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Manchukuo Stamps

Filed under: — Guest @ 7:24 am Print
We welcome a guest posting by Alexander Akin, an occasional comment contributor here at Frog in a Well and currently a PhD Candidate in Harvard's department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations. -K. M. Lawson As a fan of Prasenjit Duara’s work on Manchukuo, I have long thought that it would have been interesting if he had illustrated his discussion of that state’s efforts to legitimize itself with some of the currency or stamps that it issued. These media were among Manchukuo’s most pervasive propaganda outlets, since everyone participated in the economy in some form or other. We can find examples of everything from the resurrection of Qing-era Manchu ideology to depictions of modern industrial development, slogans related to Manchukuo’s place in Japan’s grand project to realign East Asia, and even the illustration of a cartographic “geo-body” for the fledgling state. I thought I’d post images of some of the stamps issued by Manchukuo that use imagery or wording relevant to these themes. If you want to download the images for use in teaching a class or something like that, feel free- it’s not as if the Manchukuo imperial copyright enforcers will be coming after you! Stamp1 Manchukuo’s claim to “authenticity,” to use Prasenjit Duara’s term, was based in part on the revival of Qing-era Manchu origin myths, including the hailing of Changbaishan as a numinous ancestral region. This 5-fen stamp, issued in 1935, depicts the famous lake atop Changbaishan. What makes this interesting is the fact that Koreans also claim this mountain lake as their national ancestral site (not to mention North Korea’s claim that it was the birthplace of Kim Jong-Il). The mountain is of course called Paekdusan in Korean. Stamp2 On this 4-fen stamp, issued on September 18, 1940, Manchukuo cozies up to its best ally/ de facto master by celebrating 2600 years since the foundation of the Japanese royal house (that is, year 2600 of the Jimmu era). Energetic boys perform a dragon dance to celebrate the epic occasion. Another stamp issued on the same day (not pictured) reproduces a congratulatory message in the calligraphy of Prime Minister Zhang Jinghui. Stamp3 Any newly established state will use maps to aid in the naturalization of its territoriality – that is, “Our country is real because it has a map!” Just ask Thongchai Winichakul (see his book “Siam Mapped”). This stamp, issued on March 1, 1942 to mark the tenth anniversary of the establishment of Manchukuo, depicts a slightly cartoonish map with a building representing the barrier gate at Shanhaiguan, the famous pass through which the Manchus were admitted by Wu Sangui to take over China. A small stretch of the Great Wall is visible to the left of the gate. Was this an allegorical reference to the role of Manchukuo in supplying resources for the Japanese invasion of China? That strikes me as too crudely obvious, something Manchukuo would not want to admit, but otherwise why the emphasis on Shanhaiguan? Stamp4 Another stamp commemorating the tenth anniversary of the establishment of Manchukuo, this one issued on September 15, 1942, shows three men - a fisherman, an industrial worker, and a farmer - harmoniously developing and gathering the bounty of the motherland. On the tenth anniversary Japan also issued stamps saluting Manchukuo, including one depicting little boys of Japan and Manchukuo adorably marching in unison. Stamp5 Here Manchukuo again faithfully hails its closest friend with the slogan “Japan’s prosperity is Manchuria’s Prosperity,” written in both Chinese and Japanese. On these stamps, issued in 1944, the Chinese version is written in the calligraphy of Prime Minister Zhang Jinghui, while the Japanese version is in the hand of Takebe Rokuzo, Director-General of Manchukuo’s General Affairs Board. Both stamps are valued at one jiao (10 fen). If I am not mistaken, Japanese was by this point one of the official languages in Manchukuo. Stamp6 Manchukuo often overprinted its own older stamps with slogans to mark recent events, then re-releasing them for use. The underlying stamp in this case is a 4-fen issue of 1936-1937, showing the Northern Mausoleum at Mukden (another example of the use of Qing-era Manchu imagery to instill legitimacy, as this was the burial place of the early Manchu rulers before the Qing capital was moved to Beijing). It was overprinted in 1942 with the slogan “In commemoration of Singapore’s return to our East Asia.” This refers to the fall of British-ruled Singapore to Japanese forces on February 15, 1942. The overprinting of stamps with this slogan began on February 16. Stamp7 Another overprint, applied this time to a 6-fen stamp of the late 1930s depicting a horse-drawn cart transporting bags of soybeans, commemorates the first anniversary of the beginning of the Pacific War. It gives the date 8.12.8 (December 8, Kangde year 8 [1941]), and declares, “The flourishing of Asia began on this day.” December 8, 1941 was the day on which Japan launched attacks on multiple targets across Asia including the Philippines, Malaya, Thailand and Shanghai; it was also the day on which the U.S. declared war in retaliation for the raid on Pearl Harbor. To Japan and its allies the first anniversary in 1942 still looked like the dawn of a glorious era of “Asian co-prosperity.” Stamp8 The last stamp printed by Manchukuo, about three months before it collapsed under the Soviet “August Storm” offensive, was this 10-fen stamp issued on May 2, 1945 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the “Huiluan xunmin” edict, in which Puyi proclaimed that Japan and Manchukuo shared “One virtue, one heart (yi de, yi xin).” This slogan is inscribed in a circle in the center of the stamp. Some may be surprised to learn that all of these stamps are very inexpensive; at the time of Manchukuo’s collapse there were countless sheets of stamps still sitting in storage that eventually found their way into the philatelic market. The dates of issue given for these stamps are based on the listings in Scott’s Standard Postal Stamp Catalog, volume 4. If you are interested in contributing a guest posting related to Asian history at any of the Frog blogs send the text of your post and an introduction of yourself to frog at for consideration.


