CHINA UNDER JAPANESE OCCUPATION

SHINKYŌ / HSINKING (CHANGCHUN) ‘BIRD’S EYE VIEW’

‘IDEAL’ PLANNED CITY – CAPITAL OF MANCHUKUO (MANCHURIA).

満州国国務院国都建設 [MANSHŪKOKU KOKUMUIN KOKUTO KENSETSUKYOKU / MANCHURIAN STATE COUNCIL NATIONAL CAPITAL CONSTRUCTION BUREAU].

國都建設の全貌 (日譯) [Kokuto kensetsu no zenbō: nichiyaku. / The Complete Picture of the Construction of the National Capital]. / 國都建設鳥瞰圖 [Kuni no shuto kensetsu no chōkanzu / National Capital Construction Bird’s Eye View].

[Shinkyō (Changchun):] Manchurian State Council National Capital Construction Bureau, Showa 10 [1935].

Photolithograph in colours, printed on both sides (Very Good, overall clean and bright, gorgeous painterly colours to view, minor wear along old folds and some toning to a couple panels on verso, lacking paper slipcase) 53.5 x 77 cm (21 x 30.5 inches).

A very rare and attractive bird’s eye view of the Japanese planned “ideal modern city of Shinkyō, or Hsinking (today Changchun, the ‘Automotive Capital of China’), then the capital of Manchukuo, the Japanese puppet state that ruled Manchuria from 1932 to 1945; an official work issued locally by the Manchurian State Council National Capital Construction Bureau, the crown corporation responsible for building the city; the painterly image captures Shinkyō in 1935, when many of its major edifices, features and streets had been completed, part of an omnibus double-sided composition that also includes an Art Deco styled Traffic Table, a fine map of the city with its land use zones, as well as photographic views and text panels with detailed descriptions of the city. 

In 1907, two years after Japan assumed de facto control of southern Manchuria, Japanese urban planners, working from a virtual tabula rasa, began to transform the insignificant village of Changchun (a stop on the South Manchuria Railway, SMR), that connected Harbin to Port Arthur) into a grand epicentre for Japanese imperialistic power in northeastern China.  Inspired by the plans of European capitals and ‘Garden City’ principles, Changchun became the most organized urban era in Asia, with carefully defined and mutually supporting commercial, military, industrial and residential zones, with ample greenspace, all laid out upon a sophisticated geometric layout.  This “ideal modern city” would allow Japan to maximize its control over the region and to extract its vast agrarian and mineral resources which were desperately needed to fuel the hyper-industrialized Japanese economy.

After Japan assumed de facto control over all Manchuria in 1931, creating the puppet state of Manchukuo the following year, Changchun became the ‘national’ capital and was renamed Shinkyō (in Japanese), or Hsinking (in Chinese).  The original urban plan was greatly expanded and, buoyed by massive Japanese crown investment and the presence of one of the world’s largest military bases, the city’s population boomed, growing 400% from 1932 to 1939, to reach over 400,000 residents.

The present large format, separately issued composition is printed on both sides.  It was issued by the Manchurian State Council National Capital Construction Bureau, the official entity that was responsible for building Shinkyō, in 1935, during the middle of the city’s first great growth spurt, and when many of its major features had already been constructed.

The highlight of the work is the beautiful 國都建設鳥瞰圖 [National Capital Construction Bird’s Eye View], which is, rather unusually, executed in a lush, painterly style, with vivid colours.  It captures the city from an oblique perspective above Datong (Grand Unity) Plaza (today’s People’s Plaza), the centre of the city, being a broad round space flanked by the grand edifices of government, with a tall pagoda in the middle.  The six wide avenues that radiate out of the plaza run out into what is clearly a beautiful and well-designed cityscape, with fine amenities and greenspaces.  

