The Waking Giant
John F. Knott – February 10, 1932
The political cartoon The Waking Giant, created by John Knott and published in the Dallas Morning News on February 10, 1932, depicts a giant lying in slumber and a man, who is smaller in comparison, standing in wait of battle. The man wears a hat with the word “JAPAN” written across it. He is holding a sword upon which the words, “MOVE TO CUT UP CHINA” are written, symbolizing Japan’s efforts to break up China into sections of conquest (Knott). The cartoon conveys the lack of unification of China and imperial conquest by Japan during the Battle of Shanghai in 1932.
This era in global history was littered with tension between colonizing nations. The French Empire, Spanish Empire, British Empire, and other western nations were colonizing large swaths of the world. Among the nations seeking to expand their territory was Japan. In the early 1930’s, Japan, a heavy industrialized nation, was in financial distress and looked towards neighboring China for the necessary natural resources to keep Japan’s national economy afloat (“Japan Invades Manchuria 1931”). The giant, which represents China in Knott’s political cartoon, is wearing traditional Chinese clothing, tangzhuang, while the Japanese soldier is in more modern military attire. The difference between traditional and modern clothing is used to emphasize China’s lack of technological and industrial progress compared to Japan and also to suggest that if engaged in war, China would face an unfavorable battle with Japan.
Perhaps the most critical question that comes to mind is: Why did Knott, or anyone in America in the early 1930s, care about what happened to China? During this era of colonization, America stood by the idea that every nation should cease to expand their territory any further. America also had a political and diplomatic investment in China through Chiang Kai-shek. Chiang Kai-shek was the nationalist political and military leader at the time. He had support from many American political leaders and citizens (Whitman). Chiang Kai-shek started to lead unification of politically disarrayed China and opposed the colonization of China by Japan (“Chiang Kai-shek: Internal and External Conflict In China”).
Similar to the Japanese soldier ready to strike before the giant fully awoke from his slumber in Knott’s political cartoon, Japan needed to find an excuse to act against China and gain their natural resource-filled territories. Japan found its self-justification to take up arms when the Chinese military “violated” Japan’s established boundaries within which the Chinese military was allowed to operate in Shanghai. In response, Japan sent a naval fleet to Shanghai. On January 28, 1932, Japan started bombarding the city, and fighting between the Chinese and Japanese military ensued with no end in sight (Chen).
Also appearing in the Dallas Morning News along with Knott’s political cartoon was the editorial A Stubborn Defense, which conveyed how the Chinese military was desperately attempting to face off against a nation with greater military might. The article depicted China as a tenacious nation that was willing to defend what was rightfully theirs until the end. The article also stated that, even though military forces were continuing to advance in Manchuria, the Japanese public was not completely invested in the cause of war. The editorial argued that if such a tenacious defense continued, the situation might lead to withdrawal of armed forces due to disapproval on the part of the Japanese public (Dallas Morning News Section 2 Page 4).
The fighting did on stop, however, until almost three months later, when the Shanghai Ceasefire Agreement was signed. In contrast to the hopes of the editorial, the result was not in China’s favor. Shanghai and the surrounding cities ended up under the control of Japan (Chen). The relationship between Japan and China after the battle remained tense and eventually gave away to the Second Sino-Japanese War. As for America, their political and diplomatic investment fell through when a civil war erupted in China between the nationalist party Kuo Min Tang and the Communist forces led by Mao Tse Tung. After the Communist Party took power, Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan (“Chiang Kai-shek: Internal and External Conflict In China”). America continued to support Chiang Kai-shek and also engraved its influence on defeated Japan after World War II (“Article 9 and the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty”).
This historical incident holds relevance even today. Similar to the previous tensions surrounding Japan’s colonization of China, recently China has been in dispute with Japan over islands in the East China Sea. Juxtaposed to when America supported China under Chiang Kai-Shek, the U.S. now has a strong political and diplomatic investment in Japan. In keeping with formal U.S. treaty obligations negotiated after the Second World War, President Barack Obama has announced that America will support Japan with military power if tensions over the disputed islands were to turn violent (“How Uninhabited Islands Soured China-Japan Ties”). The constant change is diplomatic alliances conveys the fact that, among other things, each nation is looking out for its own self-interest. This is neither a selfishly evil or a morally righteous act, but rather is something that everyone should be aware of as the world’s balance of power(s) continues to shift.
“A Stubborn Defense” Dallas Morning News 10 Feb. 1932: Section 2 Page 4. Print.
“Article 9 and the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.” Asia for Educators. Columbia University, n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.
Budge, Kent G. “Shanghai.” The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia:. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.
Chen, Peter. “First Battle of Shanghai.” WW2DB RSS. Lava Development, n.d. Web. 25 Oct 2015.
“Chiang Kai-shek.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.
“How Uninhabited Islands Soured China-Japan Ties – BBC News.” BBC News. BBC, 10 Nov. 2014. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.
“Japan Invades Manchuria 1931 – Inter-war Period: Causes of WWII.” Japan Invades Manchuria 1931 – Inter-war Period: Causes of WWII. Weebly.com, n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.
Knott, John. “The Waking Giant” Dallas Morning News 10 Feb. 1932: Section 2 Page 4. Print.
“The Mukden Incident of 1931 and the Stimson Doctrine.” The Mukden Incident of 1931 and the Stimson Doctrine – 1921–1936 – Milestones – Office of the Historian. U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian, n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.
Whitman, Alden. “The Life of Chiang Kai-shek: A Leader Who Was Thrust Aside by Revolution.” Nytimes.com. The New York Times, 6 Apr. 1975. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.