(The following is a post by Cameron Penwell, Japanese reference librarian, Asian Division.)
In 1906, in the aftermath of its victory in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), the imperial Japanese government set up the South Manchurian Railway Company (SMRC) to promote and manage Japanese interests on the Asian continent. It was incorporated with the legal designation of a “special company” and focused specifically on Japanese rights to the South Manchuria branch of the China Far East Railway, which the Japanese government had newly acquired from Russia along with the Kwantung Leased Territory on the Liaodong Peninsula in China.
At the same time, a Japanese military unit called the Kwantung Army was dispatched to the region to protect the newly acquired territory of Port Arthur (or Lushun), the SMRC railways, and other Japanese economic interests. The SMRC effectively functioned as a Japanese colonial agency as it not only reaped massive profits through control of freight shipping along its growing railway network, but also engaged in coal and other mining operations. The company also transformed Manchuria into the world’s leading soy-producing region, and developed cities along its train lines while establishing hotels, hospitals, public utilities, and more.
In order to support its vast commercial operations with necessary information and intelligence, the SMRC maintained research bureaus across East Asia with its headquarters in Dalian (called Dairen in Japanese), a major port city in northeastern China. Taken together, these bureaus formed the most comprehensive network for social scientific research on East Asia in the first half of the 20th century. The results of this research were published in a variety of formats, including books, reports, pamphlets, and periodicals. Some of these publications were intended for general academic or public audiences, while others were produced specifically for intelligence use by SMRC or the Japanese government.
Japanese influence in northeast China continued to grow in the 1910s and 1920s, but SMRC did face competition from the Russian-operated Chinese Eastern Railway and a number of Chinese-owned lines controlled by local warlords in the Manchuria region. On the evening of September 18, 1931, soldiers from the Japanese Kwantung Army detonated explosives on a railway owned by SMRC near the city of Mukden (now Shenyang). Army officers blamed local Chinese troops for the blast, thus creating a pretext for the Japanese to take control of the city and, shortly thereafter, launch a full-scale invasion of the Manchuria region. This “Mukden Incident” (commonly known as the “Manchurian Incident” in Japan or the “September 18 Incident” in China) set the stage for the creation of the puppet state Manchukuo in 1932, after which the SMRC assumed control of the newly consolidated Manchukuo National Railway in 1933. The rest of the world never acknowledged Manchukuo as a legitimate state, viewing it instead as occupied Chinese territory. The League of Nation’s refusal to recognize Manchukuo precipitated Japan’s withdrawal from the organization in 1933.
Over the next decade, the Japanese population in Manchukuo swelled to one million as hundreds of thousands of emigrants sought their fortunes outside the home islands of Japan. Japanese propaganda touted the country as part of a “new order” in Asia, a modern era free from Western domination. In this imagining, Manchukuo was a multi-ethnic state comprising five ethnicities that peacefully co-existed together: Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Manchu, and Mongol. In reality, Japanese settlers benefited from discriminatory and exploitative practices that displaced existing Chinese residents and expropriated their lands. The SMRC likewise reaped massive profits due, in no small part, to its near-monopoly status and ability to prioritize and protect its economic interests, backed up by the threat of force guaranteed by the presence of the Japanese Kwantung Army.
By the end of World War II in August 1945, the SMRC had grown to an enormous size. Shortly before its demise at the end of the war, the SMRC managed more than 70 companies and employed some 340,000 people in Manchukuo, mainland Japan, and occupied China. The invading Soviet Army quickly requisitioned SMRC facilities and assets for its own use, including its railways. Rail lines were returned to Chinese control in 1955.
During the US-led Allied occupation of Japan, which began in September 1945, the office of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) coordinated the confiscation of hundreds of thousands of printed materials and government documents from military installations, government agencies, and other institutions throughout Japan. These items were then sent to the Washington Document Center (WDC) in Washington, D.C., which served as a clearinghouse for materials gathered from the Asian-Pacific theater of WWII. The purpose envisioned for this vast assemblage of materials was threefold: to provide the Occupation authorities with economic and other social-scientific data to aid in governance and policy making in Japan; to utilize them for intelligence analysis in the rapidly changing geopolitical environment in East Asia at the dawn of the Cold War; and to serve as a source of background information for use in war crime trials.
The Tokyo office of the recently dissolved SMRC was among the institutions targeted by SCAP. The office’s research library contained tens of thousands of books covering all manner of topics related to countries and regions in Asia. Of these, thousands were studies and reports published by SMRC’s own researchers, with a particular focus on Manchuria, Korea, and northern China. These materials made their way to the WDC and eventually to the Library of Congress. The Library now holds some 6,000 items written or published between 1906 and 1945 by the SMRC and its affiliated research sections. The majority of these publications are housed in the Asian Division, with most of the remainder found in the Law Library and the Geography & Maps Division.
The library at the SMRC Tokyo offices included more than 6,800 volumes of Chinese-language materials, consisting mostly of social scientific studies and late-Qing editions or reprints of classic works. These items were transferred from the WDC into the Asian Division in 1959. See the South Manchuria Railway Company Chinese Collection for a full list of titles. Also in its possession were publications in Arabic and Turkish, as well as works on the Middle East in European languages. The African and Middle Eastern Division now holds 13 items that originated from SMRC’s research library (Search the Library of Congress Online Catalog using Keyword Anywhere (GKEY): “Minami Manshū Tetsudō Kabushiki Kaisha” with Location: “African/Middle Eastern”). One such item is a hand-copied 1926 edition of a 15th-century book on navigation of the Indian Ocean by the Arab navigator and cartographer Ibn Majid (which is also available in electronic format).
In order to improve access to the collection, Asian Division librarians have created a guide to South Manchurian Railway Company publications. This guide provides further background information about the collection, strategies for effective searching in both Japanese and English, and additional online and print resources.
For further questions about South Manchurian Railway Company publications at the Library of Congress, please contact the Asian Division through the Ask-a-Librarian online inquiry form.