Tag Archives: Manchuria

The Bear Craves Seawater


Sitting on the Eurasian continent, and armed soldier (Japan) guards territory labeled "Manchukuo" as a bear (Russia) looks on hungrily from Siberia.
Sitting on the Eurasian continent, and armed soldier (Japan) guards territory labeled “Manchukuo” as a bear (Russia) looks on hungrily from Siberia.

Japan’s invasion of Manchuria was a highly significant occurrence in the erratic, sensitive time between the first and second world wars, garnering many reactions from across the globe. Manchuria was a historically disputed region in East Asia predominantly belonging to China. However, China’s weak economic condition in the late 1800’s allowed external powers to exert spheres of influence in many regions of China. Beginning in the mid 19th century, Britain had boldly colonized Hong Kong and other Chinese islands (Kong). This prompted the U.S. to introduce the Open Door Policy as an attempt to halt further colonialist intentions in the early 1900’s. However, peace did not last as geopolitical turmoil and war plagued the following decades.

The growth of fascism in this post-WWI period pitted countries against each other, as superpowers clashed for control over weaker regions of the globe. Ultimately, it was the greed and aggression of Japanese imperialism in overtaking Manchuria in 1931 that broke the Open Door agreement among the superpowers . Relations among Russia, Japan and China fluctuated between amnesty and conflict, creating the tension that culminated into the Manchurian conflict.

Two looming figures fill the political cartoon “The Bear Craves Seawater” by John Knott, a former cartoonist for the Dallas Morning News. One is a thirsty bear labeled “Russia” eyeing a soldier, “Japan,” who guards territory labeled as “Manchukuo,” which can be can be identified as Manchuria from its geographic placement on the map. In an editorial accompanying Knott’s cartoon, “Russia Thinks of the Future,” the focus is specifically on Russia, an expanding militaristic force as Japan, and its reactions to the invasion. At the time this cartoon was published, October 1932, the world was suffering from the Great Depression, and the tension leading to World War II was beginning to thicken. However, the cartoon was specific to the relationship between Japan and Russia in this conflict over land.

Russia had a presence in Manchuria through the 1800s, and as China’s Qing dynasty declined, Russia was able to convince China, through bribery and intimidation, to allow the Chinese Eastern Railway to be built through Manchuria. This allowed Russia to exert more dominance and control in the region by ensuring access to the Pacific Ocean through their port of Vladivostok (Perrins). At that time, Russia was run by tsars, or emperors, who all prioritized expansionism for economic and nationalistic reasons. The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 was a pivotal turning point for Russian history; ending the age of the tsars and bringing in socialism (Millar), which eventually influenced Chinese ideologies. Over the next few years, there were close relations between the communist parties in both nations. However, in 1927 the new Chinese ruler Chiang Kai-shek, a nationalist, turned against communism and the Russians. This left their relations tattered by 1932, causing Russia to lose an ally in China.

Chinese relations with Japan were just as negative. In the late 19th century, Japan had been expanding into Korea, China’s vassal state, which led to the first Sino-Japanese war in 1894 (Perrins). Korea was colonized through Japan’s victory, an experience that caused tremendous anti-Japanese sentiment among the Koreans- a factor that the Dallas Morning News editorial points out as a disadvantage to Japan. During World War I, Japan imposed its “21 Demands” on China, which was an attempt to assert more Japanese military involvement in China with an emphasis on Manchuria (Davis). The U.S. helped ward off Japan through diplomatic pressure along with the aid of a Chinese boycott of many Japanese goods. However, after WWI was over, China was left to itself and couldn’t resist military intrusion in its weak post-war state, despite anti-Japanese sentiment. Although Japan signed the Nine-Power agreement in 1922, acknowledging China’s principal hold on Manchuria, peace did not last (Davis). The Japanese military invaded Manchuria in 1931 over a fabricated conflict and violently took hold of the region, implementing a puppet government as an “independent” state renamed “Manchukuo.” The League of Nations condemned Japan yet did not take action, and in response, Japan simply left the League. China and Japan’s relations would remain volatile, leading to the second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. It wasn’t until the end of World War II that Japan relinquished control over Manchuria (Perrins).