While the Japanese favoured the bird’s eye medium during this period, for whatever reason, only very few such works of Shinkyō exist.  Apart from this view we are aware of only another, very different, bird’s eye view of the city, issued in 1936, also by the Manchurian State Council National Capital Construction Bureau; please see an image courtesy of the David Rumsey Map Collection:

https://www.davidrumsey.com/luna/servlet/view/search;JSESSIONID=bb101468-0472-40b2-bcf4-c29a7eb2b770?q==%22Manshu%CC%84koku%20Kokumuin%20Kokuto%20Kensetsukyoku%22

Below the present bird’s eye view is a stellar work of data visualization, being the intriguing 滿日連絡交通圖表 [Traffic Table of Places that are Possible to Reach…], a highly stylized Art Deco chart showingShinkyō’s location (represented by the large yellow-black dot accompanied by the Manchukuo flag, on the left-hand side) relative to other cities in Manchukuo, Japan and China proper, with lines representing the routes for travel by plane, boat and rail (each labeled pictorially), while noting the kilometric distances of each route. 

The verso of the work features a fine map of Shinkyō, 國都建設計畫用途地域分配並事業第一次施行區域圖 [National Metropolitan Building Design Area – Land Use Distribution and First Business Zone Area], focusing and the lands that were under the Manchurian State Council National Capital Construction Bureau’s administration.  The map outlines all the major streets and features of the city and colour codes Shinkyō’s strict land zoning, with the area contained within the Orange Lines = National Metropolitan Building Design Area (essentially the limits of the city proper); the area shaded Light Green = special reserves (government use); Yellow Borders = the First Business Zone (essentially the Central Business/Administrative District); Dark Green = parkland; Dark Blue = military zone; Light Blue = public buildings; Orange = small shopping streets; and White = residential areas.

Else, on the verso, are a series of photographic images and panels of text providing a detailed account of Shinkyō and the ongoing construction mega-project.

A Note on Rarity

The present work is very rare, which is not surprising as the survival rate of such fragile, large format issues is quite low.

We cannot trace any examples outside of Japan.  The inventory listing for this item in Japanese library online catalogues is a touch confusing, but it seems that there are only a few examples held by Japanese institutions, including one at the National Diet Library (Tokyo).  Moreover, examples only seldom appear on the market, we are aware of only a couple examples listed in Japanese dealer’s catalogues over the last decade or so.

Shinkyō / Hsinking (Changchun): The Japanese “Ideal Modern City” in the Heart of Manchuria

Changchun (later for a time Shinkyō / Hsinking) was an unremarkable Manchurian village until 1898, when the southern branch of the Russian-built Chinese Eastern Railway (CER) (later known as the South Manchuria Railway (SMR)) which connected Harbin to Port Arthur (today the Lüshunkou District of Dalian) passed thorough it (Manchuria was then under de facto Russian control).  The town, which was considered to possess a fine natural physical location, grew quickly, anchored by its railway station at ‘Kuancheng’. 

Following the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5), whereby Japan throttled Russia, Japan was given control over Southern Manchuria, with Russia retaining control over the north.  Changchun lay along the frontier between the Russian and Japanese zones of influence. 

Japan had grand ambitions in Manchuria, for its hyper-industrialized economy desperately needed the region’s natural resources (grains, timber, coal and other minerals), as well as a source of cheap labour in the form of the region’s unfortunate locals.

The Japanese recognized Changchun to have an especially advantageous strategic location for marshaling resources and serving a military base with which to supplant Russia from all Manchuria.

The Japanese managed to assume control of the entire Changchun area, pushing aside the Russians and ignoring the wishes of the Chinese Qing regime that still had de jure sovereignty over Manchuria.  Thousands of acres of land were expropriated from local farmers to create a virtual tabula rasa for the Japanese to build what they envisaged as a grand “ideal modern city”.

Beginning in 1907, the Japanese dedicated their best urban planners to Changchun to create a large colonial epicentre that could fulfill multiple functions.  Influenced by both Hausmann’s 19th century redesigns of Paris and modern ‘Garden City’ principles, the planners anchored the city plan on the main railway station, with sectors of eight radial avenues emanating from it, forming sectors of even gridded streets.  The city would be extremely organized, with its functions carefully placed in relation to each other, with 15% of the city dedicated to residential purposes, 33’% to commerce, 19% to grain depots, 12% to factories, 12% to public entertainment, 12% for the military, and 9% for the civil administration.  The boulevards would be wide and tree-lined, with the built-up areas broken up by numerous large parks. 

