Inukai Tsuyoshi was an important supporter of Sun Yat-sen, the founder of the Chinese Republic, even offering him refuge in Japan at one stage. Despite growing differences between them in later years, Inukai maintained close personal ties with many leading Chinese politicians. However, he also criticized Japan’s signing in 1930 of the London Naval Treaty, which reduced military spending, and supported the invasion of Manchuria in 1931. Nonetheless, his attempts as prime minister to rein in the military led to his assassination. This effectively marked the end of civilian control over the Japanese government until after 1945.
Declaration of Greater East Asian Co-operation [Publisher:] Dai Nihon Yubenkai (Great Japan Debate Society), Kodansha Japan Focus
Koreans were not conscripted into the Japanese Army until 1944 but an increasing number of volunteers did enlist. Despite pervasive discrimination against Korean recruits, a large number of them achieved high military rank. Of note were three princes from the deposed Korean imperial family (pictured above) and Park Chung-hee, whose 18-year authoritarian rule later transformed South Korea.
Nicknamed the ‘Old Marshal’ (大帥), ‘Rain Marshal’ (雨帥）or ‘Mukden Tiger’, Chang Tso-lin was one of the major warlords of China in in the early 20th century. Of humble origins, he assisted the Japanese in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905) as leader of a Manchurian militia unit. From his appointment (1918) as inspector general of Manchuria until his death, he had effective control of Manchuria.
While uncertain as to native suitability, Japan did export some aspects of culture to the island. Child geisha in training. (undated, but from context must be between 1920–35)
Nguyen Thai Hoc and Ms. Giang (Vietnam KMT) (painting by Manh Quynh). Ms. Giang's story is fascinating.
Little more than a decade before the Japanese invasion, British rule in Burma was shaken by a major Burmese peasant revolt led by Saya San, a noted monk, shaman and pretender to the Burmese throne. The ‘Galon King’ was commemorated on this 90 Kyat banknote from 1987.
The Cultivation System, introduced on Java in 1830, required peasants to devote a notional fifth of their land and labour to cultivating crops designated by the colonial government as a form of land tax. The Dutch measure also had a marked effect on the organization of villages, as seen before its implementation (above) and after (below).
It was a hot day on Tinian in the Northern Mariana Islands, and loading Little Boy was delicate work. The world’s first atomic bomb used in war was over three meters (ten feet) long and weighted nearly 4.5 tonnes. And although the B29 Superfortress bomber’s bomb bay had been modified, it was still a tight fit. Preparing the massive bomb and manoeuvring it into the aircraft took several hours that afternoon on 5 August 1945.
As for the B29, it had never been named by its regular pilot, Captain Robert A. Lewis. This was rectified that afternoon by the commander of the atomic strike force, Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, who was also assuming command of the bomber for the attack on Hiroshima; Lewis would fly as co-pilot. Remembering his mother, who had assured him he would never be killed flying, Tibbets ordered that her given names, Enola Gay, be painted on the aircraft nose below the pilot’s window. When Lewis inspected the B29 late that afternoon, he was furious. ‘What the hell is that doing on my plane?’ he shouted. Despite a confrontation with Tibbets, the writing remained on the bomber and became a part of history.
Thus begins the 100-day period from 5 August to 12 November 1945 covered by this volume. But although the destruction of Hiroshima and other events recounted were framed by the war and its aftermath, they only make sense when their backstory is told. This is our purpose in the next few pages.
Less than a century elapsed between the arrival of U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry in Tokyo Bay in 1853 and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. During these nine decades, Japan underwent a swift political and social transformation. The country changed from a pre-modern society under Shogun military rule to a modern industrialized state that became first a significant colonial power and then … a contender with the U.S. for East Asian hegemony, before collapsing into ashes. Having been forced by the United States to open up for trade, Japan concluded unequal treaties with the Western powers in the 1850s.
To be equal with the West, the new Meiji government adopted Western political and legal systems, as well as technology; the country then industrialized rapidly. Military conscription was introduced and samurai warriors became modern soldiers under a centralized system, while samurai lords were transformed into government officials and ministers. Japan proclaimed its first constitution in 1889, which established a constitutional monarchy based on the Prussian model. The emperor was presented as the ultimate source of sovereignty, but some provisions were vague and contradictory regarding whether the constitution or the emperor was supreme.
A Diet was created with an elected lower house; the prime minister and cabinet, on the other hand, were appointed by the emperor. The Imperial General Staff Headquarters had direct access to the Emperor, bypassing the government. Western powers finally recognized Japan’s emergence as a modern state and agreed to revise the unequal treaties in 1894, but still not as an equal power. Japan’s victory in 1895 in its war with China changed this view. As a result of the war, China’s sovereignty over Korea was removed and Japan not only expanded its influence there, but also gained Taiwan as a colony.'
Japan’s military prestige increased further with its military defeat of Russia in 1905. This conflict was the first modern war won by an Asian power against a Western power. Many Asians subsequently looked up to Japan as a model of modernization and Japan presented itself as Asia’s leader. After formally annexing Korea in 1910, Japan extended its interests into Manchuria and Mongolia, confirming its sphere of influence in southern Manchuria and eastern Inner Mongolia through the Twenty-One Demands to China in 1915. As Japanese citizens and businesses established themselves in Manchuria, conflicts with local people increased. The Kwantung Army stationed in southern Manchuria staged an incident at Mukden and moved quickly to occupy the entire region in September 1931. Six months later, it set up a new client state called Manchukuo. Although the Japanese government in Tokyo tried to prevent the Kwantung Army’s expansion, the Army ignored its own government. The Kwantung Army’s engagements received considerable popular support in Japan.
