The Manchukuo Publicity and News Bureau's War of Words and Images: Mutô Tomio and the Discourse of Culture, 1938–43

Saturday, January 7, 2012
Sheraton Ballroom II (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Annika A. Culver, University of North Carolina at Pembroke
In the early forties, Manchukuo’s Japanese leaders intended for the country to serve as a cultural template for newly conquered nations in the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.  I investigate Mutô Tomio’s (1904-1998) role as director of the Manchukuo Publicity and News Bureau from 1939-43, and discuss how his organization chose intellectuals during wartime to promote the new state’s interests in imperial Japan’s project of nation building in Southeast Asia.  Mutô was convinced by Nazi Germany’s successful use of images in film, art, and literature supporting Hitler’s fascist regime— viewing Joseph Goebbels’ (1897-1945) activities as a model for Manchukuo.  While Goebbels’ frustrated literary ambitions led to his obsessive organization of cultural control in Nazi Germany, Mutô as a former judge was able to do both in Manchukuo, even publishing his own literary pursuits in Japanese, Chinese, and English-language propaganda materials.  However, both ideologues possessed low literary talent, and were best at exhortations, speechmaking, and mobilizing their organizational skills.  Mutô also served as a church elder in Manchukuo, and felt his Christian beliefs were fully compatible with the paternalistic Confucian ideology of the new state. 

I examine Mutô’s personal writings and analyze his attraction to this project, along with his support for controversial figures from both sides of the political spectrum—like Amakasu Masahiko (1891-1945), and Yamada Seizaburô (1896-1970).  While Mutô helped construct a new culture for Manchukuo, he also engaged in cultural production expressing the values he desired to promote, first in his role as propaganda director of the Concordia Association, and then in his role as state propaganda chief.  For example, he wrote plays, like his 1937 work, “Invention and Free Love,” as well as his 1941 compilation of poetry and essays, Song in Praise of Manchuria. These pieces were intended to serve as literary models for the new utopian society promoted by the Concordia Association, with its author believing, just like former leftists including Yamada, that literature could be used to achieve social transformation, though now in a “rightwing proletarian” guise.

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