115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Manchukuo: An Arty Ideological Devise 

Nobuko Yamasaki, Lehigh University

Comparing paintings and images on stamps, produced in Manchukuo, a puppet state run by imperial Japan, to representations of an iconic idol and actress, Ri Kôran / Li Xianglan / Yamaguchi Yoshiko (1920-2014), this paper elucidates the ideological structures of the Japanese empire. Born and raised in China and fluent in Japanese and Chinese, Yamaguchi, a Japanese woman, performed a Chinese woman who supported the building of the Japanese empire.       


By closely analyzing visual representations of paintings, stamps and films, produced in and widely circulated in Manchukuo (1932-45), a puppet state run by the Japanese empire, this paper explores the roles that they played in establishing and disseminating the empire’s ambition.


“A beautiful woman who presents herself always as the other.” This is how Yomota Inuhiko, a film and literary critic, describes Ri Kôran / Li Xianglan / Yamaguchi Yoshiko (1920-2014). Ri easily crossed boundaries of nationality, ethnicity, and language. She was an iconic idol, born to Japanese parents and raised in China. She was fluent in both Japanese and Chinese. Her representation was active, mobile and elusive, refusing to be reduced to one category. Yet, one thing for sure was that her popularity under the Japanese empire actively propagated its ideology, which was animated by a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural fantasy. Although Ri was ethnically Japanese, she perfectly performed a Chinese woman, the colonial other, who would support the totalitarian ambition of the Japanese empire. She acted as the convenient other for imperial Japan. This paper examines the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural fantasy, represented in propaganda paintings and films, published by Manshûkoku Kyôwakai (the Concordia Association, 1932-45) and Man’ei (Manchuria Motion Picture Production and Distribution Company, 1937-45). These were organizations, funded by the Japanese empire.


The paper especially focuses on the relationships between messages on the propaganda paintings and a film, __ Suzhou Nights __ (1941), a collaborative production by Shôchiku and Man’ei. The film, at first glace, appears to be one of Ri’s familiar B-class melodramas in which a Chinese woman, performed by Ri, with strong anti-Japanese sentiments overcomes those feelings by recognizing the “genuine” benevolence of a Japanese man, thereby developing pro-Japanese feelings that support dreams of the empire. Yet, what makes __ Suzhou Nights __ singular is that it concerns not only the roles of Japanese language education, but also bio-power, (carefully-avoided) inter-racial marriage, and (implicitly avoided) inter-racial reproduction. Thus, the film, I argue, implicitly approximates the Nazi’s idea of racial purity at that time. The paper also points out how her colonial legacy continues to be reproduced and disseminated even today by contemporary Japanese popular idols and singers, as well as by Taiwanese, Okinawan and Zainichi Korean musicians, the former colonial subjects, impacted by the Japanese empire.