The Buddha goes to war

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:13 pm Print
Xue Yu's new book Buddhism, War, and Nationalism: Chinese Monks in the Struggle against Japanese Aggressions, 1931-1945 ((Routledge, 2005)) is the first major work I have found on a very interesting topic. Religion and nationalism have always had a tendency to conflict. Nationalists like to claim that they are tying people together in a trans-local identity for the first time, but of course many religions have done that long before nationalists turned up, and this has often led to conflict between the two, as well as recycling of a lot of religious imagery by nationalists. The Nationalist period in China was not good for Buddhists. They were portrayed as an example of the feudal backwardness that held China back. Given how well this fit with earlier Confucian critiques of Buddhists as parasites and Western missionaries' dismissal of the religion as primitive hokum there was not much room for Buddhism in many nationalist's visions of a new China. Buddhism vanished even more completely from Chinese history, and from reading most histories of 20th century China you would get no idea that there were still lots of lay Buddhists, clergy, temples, and an active Buddhist press. Like most of the rest of the Chinese press the Buddhist journals spent a lot of time talking about the threat of Japan. War is of course problematic for Buddhists. Not only is Buddhism a religion of peace. ((Just like Christianity and Islam and all the other religions found in places where war is unknown)) but concern for the fate of the nation is concern for the world and thus antithetical to the concerns of Buddhism. To discard one's hair and become a religious was to abandon the petty attachments of family and state. How could one then return to them? Various other religions have managed to get around this type of problem of course, and so too did at least some Chinese Buddhists. There was quite a debate about the proper role of Buddhists in wartime in the early to mid-30's. Xue explains that while some older Buddhists were horrified by the idea of active involvement in war and wanted to limit their actions to prayers for the dead many of the younger monks favored a more activist stance. They pointed out that there was a long history of supporting emperors and the Chinese state, and the Sutra on Insight of Mind-State of Mahayana Jataka specifically listed the kindness of the king (now the nation) as one of the four kinds of kindness that all people were to repay. Even killing could be justified. The monk Yicheng pointed out the well-known passage from the Yogacarabhumi Sastra that stressed that killing a bandit who was about to kill many others was a good act, not only in that it prevented killing, but in that the bodhisattva took the sin of killing on themselves rather than leaving it to others. While active killing could be perhaps be justified, most monks looked to other forms of service to the nation as most appropriate. Dai Jitao, a major Nationalist official and an active lay Buddhist favored ritual services and the recitation of sutras, which had helped China in the past, although the masses would not understand their efficacy. Sun Weide suggested that the Buddhists could learn a lot from the Muslims (a bit of jihad maybe?) and that the two religions could save China. It was at least suggested that Chinese Buddhists could appeal to Japanese Buddhists and transcend nationalist hatreds, but in Japan the Buddha and the nation had come to an accommodation already.

