Imperial Japan saw the air as the next frontier of expansion, or as succinctly summarized by this Manchuria Aviation Company advertisement, to “Conquer Big Sky!” The corporate magazine ManAir reflected this ideology of spatial dominance by technological advancement, with its covers featuring images of complex machinery and geopolitical emblems. The traveling woman and the militarized child also emerged as symbolic figures of the aerial modern.
The advent of the airplane generated new spaces of collaboration and contestation in the twentieth century, one that challenged the terrestrial boundaries of imperial and national states. Through the Manchuria Aviation Company, Japan sought alliances with Germany and Italy, as well as rivalries with the United States and the Soviet Union, at the expense of Chinese and Mongol sovereignty on the ground.
In bringing the land increasingly under an ocular occupation, the aerial perspective produced compelling spatial and temporal representations of Inner Asia. The view from above held a revelatory power of instantaneous knowledge, leading those involved in the enterprise to believe that they had achieved a most powerful convergence between sight and knowledge for the empire to date. Certainly, the halting advance of the Manchuria Aviation Company demonstrated the possible extent of reconnaissance from the sky, where thousands of aerial photographs might point to a panoptic fixation of imperial Japan. Mapping and measuring the terrain, plotting points to coordinates on a putatively universal grid, these pursuits meant another level of scientific entrenchment where the land could not escape the purview of trigonometric calculation. And yet, these photographs themselves sit in archives as forgotten “moments” and collect dust.
Nevertheless, their tangible legacies remain. Monuments to colonial development built upon felled forests and barren earth stand as an enduring, though ambivalent testament to the technological imaginary, the realm of possibility for empire opened up by the view from above. By war's end, as the modules by David Fedman and Michitake Aso demonstrate, the view from above took on new significance throughout Asia, from incendiary bombs in China and Japan to biological warfare in Korea and Vietnam. It was a different, far more destructive meaning.