The city quickly took shape as planned, with the Japanese spending an average of 7 million Yen per annum between 1907 and 1931 – then an astounding sum!  A new form of architecture was created that merged traditional Japanese, Manchurian and Chinese elements with contemporary international Art Nouveau (and later Art Deco) influences.  In 1919, Changchun became the headquarters of the special Japanese force in Manchuria, the Kwantung Army.  By 1931, the city occupied an urban construction zone of 3,967 km2 (1,532 sq mi), with one of the world’s largest military bases and no less than 18 police stations.

In 1932, Japan took over all of Manchuria, creating the puppet state of the Empire of Manchukuo, that was in effect a colony under the direct control of Tokyo.  Changchun was made the capital of the new state and renamed Shinkyō, literally “New Capital”, or Hsinking in Chinese.

Over the rest of the ’30s, the urban master plan was expanded and fully realized, as the Japanese invested massively to create a city that they could entirely control.  Extremely grand government edifices in the new style were constructed, such as the Imperial Palace of Manchukuo (the home of the puppet Emperor Puyi), and the Eight Major Bureaus of Manchukuo (which survive the present day); some of these sites are photographed on the verso of the present work.  Major tree planting operations were carried out which made Shinkyō one of the greenest urban spaces in Asia.  The present masterplan shows the city in 1938, when its urban plan was quite mature.

Shinkyō / Hsinking was an incredibly orderly and, on the surface, pleasant place, but this masked the horrific regime of repression, slave labour and police surveillance that the ethnic Han Chinese and Manchurian residents was subjected to.  The best residential areas and services were reserved for Japanese officials and colonists, while everyone else endured much lower living standards.

Shinkyō grew rapidly, fueled by its massive military sector.  Its population grew from 104,305 in 1932 to 415,473 in 1939 to 863,607 in 1944.  About a quarter of the residents were Japanese officials and colonists.

Throughout almost all of World War II, the Japanese were so confident of their ultimate victory that they continued to invest heavily in Shinkyō / Hsinking, expanding the city and making it into one of the world’s largest military bases.  By the early 1940s, the built-up area accounted for 80 km2 (31 sq mi), plus formal greenspace areas which took up an additional 70.7 km2 (27.3 sq mi).

However, the city became overweighted with respect to the military and administrative presence, viz. the intended urban plan, with the commercial and manufacturing sectors remaining comparatively small.  As a result, Shinkyō / Hsinking was something of an artificial society, buoyed by state money, as opposed to an organic social-industrial environment, as was the case in other large Manchurian cities, such as Harbin and Mukden (Shenyang).

Upon Japan’s defeat in World War II, in the late summer of 1945, the Japanese soldiers and colonists beat a hasty retreat, with the city being taken by the Soviets, who remained until 1946, returning the city’s name to Changchun.  After that point, the Chinese nationalists (Kuomintang) took over Changchun, while Manchuria became one of the great fault lines in the Chinese Civil War.  The city was surrounded by Chinese Communist force for five months in 1948, in what became known as the Siege of Changchun.  Between 150,000 to 330,000 of the city’s residents died, mostly from starvation, in what was one of the greatest atrocities of the conflict.

Following the Communist victory, Changchun recovered somewhat and was made the capital of Jilin Province, while heavy investment made it the ‘Automotive Capital of China’.  The city benefitted from its orderly layout and faired relatively well through the otherwise dark Maoist era. 

Changchun took off economically in the 1990s, became a world-class research centre, while producing 9% of China’s automobiles.  The population has boomed to today reach almost 5 million in the city proper, with over 9 million in the greater metropolitan region. 

References: National Diet Library:21733239, OCLC: 703346439.

1.400 EUR