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Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 滿洲
Simplified Chinese 满洲
Russian name
Russian Маньчжурия
Romanization Mantszjoerija

Manchuria is a historical name given to a vast geographic region in northeast Asia. In 1936 its area was 460,383 square miles.[1] Today it falls almost entirely within Red China, and is commonly referred to as North-east China, and historically referred to as Guandong, which literally means "East of the (Shanhaiguan) Pass/Mountain".


The South Manchurian Railway HQ offices at Hsinking

Manchuria contains the old Chinese provinces of Fengtien, Kirin, Heilungkiang, and Jehol[2]. The region is the traditional homeland of the Xianbei, Khitan, and Jurchen, who built several dynasties in northern China. It is also the home of the Manchus, after whom Manchuria is named. Manchuria saw increasingly significant Russian influence as Imperial Russia consolidated itself in Siberia and on the Pacific coast. During the 19th century European powers' interventions in the Chinese Empire, resulted in a number of coastal concessions including Hong Kong, Weihaiwei (both British), the concessions in Hankow, the German concession/colony of Tsingtau and the International Settlement at Shanghai[3]. The Imperial Russian government, having taken a small part in suppression of the Boxer Rebellion, also sought concessions. These included a large Russian concession in Harbin, a lease of Port Arthur and it's peninsula, and the construction of the South Manchuria Railway, which would be entirely under Russian control and management.[4]

Harbin with some of its pre-1940 buildings.

Northern Manchuria also came under strong Russian influence with the building by them via a concession of the Chinese Eastern Railway through Harbin to Vladivostok. In the Chuang Guandong movement, many Han Chinese farmers, mostly from the Shandong peninsula moved there. By 1921, Harbin, northern Manchuria's largest city, had a population of 300,000, including 100,000 Russians.[5]

Incoming Japanese Navy troops replace departing Russian troops following Russia's defeat in 1905.

Following the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05[6] the Imperial Chinese Government signed new treaties with Japan agreeing to the transfer of the Russian treaties to them, under the same terms and conditions, as well as other concessions.[7] Japan proceeded to extend their economic development in southern Manchuria in particular. It was argued by Sir F. Lindley, writing from the British Embassy in Tokyo to Sir John Simon in London on December 23, 1931, that given the great risks Japan had taken in the war with Russia that "Manchuria represents something sacred to the mind of the Japanese nation."[8] The collapse of the Chinese Empire and fall of its ancient monarchy meant that Manchuria became largely reliable upon warlords for its government: corruption became endemic and bandit gangs numbering thousands raided towns and the railways.[9] In addition the republican Chinese had built another main railway through south Manchuria which was forbidden in the treaties with Russia and Japan. The latter, seeing this as a serious threat to their massive trade interests, protested, to no avail.[10] In the meantime attacks on their railways resulted in an increased Japanese military presence. Friction between the Japanese and Chinese authorities became aggravated and Marshal Chang Hsueh-liang, the Governor of Manchuria, was assassinated in 1928.


The Emperor of Manchukuo

Following the placing and detonating by the Chinese of a massive bomb beneath the South Manchurian railway the Japanese occupied Mukden on September 18, 1931[11] and quickly extended their occupation to almost all of Manchuria. The Chinese government at Nanking protested to the League of Nations and on December 10, 1931 the League's Council decided to appoint a Commission of Enquiry into any disturbance which "threatens to disturb peace between China and Japan."[12] On December 13, 1931, the British Embassy advised London to "anticipate speedy elimination of the remains of the administration of the 'young Marshal'" (Chang Hsueh-liang),[13] who had succeeded his father, declaring his allegiance to the nationalist regime at Nanking at a time when relations between China and Japan were at breaking point, mainly due to the anarchy throughout China.

The Republic of Manchukuo came into being in February 1932. Those groups in Manchuria who were pro-Japanese[14] selected Pu Yi (1907-1967), the deposed Manchu Emperor of China[15] who had been living in 'retirement' in Tientsin to be the head of their new state. He had, in fact, arrived in Port Arthur on or before December 17th 1931[16], and on March 9, 1932 was formally installed as Chief Executive of the Republic in the city of Ch'angch'un, now renamed Hsinking, or 'New Capital'. In January-February 1933 the Japanese added Jehol to their conquests.

