Manchukuo: Master of Puppets

Forged by relentless Japanese military takeover on 15th September 1932, the new state of Manchukuo was not built to last. Born in the northeastern Chinese province of Manchuria, the state existed under elementary independence of its colonial master, which installed the puppet emperor Mr Henry Puyi. In response to the view of their ‘manifest destiny’ to expand and reform areas of their neighbouring Asian lands, Japan set its sights on Manchuria decades before the eventual takeover, believing the province to be within their natural sphere for expansion as Manchuria remained one of the few Chinese provinces to maintain its own dynastic independence from the ruling of Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang.

Fulfilling Japan’s desire to secure raw materials and supplies for her own population alongside an exclusive market for her manufactured products, Manchukuo quickly became worth the risk. With fertile land and 34 million ready and willing workers, to improve its industrial output, the province’s largely unharvested gold, iron ore and coal resources attracted Japanese attention not only for her own uses, but also as a means of starving China of the necessary natural reserves to ultimately become an efficient rival machine. Alongside such natural potential, Manchukuo also satisfied a significant man-made Japanese requirement, as its vast lands would accommodate the ever-growing Japanese population that the mainland struggled to house, and also provide a secure homeland for the Japanese migrants already living in Manchuria. Japan’s imperial improvements for Manchukuo included a road building programme, which expected 4,000km of new routes by June 1934 and a merge of telegraph, telephone and radio services to easily and efficiently regulate communications within the state.

Following the Manchurian Incident of 1931 which was publicly displayed to Japanese audiences as a Chinese uprising, the Japanese felt a collective sense of superiority over the disrespectful Chinese people who would be tamed by Japan through its initial step to pacify Manchuria. Throughout the establishment of the new state, Japan’s view of an inferior and ill-equipped Chinese race frequently made itself known, most notably through propaganda warning the population of Manchukuo of the ‘barbarian people’ across the borders that were waiting to strike on the province if it were to lie dormant and vulnerable much longer without Japanese rule. The invasion frequently intended to broaden Japanese power within China with a view, albeit grand, to transforming the nation into a Japanese colony as a whole. The Japanese government stated that through Manchukuo, they would be saving China from decades of playing second fiddle to the Soviet Union, effectively being bullied into submission by the communist state, as well as effectively blocking Chiang Kai-shek from reforming north-east Asia. Acting as a mainland anchor for Japanese security, Manchukuo became Japan’s shield from the threats of Western imperialism, Soviet communism and consequently Chinese communism.

The primary aim of the creation of the state of Manchukuo was to utilise the existing Manchuria railroad, with Japanese power assumption over the system almost instantly as a method of bridging the gap between China and Japan’s colony of Korea while simultaneously opening opportunities for further expansion in the direction of Mongolia. Three decades prior to the establishment of Manchukuo, Japan was strategically working to forge the South Manchurian railroads to their advantage with the aim of eventual entire control. By 1933, Japan’s armies were forging the foundations of an ‘enduring economic and strategic organisation to meet the Empire’s needs’ through the control of Manchuria’s northbound rail links to transport the wealth of harvested natural resources on Chinese land to its desired locations. The new railroad management scheme in March 1933 promised to promote the well-being of the Japan-Manchukuo relationship for defence purposes only, alongside the efficient restructuring of the railways to eliminate futile Chinese opposition, ensuring the full repayment of reparations owed to Japanese interests, specifically the South Manchuria Railway. The railroads were organised more efficiently by Japan in the first two years of the takeover than it had ever been arranged under the previous Chang regime. In 1934, Japan made a promise to install 4,000km of new tracks in the coming decade as a means of transporting their troops to the Russian front with ease. The South Manchurian Railway established in 1935 was considered the ‘economic spearhead of Japan’s expansion in China’ and emphasised the great importance of haste in taking action to hold back communism in the Soviet Union and China.

