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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 ), 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.”
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.
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