Imitating the Colonizers:



Scholars in the Asia field are finally turning their attention to Manchukuo. Labeling Manchukuo as a puppet state has long hindered exploring its multi-faceted character. Building Manchukuo was more complicated than Japan’s outright takeover of Taiwan or Korea. Also, Manchukuo was a great laboratory for various modern projects. Grand narratives that describe the fourteen-year history of Manchukuo in terms of exploitation, heroic national resistance, or nostalgic development miss a wide space. An unknown part of Manchukuo is its role of linking the past and the future in the realm of the state-formation. A Long time ago, some anthropologists proposed that cultural traits were transmitted from a center to marginal regions. Diffusion is not limited to cultural traits. According to John Meyer, the contemporary “world polity” is a cultural system in which actors (nation-states) imitate each other regarding constitution, census, data system, mass education, science, welfare policy, and so on (1999: 129). It follows then, that strategies of state managers are also replicable. 


Gerschenkron once — now famously — argued that there were some advantages for economic growth for late developers who can bypass the trial and error of early developers (1966). Such logic holds true for latecomers in the field of state-making. In the 1930s, the rulers of Manchukuo did the same thing. State formation has been demonstrated to be a lengthy process or a “great arch” (Corrigan and Sayer 1985). It took centuries in the British, German, Russian experiences, or at least decades in modern Japan, the most famous late comer (Raeff 1983; Norman 1940). However, state makers in Manchukuo (which included not only Japanese but also Chinese leaders in the new regime), bypassed trial and error and quickly built their own. If we accept an analogy of the state as a building, the basic framework of the Manchukuo state was constructed during the first four months of 1932- the first year of the new state- and endured until its demise in 1945. [1] Pillars of an old state were also utilized by the founders of a new state. The Manchukuo state was not built from scratch. There was an old state, namely, the warlord regime of Zhang Xueliang which was driven out by the Kwantung Army in 1931. A large part of the old regime, including the soldiery and bureaucracy, was bequeathed to Manchukuo. Moreover, the rules of Manchukuo copied much of the blue print of the Meiji state. Originally, there was deep German influence in the formation of the Meiji state, and Japanese leaders studied German political institutions and the understanding of such reform from above. Influences were felt in the social policies of preventive action against socialism and thought guidance implemented by the Home Ministry and the Ministry of Education of the Meiji regime (Pyle 1974: 143). [2] As this article demonstrates, however, a significant but overlooked peculiarity of Manchukuo is that it influenced state-formation and state policies in South and North Korea, particularly during the Cold War era. Hence, Manchukuo is best understood as a node between old and new states, between Western and Asian states.


The legacy of Manchukuo can be seen in numerous “naturalized” events in South and North Korea. So-called “national ceremonies,” such as paying a one minute silent tribute to the war dead in front of monuments, marching, lectures on the “current emergency situation”, movie-showing, poster making, student speech contests, rallies, big athletic meetings, and so on- largely related to anti-communism, and all too familiar to South Koreans for several decades from the 1950s- were originally national events of Manchukuo in the 1930s.


Bruce Cumings once described North Korea as a corporate state, because its official discourse has been full of (Confucian) benevolence and loyalty (1993: 202-210). The leader, Kim Il Sung was called ubuyee (father) of the whole nation. But leaders of North Korea merely followed the example of Manchukuo, which had adopted Confucianism as a kind of state ideology. Since such North Korean leaders were the very anti-Japanese guerrillas at the border of Manchukuo in their youth, they likely were well aware of the operation of the regime. While fighting their enemy, the guerillas came to resemble them. And up to the present, trips made by cadres of the North Korean Workers’ Party to local industrial spots remind us of the energetic inspection activity of the Manchukuo bureaucrats. Kim Il Sung himself died during a local inspection in 1994. Officials of Manchukuo were dispatched from the capital or provincial capitals throughout the country for up to two weeks per month. These trips were routine parts of their jobs year in, year out. Big sports festivals and mass games, including the Arirang Festival in 2002, usually considered the masterpiece of North Korea, were Manchukuo’s favorite events. A Soviet element, therefore, was merely one ingredient in North Korean state-formation (Armstrong 1997: 328).