Japan obtained a valuable lesson from the creation of Manchukuo in its initial attempt to economically control their new independent nation entirely through state capitalism and banning the zaibatsu from participating in growing its economy, however these were fundamental players in forging a grassroots economy, consequently stifling Manchukuo’s finances. Locating its birth in 1932 in the midst of global depression and the 5.9 billion yen cost of establishing Manchukuo between the years of 1932 and 1941, initial fears were expressed that Manchukuo would cause more harm than good. The Japanese intended on organising their new independent state in a way to achieve ‘a self-sufficient economic unit’ in comparison with its own, through an outright expression of a desire to belong in a world of total war through its imminent industrial prowess. Within its first year, Manchukuo defied expectations of failure by consistently making progress in the initial years, particularly in the direction of financial improvement with the establishment of its own national bank on June 15 1932 which distributed a new coin monetary system as opposed to the previous worthless notes. The Manchukuo yuan, based on the silver standard, restored monetary stability and was welcomed by farmers and merchants who were suffering under the Chang dynasty, receiving too little in payment for their high-priced soy beans. In the spring of 1933, Manchukuo launched an economic program to tie the loose ends created by the new state, preventing the monopolization of the plentiful natural resources in the region by any one class, controlling the state’s economic activities from above, and ensuring the employment of foreign skills and experience through encouraging foreign investments. Two concepts of economic governance were used in Manchukuo, with a combination of state-managed economic development using the neighbouring Soviet as a model and a self-sufficient production sphere or ‘bloc economy’. An unexpected but welcome side effect of the economic improvements was the reduction in poverty among natives which quelled anti-imperialist protest, opening Manchukuo to unquestioned Japanese rule.

Japan’s economic management of Manchukuo combined methods of state capitalism with national socialism, which merged ‘the advantages of public ownership and private management’, was considered a revolutionary approach that brought suggestions that Manchukuo marked a stage of Japanese colonialism where Japan tried and tested its economic theories in its new state, as Young compares it to a ‘laboratory’, and would then export the successful policies back home to be implemented. Japan’s imperial expansion into Chinese territory unintentionally brought a number of appealing promises to the Chinese people of Manchuria, specifically the offer of prosperity through such successful economic risks, which ‘means more to Chinese than political choice’, allowing Japan a free reign to complete control. Addressing the trading ‘Open Door’ in Manchukuo’s economic situation, Timperley’s contemporary article argues that ‘the door may be open but there are too many Japanese crowding the threshold for anybody else to be able to get even a look in’ as Japan expressed no desire to share Manchukuo’s wealth with foreign traders or even native Chinese. Through pushing aside Western competition with radically cheap prices that Britain and America could not possibly hope to rival, Japan assumed its rightful monopoly over its new state’s economic advancement. However, the speed at which Manchukuo succeeded economically brought suspicions of the legality of their actions, with goods smuggled into Manchukuo from Dairen avoiding export charges.

Japan’s subliminal control of the supposed central Manchukuo government blurred the meaning of independence for its new colony, with Japanese officials in power over the Manchukuo administration and Mr Henry Puyi and his ‘phantom cabinet’ answering to Japan at every turn. Manchukuo instantly declared itself independent of China, therefore snubbing the League of Nations designed to protect nations from such violations of national rights that Japan exceeded through its takeover. Manchukuo gradually became an efficient state through the effective mobilisation of the Japanese and Manchurian population in military, political, economic and cultural outputs, such as the Manchukuo Army, to evoke a sense of belonging and patriotism to the motherland Japan in the new state. The ‘revolution of 1932’ soon became the ‘restoration of 1932’, as outside views quickly realised the Japanese invasion had undoubtedly improved the region’s output in its first year. However, with all its successes, Manchukuo faced an unrelenting internal problem of banditry and the maintenance of order in a new state born out of the chaos and corruption of the previous Chang dynasty. While the independent state of Manchukuo was short-lived, arguments remain that the province of Manchuria was always independent, as China had never governed Manchuria and the Manchu dynasty never ruled China.

Manchukuo, the ‘child of conflict’ was handed over to European control following Japan’s crippling defeat at the close of the Second World War, and as a consequence suffered economic collapse and national distress, suggesting the Japanese occupation and governance significantly stabilised its Chinese colony, proving that Manchukuo was largely a risk worth taking.


