Manchukuo," which Young looks at as a historical construction and as a process (17).

Chapter 2: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter considers "the international context of Manchukuo," arguing that in the 1930s, in the so-called "third phase" of Japanese imperialism, Manchukuo was defined in the Japanese mind as "autonomous" (free of Western influence) and "revolutionary" in its approach to Chinese nationalism, namely dealing with it "through the creation of a new kind of colonial state" (22). The backdrop of the second phase, in which Japanese control over Manchuria became solidified through the South Manchurian Railway Company (SMRC, aka Mantetsu), provided the pretext for the incident by which the Kwantung Army seized control of all of Manchuria north of the Great Wall after the so-called Manchurian Incident of 1931, in which the Army claimed that it was acting in self-defense after a railway station was allegedly (but not actually) blown up by the Chinese nationalist forces of warlord Zhang Xueliang. The puppet state of Manchukuo was staffed in all its key positions by Kwantung Army officers, and brought two innovations in governance to a colony for the first time: the state managed-economy and the self-sufficient production sphere (the first taken from the Soviets, the second from military planning during WWI). The development of Manchukuo continued along military lines throughout its lifetime, although the language of development, full-stop, was deployed in order to gain the support, or at least the acquiescence, of the subject Chinese populations. And indeed, "the developmental logic of Japanese imperialism" was inscribed in the story of Manchukuo from its start (52).

Chapter 3: Argument, Sources, Examples THis chapter looks at the rise of war fever in Japanese society immediately after the Manchurian Incident in September 1931. Young argues that, far from the more common image of the government strong-arming the media into playing up imperialism, the media took the lead in doing so all on its own as part of a quest to increase circulation: "Japan's war fever of the 1930s revealed the relationship between an expanding marketplace for cultural manufactures and the rise of jingoism as a key force behind military imperialism" (57). Going through multiple strands of the jingoist discourse as well as the publishing mechanisms that allowed it to reach unprecedented levels of saturation in Japanese society, Young concludes that "massification gave to the media the power to constitute, to unify, and to mold a national opinion on imperialism" (114). The discourses of xenophobia, of thanatophile heroism regardless of tactical or strategic value (in marked contrast to the narratives of heroes in Japan's earlier imperial wars), of individual glory through suffering projected onto the empire, and of family obligation all combined to produce an iron-clad popular consensus for imperialism.

Chapter 4: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter examines how the Manchurian Incident and the war fever it engendered combined to vitiate the institutions of representative government that had evolved during Japan's period of imperial democracy, with full popular support: "Moving both parties steadily to the right, internal party politics weakened the parties' bargaining position in the spring of 1932, reversing the institutional gains of the previous decades and ending their control over the cabinet. With pro-military factions dominating the parties, the army felt save in vetoing party participation in the cabinet, for the Diet was likely to support its programs regardless" (128). Moreover, as war fever deepened, the army government was able to bring in previously alienated social groups (labor, women) with the promise of increased governmental access. In effect, these groups grabbed onto imperialism's coattails to advance their own interests within the existing sociopolitical formation rather than attempt to change that formation and risk increasing repression, thus further cementing the imperialist consensus.

Chapter 5: Argument, Sources, Examples Chapter five explores the transformation of the Manchurian economy after the formation of the puppet state, discussing 1) the establishment tot the controlled economy, in which the army government embarked on a grand experiment in planned economic development and state capitalism; 2) economic expansion in Manchukuo became a solution to Japanese domestic economic problems; and 3) the integration of the metropolitan and colonial economies into the "Japan-Manchuria bloc" meant that neither could easily extricate themselves from the other. Although the business community claimed after the end of the empire that it had been strong-armed into providing the capital to develop Manchukuo, in fact the army and the business community entered into an uneasy partnership in which business provided capital as long as the government assumed all the risk. Business thus effectively ceded control over economic policy to the army, with the result that by the invasion of China in 1937, Manchukuo and Japan had entered into an economic cul-de-sac from which there was no easy escape: heavy industry in Manchukuo was putting Japan proper into an import/export imbalance with the rest of the world due to the need for raw materials to supply that industry, thus accomplishing exactly the opposite of what the army had intended, namely a self-sustaining autarkical economic bloc independent of the West. Army economic policy putting the squeeze on the Chinese peasantry also obviated the possibility of Manchukuo becoming a sizable market for Japanese exports of consumer goods, thus harming business interests. However, due to the expansionist logic of imperialism, the answer to this, rather than change economic policy in Manchukuo, was simply to go out and conquer China, creating in essence both a self-fulfilling prophecy and a negative feedback loop in which conquest ran up costs that called for more conquest to defray. As Young summarizes, "At every stage implementation was impeded first, by problems created by the conflict of public and private interests, and second, by the essential inability of an imperial trade bloc to overcome Japan's economic dependence on Western markets for imports, exports, and capital" (206).