Meanwhile, the Japanese system of party government was under attack from rightwing and militarist forces, and its strength declined sharply after the assassination of Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi in 1932. Inukai’s successors recognized Manchukuo and retrospectively approved the Kwantung Army’s actions. Internal violence continued to beset civilian government and the military increasingly took the upper hand in the government, while initiating a full-scale war against China in 1937. Soon afterwards, the Imperial General Staff Headquarters became the command authority over all military operations, pushing the government aside in matters of war. The national government was powerless to prevent or punish atrocities such as the Nanking Massacre of late 1937.
Indeed, the victories of the Japanese army in China created euphoria in Japan and increased the confidence of hard-line militarists and nationalists alike. The Japanese government thus demanded more from China and pressed Chiang Kai-shek’s government in Chungking to recognize Manchukuo and to accept Japan’s position in northern China where the Japanese army had set up several client governments (including the Peking Provisional Government). Japan also pushed for closer Sino– Japanese economic cooperation. When Chiang Kai-shek’s government refused to accept anything less than a Japanese withdrawal, the Japanese military set up an alternative Chinese government headed by Wang Ching-wei in Nanking in 1940. The prolonged war in China drained Japanese resources.
The outbreak of the war in Europe in 1939 and Japan’s conclusion of the non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union in early 1941 seemed to provide favourable conditions for Japanese forces to advance into Southeast Asia. In 1940, in order to cut supply lines of the Chiang government, Japanese forces moved into French Indochina. This action prompted Britain and United States to place embargoes on Japan for trade including oil and steel, which were crucial for the Japanese navy and military industry more generally. With only 18 months of fuel oil reserves, the Japanese government chose the bold step of launching an attack to seize oil-producing regions in the Netherlands Indies and Burma. This plan required a pre-emptive attack on the U.S. navy at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and on British positions in Malaya. In December 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and British colonies, the International Settlement in Shanghai, the Philippines and the rest of Southeast Asia. Japanese military leaders hoped that a short and successful attack and U.S. defeat would lead to a negotiation that not only ensured Japan’s access to natural resources but also consolidated Japan’s position in China.
In seizing the Western colonies in Southeast Asia, Japan employed the slogan of liberating Asians from Western colonialism and building a Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. The idea emphasized the economic interdependency of Asia, suggesting that the region would prosper by cutting its ties with Europe and the United States.
In the closing months of the war, while the Japanese military was fighting hopeless battles in Asia and the Pacific, the Japanese government tried to persuade the Soviet Union to broker an end to hostilities. The Soviets, however, had their own ambitions in Asia and, in any case, had agreed to enter the war against Japan within three months of Germany’s defeat. For several months they stalled the Japanese while preparing for war. Finally, on 8 August, they declared war on Japan, attacking a few hours later – and far sooner than Tokyo had expected.
In 1800, Korea was a tributary state of Ching China but a self-governing independent kingdom in all practical respects. Its tributary status enabled it to avoid contact with Western powers and to maintain a form of national seclusion similar to Japan’s. Nevertheless, whereas Japan’s enforced opening in the mid-19th century unleashed social forces that led to rapid modernization, reforms in Korea were slower to start and less enthusiastically pursued.
As early as the 1870s, Japanese planners began to regard Korea as a potential sphere of influence or even colony, and worked to detach it from its formal subordination to the Ching. They achieved this goal in the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki, after China’s defeat in the First Sino–Japanese War (1894–95), which was fought partly on Korean soil. The government of the newly independent state reconfigured the kingdom as an empire and embarked on an ambitious series of reforms encompassing the military, the economy, the education system, land ownership, industry and the legal system. These reforms, however, came too late to strengthen Korea sufficiently to avoid competition for hegemony over the peninsula between Russia and Japan.
Following Japan’s victory in the Russo–Japanese War (1904–05) and with the recent example of the United States’ annexation of the Philippines in 1898 in the teeth of nationalist resistance, Japanese authorities felt that they had a free hand in Korea. Many Japanese leaders believed that Japan could be a great power only if it had colonies like the western powers. With fertile soil, natural resources and an undeveloped economy, Korea was an attractive prize. In 1905, Japan forced on Korea a treaty that surrendered Korean sovereignty and made the country a Japanese protectorate. The Korean emperor appealed to the Western powers against this treaty but was ignored. A further treaty in 1907 placed the Korean government under the authority of a Japanese resident-general. This post was taken by Itō Hirobumi, who had been Japan’s first prime minister and one of the principal architects of Japan’s modernization. Finally, in 1910, Japan formally annexed Korea, the Korean monarchy was abolished and the peninsula came under the rule of a Japanese Governor-General, Terauchi Masatake.
Japan’s colonial policy in Korea was ambivalent. On the one hand, the country received extensive investment in infrastructure and education. Land reform greatly reduced the power of the yangban, Korea’s traditional aristocracy, and benefitted peasant cultivators. On the other hand, Koreans were to be assimilated as Japanese. They were encouraged to take Japanese names and the use of Korean in public life was heavily restricted.
Japanese migrants began to settle in Korea and to acquire land. It has been estimated that, by 1932, Japanese settlers and companies owned more than half the country’s arable land. Many Koreans migrated to Manchuria, where they themselves became part of the colonial elite. Despite assimilation, Koreans were still treated as an inferior race. They were not trusted in the Japanese armed forces, though in 1944 Japan’s declining fortunes in the Second World War led the country’s leadership to begin conscripting Koreans. A reported five million Korean men were recruited as labourers and were set to work in harsh conditions on Japanese military projects. In addition, large numbers of Korean girls and young women were lured into service as military prostitutes – the so-called ‘comfort women’.
After annexing Korea in 1910, the colonial administration faced strong resistance in the countryside from so-called ‘righteous armies’. The end of the First World War and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s promise of national self-determination raised hopes among Koreans for the recovery of national independence, and massive crowds demonstrated around the country on 1 March 1919. Exiled nationalists formed a Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in Shanghai after the suppression of these demonstrations. This government-in-exile later moved to Chungking with the retreating government of the Republic of China. Korean guerrilla armies in Manchuria fought the Japanese forces there from the 1930s. A cross-border raid by one of these groups brought brief fame to the future North Korean leader, Kim Il-sung.