Both Russia and Japan were proud, imperial nations with interests in Manchuria’s resources and tactical position since the 19th century. Russia had been wary of Japan throughout the late 19th century, involving itself in the outcome of the first Sino-Japanese war of 1894. Japan had to give up the Liaodong peninsula, one of its war prizes, because of pressure from Russia, Germany and France (Davis). The clashes between the two in Manchuria culminated into the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, which ended with President Theodore Roosevelt’s Treaty of Portsmouth (Dobbs). The treaty granted more privileges to Japan, as the U.S. was closer to Japan at the time before the growth of authoritarianism. The Open Door Policy allowed Japan to have such smooth access to Russia’s former property, including its precious railway. Russia did not have the means to engage Japan through the following years and first world war. By 1932, A New York Times article explained that Russia chose to focus on it’s 5 year plan on infrastructure and would not fight Japan because it knew China would not cooperate (Solkolsky). Russia also knew of China’s profound hatred and boycotting of Japan in recent years, and thus relied on that to be a hurdle for Japan.

The Dallas Morning News editorial suggests that Russia was watching Japan’s actions intently, but backed off from any violence, in order to know when it might have the chance to reassert dominance over the region; hence, the watchful bear in Knott’s cartoon. Russia decided to wait for Japan’s inevitable downfall, seeing the flaws in its arrogance and opposition from former allies. The humor from Knott’s art stems from the characterization of the countries. Both are hyperbolized as absurd huge figures the size of giants sitting on the globe. One can tell that Russia seems to have the desire to take Manchuria from Japan through the characterization of the curious bear and the alert soldier.

The editorial’s predictions of Russia’s future actions weren’t untrue. Towards the last days of World War II, Russia invaded Manchuria and pushed back Japan’s weak forces. For years, Russia continued to plunder the region until China reacquired it (Perrins). The deep-running histories between China, Russia and Japan need to be understood to comprehend how such a dangerous, territorial brawl over Manchuria could have taken place. This conflict influenced WWII greatly, with Japan’s aggression and resignation from the League of Nations contributing to the growth of fascism plaguing the globe in the 1930’s and 1940’s. The power-hunger and imperialism of Russia has also persisted to the modern day, the Bear’s teeth biting into many world affairs and upholding Russia’s reputation as a relentless force.

Works Cited:

“Russia Thinks of the Future”, The Dallas Morning News, 23 October 1932, Section 3:8

“Manchuria, Japanese Invasion of (1931).” Encyclopedia of Invasions and Conquests: From
Ancient Times to the Present, edited by Paul Davis, 2nd ed., Grey House Publishing, 2006,
pp. 372-373. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3487400201/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=40f6f0f6. Accessed 13 Mar. 2018.

Dobbs, Charles M. “Manchuria.” America in the World, 1776 to the Present: A Supplement to the
Dictionary of American History, edited by Edward J. Blum, vol. 2, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2016, pp. 641-642. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3630800322/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=0fd11509. Accessed 13 Mar. 2018.

Kong, Belinda. “Hong Kong (Britain/China).” Cultural Sociology of the Middle East, Asia, & Africa: An
Encyclopedia, vol. 3: East and Southeast Asia, SAGE Reference, 2012, pp. 288-290. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX4182600620/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=d4c4bfd1. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.

Knott, John, “The Bear Craves Sea Water”, The Dallas Morning News, 23 October 1932, Section 3:8

Millar, James R., editor. Encyclopedia of Russian History. Vol. 1, Macmillan Reference USA, 2004. Gale
Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/apps/pub/5BUJ/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL. Accessed 10 Apr. 2018

Perrins, Robert John. “Manchuria.” Encyclopedia of Modern Asia, edited by Karen Christensen and
David Levinson, vol. 4, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2002, pp. 27-29. Gale Virtual Reference Library,http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3403701854/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=36824cf2. Accessed 13 Mar. 2018.

JAPAN’S: While Accepting the Situation Created in North Manchuria, the Soviets Elsewhere Press Their Plans for Wide Domination.” The New York Times, 19 June 1932, p. XX3.

Japan at Shanghai 1932

Having overstepped the Manchurian border, an imperial soldier breaks down the door to Shanghai and its boycott against Japan.
Having overstepped the Manchurian border, an imperial soldier breaks down the door to Shanghai and its boycott against Japan.