Although Manchukuo’s imprint on North Korea was tangible, the crucial linkage is between Manchukuo and South Korea. There were four sources of influence in South Korean state-formation. Those were the American military occupation, the Meiji state, the colonial state, and the Manchukuo state. The U.S. was deeply involved in the process, guiding the creation of the army and the police force (Cumings, 1981). Above all, the colonial state left a significant legacy. Similar to the legacy of the warlord regime in Manchukuo, the colonial state in Seoul (during the colonial period) bequeathed a large part of its bureaucrats and policemen to the new liberated Korean state. Furthermore, there is an affinity between the colonial state and its descendant in that both “stood over society”, wielding enormous power downward, if we apply the jargon of state theorists.


There is, however, a crucial difference. While the colonial state left the ruling Yangban class intact, the new state, particularly after Park Chung Hee’s military coup, did not allow the existence of a powerful social class. The power of the landed class was gone before Park’s coup, and in its stead the business class was fostered by his regime. Hence, the state had no challengers, be it the landed or capitalist class. This was similar to the earlier situation in Manchukuo. There was no powerful landed class, nor business class in Manchuria. Manchukuo was an empty space for its state builders or “brave new empire” which brought a utopian vision (Young 1998: 241).


In South Korea, Park’s posthumous popularity rises high. Park’s developmental state has been praised as the driving force of the South Korean economic miracle. Its archetype was that of Manchukuo, which pursued grand projects unchecked by any social force. Strong states were built in both countries, strong enough to penetrate and discipline society deeply. I will demonstrate how these common features were more than a coincidence. First, I will patiently trace what the Manchukuo state achieved in the realm of disciplining its people.


State Sponsored Confucianism


South Koreans grew accustomed to the Confucian ideology of loyalty and filiality (choong-hyo) stressed by Syngman Rhee’s regime (1948-1960) as well as Park Chung Hee’s (1961-1979). The post-liberation ideology was different from the Confucianism of the Chosun dynasty, which had been not only the official ideology but also the basis of ethics and cosmic philosophy. The former was less intense than the latter. But Confucianism was still influential in the post-liberation era. Important Confucian concepts, like loyalty to the nation, were instilled in students. It was Manchukuo that energetically patronized Confucianism. Manchukuo differed from mainland China where Confucianism was severely attacked by the May 4th intellectuals and their heirs. Also, Manchukuo differed from Japan in the 1930s when Shinto was deployed as the state religion.


The official ideology of Manchukuo was formed through several channels, such as Confucianism, Asianism, and Manchurian regionalism. Although the redemptive societies like the Daodehui were supported by the regime (see Duara 1997: 1034-1037), Confucianism was salient particularly in the early period (1932-1937, from state foundation to the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War). One of the main official catch phrases of Manchukuo was the Confucian philosophy of wangdao (the kingly way). [3] The name of the first two years of the reign was the great unity (datong), transcending barriers of class, gender, and nationality. In a way, through Confucianism, the Japanese rulers of Manchukuo strategically garnered the loyalty of the Chinese landed class in the countryside. To aim at their collaboration, every county office organized a Confucian Studies Group. The government built Confucian shrines in every county and officially performed religious services for Confucius two times a year (in spring and fall) across the country. It was at the exact time when Shinto was becoming powerful within Japan and colonized Korea. Also, after important official rallies, citizens would visit Confucian shrines. The Boy Scout graduation ceremonies were always held at the Confucian shrines. Every year, the government awarded people exemplifying Confucian virtues. [4] Confucian ethics became a subject for students, teachers, and officials in entrance or promotion examination.


