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Conclusion: The Next Frontier
Manchuria Aviation Company
Manchuria Aviation Company
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.
- 1 2020-01-02T23:21:54-05:00 Aerial View of Module 17 Manchuria Aviation Company plain 4897 2020-01-06T15:51:33-05:00
Lines in the Air
Manchuria Aviation Company; air space; Republican China; Manchukuo
Paris Convention; Kwantung Army; Lufthansa
To Japanese occupiers, the Eurasian continent necessitated a new mode of vision from the cockpit of an airplane. As Shellen Wu shows in her module, the northern borderlands emerged as a contested site between Imperial Japan, Republican and Communist China, and the Soviet Union, after the breakdown of the Qing empire. On the ground, Mongol, Tungusic, and Muslim minorities negotiated these rivalries as they sought to stake out autonomy for their own communities. After the Invasion of Manchuria, the incoming Japanese administration struggled to manage what they saw as this immense area, sparsely populated with indigenes, settlers, and the people in between.
The Manchuria Aviation Company sought to become the predominant presence over Inner Mongolia in the 1930s and 40s. The ‘eye in the sky’ had initially developed as a technology of rule after the Great War. As Priya Satia argues, Britain had designed this system of policing, known as “air control” and implemented it in Iraq. There,
cultural ideas of restive nomads
and shifting sands served to justify
bombing the region into submission.
Assumptions regarding a similar geography lay at the heart of Japan’s drive to construct an aerial network in Manchukuo and extend it across Inner Mongolia, beyond the boundaries of its territorial regime. The Japanese airports that sprung up on the steppe would support an infrastructure that would challenge China’s sovereignty over the region.
It was the Paris Convention in 1919 that determined that foreign
powers could circumvent the sovereignty of a state’s air space
by setting up joint ventures with the host country. This treaty
came about after considerable debate over aerial sovereignty
among jurists, divided into four main opinions:
1. Absolute freedom of air navigation.
2. Absolute state sovereignty over air navigation
3. Vertical limits to state sovereignty, similar to maritime belts
4. Limitations on sovereignty by international law
As a result of the Paris Convention, four major corporations had staked out unofficial spheres of influence in the Republic of China: Japan in the northeast, Germany in the north and northwest, the United States in the central plain and southwest, and finally, a domestic carrier in the southeast.
The United States had partnered with China in 1930 to set up the China National Aviation Corporation. Germany followed in 1931 with Lufthansa propping up the Eurasia Aviation Company. Lufthansa's plans seemed especially ambitious as it began testing a route from Berlin to Beijing via Baghdad and Urumchi soon after signing its contract.
Japan followed suite a year later by founding the Manchuria Aviation Company with 3.6 million yuan in capital to service its recently established client state of Manchukuo. Unlike other commercial airlines, however, Japanese firms did not maintain a strict division of civil and military functions. The Manchuria Aviation Company often transferred information, labor, or equipment for the Kwantung Army, and the sky remained militarized well after Japan secured Manchukuo.