In the midst of its imperial conquest, Japan invaded and conquered Manchuria through the Mukden incident that took place in 1931 (Byas 2). Manchuria was a territory rich with valuable resources that was legally governed by China. After the establishment of the pseudo-government, “Manchukuo,” in Manchuria, Japan began to use excessive military force on Shanghai to suppress Chinese boycotts Japanese goods that arose out anti-Japanese resentment. In doing this, Japan hoped to occupy Shanghai in the process, gaining a foothold in another valuable area in order to spread its sphere of influence. Ultimately, these aggressive acts carried out by Japan not only violated its legal obligation to denunciate war as outlined by the League of Nations, but also further heightened tensions that was already enlisted between the two nations.

In John Knott’s political cartoon, Having Crushed the Chinese “Bandits,” (Knott) published in January of 1932, he illustrates imperial Japan’s aggressive stance upon China – particularly on the city of Shanghai. The cartoon depicts Japan as a burly soldier who is using the butt of his rifle to break down the door to a home that is labeled “Shanghai.” Additionally, a note is posted at the entry, reading “Boycott against Japan.” Japan is depicted as stepping over a river from Manchuria into Shanghai, essentially intruding and forcing his way into this territory. The accompanying editorial titled, “Japan at Shanghai,” (Dallas Morning News) further examines China’s helplessness in the wake of the aggrandizing force and presence of the Japanese military that was deployed to cease the boycott on Japanese goods– ultimately violating international law and abandoning its former policy of civil relations.

The context of the comic revolves around animosity that emerged between China and Japan after the Mukden Incident. After emerging victorious in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, Japan had been granted the lease and administration of the South Manchuria Railway through the Treaty of Portsmouth (“Russo-Japanese War”). With Japan’s interest to further expand its political and economic influence into Manchuria, military personnel devised a plan to deceive and attack China. On September 18, 1931, a miniscule bombing was staged near the South Manchuria Railway Zone neighboring Mukden. Even though the explosion was harmless, the imperial Japanese army blamed Chinese nationalists for the railway sabotage, initiating a full-scale invasion to retaliate and ultimately colonize Manchuria (Kingston 1). The occupation of this section of the Chinese Republic now enabled Japan to establish its puppet government of Manchukuo. It is believed that the incident was “contrived by the Japanese army, without authorization of the Japanese Government, to justify the Japanese invasion and occupation that followed” (Swift 10). Therefore, this act of aggression was accomplished in “utter and cynical disregard” (“Japanese Conquest of Manchuria”) of Japan’s duty to uphold the Kellogg-Briand Pact, a multilateral agreement created for nearly all the world’s nations to renounce the use of war as a tool for national policy (“Kellogg-Briand Pact”).

The loss of northeastern China deeply humiliated the Chinese, accentuating the immense tension between two nations, and was followed by a mass anti-Japanese movement as well as a boycott of Japanese goods in Shanghai. Amidst the growing anti-Japanese sentiment in China, the Japanese military continued its mission to strengthen its political and economic spheres of influence throughout China – particularly into Shanghai where other Western Powers, such as Britain and France, have established their concessions and pseudo-governments (Dallas Morning News). In Knott’s cartoon, Japan’s decision to enter into Shanghai is denoted by the body language of the soldier who boldly steps over a boundary dividing Manchuria from Shanghai. This action not only directly references Japan’s aggressive military conquest into Shanghai, but also literally depicts Japan overstepping its boundaries in terms of its military power. Ultimately, Japan’s actions did not “fall within any definition of war,” (“Japanese Conquest of Manchuria”), and it essentially abandoned its legal obligations to follow the Kellogg- Briand Pact and denunciate war.