Chapter 6: Argument, Sources, Examples Continuing with the theme of "people in Manchukuo who were totally deluded," this chapter explores the bizarre heyday of Japanese leftist intellectuals in Manchukuo in the 1930s: unable to find jobs in home due to deepening repression, they packed their bags and headed for the continent, where many found jobs as researchers or instructors either with the government or with the gargantuan research wing of Mantetsu. There they were allowed to continue their recondite and unabashedly leftist debates in journals as long as they produced the research that the imperialists required, telling themselves at the same time that they were working for the liberation of the Chinese people--those who did not truly undergo a tenkou and turn wholeheartedly to the empire, that is. Young argues that the leftists were operating under a logic of double displacement in which the site of both the needed Japanese and Chinese revolutions was moved to Manchuria, allowing them to believe that they were liberating the people when in fact they were helping the puppet state to tighten the screws: "to peasants watching the survey team descend upon them with armed guards, the relationship must have seemed very clear indeed" (297). The intellectuals' participation strengthened the power of the puppet state, and the used its "institutionalized violence and political autocracy" unabashedly to further their own ends, at least until 1942 and 1943, when the military purged them all from the government in job lots--whether to create a scapegoat or out of real paranoia or both remains unclear (303).

Chapter 7: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter explores the process by which the venerable agrarian school of thought was reshaped by empire so that, by the mid-1930s, agrarianists were advocating rural emigration to Manchukuo as the solution to the "problem of the villages," which had only been made worse by the Depression. Young documents a process straight out of Sheldon Garon's Molding Japanese Minds in which the state eventually went in big on emigration (calling for "Millions to Manchuria" beginning in 1936) after being convinced by interest groups with the backing of a groundswell of popular support. This transformation took four phases: in the first, "the institutionally separate and ideologically distinct movements of emigration and agrarianism were forged into a single movement" (349). In the second, agrarianism philosophy was reshaped "to accommodate the tenets of emigrationism"; in the third, "the wedding of agriculture and empire reinvented agrarianism in the form of a social imperialist movement," in which "agrarianists tried to buy off demands from the rural masses for social justice with promises of social benefits in the empire" (350). Finally, as a result of these developments, agrarianists took the radical departure from their previous practice of envisioning modernity in utopian rather than dystopian terms: "empire, in short, helped them make peace with modernity" (351).

Chapter 8: Argument, Sources, Examples In this chapter, Young examines the "migration machine" that was created to make the Millions to Manchukuo policy a reality, arguing that "the new bureaucratic institutions and the activities they undertook represented a new scale of state intervention in Japanese society" (352). Young further argues that "the process of state building and empire building became intertwined in Japan," resulting in a distinctly imperially inflected path toward the social expansion of the state, bringing new integration between colony and metropole and giving the government an increasing preoccupation with social conditions (354). In Manchukuo, the ideology of racial hierarchy was stepped up to cover the fact that Japanese settlers where of the same class as the Chinese and Korean peasant farmers they were forcibly displacing; in Japan, as the apparatus of emigration "grew increasingly elaborate" at the national, prefectural, and community levels, "emigration became the end itself" (397). The machine continued functioning until summer 1945, having introduced "paternalistic and autocratic colonial-state traditions into the metropolitan welfare-state practices," as well as the tendency to answer all problems with "export-the-problem" as a solution (397).

Chapter 9: Argument, Sources, Examples This short chapter looks at the "victims of empire," namely the settler-colonists who were cynically placed in the path of the Red Army by Manchukuo planners and callously abandoned to their fate before and during the Soviet invasion beginning on August 8, 1945: although just 14% of the Manchurian Japanese population, settlers made up 45% of civilian deaths on the continent. Far from being pure victims, according to Young, "the story of the emigrants reveals the complex ways that ordinary people both exploited and were exploited by their empire" (399). Although it did not last long, the settlers were nonetheless in a position of immense privilege compared to the peasants they displaced, harassed, and often brutally murdered; like other Japanese, in the end they both benefitted and suffered from the empire.