At the same time, the Manchukuo regime held a joint ceremony for Guandi and Yuefei, Chinese deified martial heroes in the ancient period and Song dynasty. Worship of Chinese heroes was promoted by Japanese rulers in the Confucian style. Their loyalty was the key element, which state builders yearned to inculcate. In the ceremonies for Confucius, Guandi, and Yuefei, mayors, county magistrates, and school principals emphasized the Confucian virtue of filiality and its extension, loyalty to the new state. After the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), ways of honoring Confucius, however, became less formal and more Japanized. People could just bow instead of kneeling down in front of his portrait. They were asked to wear the uniform of the Concordia Association (kyowakai), the grassroots organization to connect government and people in order to propagate “racial harmony”. [5] Shinto elements were added to ceremonies in the Confucian shrines. Also, monuments for the war dead began to replace Confucian shrines for hosting some important events, although the two were common in encouraging citizens’ loyalty to Manchukuo. Manchukuo was being swept up in the Sino-Japanese war. This was a new stage in its history. In a way, it was distraction from its own state building.


Mourning Country 


Although monuments for the war dead began to supplement Confucian shrines as the site of important ceremonies, the mourning ceremony, either for ancestors or soldiers, was long essential to Confucian practice inside and outside the home. In April, 1935, officials and army officers attended a great mourning ceremony (zhaohunji, shokonsai), held at the newly built monument in the capital. The assembly, opening ceremony, invocation of the spirits, enshrining of the dead, offering of food, and tributary speech solemnly proceeded. This was simply one example of numerous mourning ceremonies of subsequent years, particularly after the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war.  At the third anniversary of the state foundation, “the great state foundation mourning ceremony” was already held in Datong Park, and Emperor Puyi “honorably” participated. [6]And yet the next year at the same anniversary, “ten thousand citizens and students” attended and marched to the monument, bearing flags.


The mourning ceremony for dead officials, policemen and soldiers was an important an event, next only to one worshipping Confucius. Although prewar Japanese society also had ceremonies for the war dead at Yasukuni shrine, they were not equal to those in Manchukuo. In Japan, all the war dead (except those who died in hospitals, rather than at the front) were enshrined at Yasukuni. Ceremonies for all were held there at fixed dates. In Manchukuo, by contrast, ceremonies were held at numerous places and at various times. Each ministry of the central government, central police board, army district, province, and county office organized a committee for constructing monuments. Monuments and plazas for the war dead were built across the nation.


Finally, in 1940, the Grand State Foundation Shrine, the Manchukuo version of Yasukuni was completed (McCormack 1991: 114). [7] It was dedicated to 408,050 people who “sacrificed their lives for founding Manchukuo.” Every county has its own name for the ceremony. “Ceremony to soothe spirits,” “Ceremony to soothe the spirits of the brave,” “Ceremony for enshrining the loyal spirits,” “Memorial service for brave soldiers who died for the founding of the state,” and the “Memorial service for those who died during bandit suppression” were those held throughout Manchukuo. Some services were held at the monument plazas while some were in temples.


After the Sino-Japanese War, some ceremonies were attuned to events in Japan. There was a ceremony for the war dead of the Russo-Japanese war, which was not directly related with the history of Manchukuo. Grand ceremonies commemorated Japanese Army and Navy day. From autumn of 1938, Manchukuo citizens attended these ceremonies at Yasukuni. [8] Also, a big ground for Sumo wrestling, Japanese national sports, was constructed in front of the grand monument of the Manchukuo capital and the funeral for Saionji, the last Meiji oligarch (genro) was held in Manchukuo. Japanese elements pierced the social life of Manchukuo citizens.


The second stage of Manchukuo’s history was framed by a formula that entwined memorial services with important events. In February 1938, there was a memorial service right after the seventh anniversary of the entry of Japanese soldiers in Harbin. People lived amidst memorial services. Manchukuo became a funeral state. After the start of the China-Japan war in 1937, the number of mourning ceremonies dramatically increased. When the remains of the war dead were borne to the capital, citizens flew flags draped in black. Entertainment places were closed. As the number of the war dead increased, this practice became customary.

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