In 1934 the Republic was transformed into an Empire, with Pu Yi assuming office as the Emperor K'ang Te, his coronation taking place on March 1.[17] Four days later, on March 5th, Time magazine featured him on their front cover. There was no Parliament, and administration was carried out by a State Council, which performed the functions of a Cabinet, while a Privy Council also functioned in an advisory capacity to the Emperor. The higher offices of the Manchukuo administration were fairly evenly divided between the Japanese and natives of Manchukuo. Japanese influence over State affairs was quite naturally great. In 1938 the Japanese Ambassador to Manchukuo was General Kenkichi, who was also the Commander-in-Chief of the occupying Japanese Kwantung Army. Manchukuo itself maintained an army of 80,000 and a flotilla of 11 gunboats.[18]

Members of the Kwantung Army Pioneers in Manchukuo.

In June 1936 there was an overall population of 33,836,898 in Manchukuo. The principle cities were Harbin (500,526 people), Mukden (388,841), Hsinking (303,301), and Antung (154,575);and there were 12,884 schools with 667,967 students.[19]

The League of Nations passed a resolution recommending non-recognition of Manchukuo and on March 27, 1933, the Japanese Empire left the League. Following its establishment Japan and the central American republic of El Salvador were the only countries to extend de jure recognition. However the following year the Vatican announced also its de jure recognition of the Empire of Manchukuo, and Tokyo's papal legate called on its Emperor to present the Pope's greetings to him. On November 30, 1937 Italy recognised Manchukuo, and Germany, which already had special trade relations in Hsinking, did so on February 20, 1938. The United States and British Consulates in Mukden and Harbin maintained informal relations with the established authorities.[20] On April 2, 1935, the Manchurian Emperor boarded the Japanese battleship Hie Maru in Dairen harbour, arriving on April 6th in Yokahama harbour, for a three-week State Visit to Japan. A fly-past by a hundred Japanese naval aircraft took place in his honour. At Tokyo Station Emperor Hirohito, the Mikado, welcomed the Emperor K'ang Te (Pu Yi), and towards the end of the visit both Emperors reviewed a magnificent review of ten thousand troops of the Imperial Bodyguard.


In June 1940 the Emperor of Manchukuo paid another less formal visit to Tokyo with private meetings with Emperor Hirohito, and that autumn Japan joined the Axis with Germany and Italy and signed the New Order Pact. The Manchurian Emperor, allied to the Japanese, attended a celebration at the officers' mess in Hsingking to mark the occasion. When Malaya and Singapore fell, the Manchurian Emperor sent a personal note of congratulations to General Yamashita who in 1942 himself paid a courtesy call, along with the new Japanese Premier, General Togo, on Pu Yi.[21]. Gradually, however, the military tide turned against the Axis powers.

By the end of World War II Manchuria was the most industrialised region in what had previously been China due to the energies of the Japanese.

At the Yalta Conference in February 1945 the Soviet Union's Dictator, Joseph Stalin, demanded the restoration of all former rights and privileges in Manchuria as a price for Soviet entry into the Pacific war (notwithstanding that he had a non-aggression pact with both Manchuria and Japan). His fellow Allied Heads of State agreed to this.