What are now Mongolia and China were components of the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) founded by Khubilai Khan. After the collapse of Yuan rule, the Chinese Ming dynasty took over the territory south of the Great Wall and the Mongols retreated to the north. In 17th century, the Manchus collaborated with the Mongols to bring the Ching dynasty to power. Manchu emperors presented themselves as the legitimate successors of the Mongol Khans. Territorially, the Ching occupied much of the same territory as the Mongol Yuan dynasty.
Under the Ching, the Mongols were ruled separately from China, as were the Tibetans and Uighurs. Chinese migration into the Mongol region and intermarriage with Mongols were prohibited. But, due to periodic famine in northern China, Chinese migration still took place and, over time, large areas of Mongol pastoral land came under cultivation by Chinese farmers. In practice, a distinction emerged between Inner Mongolia, close to China, and Outer Mongolia, which lay beyond the Gobi Desert.
Chinese settlers were more numerous in Inner Mongolia and the region’s administration was more closely supervised by Manchu authorities in Peking. In 1911, when the Ching dynasty had begun to crumble but the Chinese Republic had not yet been declared, Mongol leaders in Outer Mongolia declared independence and Jebtsundamba Khutuktu, Mongolia’s religious leader, was named Bogd Khan (head of state). He called for the establishment of a Greater Mongolia that included Inner Mongolia. Thousands of Inner Mongols moved northward and some of them received high-ranking positions in the new Mongolian government. The new government even tried to conquer Inner Mongolia by force, but failed due to the lack of military supplies.
The new Republic of China claimed that it was the legal successor to the Manchus and had sovereignty over all territory formerly subordinate to the Manchus, hence refusing to recognize Mongolian independence. The Bogd Khan objected; without Manchu emperors, he said, the two peoples should go their separate ways. Mongolia sought Russian support, but Saint Petersburg did not take the Mongolian request seriously and even prevented Mongolia from appealing to the international community. Russia did, however, agree to provide weapons, loans and military training to Mongolia in exchange for Russian commercial privileges there. Even so, Russia and China made a joint declaration that Mongolia was a sovereign part of China but retained regional autonomy. From the Mongolian point of view, this condition was unacceptable. Nonetheless, the Sino–Russian agreement was confirmed by the tripartite Treaty of Kyakhta, signed by China, Russia and Mongolia in 1915. This treaty not only curtailed Mongolia’s independent status but also left Inner Mongolia as part of the Chinese Republic.
In 1919, using the Russian Revolution as a pretext, China deployed its army to Mongolia to ‘protect’ Mongols from Bolsheviks and claimed direct authority over the territory. In 1921, Outer Mongolian nationalists drove the Chinese garrison out and once again declared the country’s independence. With Soviet backing, they proclaimed the Mongolian People’s Republic (MPR) three years later. Although formally independent, the MPR was largely unrecognized internationally and was heavily dominated by the Soviet Union. In the early 1930s, the communist party introduced the collectivization of herds and began to suppress Buddhism. From 1936, the country was dominated by Marshal Choibalsan, who presided over a Red Terror against the Buddhist clergy.
Meanwhile, Inner Mongolia was confined within the Chinese Republican framework. To undercut the Pan-Mongol movement and to keep Inner Mongolia within their territory, Chinese leaders presented a vision of China as a confederation of nationalities, each with a degree of autonomy similar to that of the former Manchu system. The ruling power of the Mongolian princes and succession of hereditary titles and ranks would continue as before. This proposal, coupled with a threat of military intervention if Mongols did not comply, persuaded Inner Mongols to accept the Republic’s terms. After the rise of the Kuomintang in 1928, the Republican government incorporated Inner Mongolia into Chinese provinces under Peking’s authority. On the eve of the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, Mongols were negotiating with the KMT government for autonomy but concessions from the Chinese were not forthcoming.
In these circumstances, with Mongols facing repression in both Outer and Inner Mongolia, Japan became more and more attractive as a potential sponsor of national self-determination. In 1931, Japan’s Kwantung Army incorporated the eastern part of Inner Mongolia into Manchukuo. With Japanese support and encouragement, the western part of Inner Mongolia declared its autonomy under De Wang in 1933. He set up a military government in 1936 and proclaimed a Mongol Ulus (Mongol domain or ‘state’) in 1942.
Successive governments focused on the autonomy, independence and re-unification of western and eastern Inner Mongolia in the short term, but the long-term goal was a unified state including Outer Mongolia and perhaps even Buryatia, then part of the Soviet Union. To the north in the MPR, Choibalsan was lobbying Stalin for a unified Mongol state, too, even before the Yalta conference. The Mongol unification dream suddenly appeared to be plausible when the Soviets prepared for their onslaught against Japan. On 16 July 1945, the MPR and Soviet Union set up a joint headquarters, with Choibalsan as commander. A joint Soviet–Mongolian army crossed into Inner Mongolia and Manchuria in August 1945, for which assistance Choibalsan expected a post-war territorial reward.
Ching emperors called Manchuria home. After the Ching capital moved to Peking in 1644, however, the region gradually turned into a frontier zone. It maintained its own administrative system, different from that of the provincial system of China proper. From the mid-19th century, Tsarist Russia expanded southwards and forced the Ching to cede the region north of the Amur and east of the Ussuri River. Fearing further Russian advances, the Ching court lifted its migration ban and actively encouraged (Han) Chinese migration and settlement into the region. The Russo–Japanese War in 1904–05 was partly fought on Manchurian soil and, in its aftermath, Japan replaced Russia as leaseholder of the Kwantung Peninsula as well as gaining extraterritoriality along the South Manchurian Railway. Threatened by both Russia and Japan, the Ching court replaced Manchuria’s old administrative system with the Chinese provincial system in 1907.
