The Matrix of Modernity and National Identity in Manchukuo Literature from 1937 to 1941

by Chao Liu (Author)
©2019 Monographs VI, 184 Pages


This is the first work in English to explore Manchukuo literature in its entirety. It provides comprehensive, in-depth, and thought-provoking research by placing the literary history of Manchukuo from 1937 to 1941 in specific cultural lineages and socio-political contexts and focusing on four major literary groups of that period—the Manshū rōmanha, the Sakubun writers, the Yiwenzhi intellectuals, and the Wenxuan School—to illuminate its underlying intellectual dynamics. As it turns out, Manchukuo literature notably featured multiplicity, ambiguity, and self-reflexivity, which enabled it to transcend the dichotomy of romanticism and realism and that of the colonizers and the colonized. Not unlike a coordinate system, it took modernity and national identity as its horizontal and vertical axes. The Manshū rōmanha and the Sakubun writers respectively adopted an anti-modern or a modernist perspective and unanimously headed towards the intellectual stance of denying their own national identity and merging into the indigenous society of the colony; in comparison, Manchurian intellectuals, as epitomized by the Yiwenzhi School and the Wenxuan School, started from the same purpose of promoting national consciousness, but at last embarked on a bifurcated path to either modernization or cultural regression. Moreover, although the literary writings of these four groups differed much from each other in topics, stylistic features, and narrative modes, they all showed a deep concern for the sufferings of the Manchurian people brought by colonialism, coincidentally directed their criticism or sarcasm against the colonial rule, and thereupon endowed Manchukuo literature with a keynote of darkness.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for The Matrix of Modernity and National Identity in Manchukuo Literature from 1937 to 1941
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Chapter I. Introduction
  • Chapter II. “Overcoming Modernity” and the Manshū Rōmanha
  • Emergence of the Nihon Rōmanha and Their Theoretical Appeals
  • Founding of the Manshū Rōmanha and Publication of Manshū Rōman
  • The Romantic Spirit and the Idea of “Mainland-ity”
  • Similarities and Differences Between the Manshū Rōmanha and Their Counterpart in Japan
  • Literary Praxis of the Manshū Rōmanha
  • Chapter III. The Sakubun School and Their Proposals of Literary Realism
  • External Information about Sakubun Writers
  • “Quarrel about Colonial Literature” and “Debate on Independent Manchukuo Literature”
  • Features That Informed the Intellectual Dimension of the Sakubun School
  • Thematic Types and Narrative Styles of the Fictional Writings in Sakubun
  • Chapter IV. The Modernization Discourse Formulated by Yiwenzhi Intellectuals
  • Debut of Mingming and the Yiwenzhi School
  • Controversy of “Native-Place Literature” and “Write-and-Print-ism”
  • Yiwenzhi Writers’ Argument for Literary Modernization and Mass Enlightenment
  • Reconciliation of Modernity with National Identity
  • Textual Worlds of the Yiwenzhi School’s Fictions
  • Chapter V. The Nationalist Discourse Proposed by the Wenxuan School
  • An Intellectual Pose of Radical Nationalism and the Ideologization of Literature
  • Native-Place Literature and Its Anti-Modern Tendency That Pervaded the Wenxuan School’s Literary Works
  • Chapter VI. Conclusion and Epilogue
  • Bibliography

← vi | 1 →

· 1 ·


During the life span of Manchukuo from 1932 to 1945, there emerged a large number of writers, who came from different nations and held ramified cultural identities, and literary works of various genres and subject matters, which altogether contributed to a purported cultural prosperity. The distinct literary traditions, styles, as well as political and cultural appeals they represented coexisted, contradicted, conflicted and conflated with each other within the public sphere of Manchukuo, thus forming an intertangled and multi-layered relationship. In this sense, Manchukuo literature, as a unique example in world literary history, offers supreme materials for studies in comparative literature and cultural studies. Besides, given the fact that Manchukuo was established as a puppet state under the Japanese occupation, the aforementioned diversity of Manchukuo literature relied heavily upon the colonial system and formed an integral part of the colonial culture. Through a thorough-going research on the Manchukuo literature, we can not only reveal the operative mode, basic characteristics and inner tensions of Japan’s colonial apparatus, but also grasp a better understanding about the evolution of modern literature and even the paradoxical process of modernization on the side of the colonized. On this basis, power relations among East Asia that were constructed by virtue of modernity in the fields of literature, culture and intellectual history might also be somehow illuminated. ← 1 | 2 →