In order to justify greater military enforcements in China, the Japanese military wanted to investigate various anti-Japanese incidents; in this, the violent nature of these acts served as justification for Japan to reinforce its military presence in order to “protect” Japanese civilians living throughout Shanghai (“The Shanghai Incident and the Imperial Japanese Navy”). One significant event that catalyzed violent riots throughout China occurred on January 18, 1932, when five Japanese Buddhist monks were unjustly attacked and beaten near Shanghai’s Sanyou Factory by Chinese members of the Anti-Japanese Association. Three of the priests were seriously injured, and one died from his injuries a few days later. Tensions between Japan and China escalated quickly, leading to the burning of Shanghai’s Sanyou Factory. Enraged by these actions, the Japanese Consul-General presented four demands: 1) a formal apology from the Mayor; 2) arrest and punishment of the offenders; 3) paid medical expenses for those who were wounded; 4) disbandment of all anti-Japanese organizations (“The Shanghai Incident and the Imperial Japanese Navy). Furthermore, if the Chinese did not fulfill demands, Japan threatened to “take the necessary steps” to resolve the issue (“Shanghai Incident”).

This assertion of dominance and power resonates deeply with Knott’s characterization of Japan in his cartoon. Knott presents Japan as a massive and bulky military soldier. The immense size and strength portrayed by the illustration parallels with the image of a bully, directly corresponding to Japan’s militaristic demeanor. As the Japanese military attempted to achieve concessions and spheres of influence within Shanghai, it essentially did so by violating international law as well as bullying Chinese authorities.

Japan’s illegal and aggressive behavior was further amplified by Knott’s illustration of Japan’s behavior within his cartoon. The Japanese soldier is portrayed breaking down the door to the “home” of Shanghai where the boycott against Japanese goods was taking place. Humor is derived from the ironic comparison of the title of the cartoon, “Having Crushed the Chinese ‘Bandits,’” to the illustration of Shanghai’s fairly civil manner of displaying a composed note announcing its boycott against Japan. The depiction of Shanghai within the cartoon lacks the violence and chaos typically associated with the presence of “bandits.” Therefore, the disparity between Japan’s and Knott’s perspectives of Chinese anti-Japanese protesters serves to trivialize Japan’s use of excessive force to invade Shanghai to cease the boycotts on Japanese goods. Therefore, the contrast in the characterization of the two countries underscore Knott’s criticism towards Japan’s questionable diplomacies and military actions throughout its imperial conquest.

While Japan’s aggressive and unjust imperial behavior upon Shanghai received much criticism in the eyes of the world during 1932, the quest to dominate the geopolitical chessboard parallels events in the twenty-first century, such as Russia engaging in aggressive military actions and international crimes in order to occupy Ukraine for its valuable economic resources. It is essential to understand past scenarios in order to better interpret what is to come, not only within our present but also in our future.


Works Cited

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Kellogg-Briand Pact.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 22 July 2016, www.britannica.com/event/Kellogg-Briand-Pact.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Russo-Japanese War.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 23 Apr. 2018, www.britannica.com/event/Russo-Japanese-War.

HUGH BYAS Wireless to THE NEW,YORK TIMES. “JAPANESE SEIZE MUKDEN IN BATTLE WITH CHINESE; RUSH MORE TROOPS TO CITY.” New York Times (1923-Current file), Sep 19 1931, p. 1. ProQuest. Web. 10 May 2018 .

“Japan at Shanghai.” Dallas Morning News, 28 January. 1932. Editorial. Section 2, page

JAPANESE CONQUEST OF MANCHURIA 1931-1932, www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/WorldWar2/manchuria.htm.

Kingston, Jeff. “Memories of 1931 Mukden Incident Remain Divisive.” The Japan Times, www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2016/09/17/commentary/memories-1931-mukden-incident-remain-divisive/#.Wvc_U4gvxPY.

Knott, John. “Having Crushed the Chinese ‘Bandits’.” Cartoon. Dallas Morning News 28 January 1932. Newspaper. 18 April 2018.

“Shanghai, China.” Shanghai, China – New World Encyclopedia, www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Shanghai,_China.

Swift, John. “Mukden Incident.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 17 May 2017, www.britannica.com/event/Mukden-Incident.

The Shanghai Incident and the Imperial Japanese Navy. www.bing.com/cr?IG=AE2B022FEDD84A6EA47CE3C151AA0ED0&CID=0D02E1CFB1D8630C1AC0EA21B0776236&rd=1&h=NRjhA4BE0lryCR6CBnloBEH0TP-7MgY0XSsW_wRCul8&v=1&r=http://digitalrepository.trincoll.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1005&context=moore&p=DevEx.LB.1,5578.1.