21 May 2004

The Role of "Manchukuo Candidates" in the Postwar Period

Many of the principal architects of Japanese and Korean economic development after World War II got their start in Manchukuo. Among them were:
  • Japanese Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke, who served as industrial czar in Manchuria

  • Japanese Prime Minister Tanaka Kakuei, who served in the Morioka Cavalry in Manchuria, and his later nemesis Fukuda Takeo, who eventually toppled Tanaka from power. Tanaka's outspoken daughter Makiko served as current Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi's first foreign minister.

  • Japanese Lt. Okamoto Minoru (Park Chung-hee), the father of the South Korean chaebôl (= Jp. zaibatsu)

  • North Korea's "Great Leader" Kim Il-sung, who got his start as a guerrilla leader in Manchuria

  • North Korea's "Dear Leader" Kim Chong-il, who was born in Khabarovsk after his father was chased out of Manchuria
Columbia historian Charles K. Armstrong addresses the role of Manchuria in North Korean mythology in a fascinating article entitled "Centering the Periphery: Manchurian Exile(s) and the North Korean State," in Korean Studies 19: 1-16:
Kim Il Sung and other Manchurian guerrilla veterans who came to dominate North Korean politics after 1945 were profoundly influenced by the experience of their anti-Japanese struggle in exile. This influence has shaped the ideology, historiography, and domestic and external policies of the DPRK to the present. At the same time, this exile experience has been given a mythical status in North Korean history, centered on the personality and activities of Kim Il Sung, but reflective of earlier attempts to draw Manchuria into the mainstream of Korean history. The "mythification" of Manchuria has grown steadily over time, and since the early 1970s Kim Jong Il has been closely associated with his father's Manchurian guerrilla struggle, in particular with the image of Mt. Paektu.

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