Chapter 10: Argument, Sources, Examples This final chapter draws some conclusions about total empire, and about imperialism in Japan. The central points are that "empire building in Manchukuo helped stimulate and configure the reinvention of government that took place in the 1930s" through "increased political activism, the rise of state capitalism, and the development of a social-policy state"; and that "Japan's total empire in Manchukuo was the product of a modern state and a modern society whose relationship was mediated by a commercialized mass culture and conditioned by an expanding industrial capitalism" (422, 430). [Boom.] It is important to note too that Manchukuo's driving paradox was the fact that it came out of this mass politics--in the attempt to draw in everyone, plural interests remained heterogeneous, with the result that "the tension between centripetal and centrifugal forces in the empire was instrinic to the evolving nature of the state itself" (424). Only the transcendental ideals of Manchukuo unified the various parties who had an interest in the puppet state, with the result that their isolation from each other prevented the recognition of disjuncture that produces disillusionment. Finally, the development of Manchukuo was incremental, but it was also what political scientists call "ratcheting:" no one step on the path was predetermined, but each step forward narrowed the range of choices ahead and made reversing course essentially impossible, with the result that "by the advent of the Pacific War, Manchukuo was clearly destroying itself from within: the production and reproduction of the structures of domination were in fact causing the empire to unravel at its seams" in a kind of positive feedback loop (428). In the final analysis, in the late 19th and early 20thC, "in all colonizing societies, the forces of modernity propelled imperial expansion" and in Japan's specific case, the drive to Manchukuo emerged out of the convergence of the Depression and the rise of organized Chinese nationalism (435).

Critical assessment:
I really like this book, and in generally I think it very much deserves its place as a landmark in the field. On the theme of "everyone wants a different book out of the book you write," for my tastes, I would have liked to see more extended comparisons with other contemporary empires, and I would also, frankly, have liked to see more engagement with theory. I did have some quibbles with her idiosyncratic use of terminology, such as her setting up a dichotomy between "empire" and "metropolis" when the more usual dichotomy is "metropole" and "colony," because together they constitute the "empire."

It almost wouldn't have occurred to me to think of this as cultural history, I suppose because I have absorbed the prejudice that "cultural history" is about "soft" and "non-weighty" things, unlike imperialism, which is inherently Weighty and Important. This book is an excellent example of what cultural history can do, and it saddens me that there is a turn away from cultural history currently happening in the field.

As to the meat of Young's conclusions, I think they are substantially very correct, or at least, she gets all the relevant players in the room and accounted for in a way that other books (such as Carol Gluck's Japan's Modern Myths) mostly fail to do. I can very much believe that there was a ratcheting effect going on in the interplay between public opinion as expressed in the mass media, policy and policy-makers, and society that welded and then sanctified the imperialist consensus in Japan in the 1930s. I also think her impatience with the Marxist (kôzaha, to be specific) argument that Japan remained "semi-feudal" and that Manchukuo was not a modern empire is entirely correct. Manchukuo was ultra-modern, not just in its technology but in its imperialism, which is one of the reasons I continue to find it very interesting.

As for Manchukuo, I found myself thinking that a good essay question on this book would be, "Who was least deluded in Manchukuo?" (Answer: the oppressed Chinese peasants and coolies, about whom Young says sadly little.) I do wish Young had a better flair for irony and/or a greater sense of humor--there are so many bizarre and surreal things in this book, perhaps best exemplified by shills for the puppet state arguing that Pu Yi, notable opium addict and thief of Chinese cultural heritage objects in his flight from the Forbidden City, was a "sage king" who exemplified the "kingly way" (ôdô) by which Manchukuo would be governed. Young is in general more tolerant of self-serving imperialist delusions than I would be, but she does skewer them methodically nonetheless.

Further reading: Mark Driscoll, Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque; Prasenjit Duara, Sovereignty and Authenticity; Andrew E. Barshay, The Gods Left First; Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction

Meta notes: It's the economy, stupid.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-01-20 21:42 (UTC)
thistleingrey: (Default)
From: [personal profile] thistleingrey
This book is sort of on my reading list, in that I think I ought to read it but keep brushing past it in favor of other things. Good to have your remarks, regardless.

Profile

ahorbinski: shelves stuffed with books (Default)
Andrea J. Horbinski

October 2014

S M T W T F S
   1234
567891011
12 131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031 

Page Summary

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags