1 Introduction

In late February 1933, the Kwangtung Army started a full-scale offensive against the Chinese resistance forces in Rehe (Jehol), calling it the last holy war (seisen) to complete the state-construction project of Manchukuo. Despite the high fighting spirit of the Chinese forces, the Kwangtung Army occupied Chengde, Rehe’s capital, within two weeks and established its presence solidly north of the Great Wall by late March. As the Japanese forces threatened to advance into Beiping and Tianjin, with its air power and mechanized field units, the Guomindang (Nationalist Party, GMD) government in Nanjing realized that the Chinese army in north China, including various warlord forces led by Zhang Xueliang, would not be able to push the Japanese forces back. The GMD thus compromised and reached the Tanggu Truce, which forced the GMD to leave Rehe and other regions north of the Great Wall into the hands of the Japanese. At this point, the territorial realm of Manchukuo was finalized—at least temporarily—for the Japanese military leaders in Manchuria.

Corresponding with the rise of regional or local histories in global and comparative perspectives against the linear narratives of nation-states, a series of studies on Manchukuo/Manchuria in the past three decades emerged. Among them, for example, were the monumental works of Yoshihisa Tak Matsusaka and Louise Young, which demonstrated the socioeconomic mobilization of the Japanese empire to occupy and colonize Manchuria. In the same vein, Yamamuro Shin’ichi, Prasejit Duara, Rana Mitter and Dan Shao also highlighted a more complicated nature of Manchukuo that differed from nationalist and Marxist accounts of China and Japan.Footnote 1 As we see from these studies, it is certainly unproblematic to treat Manchukuo as a product of Japanese imperialism. But the historical and cultural territoriality of Manchuria should still be approached with nuance due to the differentiated intents and practices of various groups of people to build the Manchurian state.Footnote 2 While these studies helped cultivate a valid platform to discuss the Japanese active contestation of Chinese Manchuria, one puzzle is still missing in the explanations behind the Japanese reconstruction of the spatiality of the newly established Manchukuo: If one Japanese imperial project at this time were to border the borderland of Manchuria out of the sovereign territories of Republican China, how did the Japanese imperial subjects re-narrativize the history and culture of Manchuria as they set their footprints in the borderland of Manchuria? Namely, with what historical perceptions and cultural claims did the Japanese try to confirm the fluid borderlines of Manchukuo as they advanced militarily on the contested bordering spaces? As Kari Shepherdson-Scott has demonstrated through her study of the Japanese exhibition at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933, Rehe was one important site for the Japanese to claim for the clear borderlines of Manchukuo.Footnote 3

Based on military plans, field observations, and travel logs from Japanese generals, soldiers, journalists, and scholars advancing into Rehe in 1933, we can find how the historical and cultural spatiality of Manchukuo was authenticated and thereby settled in the eyes of Japanese leading figures. To give readers a historical context, this chapter thus first introduces the Japanese military campaign in Rehe in early 1933. Next, it delineates the Japanese perceptions and justifications in their military missions in Rehe on behalf of the newly established Manchukuo through four types of territorial signification: Historical, geographical, ethical, and socio-political, respectively. In doing so, this chapter demonstrates how the Japanese tried to establish the borderlines of Manchukuo based on their actual warring and traveling experiences in Rehe.

2 The Rehe Campaign

In the wake of World War I, imperial Japan had democratized further through a series of political reforms. Ironically, this democratization also triggered the rise of radical nationalism due to the established political parties’ failure to deal with internal economic recessions and external confrontations with the Chinese nationalists and the UK and US in China in the 1920s. Specifically, as the GMD set out to recover China’s national sovereignty in its unification wars and diplomatic negotiations with other countries, the UK and US began to take more non-interventionist policies to confirm the Chinese demands while demanding imperial Japan to follow the same. For Japanese military leaders, however, the GMD regime as well as the US and UK all ignored the Japanese special privileges established through a series of treaties since the late nineteenth century, particularly in Manchuria. Therefore, taking Manchuria as a lifeline in relieving the serious domestic economic problems and preparing for the ultimate war with the Western countries in this context,Footnote 4 the Kwantung Army caused the Manchurian incident on September 18, 1931, and soon occupied most parts of Manchuria. Although the Chinese armies, including both the regular and guerrilla forces, attempted to resist this occupation, without a centralized military leadership and strong logistical support, they were mostly defeated by late 1932. Most of them subsequently retreated to Rehe, a province north of the Great Wall, west of Liaoning, and south of Inner-Mongolia, to continue their resistance wars.

As the Kwangtung Army caused the Manchurian incident, it was necessary for its leaders to justify this military action to challenge the Chinese sovereignty, to deflect international criticism, and to further mobilize Japanese national support. Thereby, the Kwangtung Army staged the founding of Manchukuo in early 1932, appointing the last emperor of the Qing dynasty, Puyi, first as its supreme leader (zhizheng/shissei) and then as its first emperor (huangdi) in 1934. It was in the extension to consolidate the governmentality and territoriality of Manchukuo that the leaders of the Kwantung Army found it urgent to exclude all Chinese armies from Rehe. This was due to two reasons: (1) Rehe was an extremely important region for the security of Manchukuo due to its topography, as it was difficult to access from Manchuria but easy for Chinese forces to start an offensive, if the latter were stationing there; and (2) historically Rehe was a bordering land between Manchuria and China proper, and without clarifying a clear borderline in this region, Rehe would cause a difficulty for the Japanese to claim for the ruling legitimacy of Manchukuo. Therefore, with a well-prepared plan to invade, the Kwangtung Army started a massive military campaign against the 500,000 Chinese forces (including regular armies, local militias, and volunteer squadrons) in Rehe on February 20, 1933.Footnote 5

Historically, Rehe was a difficult region to conquer due to its steep mountains in the south and vast desert in the north. These conditions made it extremely difficult to send military supplies and maintain consistent mobility for invaders. Stationing forces, on the other hand, found it easy to defend. Therefore, it was an important region for the Chinese dynasties to guard against the nomad invasions in the past. However, this time, with its military superiority, the Japanese army could overwhelm the Chinese forces quickly despite the much larger armies of the latter with its air support and mechanized field units. Backed by the Manchurian forces, the Japanese army advanced through three routes to attack the Chinese forces, respectively from Kailu and Tongliao to the desert areas in the north, from the mountainous regions towards the Great Wall in the centre, and from Jinzhou to Shanhaiguan in the south.Footnote 6 Even to the surprise of the Japanese themselves, the Japanese army quickly captured Chengde on March 4, two weeks after the beginning of this military mission, and soon pushed the Chinese armies into south of the Great Wall by late March.

The Chinese retreating armies had tried to counterattack. Therefore, along the lines of the Great Wall, there had occurred a series of collisions between the Chinese and Japanese forces. To defeat the Chinese forces more decisively, the Kwangtung Army thus started two full-scale campaigns, respectively in early April and early May.Footnote 7 During the April offensive, the Japanese forces advanced south of the Great Wall, and during the May offensive, they arrived at Huairou, Daxia, Shangcang, Linnancang, and Woluogu, standing ready to attack Beiping and Tianjin. Faced with the threat of losing the two most important cities in north China, the GMD government thus decided to compromise. The GMD and Kwangtung Army, thus, reached the Tanggu Truce on May 31. With this truce, China and Japan agreed to set a demilitarized zone south of the Great Wall. At this point, the Chinese side had just lost their control of Rehe and made themselves extremely vulnerable to further Japanese invasions in the future.Footnote 8

3 History

History is a useful tool in modern nation-building projects, as it is one of the most important elements in shaping people’s self-awareness as to their locus in this world, thus concerning the formation of their national identity. For the leading Japanese military leaders in Manchuria in the early 1930s, certainly this was also the case when they endeavoured to establish Manchukuo out of the territorial realm of the Republic of China, whose sovereign legitimacy was derived from the territorial realm of the Qing dynasty. Due to the Chinese civilizational emphasis on the traditional norm of Tianxia (world under the heaven)—where ethnic discordance had been subject to cultural and political concordance under a confirmable imperial framework, established in the past two millenniaFootnote 9—the Chinese gentry scholars had experienced difficulty in recognizing the essentialist demarcations between ethnic Chinese and others in the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. As a result, modern China had experienced significant dilemmas in its modern nation-building process, specifically when it came to forging an ethnically coherent national history out of the often overlapped and blurred self-perceptions about themselves, including both Han and the others. Taking advantage of these dilemmas at this stage, the Japanese historians addressed the historical confrontations between the Han Chinese in the south and the nomads in the north, reconfiguring the Chinese nation ethnically based on the Han on the one hand and establishing the legitimacy of the nomad others in seeking their own national independence on the other. Just as Saitō Shōhei indicates, to incorporate the Manchuria into the Japanese imperium, Japanese military leaders thus resorted to the broader racial narratives both to reject the European domination of Asia as a whole and to reduce the Chinese historical and cultural characters of this particular region.Footnote 10 Through the warring and traveling experiences of the generals, soldiers, and journalists in the Rehe campaign, we can indeed grasp how they formed and consolidated such distinctive perceptions of Manchuria as opposed to the Chinese.

First, we can see how they constructed the spatial knowledge of Rehe through a linear historical narrativization of the province as one indispensable part of “Manchuria” in the long history of northeast Asian nomad lands as opposed to the sedentary China proper. Therefore, in the Japanese popular literature, as a guidebook published in 1933 in Japan introduced, since the founding of the Yan dynasty almost 1,700 years ago, Rehe had been a strategically important region integrated within the north, including the last Han Chinese Ming dynasty.Footnote 11 Based on this understanding, as Mainichi News (Mainichi Shinbun) attempted to justify the Rehe campaign of the Kwangtung Army, it emphasized “Rehe” as a region beyond the Great Wall (saiwai), through a historical introduction of different nomad groups of people appeared in different periods in Rehe in the past two millennia, such as Donghu, Xiongnu, Xianbei, Tujue, Kittan, Jurchen, and the Mongols.Footnote 12 This perception was then further consolidated by Japanese historical researches on the Kittan Liao and Jurchen Jin dynasties in the late 1930s, resulted in a deepened understanding of the binary historical structure of the sedentary south and nomad north throughout the past several centuries.Footnote 13 It was thus in this context, for architect Itō Chūta, that Rehe was an essential part of Manchuria and even more associated with the Korean peninsula rather than China proper, when he conducted an field research in Rehe in 1934.Footnote 14 To use a very good example that symbolically demonstrates this understanding of the Japanese in this period, General Okamura Yasuji described the scenery of Rehe he saw on his flight to Chifeng during the Rehe campaign as follows:

“Yesterday, it was an extremely nice day. As I observed the landscape of Rehe from 5,000 meters above, I could see the topographical changes from the steep mountains in the south to the vast desert regions in the north. Since I see almost no signs of human habitation, I confirmed how the brutal rule of the warlords of Zhang Xueliang had made the people here suffer. As I thought of the rise and fall of the nations of Donghu, Liao, Jin, and Yuan on the land of Rehe, I could not help but think of this poem passage: ‘states collapsed, but mountains and rivers remained.’”Footnote 15

Second, the leading Japanese in Manchuria addressed the discontinuous moment from the Qing to the Chinese Republic by emphasizing Chengde as a city not in line with the traditions of the Han Chinese south of the Great Wall. On the one hand, the Japanese found a city with beautiful natural sceneries and cultural relics in Chengdu during the Rehe campaign. As Iwashita Shintarō, for example, flew over Chengdu for investigating and attacking the Chinese army stationing around its suburbs as one of the leading pilots, he found from the sky a fantastic city with a history of thousands of years.Footnote 16 Also, as Uda Takeji entered Chengde as an agent from the Dentsū News, he discovered that Chengde was just like the old Japanese capital of Nara with its colourful imperial palace and 50 tiger towers standing behind it under the wind of pine (matsukaze).Footnote 17 On the other hand, the Japanese also emphasized that Chengde’s history fell exclusively in line with the Manchu court. Therefore, as a military adviser during the Rehe campaign, Sakata Yoshirō emphasized that Chengde was an important fortress surrounded by mountains. At the same time, he also noted its distinctive character through the Qing’s summer palace.Footnote 18 Emphasizing that this city had been founded by the Qing emperors and administered by Manchu courts, geographer Tanaka Shūsaku, then traveling in Manchuria on an investigative mission in mid-1933, found Chengde distinctive from China proper. He claimed that Chengde was an alternative name of Rehe, and was only established during the late Kangxi reign, therefore historically more closely related with Manchuria but not China proper.Footnote 19 For the ambitious Japanese advancing on Manchuria, including Rehe at this time, Chengde was thus a symbolic city, one that demonstrated not coherence between China proper and Manchuria, but rather an exemplary case of difference. Through this perception, they had thus imaged a clear-cut spatiality of Manchuria different from China.

Upon the occupation of Rehe, the Japanese also characterized Rehe’s distinctiveness through its cultural relics. The most important one was the hunting ground of Mulan (Mulan weichang). According to an introductory book on Manchukuo, various regions of Rehe were indeed offered to the Qing emperors by the Mongolian princes, including the hunting ground of Mulan.Footnote 20 As the Qing court further utilized it, according to another guiding book of Rehe, the emperors established a routine practice of hunting at the Mulan hunting ground to treat the Mongolian princes and to consolidate the Manchu court’s authority over Mongolia.Footnote 21 Another cultural relic was lamasery. Therefore, as Okamura Yasuji tried to make sense of the history of Rehe on his flight to Chifeng, he also said that “as the plane flied over the top of Lama towers standing in the mountain tops of Rehe, I cannot but have a feeling of disharmony derived from his sense of the ignorable temporality and history” reflected from the static mountainous and snowy sceneries of Rehe.Footnote 22 Hereby he regarded the Lama towers he saw on his plane as symbolic relics of the transhistorical geographical scenery of Rehe. Based on the understanding of Rehe of this kind, just as how the aforementioned book on Manchukuo introduced Rehe’s difference from the Han China proper, Lama religion, namely Tibetan Buddhism, became an essentialist cultural and religious marker separating Rehe and China in the Japanese travel accounts.Footnote 23 This perception was further confirmed again by Itō Chūta through this field research of the architectures of Rehe in the wake of the Rehe military campaign. According to Itō, the style of the traditional Chinese architecture had been quite static since the Han time, but by combining both the cultural elements of the Han and Tibetan Buddhism during the Qing time, there then appeared unique gigantic architectures (Irei no dai kenchiku) in Rehe, symbolized by the historically and artistically extremely valuable imperial palace and temples.Footnote 24

History is very important in signifying particular portions of collective memory. As highlighted above, when Japanese forces occupied Manchuria and further attacked Rehe in that extension, they also engaged a particular historical signification of Rehe’s past to separate the region from the sovereign realm of China in their war accounts and travel experiences. Furthermore, as the Japanese consolidated its rule over Rehe, the mixed cultural relics of Rehe between the Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism, symbolized by the aforementioned imperial palace and temples, did not become a cultural symbol of the diverse Chinese, but were actively utilized by the Japanese to present the ethnic diversity of Manchukuo outside Han China.Footnote 25

4 Geography

Geography was another important element that shaped people’s imagination about the physical boundaries of their nation. During the Rehe campaign of the Kwangtung Army, Japanese military personnel and journalists maintained a clear perception as to the demarcation between China proper and Manchuria through the historical boundary of the Great Wall and natural boundaries of mountains and deserts in Rehe. In doing so, they justified their Rehe campaign not only through a different frame of time mentioned above, but also through spatializing the particular geography of Rehe as one integrated part of Manchuria, thus constructing a distinctive spatial knowledge about the region.

The Great Wall standing in the mountainous regions of Rehe had been an artificial historical marker separating sedentary China proper and the nomad lands of northeast Asia. As the Kwangtung Army initiated its campaign in Rehe, the Japanese observers had thus made it clear that the Great Wall was the historical boundary between China and others. Specifically, for Satō Yaheita, a military advisor for the Kwangtung Army, it was the Great Wall that had separated Rehe from north China, and it seemed to him that this was also why the Chinese armies had fought the Japanese forces most fiercely around the lines of the Great Wall.Footnote 26 Based on this perception, as we see, the leading Japanese had thus established a goal to push the Chinese army south inside the Great Wall, but not further, at least at this stage in the early 1930s. Therefore, as was often the case, as they described their mission to defeat the Chinese armies, they indicated the Great Wall as their terminal destination. For instance, as a diplomat clarifying the Japanese legitimate campaign in Rehe in front of diplomats and journalists from foreign countries in Beiping and Tianjing, Tsurumi Ken claimed that “our army would not engage in offensives beyond the Great Wall unless the Chinese army challenge our army again or hurt our people in Beiping and Tianjin areas.”Footnote 27 Also, as a journalist moving along with one of the Japanese field units, Nakajima Kinko confirmed the goal of this campaign by experiencing the Japanese military deployments towards the Great Wall directly. As he described, as his unit took over the fortress of Lengkou of the Great Wall from the Chinese resistance force, the Japanese soldiers just “flied the Nisshō flag (Japanese national flag) and made the Banzai (Long Live) calls three times” to celebrate the completion of their mission.Footnote 28 Indeed, due to this widespread perception, as the Japanese army propagated the Japanese military mission in Rehe in the following year, the heroic battles of the Japanese soldiers across the Great Wall were widely and repeatedly highlighted.Footnote 29

The historical boundary between China proper and Manchuria along the line of the Great Wall was further backed up by the natural boundaries of steep mountains and desert regions in Rehe in the perception of the advancing Japanese. According to Tanaka Shūsaku, the steep mountainous geography of Rehe had formed a natural barrier for the Chinese armies to resist the Japanese campaigns from Manchuria, although the former was not capable enough of excluding the Japanese imperial army.Footnote 30 In line with this perception, one of the aforementioned guidebooks of Rehe thus said that the Mongol princes even tried to support the last emperor of the Qing in Rehe to resist the 1911 Revolution from the south.Footnote 31 For the author of this book, those Mongol princes could attempt to do so because “Rehe neighbours Manchuria, Mongolia, and China, and forms a clear natural barrier by the Great Wall,” with Manchuria and Mogolia staying outside China.Footnote 32 Furthermore, the vast desert region of Rehe also formed a natural boundary between China proper and the northern lands of Mongolia and Manchuria in the perceptions of the Japanese. As the Japanese armies advanced in the region to attack the Chinese forces from different directions from the north, as was often the case, they experienced logistical issues. Therefore, the more difficult to accomplish the Rehe campaign, the more they felt necessary to complete the final step to integrate the last piece of the land of Manchukuo, reflected in Kawasaki Shirō and Shimada Ryūichi’s mission statements to finalize the last holy war of the Japanese in Rehe for the state-construction projects of Manchukuo.Footnote 33

By the Great Wall, steep mountains, and vast area of deserts in Rehe, the leading Japanese in Manchuria and Japan had thus perceived clear-cut national boundaries of Manchuria. In this clear-cut national space, the Chinese could no longer claim a geographical coherence between China proper and its northeast, leaving room for the Japanese to interpret a contestable space in northeast Asia to consolidate the national space of Manchukuo.

5 Ethnicity

There were different interpretations about the constituencies of the Chinese nation in Republican China. Although there was a general tendency to weaken the racial differentiation between the Han Chinese and others since the formal founding of the Republic in 1912, the chauvinistic Han nationalism that had taken root in the 1911 Revolution did not just disappear. On the one hand, it is thus true that the leading Chinese politicians and intellectuals tended to emphasize the historical unfixity of the Chinese in the structural and civilizational coherence of China through the past millennia, and thereby legitimized the territoriality of contemporary China based on the historical and cultural legacies of the Qing. However, on the other hand, there remained a strong racial norm centred on the Han, exclusively addressing the racial integration of the Chinese nation from the Han perspective in addition to the aforementioned cultural nationalism.Footnote 34 Taking advantage of the Chinese racial norm centred on the Han, the leading Japanese intellectuals, politicians, and militarists, such as Ishiwara Kanji and Nagata Tetsuzan, thereby attempted to associate Republican China exclusively with ethnic Han Chinese in order to claim a racially differentiated Manchuria. It was then in this context that the Kwangtung Army actively utilized the independence movements in East Inner-Mongolia to separate the region from China, first for the bordering of Manchuria and then also to securitize the region to face potential encroachment of the Soviet Union from the north.Footnote 35 This was why it was also important for the Japanese leaders to construct a spatial knowledge of Rehe as one part of East Inner-Mongolia, by associating the region exclusively with the Mongols.

Firstly, in support of the Rehe campaign, the Japanese, who were aiming to consolidate an independent image of Manchukuo, emphasized the Mongol character of Rehe since the Yuan dynasty. Particularly during the Qing time, it seemed to them that the Mongols in this region were important for the Manchu court to stabilize the Qing’s rule over China proper.Footnote 36 Therefore, according to one Japanese intelligence report, the history of the region is exclusively associated with the Mongols. Also, for this reason, for the Mongols living in this region, the Chinese republic representing the hegemony of the Han was not necessarily legitimate for ruling them, resulting in their moves for independence.Footnote 37

Furthermore, the Japanese also emphasized the distinctiveness of Rehe by separating the Mongols from the Han Chinese by the Qing court’s policy of seal and prohibit (fengjin). They see that the Qing court was very cautious as to the contacts between the Han Chinese and the Mongols in its early period for security reasons. During this period, the Mongols in Rehe were thus banned from using the Chinese name and speaking the Chinese language. Additionally, they were not allowed to marry the Han Chinese.Footnote 38 The Chinese could enter Rehe for brief period with permission from the Office of Tribal Affairs, particularly for commercial activities, but they were not allowed to live there for a long time. Therefore, it seemed to some Japanese that Rehe had once been an ideal land (tōgenchi) for the Mongols to keep their own way of life.Footnote 39 This policy was however lifted in the Jiaqing period. As a result, Han Chinese immigrants had increasingly flowed in, making Rehe resemble other parts of China proper more.

As to Han-Mongolian relations, the Japanese addressed Chinese suppressions against the Mongols since the lifting of the fengjin policy. Although there were about 3.5 million people in Rehe in the early 1930s, the Mongol population only amounted 700,000 to 800,000.Footnote 40 In the Japanese perception, the region became distinctively Chinese only because of recent Han Chinese immigration. Upon the lifting of the fengjin policy in the early nineteenth century, certainly the Mongol princes needed these immigrants to cultivate their lands. However, as the population of Han Chinese got bigger and bigger, the nomad Mongols were pushed up further north. This trend was then accelerated since the founding of the Republic, and even worse, as the GMD came to rule China, it did not care about the interest of the Mongols. As a result, the local Chinese authority in Rehe could obtain lands with small compensation from the Mongols. Once obtaining the land, local authorities then sold it to Han Chinese, resulting in other conflicts between the Mongols and Han Chinese.Footnote 41 The Mongols certainly did not like this situation and had even attempted to resist the Chinese sovereignty over this region.Footnote 42 Therefore, it seemed to leading Japanese at this time that the Japanese campaign in Rehe was also one way to protect the Mongols from further encroachment of the Han Chinese.Footnote 43it was in this context that the Kwangtung Army planned to promote its propaganda project and targeted in particular the Mongol aristocrats to address the true collaborations between the Manchus and Mongols in Manchukuo.Footnote 44

Due to the particular history of Rehe associated with the Mongols, the leading Japanese militarists in Manchuria thus utilized the Mongol ethnicity to justify their Rehe campaign. Certainly, few found the Japanese campaign legitimate. However, from the Japanese propagation of the Mongol character of Rehe, at least we can understand another measure that the leading Japanese utilized to construct the distinctive spatiality of Rehe at this time as they advanced into the land of Rehe.

6 For the Locals

While Rehe’s history, geography, and ethnicity make it possible to envision it as a different region from China proper, the Japanese military leaders could hardly ignore it as a de facto Chinese region due to the overwhelming majority of the Han Chinese living there. Therefore, they also presented the agenda of their Rehe campaign to the Han Chinese locals. They spoke about the fears and sufferings in their daily lives and welcomed their collaboration and advocacy, respectively on account of two aspects: Namely, to prevent the expansion of communism from outer Mongolia and to protect the locals from Chinese warlord suppression. In doing so, they framed a different spatiality of Rehe and created an opportunity for the Han Chinese to affiliate themselves more with the newly established Manchukuo. That way, they would view Manchukuo as a prospect for a harmonious life and war-torn China proper as something that inflicts pain.

For the Kwangtung Army, the lifeline of imperial Japan was in Manchuria and Mongolia, but increasingly it faced significant threats, not only from the Chinese nationalists but also from the Communists of the Soviet Union. Therefore, the Kwangtung Army leaders had paid close attention to the Soviet Union’s policies towards the east and carefully monitored Communist activities in Manchuria, certainly including Rehe. What concerned them before the Rehe campaign in particular were the activities of the Mongol communists in south Rehe in the early 1930s. This awareness prompted calls for caution in any further moves.Footnote 45 Upon initiating the Rehe campaign, therefore, the Kwangtung Army leveraged fear of the Communist expansion in their propaganda. Specifically, in justifying Japanese military actions in Rehe, they set out to establish the Japanese as the guardians of the Asian way of life from Communist invasion through Outer Mongolia.Footnote 46

Another subject that the Kwangtung Army actively utilized to justify the Rehe campaign was the chaotic socio-political situation of Rehe under the rule of Tang Yulin, a warlord of Zhang Xueliang’s military clique. According to a Japanese investigation of Rehe in the early 1930s, the Rehe people were extremely impoverished due to natural disasters, heavy taxes, and plundering from local bandits. Additionally, large populations of Rehe residents were opium smokers, thus causing various social problems.Footnote 47 Even so, as the ruler of Rehe, Tang Yulin did not care about the lives of the Rehe people. Rather, he only cared about his own fortunes and still allowed massive productions of opium. For example, the annual opium production amounted more than half a million taels in seven of the fourteen districts in Rehe.Footnote 48 Impoverished and poisoned, some elderly people even cherished of the late Qing days more than the Republican era.Footnote 49 As a reflection of this image, one anonymous soldier talked about what he saw of the Chinese villages when his field unit advanced on Rehe:

As we stepped into the land of Rehe, we found that the villages were completely devastated. Needless to say Chaoyang and Lingyuan, even in the villages surrounding Chengde, we could neither find people nor properties in the devastated homes. As people could only survive the harsh winter at their homes, we were so astonished to find that, as was often the case, they were no windows and ondols in those homes.Footnote 50

This soldier subsequently suggests that a combination of unorganized and undisciplined Chinese villagers, the retreating Chinese armies, as well as the incapable local administration under the warlords’ rule led to the villages’ devastation. Judging from the chaotic and impoverished situation in Rehe, when the Kwangtung Army engaged in the Rehe campaign, its military leaders thus established plans to publicize the Japanese mission to help the Chinese people constructing their hometowns and to protect them from the suppressions of the warlords in the name of “stabilizing the region and enriching the land (anxiang letu).”Footnote 51

Specifically, the military leaders specified four directions in the Japanese propaganda projects: To demonstrate (1) no further ambitions of the Japanese beyond Rehe, (2) Japanese sympathy to Chinese sufferings, (3) the need to topple the Chinese warlords for the happiness of the Chinese people and the peace of the East, and (4) the good governance of Manchukuo.Footnote 52 To materialize these missions, the Kwangtung Army thus organized two big propaganda units (consisting of 10 personnel each, half of whom were Japanese and the other half Manchurian), 12 middle propaganda units (consisting of four to five personnel each, with two to three Japanese and two Manchurian), and 18 small propaganda units (consisting of three personnel each, one Japanese and two Manchurian) to move along with the Japanese forces to propagate the acclaimed visions and slogans of the Japanese among the Rehe residents.Footnote 53 Specifically, the army directed these units to create posters, flyers, placards, pamphlets, and other necessary goods to distribute. The units were also instructed to maintain active communication with local residents through various platforms like public speeches and small skits, as well as to establish a solid image of Rehe as an indispensable part of Manchukuo, which had been ruled brutally by Tang Yulin and Zhang Xueliang.Footnote 54 To promote these works, the army further required these units to adhere to the following points as they carried out their works in Rehe: The Japanese personnel should carefully collect information, first concerning the Japanese and Manchurian armies and then concerning the local political situation; the Manchurian personnel should engage in specific propaganda practices; and finally, they all should work with relevant authorities to manipulate news reports in the cities in Rehe.Footnote 55

The socio-political situation was far from stable in Rehe. As was often the case, people were afraid of Communist expansion and also suffered from war and brutal governance. While the Kwangtung Army’s military mission also threatened the lives of the Rehe locals, by utilizing the two subjects in its propaganda campaigns through its propaganda units traveling around Rehe, its leading figures at least attempted to establish a Japanese modern, civilized, and just image through the construction of a spatiality of Rehe integrated with Manchukuo. It is in this modernized and civilized image that the Japanese could possibly tame the national conflict with the Han Chinese and mobilize their support for Manchukuo.Footnote 56

7 Conclusion

Based on recent scholarship, although we know that the territoriality of Manchuria had been contested by various actors, this contestation itself does not obfuscate the fact that the region was undeniably Chinese by the overwhelming majority of the Han Chinese population. Exactly for this reason, Japanese military leaders in Manchuria had to confer upon Manchuria a different identity by reconfiguring a distinctive historical and cultural space while reducing its Chinese characters in their military conquest of the region.

However, while Manchuria as a contested borderland has been discussed extensively in established historiography, it is still unclear as to how the Japanese had indeed tried to border the borderland of Manchuria as far as they attempted to fit their state-building projects in the international system of nation-state. Specifically in regard to the founding of Manchukuo, the Japanese military campaign in Rehe demonstrated the ways of the Japanese observers in perceiving the clear-cut space of Manchukuo through the history, geography, ethnicity, and the particular socio-political conditions of Rehe. In doing so, the Japanese leading figures in the region could not only present Rehe as historically and culturally integrated with Manchukuo but also framed the distinctive historical and contemporary identity of Manchukuo as to its space and people in that extension.

Regardless of this presentation on the surface, the kind of documents discussed in this chapter introduces a new dimension to the discussion of knowledge production proposed by this volume. The Japanese developed strategic concepts in the context of a unique kind of travel—military campaigns—to present Rehe as a hegemonic space. This reconstructed spatial knowledge was to serve the consolidation and expansion of the Japanese informal empire in Manchuria, where Rehe stood as one of its bordering regions. Just as Ueji Torajirō termed the Japanese living in Rehe as the people from the mainland (Naichi no hitobito) in this field research in Rehe as a geologist, the Japanese then saw Rehe as a peripheral region of imperial Japan by distinguishing the region from China.Footnote 57 At the beginning of his research report, Ueji too associated the region’s history with the nomads, especially the Mongols, while rejecting the Han Chinese historical claim on Rehe due to their experiences there “only” for the past two centuries.Footnote 58 So, for him, now the region returned to the hand of the original owners, whom the Japanese could help modernize and develop in the “orient” of Japan.