Manchurian Incident and Manchukuo

Map of Manchukuo
Map of Manchukuo

The Manchurian, or Mukden, incident occurred on September 18, 1931. It was a Japanese attack against China and resulted in the establishment of a Japanese puppet state, Manchukuo. This incident was, in fact, the opening of Japan's quest to conquer China that culminated in World War II in Asia.

Japan had sought to control China's northeastern provinces (Manchuria) since the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–95. As a result of its victory in that war, Japan had established a sphere of influence in southern Manchuria.

It had built the Southern Manchurian Railway (SMR), which linked Mukden (or Shenyang), the administrative capital of the region, with Port Arthur, a port leased to Japan at the southern tip of the Liaodong (Liaotung) Peninsula in Manchuria.

Capitalizing on China's weakness during the dying years of the Qing (Ch'ing) dynasty and the early republic, Japan had obtained extensive additional mining and other rights throughout southern Manchuria.

After 1912 this resource-rich region, which is larger than Germany and France combined, had been ruled by a Chinese bandit turned warlord named Zhang Zholin (Chang Tso-lin) and his allies, who survived by complying with Japan's demands.

In 1928 Zhang Zholin, known as the Old Marshal, was assassinated by Japanese officers of the Kwantung Army stationed in Manchuria, who hoped to seize the provinces in the ensuing chaos. However, astute actions of Zhang's supporters ensured a smooth transition of power to his son Zhang Xueliang (Chang Hsueh-liang), known as the Young Marshal.

The Young Marshal sponsored Chinese immigration to his sparsely populated land (approximately 30 million inhabitants in 1930) and undertook economic development projects. He also threw in his lot with the newly established Nationalist government at Nanjing (Nanking) led by Chiang Kai-shek. In 1930

Zhang led about 200,000 of his best troops to help Chiang defeat rebel warlords and remained in Beijing (Peking) to ensure stability in northern China.

Japanese army in Manchukuo
Japanese army in Manchukuo

Meanwhile, economic depression had discredited the civilian governments in Japan and swayed many people toward support for the growing rightist, ultranationalist movement centered among ambitious junior military officers.

They formed the Society of the Cherry, the Black Dragon Society, the National Foundation Society, and others that advocated war and expansion as an answer to Japan's problems and saw conquest of Manchuria as the first step toward eventual control of all China and other Asian lands. These Japanese imperialists feared growing Chinese nationalism and the emergence of a strong and unified China and moved to prevent it.

On September 18, 1931, field grade officers of the Kwantung Army staged a minor bombing incident along the railway track of the SMR line just outside Mukden. In a well-coordinated and well-planned act, the Kwantung Army simultaneously attacked over a dozen cities in Manchuria.

Other units from Japan's colony Korea soon joined the action. Too weak to resist militarily, China appealed to the League of Nations and the United States under the Kellogg-Briand Pact. Emergency sessions of the league repeatedly demanded that both sides cease military action.

Both the Chinese and Japanese governments signaled compliance, but the Kwantung Army ignored orders and continued its conquest, to popular acclaim in Japan, forcing the cabinet to fall in December 1931. Japan then set up a puppet government in Manchuria, calling it Manchukuo, meaning "country of the Manchu," and enticed the last Qing emperor, Pu-i (P'u-yi), to become its chief executive and emperor in 1934.

The league dispatched an investigative mission under British diplomat Lord Lytton to Manchuria. Its report, submitted to the league in September 1932, refuted Japanese claims that its actions in Manchuria were motivated by self-defense, branded Manchukuo a puppet state that was completely controlled by Japanese military and civilian leaders, and recommended its restoration to China.

The report was endorsed by the league assembly, with one dissenting vote: Japan's. Japan then resigned from the league, signaling its failure as an effective international body. In 1933 Japanese forces added another Chinese province, Rehe (Jehol), which adjoined Manchuria, to its puppet state. The United States refused to recognize Manchukuo but took no other action.

Japan's government developed Manchuria with a network of modern industries designed to furnish raw materials and finished products to the Japanese economy. They included coal mining, iron and steel works, and manufacturing.

Roads and railways were also expanded to improve the infrastructure and facilitate the transport of goods and products to Japan. Japanese immigration was encouraged, and Japanese were granted privileged status, while the Chinese were strictly and brutally controlled.

Manchuria became an arsenal and a granary for Japan. War with the United States after 1941 resulted in a reduction of the flow of equipment and financing from Japan to Manchuria, causing factory production in the area gradually to grind to a halt. In defeat the Japanese overlords abandoned Pu-i and other Chinese puppets.

Soviet troops poured into Manchuria as World War II ended, stripped equipment and facilities worth over 1 billion 1945 U.S. dollars, and shipped them to the Soviet Union. Japanese arms captured by the Red Army in Manchuria were later transferred to the Chinese Communist army.