Imperial Japan and Land Reform in the Mongol Territories of Manchukuo

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 4:10 PM
Salon 10 (Palmer House Hilton)
Sakura Christmas, Bowdoin College
The mottled landscape of pastoral and agrarian livelihoods in Inner Mongolia posed fundamental problems around governance for Japanese imperialists after they invaded Northeast China in 1931. Within this zone of mixed settlement, Japanese planners and Mongol collaborators pursued land reform to mark out a new border for an autonomous province within the client state of Manchukuo. The border continues to define the eastern limits of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region to this day. This paper details the origins, implementation, and consequences of this reform, a law known as “The Mongol Land Offer,” which expropriated the estates of indigenous princes beyond the new border and incorporated these territories into Manchukuo’s county administration in 1938. Driven by Marxian analysis, Japanese researchers from the South Manchuria Railway Company reframed the nomadic pastoralism practiced by Mongols within feudalism in order to justify state dispossession of aristocratic property beyond the border. The Land Offer redistributed the extensive holdings of the Mongol nobility to predominantly Chinese tenants. Japanese leftists reworked Marxian theory to recognize the Mongol territories as a special case of feudalism, where not only class, but also livelihood lay as the cause of supposed economic stagnation. The data from Japanese surveys, generated in collaboration with indigenous partners, motivated land reform in the Mongol territories that predated Communist programs. This extensive classification project led to significant territorial dispossession, the curtailing of indigenous power, and ultimately the effacement of Mongol identity from the map of Northeast China. The Mongol Land Offer therefore offers an alternate understanding to the beginnings of the multiethnic framework of the People’s Republic: instead of only seeing the origins of Communist rule as forged in the fires war against imperialism, it points to the significance of Japan in shaping the ethnic bounds of modern China.