‘As to Recognizing Manchukuo’, World Affairs (1932) 73-75.

‘Japan’s Railway Control in Manchuria’, Foreign Affairs, 12 (1934) 294.

Akagi, Roy H., ‘Japan and the Open Door in Manchukuo’, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (1933) 54-63.

Akagi, Roy H., ‘Future of American Trade with Manchukuo’, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (1940) 138-143.

Fenby, Jonathan, Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-Shek and the China He Lost (London, 2003).

Harries, Meirion, Soldiers Of The Sun: The Rise and Fall of the Imperial Japanese Army (New York, 1991).

Hunter, Janet E., The Emergence of Modern Japan: An Introductory History Since 1853 (New York, 1989). (Hunter, 1989).

Kushner, Barak, The Thought War: Japanese Imperial Propaganda (Honolulu, 2006). (Kushner, 2006).

Pyle, Kenneth B., The Making of Modern Japan (Lexington, 1978). (Pyle, 1978).

Timperley, H.J., ‘Japan in Manchukuo’, Foreign Affairs, 12 (1934) 295-305.

Young, Louise, Japan’s Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism (California, 1999).

The Formation of the Kingdom of Serbia

The Kingdom of Serbia was a medieval Serbian Kingdom that existed from 1217 to 1346. It was ruled by the Nemanjić dynasty and was formed from the previous Serbian Grand Principality that was based in Raška. The Kingdom lasted until 1346 when it became The Serbian Empire.

The Grand Principality of Serbia in the Raška region had already been in conflict with the Byzantines for many years, and there had been a long history of Byzantine control over the area. However, it is partially thanks to the Byzantine attacks on the previously most powerful Serb region of Duklja that Raška rose to the top. There would have been another invasion on Raška, but through diplomatic ties with the Kingdom of Hungary, Serbia managed to keep independence.

In the years shortly after this, Serbian leaders fought against the Byzantines, and continued to turn towards Hungary for support. However this was planned to be stopped by the Byzantine Emperor who put a new Grand Prince on the throne in 1166 called Stefan Tihomir, who was of a lower line of Serb nobles. Tihomir ruled jointly with his brothers, the most important of which was Stefan Nemanja. Nemanja swore allegiance to the Byzantine emperor and became a vassal of Byzantium. He aided the Imperial army in many campaigns, including one against the Hungarians. Tihomir saw the tie between Nemanja and the Emperor as a threat.

Stefan Nemanja was eventually imprisoned by his brother. This was supposedly because Nemanja had ordered the construction of two monasteries without the Grand Prince’s permission. However, it is most likely that Tihomir felt threatened by his brother’s allegiance to the Emperor and thought that he was trying to assert his own independence. Nemanja’s supporters conspired to the church that Tihomir had done this because he disapproved of church building in general, so the church turned on Tihomir, which allowed Nemanja to escape.

Eventually, Stefan Nemanja formed an army with Byzantine help in order to overthrow Tihomir. This was a success, and Tihomir and his other two brothers were banished from Serbia. They went to Byzantium in 1167. In the next few years, Nemanja became a powerful figure as the single ruler of Serbia. However, the Byzantine Emperor did not approve of this, and turned to Tihomir and his brothers. Planning to see Serbia divided between the princes in order to keep it weak, The Emperor provided Tihomir with an army to take back Serbia. In 1171, Nemanja had gathered his own army and defeated his brother’s forces at the battle of Pantino. Tihomir was killed by drowning in the Sitnica river at the end of the battle, and Nemanja made peace with his other brothers, returning their old lands to them. After this Nemanja was recognized as the only ruler of Serbia, and at this point begins the Nemanjić dynasty.