After the fall of the Ching dynasty in 1911, the region was ruled by warlords. By 1920, Manchuria was under the sole control of Chang Tso-lin. One of China’s most powerful warlords, he took over Peking in 1926, only to be ousted by the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) two years later. Japan had a great interest in Manchuria as an outlet for its overpopulation, the region being often referred to as Japan’s ‘lifeline’ in the 1920s. In 1928, Chang was assassinated by a Japanese officer. His son, Chang Hsueh-liang, succeeded him and declared his allegiance to the KMT.
The Japanese Kwantung Army clashed with Chang Hsueh-liang’s army and subsequently invaded Manchuria in September 1931. Chang ordered his army to withdraw from Manchuria without much of a fight because he knew that it would be overpowered. Chiang Kai-shek also suggested that the Chinese national army be strengthened before initiating a full-scale war against Japan.
The Kwantung Army created Manchukuo, a new state including the eastern part of Inner Mongolia, and installed the last Ching emperor, Puyi, as head of state. Manchukuo was presented as an independent state and had diplomatic relationships with several countries. The Japanese, however, controlled the state. Japanese authorities promoted Japanese settlement in Manchukuo and about 380,000 farmers and their families settled there, causing tensions between newcomers and the local farmers. The Manchukuo government increased land cultivation for agriculture, engaged in massive industrialization and built an efficient rail transport network.
Manchukuo was also a base for Japan’s potential northwards expansion. There were several border incidents between the new state and the Mongolian People’s Republic (MPR) in the north, leading to the Nomonhan War in 1939. Hostilities between the Soviet–MPR army and Manchukuo–Japanese army ended in 1941, when Japan and the USSR signed a non-aggression pact. This pact not only enabled Stalin to redirect his full army to his western front, influencing the outcome of the war in Europe, but it also had a great impact on Japanese strategy; this now shifted towards Southeast Asia and the Pacific. The Japanese authorities were caught by surprise when the Soviet army entered the war on 9 August 1945, seven months before expiry of the non-aggression pact. At the end of the war, there were over three million Japanese living in Manchukuo, mainly civilians because most divisions of the Kwantung Army had been deployed to war fronts in Southeast Asia and China.
At the beginning of the 19th century, China had been a peaceful and prosperous component of the extensive Manchu empire. Descendants of warriors from the Manchurian plain northeast of China, the Manchus had swept away the Ming Dynasty in 1644 and had subsequently extended their rule over Mongolia, Sinkiang and Tibet. China, which they ruled as the Ching Dynasty, comprised barely half the territory of the Manchu empire, though it was by far the most populous and prosperous segment. The 19th century, however, proved to be miserable both for the Manchus and for China.
Western imperial expansion pushed back the imperial borders created a few decades earlier by Manchu armies, China’s growing integration into the world economy made it increasingly vulnerable to economic fluctuations and their sometimes disastrous consequences, and discontent was growing within China over rule by foreigners from the north. The anti-Ching Taiping Rebellion (1850–64) cost an estimated 20 million lives and irretrievably damaged the social and economic fabric of the country. The scale and pace of Western intervention in Chinese affairs grew with the establishment of ‘treaty ports’, cities in the interior as well as on the coast in which Westerners had rights of residence and trade and where Western powers eventually established semi-colonial administrations with their own courts, police forces, post offices and comfortable residential enclaves.
Many Chinese intellectuals realized the need for reform, but the scale of the problems was such that every reformist step seemed to threaten catastrophic consequences for some element of the Ching imperial order. In the end, the imperial regime was overthrown in 1911 in a revolution inspired by the nationalist leader Sun Yat-sen, who became president of the new Republic of China. Revolution produced neither peace nor progress, however, and the country soon fell apart into domains ruled by rival warlords.
In this tumultuous environment, Japan was both a model and a menace. Japan’s success in resisting Western imperialism and in embarking upon industrialization was an inspiration throughout Asia – and especially in China, whose people recognized Japan’s strong cultural roots in Chinese civilization. The Japanese model of authoritarian modernization, which appropriated Western economic innovations without fully accepting Western political ideas or culture, appeared to many Chinese intellectuals to be the recipe that China needed to recover national dignity and prosperity.
At the same time, Japan was a threat. In 1895, the Ching fought and lost a war with Japan resulting in the transfer of Taiwan to Japanese sovereignty. In 1905, after defeating Russia, Japan obtained control over the Kwantung Leased Territory, a strategically located peninsula in the south of Manchuria, as well as extraterritorial rights along a railway that extended more than 800 kilometres into the interior of Manchuria. In 1914, Japan took over the former German colony of Tsingtao and in 1915 presented the fledgling Republican government with twenty-one demands that would have established Japanese hegemony over Manchuria as well as greatly strengthening Japanese influence in the Chinese economy. The Chinese hoped that the Japanese demands would be withdrawn after Western intervention at the Paris Peace Conference. However, with the Western powers busy with their own interests, the Chinese government was unable to achieve anything at the peace conference.
Chinese intellectuals, especially students, were outraged with the outcome that awarded German rights in Shantung Province to Japan. Protests in Peking against the government’s acceptance of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 spread quickly to other big cities in the country, becoming a huge nation-wide demonstration. The protestors called for an end to Japan’s twenty-one demands, the return of Shantung, and a boycott of Japanese goods. Eventually, Western powers blocked the most far-reaching of these demands and, in 1922, Japan was forced to return Tsingtao to China, yet Japan continued to seek political and economic advantage in Manchuria.
During the 1920s, Sun Yat-sen’s party, the Kuomintang, began to develop a disciplined structure, partly modelling itself on the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It established control over much of southern China and, in the late 1920s under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek, began to reconquer the north from various warlords. It faced numerous rebellions and resistance movements, especially from non-Chinese ethnic groups unhappy with the preference given by the KMT to (ethnic) Han Chinese. The party also came into sharp conflict with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), soon to come under the leadership of Mao Tsetung. KMT forces massacred 5,000 CCP members in Shanghai in 1927, an event that is sometimes identified as the start of the Chinese Civil War. Several years of communist-led rural insurrection followed. In late 1934, as KMT forces finally closed in on the Chinese Soviet Republic in the eastern province of Chiang-hsi (Jiangxi), Mao’s Red Army undertook a yearlong, fighting retreat to the far northwest. Communist forces continued to be active in many regions, however.