As a matter of fact, investigations of Manchukuo literature started from the late 1930s. For the Japanese part, it was as early as 1936 that two major disputes broke out among Japanese literati about how to define Manchukuo literature, namely the “Quarrel about Colonial Literature” and the “Debate on Independent Manchukuo literature.” These disputes involved Nishimura Shin’ichirō 西村真一郎, Ōtani Takeo 大谷健夫, Aoki Minorsu 青木実, Jō Osu 城小碓, Ehara Teppei 江原鉄平, Kizaki Ryū 木崎龍, Kanō Saburō 加納三郎, and other renowned writers and critics, who were either eager to determine the nature of Manchukuo literature, or endeavored to specify its overarching guidelines. With the culmination of diverse cultural enterprises in this newly-emergent state, Manchukuo literature had drawn more and more attention from Japan’s domestic literary circle ever since 1939. A series of crucial Japanese literary journals, including Bungei 文芸 (Literature and Art), Nihon Hyōron 日本評論 (Japan Review), and especially Shinchō 新潮 (New Tide), competed to publish reviews and treatises on Manchukuo-related issues. Even such prominent figures as Tokunaga Naosu 徳永直 wrote articles like “On the Mainland Literature” to popularize the idea of “Manchukuo literature.” At the same time, Sanwa Books published the first volume of Anthology of Short Stories by Manchurian Writers translated by Ōuchi Takao 大内隆雄, a practice that marked the acknowledgment of Manchukuo literature by the Japanese print industry. In 1940, Yamada Seizaburō 山田清三郎 compiled Anthology of Short Stories by Japanese, Manchurian and Russian Writers in Manchukuo and had it published by a highly-reputed book store, the Shunyōdon Publishing Company in Tōkyō. Within the same year, Takemura Books and Sanwa Books printed Anthology by Nine Manchurian Writers and the second volume of Anthology of Short Stories by Manchurian Writers, which were respectively edited by Asami Fukashi 浅見淵 and Ōuchi Takao. Afterwards, under the editorship of Kawabata Yasunari 川端康成 and Kishida Kunio 岸田國士, Sōgensha published The Anthology of Literary Works by Different Peoples of Manchukuo in two volumes. Apart from that, Manshū bunwakai (The Association for Literary Talks in Manchuria) circulated The Yearbook of Art and Literature in Manchukuo annually from 1937 to 1939 that included an abundance of reviews, criticisms and comments on Manchukuo literature. Manshū Rōman 満洲浪曼 (Manchurian Romanticism) also released a special issue entitled “Studies on Manchukuo Literature” in May, 1940, not to mention Ōuchi Takao’s pioneering research in his Twenty Years of Manchukuo Literature. All of them provided firsthand materials for future scholarly discussions of Manchukuo literature. For the Chinese part, during the wartime period, those who ← 2 | 3 → expressed serious concerns for Manchukuo literature were primarily its direct participants, such as Wu Lang 吴郎 and Xiaosong 小松, who regularly contributed to Mingming 明明 (Illuminating the Brightness), Qilin 麒麟 (Kirin), Yiwenzhi 艺文志 (Record of Art and Literature), Wenxuan 文选 (Selection of Writings), Zuofeng 作风 (Writing Wind), and other literary journals in Chinese to articulate their own visions on the very issue. It was worth noting that some Chinese critics like Guan Yongji 关永吉 and Shangguan Zheng 上官筝 in inland China also showed their deep interest in Manchukuo literature, with whose efforts, the “Special Column Featuring Manchurian Writers” came out in Zhongguo Wenyi 中国文艺 (Chinese Art and Literature) in November, 1942. Taking this opportunity, Guan Yongji theorized the essential features and techniques of “native-place literature,” a literary form he regarded as the mainstream of Manchukuo literature.

