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Japan and the Soviet Union clashes at Nomonhan and Changkufeng 1938–39.

Manchukuo (Pinyin: Manzhouguo) is the Japanese name of Manchuria (the region north of China) and refers to Japanese control of the region in the 20th century, especially 1931-45 when a Japanese puppet state called Manchukuo was in operation. The last Qing emperor of China, Aisin Gioro Puyi (1905–67), who was ousted from power in China by the 1911 Revolution and who had sought sanctuary with the Japanese in 1924, was installed as the 'Chief Executive' of the puppet state, and on 1 March 1934 was declared Emperor of Manchukuo. The state collapsed under the impact of the Soviet Invasion of August 1945 and the end of the surrender of Japanese forces. The United States rejected Japanese control and it became an issue that led to war between the U.S. and Japan in 1941. In 1946 the region came under the control of China.


Manchuria, where the Manchu people originated, was administered separately from "China proper" by the Manchu dynasty (1644-1911) after the Manchu conquered China in 1644. In the 1890s, Russia penetrated the region by obtaining railroad concessions and a leasehold that included Dairen and Port Arthur. As Western and Japanese imperialists vied for concessions in China and Manchuria after China's defeat by Japan in 1895, American policy was expressed in Secretary of State John M. Hay's Open Door notes of 1899 and 1900. The notes reflected an American assumption that the interests of the United States were served best by preserving both equal opportunity to trade throughout China and China's independence and territorial integrity. Manchuria was of particular concern because American exporters fared better there than in China proper and because Russian domination threatened to exclude American goods.

From 1901 to 1903, the administration of Theodore Roosevelt quarreled with the Russians in an effort to preserve American opportunities in Manchuria. In 1904, the Japanese, considering their interests in Manchuria to be vital, attacked Russian forces there. Japanese successes led to control over southern Manchuria, conceded by the Russians in the Treaty of Portsmouth (1905). Roosevelt aided negotiation of the settlement and acquiesced in the parceling of spheres of interest in Manchuria. He rejected subsequent Chinese overtures for help in regaining control of the region. Later, the administration of William Howard Taft challenged both Japan and Russia in Manchuria. As part of their program of "dollar diplomacy," Taft and Secretary of State Philander C. Knox attempted to internationalize the railroads that were the foundation of the Japanese and Russian spheres. The American plan failed, driving Japan and Russia together.


A note by Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan in 1915 and the Lansing-Ishii agreement in 1917 appeared to constitute American recognition of the Japanese sphere of interest in southern Manchuria. In neither instance was American intent clear. The four-power consortium agreement of 1920 and the Nine-Power Treaty of 1922 were also ambiguous about Japan's special interests in Manchuria. Without legitimizing Japanese political pretensions in the region, the United States conceded Japanese economic hegemony. The governments of the Republic of China (1911–49) never exercised more than nominal control over the area.

By the 1920s, control of Manchuria was considered by Japanese leaders to be vital to Japan's economic development and security.


Threatened by the growth of Chinese nationalism there, the Japanese army staged an incident on Sept. 18, 1931, occupied all of Manchuria, and, on Feb. 18, 1932, created the puppet state of Manchukuo. Concerned less with who controlled Manchuria than with Japanese violations of the Nine-Power Treaty and the Pact of Paris (1927), the United States, independently and in concert with the League of Nations, exerted pressure on Japan. Foreign protests were ignored by the Japanese military, and the civilian government was unable to restrain the army. With none of the powers willing to impose sanctions, the U.S. Secretary of State Henry Stimson announced in January 1932 to "Stimson Doctrine"—a refusal to recognize conditions brought about by Japanese treaty violations.

Japanese politicians and intellectuals implemented plans for cultural assimilation and integration of culturally Chinese Manchurians into the Japanese empire through direct propaganda efforts, both print media and film, aimed at the women of Manchukuo. The efforts were reversed after Japan's defeat in 1945.

Japan and the Soviet Union fought a large-scale border war in Manchukuo in 1939, resulting in a major Soviet victory at Nomonhan, and Japanese reluctance to engage the Soviets any more. Japan thereupon turned south.[1]

The United States never recognized Manchukuo and refused to concede Japanese dominance over the region during the efforts of Cordell Hull and Nomura Kichisaburo to avoid war in 1941.

1945 and after

At the Yalta Conference (in February 1945) President Franklin D. Roosevelt secretly agreed to give the Soviet Union Japan's sphere of interest in Manchuria in return for Soviet intervention in the war in Asia. The Red Army entered Manchuria in August 1945 and remained there until April 1946. After Soviet forces withdrew, Mao Zedong and his People's Liberation Army defeated Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang armies in Manchuria as in the rest of China. An agreement between Mao and Joseph Stalin in 1950 led to complete Chinese sovereignty in 1955. A separate American policy toward these northeastern provinces of China ceased to exist after 1947, when the administration of Harry S. Truman rejected Gen. Albert C. Wedemeyer's proposal for a five-power or United Nations trusteeship for Manchuria. Communist strength in Manchuria proved the base, and "anvil of victory," for their forces against the Nationalists in 1948.[2] Manchuria was also the Chinese base for intervention in the Korean War in late 1950 to prevent a UN rollback of Communist North Korea.


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  1. Alvin D. Coox, Nomonhan: Japan Against Russia, 1939 (1985).
  2. Steven I. Levine, Anvil of Victory: The Communist Revolution in Manchuria, 1945–1947 (1987).