Meanwhile, in 1931 Japan’s Kwantung Army, based in the Leased Territory, manufactured a pretext to invade Manchuria and created the client state of Manchukuo there in the following year. Both in the north and around Shanghai, Japanese military forces provoked incidents that enabled them to expand their power incrementally. In 1936, this growing encroachment by Japan prompted the former Manchurian warlord, Chang Hsueh-liang, to mediate an agreement between Chiang and Mao to join forces against Japan. Accordingly, KMT armies fought back when, in 1937, Japanese legation forces that has been stationed in Peiping under the Boxer Protocol since 1902 provoked a battle south of the city (Peking was renamed Peiping after the Republic’s capital was moved to Nanking in 1927).
Fighting escalated into full-scale war, culminating in the Japanese capture of Shanghai, Nanking and Wuhan. At the end of 1938, the Republic’s capital moved to the southwestern city of Chungking. Japanese aircraft bombed the new capital but their forces were unable to break through the mountains and capture it. In the meantime, relations between the KMT and CCP forces deteriorated and from January 1941 the civil war resumed. The Republican government depended on supplies from the West sent first through French Indochina and Yunnan and later along the Burma Road, a narrow, winding track leading into China from India. Supplies also arrived from the Soviet Union via Sinkiang.
Until the 17th century, the island of Taiwan was mainly inhabited by aboriginal peoples closely related to the indigenous people of the Philippines. The Dutch East India Company established a settlement in the south in 1624 and gradually extended a loose hegemony over the whole island, which they called Formosa (from the Portuguese, meaning ‘beautiful’). In 1662, they were displaced by a Chinese general called Koxinga (Zheng Chenggong), who professed loyalty to the displaced Ming Dynasty in China. Koxinga’s dynasty was conquered in turn by Manchu Ching forces after about 20 years, and the island was incorporated into neighbouring Fujian province.
Until the second half of the 19th century, Ching rule over the island was loose. Aborigines were largely in control of the eastern, mountainous region, and the Ching authorities disclaimed responsibility for aborigines’ plundering of foreign ships visiting or stranded on the eastern coast. Chinese settlements on the western plains were controlled by powerful local families rather than Ching administrators. During two centuries of Ching authority, 159 significant rebellions were reported. Only with the growing realization that the island might be seized by outsiders did the Ching authorities encourage Chinese settlement, Chinese settlers outnumbering aborigines by the 1860s. From about 1870, Ching authorities began export-oriented development on Taiwan, which became a major centre for rice, tea, sugar and camphor production. In 1885, after an unsuccessful French attempt to seize the island, the Ching authorities declared it a province in its own right. Nonetheless, it was still considered an unruly frontier zone when Japan took sovereignty over the province under the Treaty of Shimonoseki, signed to conclude the Sino–Japanese War of 1894–95.
Chinese Taiwanese initially resisted the island’s transfer to Japan, declaring a Taiwanese Republic. This professed loyalty to the Ching, however, and was quickly swept away by Japanese military forces, though guerrilla resistance continued until 1902. About one quarter of the Chinese population accepted the invitation of the Japanese authorities to leave the island if they were unwilling to become Japanese subjects; this measure removed a major potential source of resistance.
Taiwan was Japan’s first formal colony and Japanese authorities aimed to create a model colonial administration. Opium consumption and foot-binding were prohibited. The Japanese government invested significant amounts in infrastructure, including road, health, irrigation and education, and instituted a land reform programme that largely removed absentee landlords. They also took some steps to include the Taiwanese elite in political decision-making. In 1935, half the seats in provincial and local assemblies in Taiwan were chosen by election, though the franchise was restricted to educated, male property-holders. Metropolitan authorities also promoted Japanese settlement on the island and, by 1938, the Japanese population was around 300,000. Colonial policy-makers were perennially divided over the question of whether the Taiwanese could eventually be fully assimilated to Japanese culture or if they would always remain in some respects colonial subjects. The Japanese authorities maintained control by means of a highly developed system of local policing.
Assimilation policy was pursued more aggressively after the outbreak of the Second Sino–Japanese war in 1937. Chinese-language newspapers were banned and Chinese-language instruction in schools was reduced. The island was increasingly developed for heavy industry to support the war effort, and 200,000 Taiwanese men were recruited into the Japanese Imperial Army. From 1942 they were posted to combat positions. In November 1943, the Allies’ Cairo Declaration included the statement that ‘all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, including Manchuria, Formosa, and the Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China’.
France created the colony of Indochina between 1858 and 1909 in a series of conquests and annexations that encompassed Vietnam, Cambodia and a disparate group of tributary states in the Thai cultural world that were bundled together as Laos. Vietnam itself was divided into three zones: Cochinchina, including the commercial capital, Saigon, was a directly ruled colony, while Annam and Tonkin were nominally protectorates in which the Vietnamese emperor at Hue ruled following French ‘advice’. In practice, the Governor-General in Hanoi had supreme authority in all three regions.
French rule almost certainly ensured the survival of Cambodia. When the French authorities established a protectorate over the kingdom in 1867, it was tributary to both Siam and Vietnam and had lost significant territory to both neighbours; extinction appeared to be imminent. The Cambodian elite welcomed French rule not only because of this protection, but also because the colonial power had few economic interests in Cambodia that might have disrupted the traditional order. The French authorities in Vietnam were primarily interested in the colony as a source of plantation produce. They ruthlessly recruited labour for this task and brutally suppressed several insurrections. French economic development projects also created transport, communication and administrative networks that knitted together the wider Indochinese region.