Except for the circulation of Dan Kazuo 檀一雄, Ushijima Haruko 牛島春子 and Yamada Seizaburō’s memoirs referring to their personal experiences in interwar Manchuria, studies on Manchukuo literature subsided in Japan for a long period after the World War Two due to the harshness of political environment. However, things changed in 1971, when Ozaki Hotsuki 尾崎秀樹 spared a whole chapter for Manchukuo literature in his groundbreaking monograph Research on Literatures in Former Colonies. From then on, concerns for this subject began to exceed the literary circle and entered into the vision of scholarship. Among all academic achievements that have been made so far by Japanese scholars, investigations into “Manchurian writers” by Okada Hideki 岡田英樹 and Tamura Hiroko 田村裕子, into Korean writers by O Yanho and Chai Hun and into Japanese writers by Nishihara Kazumi 西原和海, Tanaka Masuzō 田中益三 and Kurokawa Sō 黒川創 prove to be the most outstanding ones. It was Kawamura Minato 川村湊 who took the lead to explore different constituents of Manchukuo literature in an integrative way. His serial books by the titles of “Shōwa Literature on a Foreign Land,” “The Breakdown of Manchukuo: The Greater East Asian Literature and Its Writers,” “A Fantastic Trip along the Manchurian Railroads” and “Manchukuo through the Lens of Literature” offered us a panoramic view of various aspects of Manchukuo literature, followed and developed by Hayama Hideyuki’s 葉山英之 Fragments of “On Manchukuo Literature” and In Tōsan’s 尹東燦 Research on Literatures in “Manchukuo. In addition, a variety of academic journals, as represented by Colonial Studies and Studies on Colonial Literature, also constituted a public forum for correlative discussions of Manchukuo literature. By contrast, in China, as most Chinese writers who kept writing under the ← 3 | 4 → Japanese occupation were considered as “collaborationists,” it was a long-existing taboo to study Manchukuo literature before the 1980s when Shanding 山丁, Huang Xuan 黄玄 (Qiuying 秋萤), and some other former participants started to write articles in memory of the literary landscape of Manchukuo. Moreover, a group of Chinese scholars, including Huang Wanhua 黄万华, Feng Weiqun 冯为群, Li Chunyan 李春燕, and Zhang Quan 张泉, initiated their examinations of “native-place literature,” “write-and-print-ism,” and other critical issues in the meantime, approaching Manchukuo literature from the angle of Chinese writers and literary productions in Chinese. Two collectanea, “Literary Series of Northeast China” and “Literary Series of Occupied China,” were compiled successively in the 1990s as collections of historical documents. It was also noteworthy that “The International Symposium on Literature in Occupied Northeast China” was held in Changchun in 1992, which brought Chinese researchers a rare opportunity to be exposed to Japanese references and to communicate with their companions from Japan and Korea. After almost a decade of deadlock, recent years witnessed a revival of studies on Manchukuo literature by Chinese scholars as epitomized by Liu Xiaoli’s 刘晓丽 The Spiritual World in a Ramified Chronotope, the first monograph in Chinese entirely dedicated to this topic.

