When Democracy is Not Enough: Japan's information policy and mass politics in diplomatic and economic crisis in the 1930s

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    Japan's information policy did not change suddenly during the Manchurian Crisis in September 1931-March 1933. Rather there was continuing development of state policy and institutions for news propaganda in response to two ongoing phenomena: growing mass political participation as indicated by universal manhood suffrage, and technological changes in mass media and communication. The Japanese metropolitan government did, however, begin a coordinated and systematic approach to news propaganda during the Manchurian Crisis, one primarily driven by foreign policy concerns, rather than concerns with domestic thought control. At the same time, in the period that is often regarded as the beginning of Japan's diplomatic isolationism, MOFA and other foreign policy elites actively sought to engage international public opinion through management of the news for overseas propaganda. They further emphasized coordination between metropolitan centre, Tokyo, and a parallel news institution in Japanese-occupied Manchuria in 1931-3. The process of unifying news coverage, however, met strong oppositions from various stake holders in 1931-5. Key Words: propaganda, international news network, international public opinion, mass politics, media and war, public diplomacy, Japanese foreign policy, the Manchurian Incident Orthodox international history sees the 1930s as the period of a 'dark valley'. The Great Depression that started with the Wall Street stock market crash of 24 October 1929 spread globally in the early 1930s. While the U.S.S.R., almost unaffected by this economic turmoil, continued its economic expansion, fascism emerged and gained strength especially in Germany and Italy. National unity governments were formed in Britain and Japan, and even the United States opted for greater state economic intervention. Competing for contracting markets, empires moved to form bloc economies. The period was to lead to the Second World War, which killed tens of millions throughout the world. In Northeast Asia, the 1930s began with a war and ended with a war. What contemporary Japanese called the 'Manchurian Incident' (Manshū jihen) started with a railway explosion near Mukden in Manchuria on 18 September 1931. It was planned by the Japanese garrison, the Guandong Army, which was stationed in Manchuria to protect the Japanese leased territories along the South Manchuria Railway and in the southern part of the Liaodong peninsula. Claiming the explosion was Chinese provocation, and using this as an excuse to expand its military control to the whole of Manchuria, the garrison executed a well-planned campaign. Japanese forces enter Mukden during the Manchurian Incident The forces of the warlord of Manchuria, Zhang Xueliang (Chang Hsueh-liang), presented little resistance, although the fighting with other Chinese resistance forces was often bitter, producing many killed and wounded on both sides. The fighting in Shanghai (late January-early May 1932) was also fierce. The campaign in Manchuria resulted in Japan's military occupation of Manchuria (the eastern three provinces) by February 1932, which was then expanded to Inner Mongolia (Rehe province) in early March 1933. The Guandong Army created Japan's puppet regime, Manzhouguo (1 March 1932), and then, unhappy with the League of Nations' solution to the Manchurian Incident, Japan withdrew from the League on 27 March 1933. The Manchurian 'Incident' is often understood as a watershed for Japan; domestically, it marked a shift from the liberal parliamentary democracy of the 1920s to an authoritarian regime dominated by the military. Externally, Japan's foreign policy changed from internationalist, cooperative diplomacy to isolationism driven by rising nationalism. This led Japan to a second war with China (1937-45) and then to war with the Allied Powers and their colonies in Asia and the Pacific region (1941-5).1 Many works on the state and media in Japan during the Manchurian Incident understandably focus
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-15
    JournalThe Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus
    Issue number15
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


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