They also saw themselves as having a mission civilisatrice. To some extent, the French fostered education among their colonial subjects, founding a university in Hanoi in 1906 and establishing a Franco–native school system by the 1920s. Here, the focus was on Vietnamese education – the first lycées (high schools) in Cambodia were only established in the 1930s; Laos had none. Some Vietnamese nationalists and the French administration promoted the use of a form of Roman script, developed by French missionaries and adapted to Vietnamese pronunciation (quoc ngu), which was much easier to learn than the traditional script based on Chinese characters. Among the consequences of this educational expansion was the rise of an educated class open to foreign ideas, including nationalism and Marxism. The leading nationalist organization, the Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang, was directly modelled on China’s Kuomintang.
After France was defeated in Europe in 1940, the colonial authorities in Indochina affiliated with so-called Vichy France, the puppet regime established in southern France under Nazi auspices. Japan had not yet signed the Tripartite Alliance that created the so-called Axis with Germany and Italy; the Vichy colonial authorities thus refused Japan’s request to block the shipment of Allied supplies through Hanoi and Yunnan to the embattled Kuomintang authorities in China’s interior. On 22 September 1940, however, under threat of Japanese invasion, they agreed to Japan stationing troops in Indochina. Five days later, the Tripartite Alliance was signed, effectively making the colonial authorities allies of Japan, though a formal agreement was not signed until July 1941. Thereafter, French colonial authority remained formally intact throughout Indochina, while Japanese forces in practice moved freely throughout the territory. The Japanese force that attacked Malaya in December 1941 departed from southern Vietnam.
In most of Southeast Asia, Japan was the enemy of the Western colonial powers ; local nationalists had to choose which of the two to regard as their greatest danger or best patron. In Indochina, Japanese and Europeans were aligned, albeit uncomfortably, and theoretically nationalists could fight both at the same time (though they never did). In these circumstances, the communist leader Ho Chi Minh was able to create the Viet Minh (Vietnam Independence League) as a broad coalition of nationalist forces, though it was no match for effective French suppression.
On 9 March 1945, the situation changed dramatically as a consequence of the liberation of France. Fearing a Free French takeover in Indochina and possible Allied landings, the Japanese abruptly disarmed and interned the French. In just a few hours, the Vichy French colonial regime was brought to an end and Japan offered immediate independence to the monarchies of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Two days later, emperor Bao Dai declared the independence of Vietnam. The following day, Cambodia’s young king Norodom Sihanouk declared himself leader of the renamed kingdom of Kampuchea. Only in April, under Japanese duress, did King Sisavangvong declare that Laos was no longer a French protectorate. In these chaotic conditions, the Viet Minh began to grow in strength. After the middle of 1945, their operations received moral support from U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) agents working in Indochina.
During the following months, the fortunes of the three future countries diverged. In Vietnam, Bao Dai had difficulty shedding his reputation as a king who reigned but did not govern, and his administration lacked both credibility and the capacity to impose its authority over the provinces. Moreover, the new regime was confronted with a cataclysmic famine in the north that provided Viet Minh leaders with the opportunity to build a mass movement of political and social salvation in the countryside. Meanwhile, in Kampuchea, a pro-Japanese nationalist Son Ngoc Thanh was flown home from Japan and named foreign minister in May; his most important task was to ensure good relations between the kingdom and Japanese authorities.
The country also saw the formation of the Green Shirts, a ragtag nationalist militia aligned with the Japanese. In Laos, despite the reluctance of their king to embrace independence, the hopes of nationalists had been stirred earlier by the French belatedly bringing much of the country under the administrative control the kingdom of Luang Prabang and instituting a ministerial system of government headed by Prince Phetsarath. The first Lao independence movement, the Lao-pen-Lao (‘Laos for the Lao’), was launched in May.
As Siam, Thailand had been one of the great powers of mainland Southeast Asia in the pre-colonial period. Unlike its neighbours, it was able to stave off direct European colonization, though at the cost of surrendering to Britain and France its claims over several outlying territories. Other than Japan, Thailand was the only Asian country that successfully defended itself against Western colonial conquest, though its economy became much more heavily dominated by Western interests than did Japan’s. In 1932, young military officers overthrew the royal absolutist government. Decades of unsettled political conditions followed as royalists, democrats and other factions struggled with one another.
In 1939, Prime Minister Plaek Phibunsongkhram (generally known as Phibun) renamed the country Thailand and, in October 1940, sent the Thai army into French Indochina to reclaim territory lost to France earlier in the century. Japan imposed a ceasefire in January 1941 and a peace treaty in May under which the French colonial authorities ceded most of the disputed territories to Thailand. Japanese troops invaded Thailand just before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Thai forces offered only brief resistance and Phibun signed a military alliance with Japan two weeks later, declaring war on the Allies at the same time. Japan subsequently rewarded Thailand with the return of ‘lost territories’ at the expense of British Malaya and Burma.
Like the rest of Southeast Asia, Thailand suffered badly from economic dislocation during the war. An added burden was the Thailand–Burma Railway, constructed under Japanese direction in 1943 to provide a supply line to its forces in Burma. Working in appalling conditions, thousands of Thai labourers joined a host of others recruited throughout Southeast Asia, along with thousands of Allied prisoners of war, to build this so-called ‘Death Railroad’.
Even though Thailand was formally a Japanese ally, the Thai ambassador to the United States pursued a markedly different strategy in Washington, refusing to deliver Phibun’s declaration of war and establishing a Free Thai movement. This movement was actively supported by the United States, which never acknowledged Thailand’s declaration of war. In 1945, as the Allies prepared to move against Thailand, Free Thai forces began clandestine operations inside the country in preparation for the coming invasion. This was done with the full awareness of Prime Minister Khuang Aphaiwong, who succeeded Phibun after he was forced from office in 1944. Delicately, Khuang also had to keep his Japanese partners unaware of the situation. The country’s powerful Regent, Pridi Phanomyong, had a leading role in the movement.
