Useful Notes: Manchuria

Manchuria, also known as Northeast China (but never Manchuguo/Manchukuo, unless you're discussing that particular country academically), is usually composed of the provinces of Jilin, Liaoning, and Heilongjiang, with the eastern part of Inner Mongolia sometimes included.

Manchuria is a region in China that, despite today being a relatively obscure region, played quite a large role in World History. This is the homeland of the Manchus that would create the last Chinese dynasty; this is also a bone of contention for the First Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War; this is also again a bone of contention for China and Japan in the Second Sino-Japanese War and later World War II; and lastly, this is the decisive battlefield for the middle phase of the 1946-50 Chinese Civil War. Why did such a small region become so important?

A reason is that first, Manchuria is full of natural resources, and had a strategic location; if Russia controlled Manchuria, it would have more sea access in Asia; if Japan controlled it, it would have enough resources to sustain its expansion for several years. China values it a lot strategically as well; the heavy industry put in place by Japan helped the communist regime's early economic growth.

Second, it was the ethnogenesis of the last great Chinese Dynasty, the Qing. It was founded by a Tungustic people called the Manchus, formerly called the Jurchen. For years after the conquest, the Manchus tried to separate it from the rest of China by building the so-called Willow Palisade, a network of willow trees forming along the border between China and Manchuria. The Manchus, in time, got assimilated into Chinese society, and allowed the Chinese to settle there in the 19th century to prevent Russia (already having snapped Outer Manchuria) from taking more Manchurian territory. It was called the Chuang Guandong movement, akin to the Westward Movement of the United States. As a result, the Chinese are the majority of Manchuria today, and it is now simply called Northeast China. Calling this region Manchuria in the PRC causes a Berserk Button among patriotic ethnic Chinese, unless you happen to be a Manchu, of course.

Then came the warlord period in China, and Manchuria was run as a fiefdom by Zhang Zuolin, who was Japanese-friendly. When he tried to reduce Japanese influence, the Japanese were not amused. In 1928, his train was blown up. Then the 1931 Manchurian Incident also occurred, the Japanese claiming that the Chinese authorities there were harassing the Japanese-owned South Manchurian Railway and even blew it up. The Chinese said that the explosion was a False Flag Operation by Japan, and there are credible evidence that supports the latter. The Japanese eventually prevailed and Pu Yi, the last emperor of China, was installed as the new head of state and later Emperor of Manchukuo. It was supposed to be independent; with the titular Manchu ethnic group, the Han Chinese majority, the Koreans, the Mongols, and Japanese working in harmony. Of course, Japan ran it as a Puppet State, with Japanese officials getting the final power in matters. Unit 731 also was founded in Manchuria.

The reaction was mixed. The Han Chinese majority saw Manchuria as part of China and many of them resisted by both passive and active means. The Manchus were somewhat more divided; some part took the former position, others saw it as a last chance to have their own homeland, knowing that they were almost completely assimilated by China, never mind that the Japanese authorities were much worse.

In the final days of World War II, the Soviets invaded Manchuria, arrested Pu Yi, and returned it to China in 1946. The caveat was that the Soviets encouraged the Chinese communists to set up camp there. When the Nationalists tried to seize Manchuria, they learned that the communists were too entrenched there. This was the start of the downfall of the Nationalist government in mainland China.

The communists after the Chinese Civil War later rebuilt Manchuria as an industrial base, and was the staging ground for Chinese forces in the Korean War. Manchuria was also a forefront of Chinese industrialization. However, it became a rust belt in the 1990s and is today a decaying industrial region. Recent Chinese policies however, are trying to reverse the trend.

Also, the PRC authorities encouraged the Manchus to seriously take up their ethnic heritage, something that surprised even some Manchus, being jaded by the Manchukuo and Ro C experience. Unlike the Uyghurs and Tibetans, who were at least given an autonomous region, the Manchus had only autonomous counties. This caused some ethnic Manchu to argue for separation from China, albeit in a smaller scale than the Tibetans or Uyghurs' effort. The Manchus are also the third largest minority group in China, with a population of about 10 million of them. Most of them currently speak Mandarin, though efforts are being made by the Manchus themselves to revive their nearly extinct language.

Manchuria is also the subject of, for now, largely theoretical disputes between China and South Korea—owing mostly to the presence of North Korea between them. Their dispute is over two topics. First, Manchuria was homeland to a number of ancient and medieval states regarded by modern Koreans as their ancestors—Old Joseon (from which the last Korean kingdom took its name from), Buyeo, Goguryeo, and Balhae. As it were, the last of these kingdoms was extinguished in 10th century when nomadic Khitans conquered western Manchuria and its remnants scattered everywhere—some settled in Korea, some went to Japan, some joined the Jurchens, and so forth—leaving Koreans with nothing more than distant memory and the dispute largely theoretical. More recently, there was a territorial dispute along the Korean-Chinese border that was finally settled in 1910 when, Japan, who had just annexed Korea, unilaterally dropped the issue. This, again, is theoretical since South Korea does not even border the region and the North Korean state has affirmed the boundary as it is. Still, there are ultranationalists in South Korea who insist that there is some validity to Korean claim to parts of Manchuria. Many historical K-dramas and movies do take place in Manchuria.

Manchuria IS home to the largest Korean population outside both Koreas, numbering some three million. This is a unique group in that, while they are also the oldest expatriate Korean community. they have also retained Korean language and culture better than their counterparts in Japan or United States, for example. At the same time, however, they are considered among the most loyal ethnic minority to the People's Republic of China.

Works set in Manchuria, or had its residents in fiction:

  • Night Raid 1931 is a anime that deals with the Japanese occupation of Manchuria.
  • The Good, the Bad, the Weird is a South Korean film about three Korean bandits in Manchuria.
  • The Girl Who Played Go is set during the Japanese occupation of Manchuria.
  • The Last Emperor depicts Pu Yi's reign as the pupper ruler of Manchukuo from 1932 to 1945.
  • The Manchurian Candidate: the reason why it was called as such is because this is where the titular candidate was brainwashed.
  • Part of Jung Chang's family history Wild Swans is set in Manchuria, where her mother was originally from.
  • Arrow: The Ultimate Weapon is set on the 1630 Manchu invasion of Korea and had Manchu characters dealing with a single Korean archer who is the protagonist in the story.