The shadow of the old enemy, the Russian bear, now fell across Manchuria again. On April 5, 1945, Russia renounced her neutrality pact with Japan and Manchukuo, and Yamashita was brought back to assume control of Manchuria's defences. He had a formal interview with the Emperor who found him a changed man, sad and resigned. In May Soviet troops began to move from Europe to Asia. On August 8 the Soviet Union declared war on both Manchukuo and Japan and four Soviet armies crossed the border into Manchukuo the following day, three from Siberia and one from Outer Mongolia, and Hsingking suffered aerial bombing on that day and night. Despite stiff resistance by the Manchukuo and Japanese armies, mass evacuations began almost immediately to Korea, and on August 14, crowds watched their Emperor & Empress board a special train at Hsinking bound for Tunghua near the Korean border, moving on finally to the small town of Talitzu, high up in the mountains. It was in these mountains, 300 years previously, that the Manchu clans had gathered to invade China and found the Ching dynasty. Now the last emperor of that dynasty had returned. The next day, August 15, Japan surrendered. The Emperor of Manchukuo, upon hearing this news, held a State Council meeting. Manchuria then also surrendered, a cease-fire was ordered, and the Emperor formally abdicated, shaking hands with each of his cabinet ministers and thanking them for their loyal service. With communist terrorists operating in the vicinity it was decided Pu Yi should fly to safety in Japan with his family, and they boarded a plane at Tunghua. The plane, however, took them to Mukden, for a connecting flight to Japan. While waiting for this flight the Soviets arrived, captured the Emperor, his brother, and others, and flew them to Siberia as prisoners of war.[22] The Soviets held victory parades, notably in Port Arthur, which the Russian Army had been forced to surrender to the Japanese in 1905.

The Soviets now plundered Manchuria as a conquered territory, systematically confiscating food, gold bullion, industial machinery, and other stockpiles. The Soviets also encouraged the Chinese Communist terrorists in Manchuria to unite with their numbers in North China to form a new Communist army. Equipped with Soviet arms etc., this force replaced the Russians in the occupation of Manchuria.

Communist Era

The Communist 'rehabilitation' of Manchuria began with the usual land reforms in 1946 and within three years all land had been redistributed among the peasants. The landlords were exterminated. Industrial plants had to be reconstructed, and during the First Five-Year Plan of 1953-57 Manchuria received the bulk of Red Chinese industrial investment.

In 1953 Peking abolished Manchuria's semi-autonomous status (as the Northeast People's Government) replacing it with a Manchuria divided into three provinces. Since then Manchuria has been fully integrated into the political structure of Red China. It remains the industrial heartland.


  • Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition, Micropaedia, Chicago, USA, 1990, vol.7, p.762.
  1. Encyclopaedia Britannica Book of the Year 1938, London, 1938,p.395.
  2. Britannica, 1938, p.395.
  3. Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939 edited by Rohan Butler, M.A., Douglas Dakin, M.A.,PhD., & M.E.Lambert, M.A., 2nd series, vol.ix, HMSO, London, 1965,, where it states Britain's commercial interests at Shanghai alone in 1927 were estimated to be worth over £63,000,000.
  4. Keown-Boyd, Henry, The Fists of Righteous Harmony - A history of the Boxer Uprising in China in 1900, London, 1991, pps:223-8, ISBN:0-85052-403-2
  5. "Memories of Dr. Wu Lien-teh, plague fighter". Yu-lin Wu (1995). World Scientific. p.68. ISBN 981-02-2287-4
  6. Connaughton, Richard, The War of the Rising Sun and Tumbling Bear, London, 1988, ISBN 0-415-00906-5
  7. Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, 1965, pps:17-21 "Memorandum relating to the 'Secret Protocol' attached to the Chinese-Japanese Treaty and additional Agreement of December 22, 1905."
  8. Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939,1965, p.34.
  9. Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939,1965, pps:6/10/59.
  10. Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, 1965, p.6.
  11. Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, 1965, p.4.
  12. Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, 1965, p.v.
  13. Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, 1965, p.12.
  14. Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, 1965, p.21n.
  15. Lauder-Frost, Gregory, China - The Last Years of Empire, 'Monarchist League Historical Review' paper, London, June 1992.
  16. Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, 1965, p.21.
  17. McAleavy, Henry, A Dream of Tartary, London, 1963, p.216
  18. Britannica, 1938, p.395-6.
  19. Britannica, 1938, p.396.
  20. Britannica, 1938, p.395-6.
  21. Power, Brian, The Puppet Emperor - The Life of Pu Yi, Last Emperor of China, London, 1986, pps:175-8/192-6. ISBN: 0-7206-0673-X
  22. Power, 1986, pps:197-200.