Generally speaking, wartime reviews on Manchukuo literature were overwhelmingly influenced by political demands. As a consequence, on the one hand, they proved to be ideology-oriented and of considerable subjective intentions, thus lacking a safe distance to treat the research object justly enough; on the other hand, being fragmentary and atheoretical, most of them merely lingered on a superficial interpretation without touching upon the ultimate issue of the colonial rule. In comparison, postwar studies have overcome these limitations to a large extent. On the Japanese side, through years of accumulation, there exist a fundamental consensus and an established mode of research among the academic circle: the officially recognized mainstream of Manchukuo literature was the so-called “kokusaku bungaku” 国策文学 (state policy literature), which served Japan’s militarism as a way of ideological propagandas and had close relations to the Manshū rōmanha 満洲浪曼派 (School of the Manchurian romanticism) for their advertisement of “the founding spirit of Manchukuo” and aestheticization of social realities; on the contrary, there thrived an opposite trend of literary realism embodied by the journal called “Sakubun” 作文 (Composition), whose contributors were mainly composed of the Mantetsu 満鉄 (South Manchuria Railway Company) staffs and proposed to expose and criticize various social problems in Manchukuo, especially those of the colonial ← 4 | 5 → oppression and ethnic conflicts; struggles between these two movements, among other things, constituted the main thread of the Japanese-based Manchukuo literature. As opposed to the colonizers, Manchurian (Chinese) writers tended to employ literary praxis to manifest their resentment and resistance, who then grouped into two literary schools that were respectively named after Yiwenzhi (Record of Art and Literature) and Wenxuan (Selection of Writings), the most representative Chinese literary journals in Manchukuo, and mounted hostility to each other: the former group, led by Gu Ding 古丁, as Ozaki Hotsuki stated, “obeyed in the face, but rebelled behind the scenes,” while the latter one directly challenged the colonial power by “describing” and “exposing realities” under the banner of “native-place literature.” This mode of binary opposition profoundly informed the Japanese studies on Manchukuo literature, as was demonstrated by In Dōsan’s generalization of “the political character of Japanese literature [in Manchukuo] and the non-conformism of its Chinese counterpart.” On the Chinese side, relevant researches were mainly limited within the scope of “native-place literature,” and not unlike those conducted by Okada Hideki and Kawamura Minato, focused on its resistant sense. All these discussions I mentioned above, though roughly outlining major characters of Manchukuo literature and insightfully pointing out such key concepts as coloniality, resistance, romanticism, and literary realism, were still inflicted with a series of problems. First of all, the binary opposition between colonizers and the colonized, and that between romanticism and realism obscured the ambiguity and complexity that were characteristic of Manchukuo literature: for example, the Manshū rōmanha not only argued for an ultimate return to nature, but also engaged an enduring faith in humanism; despite the fact that Liang Shanding’s 梁山丁 “native-place literature” was undoubtedly realistic in terms of its subject matters, it treated social realities from the perspective of “neo-heroism and neo-romanticism,” and the like. In the second place, they overestimated the role of literariness by subordinating it to colonial politics, accordingly denied the relative autonomy of literature in the cultural arena, and failed to explain such “bizarre” phenomena as Aoki Minoru’s claim that “Manchurian writers should dominate the mainstream of Manchukuo literature,” the enthusiastic embrace and introduction of Chinese writers by Ōuchi Takao, and regular gatherings held between Wenxuan and Sakubun intellectuals. Thirdly, paying little attention to close reading, the aforementioned studies usually fell victim to intuitive analysis and overlooked the specific narrative strategies adopted by both sides, let alone various tensions and paradoxes inherent in the texts. Furthermore, they were inclined to take Manchukuo literature as an isolated ← 5 | 6 → being, seldom examining it in its relatedness with world history as well as the literary and intellectual traditions of China and Japan, e.g. the similarities and differences between the Nihon rōmanha 日本浪曼派 (School of the Japanese Romanticism) and the Manshū rōmanha, the transmission of the May Fourth discourses by Manchurian writers, the influence of multifarious anti-capitalist thoughts on Manchukuo literature, and so on. Last but not least, Manchukuo literature, as a unified entity, relied upon certain dynamics to maintain the interaction among each constituent and to guarantee its normal process of production and reproduction. However, in these studies, Japanese and Chinese writings were either discussed separately or simply juxtaposed with each other in lack of a central argument and a consistent thesis to string them together. No wonder that Kawamura Minato caustically used “poorness” to evaluate them. On this account, this book, the first endeavor in the English academic world to explore Manchukuo literature as a whole, will try to avoid these drawbacks by analyzing and clarifying the underlying intellectual dynamics of Manchukuo literature against corresponding social-political backgrounds. By means of theoretical and textual analysis, I’m going to examine the multiplicity, ambiguity and inconsistency of various literary trends and the general relationship between the colonizers and the colonized, and on this basis, reveal the essential characteristics and the historical significance of Manchukuo literature.


VI, 184
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (October)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. VI, 184 pp.

Biographical notes

Chao Liu (Author)

Chao Liu received his Ph.D. from the University of Colorado. He is an associate professor at Southeast University. His recent publications include "Racism in the Early-20th-Century U.S. and Sun Yat-sen’s Outlook on Chinese Culture," Cultura (2018).


Title: The Matrix of Modernity and National Identity in Manchukuo Literature from 1937 to 1941