Stefan Nemanja planned to gain full independence from Byzantine rule, so he joined the anti-Byzantine coalition with the Kingdom of Hungary, the Venetian republic and the Holy Roman Empire. However, this alliance was short-lived, as Venice faced mutiny and an outbreak of plague destroying their fleet, and the Hungarian King was replaced by a pro-Byzantine successor. Shortly after this, Byzantine Emperor Manuel I launched an attack on Raška, and defeated Nemanja’s forces. Nemanja surrendered to the Emperor, and was imprisoned and brought to Constantinople to be his personal slave. During his time in Constantinople, Nemanja befriended Manuel I, and vowed to never again attack him. In return The Emperor recognized Stefan Nemanja as the rightful ruler of Serbia, and let him return. However, this peace only lasted 9 years, until 1180 when Manuel I died, and Nemanja no longer considered he owed any allegiance to the Byzantines since his vows were to Emperor Manuel I and not the Empire.

Over the next decade, Nemanja worked on the expansion of his territory, and continued to fight with the Byzantines successfully. Although, in 1191, a large Byzantine army led by the new emperor Isaac II Angelus fought and defeated Stefan Nemanja. Nemanja retreated into the mountains with his remaining men and began raiding the Byzantine forces in the area. Nemanja had the tactical advantage at this point, so this prompted the Emperor to negotiate final peace treaty, in which Nemanja had to give up most of his Eastern conquest, and recognize the Emperor’s supreme rule.

On March 25, 1196, Stefan Nemanja summoned a council where he officially abdicated in favour of his second son, Stefan II. Although Vukan was his eldest son, Nemanja preferred to see Stefan II on the throne due to him being married to a Byzantine princess, which allowed them to have peace with Byzantium. Stefan Nemanja would later begin to establish the Serbian church in 1199 with his third son; Sava. Sava would later become ‘Saint Sava’, and Stefan Nemanja himself also later became a monk and took up the name ‘Simeon’, eventually becoming a Saint of Serbia too.

During the beginning of his reign, Stefan II had to deal with the heir conflict with his older Brother Vukan. While Nemanja was still alive, Vukan didn’t oppose Stefan II’s rule, but as soon as Nemanja died in 1199, he started to plot against Stefan II in order to become Grand Prince himself. Vukan used the help of the Hungarian Kingdom to overthrow Stefan II in 1202 and became ruler, while Stefan fled into Bulgaria. Vukan later became a Hungarian vassal and promised to convert to Catholicism if the Pope would give him the title of king. However, Vukan became involved in the Hungarian conflict with Bulgaria, leading to Stefan taking the opportunity to return to Serbia and overthrow Vukan, becoming ruler once again in 1204. The conflict power struggle between the two brothers only ended when the third brother, Sava, returned to Serbia from his work on founding Serbian Christianity. Sava brought with him the remains of their father, Stefan Nemanja, which convinces Vukan and Stefan II to make peace. Sava subsequently asked to stay in Serbia by Stefan, and he does so, starting his widespread education of the people of Serbia. In the following years, Stefan II still had to deal with the tension between himself and Vukan’s son Đorđe after Vukan’s death in 1209. This eventually led to Đorđe’s lands being taken from him in 1216.

In 1217 Stefan, Stefan II managed to secure the title of king from Pope Honorius III. Sava brought the regal crown from Rome, and crowned his brother himself as ‘King of all Serbia’. In 1218, Sava began the real formation of the Serbian Church, and was consecrated as the first Archbishop of Serbia in 1219. In the same year, Sava published ‘Zakanopravilo’; the first constitution of Serbia, thus acquiring the Serbs both political and religious forms of independence. The Nemanjić dynasty continued to rule Serbian lands for the next 200 years, which emerged into a powerful state that would dominate the entire Balkan peninsula, eventually becoming the Serbian Empire on 1346.

The Imperial frontiers of the Roman Empire

In this week’s blog post I will be investigating the Imperial frontiers of the Roman Empire from the first to fifth centuries AD. I will be looking at the placing of the frontiers, what constituted a frontier and how successful they were at keeping the enemies of Rome at bay. The Roman Empire expanded from western and central Europe in the North West to the lands in the east of Egypt and Parthia. These territories, built up over hundreds of years needed protecting and a well placed natural or man-made bounder was the most efficient solution compared with the large costs of a standing army. Though first we must ask what it is meant by a frontier in general terms. On the one hand they kept the Empire together and ensure the protection of its citizen in the event of an attack. However they also kept ‘others’ out both physically and psychologically. A wall, a hedge or even lines painted on the ground can be a boundary intending to keep someone out and asserting ownership over an area of land. Simply, a boundary told a person where their land stopped and where someone else’s began. These boundaries also needed to be visible and to have a meaning in their construction. The construction and impression of a boundary presents an image of power and security, one such picture that the Roman Empire achieved in their control of the lands in the Empire.

