Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

New Nomads of the Sky

Boundaries in the sky did not so neatly conform to those on earth, and airplanes of dubious origin moved with freedom throughout China. In 1935, Manchuria Aviation Company representative Nagabuchi Saburō traveled beyond the borders of Manchukuo to Bailingmiao to persuade Demchugdongrub, the leader of the autonomous movement in Inner Mongolia, to let the company increase operations, not to mention, sell him a plane or two. As recounted in the company magazine, ManAir, Nagabuchi said to the prince:

In the age when the Mongols conquered the entire world, those of the fastest speed were horses. In Mongolia, the horses were many. From now on, in this age of the airplane, the future lies in transportation across the sky, so the country with the most airplanes will master the globe.

In response, “Demchugdongrub who put on airs about being the next Chinggis Khan, was exceptionally pleased” (Nagabuchi 1935). Nagabuchi compared airplanes to nomads and the sky to the steppe not only to appeal to the prince’s nationalist sensibilities, but also to justify Japanese violations against both Mongolian and Chinese sovereignty. In the logic of open space, whether sky or steppe, conventional notions of territoriality no longer held. In the uneven and uncertain boundaries of the Japanese empire, these men saw airplanes as the new nomads in defying and redefining territoriality in a region of strategic significance.

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