Britain conquered Burma in three wars during the 19th century, defeating a Burmese empire that had not long previously been at the height of its powers. The Burmese king was exiled to India. The new territory was included in the British Indian Empire as two distinct zones: socalled Ministerial Burma (Burma proper) under a Lieutenant-Governor, and three Scheduled or Frontier Areas in the surrounding hill country, covering the lands of the Shan, Chin and Kachin ethnic groups as well as many Karen. These areas were separately ruled by the Burma Frontier Service. The population of Ministerial Burma was predominantly ethnic Burmese, but there were significant minorities, especially the Karen and the Mon, as well as Indian immigrants and an influential Anglo–Burmese elite. Partly because of enduring Burmese resistance to British rule, the colonial system gave relatively little political role to indigenous Burmese. Members of selected minority groups dominated administration, policing and the modern economy. Largely as a result of British agricultural modernization initiatives and the infusion of Indian capital, Burma had become the rice bowl of the world by the beginning of the 20th century.
Burma was included in British India’s political reforms, which gradually increased the role of elected assemblies in government. In 1937, the colony was separated from India with a fully elect ed assembly and significant devolution of powers to elected Burmese ministers. Burmese nationalists Ba Maw (1937–39) and U Saw (1939–42) served as prime minister. Meanwhile, the radical nationalist Aung San, frustrated in attempts to launch a revolt against British rule, fled to China in 1940. There he came into contact with Japanese agents who persuaded him that his country’s future lay in alliance with Japan.
With the help of a Japanese officer, Suzuki Keiji, Aung San assembled a group calling itself the Thirty Comrades, which formed the core of a Burma Independence Army that marched into Burma alongside Japanese forces in early 1942. Most members of this group called themselves thakin (‘master’) as a repudiation of British colonial authority. After heavy fighting, Japanese forces captured most of Burma by May 1942. The colony’s European and Indian populations for the most part escaped to India. For more than two years, British and Japanese–Burma forces fought intermittently along a relatively stable front line that roughly followed the Burma–India border. Inside Burma, some resistance to the Japanese continued, mainly by ethnic and other minorities more associated with British rule, especially Muslims and Karen. Atrocities in response by Japanese troops and their Burmese allies were commonplace.
Needing to focus on the war effort, and recognizing Burma’s high level of autonomy under British rule, the Japanese military transferred most routine government tasks to an administration led by Ba Maw in August 1942. They conferred formal independence in August 1943, installing Ba Maw as Adipadi, or head of state. These measures applied mostly only to what had been Ministerial Burma. Apart from combat troops, there was little Japanese presence in the Chin and Kachin Areas, and a significant part of the Shan Area was transferred to Thailand in September 1943. Aung San was appointed head of the Burma National Army (BNA), but he became increasingly disillusioned with Japan. In late 1944, British forces launched what proved to be a decisive counter-attack on Japanese forces. In March 1945, Aung San led the BNA in a revolt against Japan and his forces joined the British in the final push against the Imperial Japanese Army. The capital, Rangoon, fell to the combined forces in May 1945, though military operations continued in the Moulmein region further east until Japan’s surrender.
At the time of Japan’s surrender, British plans for post-war Burma were still unformed. Some authorities envisaged several years of tutelage before independence could be granted (a conservative position taken in the White Paper on Burma issued by the Churchill government just before its electoral defeat), while others saw a swift transition to independence as the only politically viable option. It was unclear whether the Scheduled Areas would be included. British opinion was divided, too, over whether Aung San was an acceptable partner for negotiations, given his known radical views and his recent affiliation with Japan.
On the eve of the Second World War, British possessions in maritime Southeast Asia were a patchwork of small territories with strikingly different histories, constitutional forms, ethnic makeups and economic bases. The Straits Settlements, directly ruled by a British governor, comprised three port cities (Singapore, Malacca and Penang) on the Malacca Strait, a strategic choke point on the maritime route between India and China. All three had populations drawn from many different ethnic groups, including Chinese, Malays, Arabs, Indians and Thai. The indirectly ruled Federated Malay States (Selangor, Perak, Pahang and Negeri Sembilan, the latter a federation of six smaller states) and the somewhat less tightly controlled Unfederated Malay States (Johor, Terengganu, Kelantan, Kedah and Perlis) were Malay sultanates. The most prosperous states had large Chinese and Indian populations, attracted by tin mining and rubber cultivation, while others remained predominantly Malay and focussed on traditional agriculture. There were also three protectorates on the island of Borneo: Sarawak under the fabled ‘white rajas’ of the Brooke family, North Borneo under a British chartered company, and the sultanate of Brunei, already becoming rich from its oil wells.
Because of this diversity, there was only a weak nationalist movement in the British colonies before the outbreak of the Second World War. Some Malay nationalists looked to Japan as a developmental example, a few actively assisting the Japanese invasion in December 1941. Japan’s successful conquest of Malaya, not least the fall of fortress Singapore (then renamed Syonan for the duration of the Japanese presence) left Britain’s reputation in tatters.
Local responses varied. Some welcomed their new colonial masters, though Malay nationalists were disappointed in October 1943 when four northern Malay states were transferred to Thailand on the grounds that they had been under Siamese suzerainty before 1909. Others, notably the Chinese immigrant community, were generally hostile. This hostility was repaid in the form of Japanese atrocities against community members. In turn, members of a fledgling resistance movement, mainly Chinese communists actively supported by British agents, fled into the jungle. From here the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army fought the Japanese through to the war’s end. The movement expected that Britain would acknowledge their efforts and sacrifices after the war by fostering the creation of a new Malayan Union, whose political system would ensure a reasonable voice for migrant communities.