Firstly, where were these frontiers placed? The most impressive and well-known Roman frontier lies in the north of the Empire at Hadrian’s Wall. The Emperor Hadrian ascended to the Imperial seat in 117 AD, with the death of his predecessor Emperor Trajan. It was under Trajan that the Empire’s expansion reached its height and it was Hadrian’s decision to begin consolidating these areas. Whilst the Britons had largely been subdued over the last century of Roman conquest, the Celtic people still fought with Rome in northern England. Raids by the Picts presented a constant danger to the Roman citizens and legions based in Britain and therefore it was decided that a wall should be built to consolidate the edge of the Roman World. Running for 80 Roman or 73 British miles (117 km) and with a height of 7-10 ft, Hadrian’s Wall was finished in 124 AD with various forts and stations soon built afterwards to bolster its defence. From this example it is clear that the frontiers, at least in the north of the Empire, were built at the limits of Roman control. Supported by varied and uneven terrain the Wall in the north served as boundary for the Empire until Rome’s retreat from Britain.

Frontiers could also be placed where no artificial boundaries could be placed and the natural elements and landscape could serve as a defence. In the south-east of the Empire, the deserts of Africa served as the limits of the Roman Empire. With Egypt annexed under the reign of Emperor Augustus around 30 BC, the Empire now controlled a vast wealthy area of land with the Nile River at its centre. However apart from a few cohorts and forts inside Egypt, the province was lightly guarded. As it was mainly accessible through the Mediterranean and up the Nile, its protection handled by the Imperial Navy, and surrounded on land on most sides by the Sahara desert, Egypt and the rest of Africa was well defended in the south. Whilst I have only briefly looked at Egypt, the desert frontier protected the Roman Empire’s African interests without much difficulty. Derek Williams hints at another reason why the edges of the Roman Empire were loosely defended, that of internal dangers. The Empire had been wrecked beyond counting from civil wars and by placing fewer soldiers and their commanders at their limits; they could hope to limit the number men seeking to elevate themselves when not under the eyes of their superiors.

Therefore both natural and artificial defences constituted a frontier for the Roman Empire and they both served as a way of controlling who entered and left the Imperial territories. Depending on the time period and the political setting, the Roman frontiers generally held against those who would seek to attack Rome. What was crucial to the frontiers success however, was for the Empire and those who administrated it to remain focused on its defence. This was a difficult motion to continuously follow as the various civil wars were played out, with one emperor replacing another prove. Whilst the frontiers held the Roman Empire together another process was occurring that in many ways secured, not just the Roman world but the Latin world, when the Empire eventually fell. Romanization unified the cultures and peoples within the Roman Empire under central laws, religions etc and served to protect the ideas that held Rome up for over five centuries. The frontiers were a success because they allowed this process to flourish as each border was a meeting point between one culture and another. Alongside this boundaries trade flourished and the Roman way of life was spread further than any frontier could hope to extend to. Therefore, whilst the frontiers served as images of power and spectacle for the Roman Empire, they really stood and represented the very limits of Roman control. As a cost-effective means of protecting an incredibly large and culturally diverse Empire, the Roman frontiers serve their purpose to maintain the Empire’s coherence. The extent of the Roman Empire, roughly 4,000 miles, means that there was more than I could handle in this blog post so my apologies but I hope this has been interesting for our blog readers.


Derek Williams, The Reach of Rome, A History of the Roman Imperial Frontier 1st-5th Centuries AD (London, 1996).

Stephen Johnson, Hadrian’s Wall (London, 1989).