Buddhist War

((from 抗战漫画))

Many Chinese religious, both male and female, went through military training. Usually this involved both political indoctrination and use of arms. This seen by many as being good for Buddhism. It re-connected Buddhists to society, made them look less like the lazy parasites they were accused of being, and would inspire others to want to copy Buddhist "skillful means" ((方便, a word with a long Buddhist history)) Dai Jitao pointed out that in his home province of Sichuan the area around Mt. Emei was and island of peace in the warlord period because monks trained in the martial arts showed the compassion of the Buddha by maintaining order. In any case, was not the discipline and self-transformation required of a monk similar to that of a soldier? For many monks military training was just a pointless exercise to be completed and forgotten once you had your certificate. And in practice China was not defended by battalions of machine-gun wielding Shaolin monks. ((Which would have rocked.)) Once the war broke out collecting money and care for the sick were more common activities, as one might expect. Probably the most publicized activity was the Ciyuan Si Sangha rescue team, created by the monk Leguan in Chongqing as a fast response to Japanese bombing attacks. On June 12 1940 the monks of the team witnessed a bombing attack on the other side of the river. Without waiting for orders they paddled across the river on two rafts. On the crossing they were attacked by a Japanese plane, but the monks steadied their resolve by singing the national anthem. As they spread out on the opposite bank they were attacked again. Leguan's account
With a desperate shout I ordered all the monks to lie down. At that moment, we saw the wings of the planes flip from right to left, and suddenly a series of bombs dropped down one after another as if it were raining. We had no way to escape, but shut our eyes, reciting the name of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva and waiting for the glorious moment of death. Within a second, huge explosions resonated around us, shaking the earth ad if the sky had fallen....All of us fainted....When we woke up we saw enormous flames and smoke in front of us...We stood up and checked our numbers. Thanks to the blessing and protection of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, all of us were alive.
Not only did Buddhism given them the courage to face death, it also helped them in their rescue work. Faced with the sight of "broken arms, legs, bloodied faces, heads and bodies...dead and disfigured bodies on the ground." the monks "managed to control their fear and shock by reciting the name of the Buddha and concentrated on their work in order to forget their feelings."((Xue, p.131)) As Dai Jitao had predicted, the gap between Buddhist and nationalist discipline was not unbridgeable.


Was China stagnant for 700 years?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:12 am Print
Brad DeLong has a long post up on the economic history of China. It's not all that good, but as he is asking for comments people might want to go and give some. Can anyone think of a good passage by someone more current on the literature that covers the Late Imperial period better? UPDATE Actually the post and the comments (on the main page) are a treasure trove of the type of zombie errors that crop up in my classes all the time. "Confucianism" retarded trade. The Chinese economy was stagnant after the Song. The Chinese had a printing press but never printed many books. If you want a nice picture of the general state of knowledge of Chinese history among those who are smart and well-informed but don't know much about China, this is the place to go. (I sometimes ask students what they know about China on the first day of class but I never formalize it into essays, since a long boring assignment that makes them feel stupid does not strike me as a good way to start off class. Now if I just assume that my incoming freshmen know about as much about China as Brad Delong (and his commentors) my questions about their knowledge-base are answered.)


Asian History Carnival #16

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 10:14 pm Print
The Sixteenth Asian History Carnival is now up! Check it out over at the Japan history weblog.

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