At the same time, because much of the ethnic Malay population lived in territories ceded to Thailand, those Malays in what remained of Malaya felt threatened with the prospect of becoming a minority in their own country. Many Malay nationalists thus supported the idea of post-war incorporation into an independent Greater Indonesian state. With the British reconquest of Burma largely completed in June 1945, British forces were poised to invade and reassert control over Malaya when Japan suddenly surrendered.
Dutch influence had been present in the Indonesian archipelago since the early 17th century, when the Dutch East India Company (VOC) began to trade and to establish forts in settlements at key strategic locations. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Company’s interests in the region were taken over by the Dutch state, which expanded from the VOC’s core regions of Java and the Moluccas to create a colony that eventually extended from the northern tip of Sumatra to the western half of the island of New Guinea. During the 19th century, Dutch policy focussed on plantation products, using coerced labour from local people, but in the 20th century the colonial authorities embarked on a brief but remarkable programme to encourage development and welfare. The programme lost steam amidst unrealistic expectations and the strains of the Great Depression, but it contributed to the emergence of a new elite that defined itself as Indonesian rather than as belonging primarily to one of the archipelago’s many ethnic groups. Political repression, however, alongside the ethnic diversity of the colony, kept the nationalist movement relatively weak prior to the Second World War.
Japan’s conquest of the Netherlands Indies in 1942 shattered Dutch colonial authority, especially because defeat was quick. Not even two weeks passed between the first Japanese landings on Java and the unconditional surrender of the Allied forces under Dutch command. Japanese forces employed the slogan, ‘Asia for the Asiatics’ and many nationalists hoped for immediate independence. In the event, however, the former colony was divided among two Japanese armies in the West and the Japanese Navy in the East.
The pre-eminent nationalist leader, Sukarno, cooperated with the Japanese military in Java, using Japan’s Pan-Asianism as a cover for promoting the idea of Indonesia, but he was partly compromised by his participation in the recruitment of rōmusha, labourers who were set to work on Japanese military projects, often in appalling conditions. The archipelago was also badly hit by the loss of markets for its agricultural produce and the loss of access to manufactured goods. Hundreds of thousands of Javanese died of starvation during the latter part of the occupation.
Only in early 1945, with the war clearly going badly for Japan, did Japanese authorities sponsor active discussions regarding independence for the former colony via a Committee of Enquiry into Independence (BPUPK). These preparations, however, were forestalled by Japan’s surrender on 15 August 1945, which imposed on Japanese occupation authorities everywhere the obligation to maintain the political status quo. It was a hot day on Tinian in the Northern Mariana Islands, and loading Little Boy was delicate work. The world’s first atomic bomb used in war was over three meters (ten feet) long and weighted nearly 4.5 tonnes. And although the B29 Superfortress bomber’s bomb bay had been modified, it was still a tight fit. Preparing the massive bomb and manoeuvring it into the aircraft took several hours that afternoon on 5 August 1945.
The Philippines had been a Spanish colony from the 16th century until 1898, when the archipelago was seized by the United States following the Spanish–American War. In taking control of the former colony, the U.S. also had to fight Filipino nationalists who were fighting their own revolution against Spain and might well have secured independence but for the American intervention. The U.S. quickly decided that the Philippines would not be incorporated into the American polity. Instead, they promised independence and soon began to devolve power to local elites. In 1935, the Philippines became a commonwealth with its own President, Manuel L. Quezon, and a high degree of internal self-government. Full independence was scheduled for 4 July 1944, albeit with the expectation that close economic ties with the U.S. would remain.'
With independence in prospect, Filipino elites had relatively little reason to welcome the Japanese occupation, especially as economic conditions grew more difficult. Quezon fled and established a government-in-exile, but many other members of the elite treated the occupation as simply a change of overlord and worked with the Japanese authorities. In October 1943, Japan formally granted independence to a Philippine Republic headed by a prominent pre-war nationalist, José P. Laurel.
The commander of U.S. and Philippine forces at the time of the Japanese invasion, General Douglas MacArthur, made his reputation in a defence of the territory that lasted until May 1942, long after neighbouring French, British and Dutch defences had crumbled. As Supreme Commander of the South West Pacific Area, he oversaw the reconquest of the Philippines in 1944–45, a struggle that was bitterly fought and saw the destruction of most of Manila during heavy fighting to capture the city in February–March 1945. In February 1945, MacArthur formally restored the Philippine Commonwealth with Sergio Osmeña as President, President Quezon having died in exile. By August, U.S. and Philippine forces were training together in preparation for a planned land invasion of Japan.
As it was throughout the Western world, women’s issues became prominent during the 1920s. Members of the Japanese Women’s Suffrage League, founded in 1924, delivered 20,000 petitions to the Imperial Diet requesting that they consider a bill for women’s suffrage.
The outbreak of war as reported from Tokyo. The English-language Japan Times & Advertiser was one of the largest newspapers in Japan both before and after the war. It lives on today as the Japan Times.
‘Our commander, strong Japanese commander, is riding on horseback, clip-clop, clip-clop. When we saluted him, the commander returned our salute, smiling brightly from atop his horse. Our commander, kindhearted Japanese commander.’ Japan Focus
Look! Look! The cruel injustice of the Communist Party Kan! Kan! Gongchandang zhi canhai (看！看！共产党之惨害). The Communist Party, in blue uniform, receives money from the red devil hiding behind a friendly Western mask.
'With the cooperation of Japan, China, and Manchukuo the world can be in peace.’ (courtesy Herbert A. Friedman, psywarrior)
Foromosa types and costumes: Butan captives in Japan. From The universal geography : earth and its inhabitants by Reclus, Elisée (1830-1905)
Prisoners of war laying railway track at Ronsi (Ronshii/Ronshu) approximately sixty kilometres south of Thanbyuzayat, possibly in 1943. (Australian War Memorial #P00406.034)
Winston Churchill (Australian War Memorial #007834)
"I have returned" — General MacArthur returns to the Philippines with Philippine President Sergio Osmena to his right, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Carlos P. Romulo at his rear, and General Sutherland on his left.