Little Citizens, Big Missions in Manchuria: The Shōkokumin as Imperial Pedagogy
The wartime shōkokumin discourse of Japan rested on two competing premises, each catenated with a different part of the compound word: the “shō” that emphasized children’s immaturity and vulnerability and the “kokumin” that activated them immediately as mobilizable citizens. This paper charts how the tensions innate in shōkokumin discourse became manifest both at home and in the colonial territories abroad, focusing especially on the exceptionally ambiguous category of settler children in Manchuria. By employing settler children’s tsuzurikata essays from the late 1930s and early 1940s as a central source of examination, the current study fleshes out the particulars of their lives in Manchuria – the trials and tribulations, as well as the privileges and prestige. Neither metropolitan shōkokumin nor colonial kōmin, the settler children in Manchuria had the double duty of becoming Manchurian and Japanese, embracing their role as the gatekeepers of Japan’s Manchuria. Ranging from language acquisition and assimilating into local customs to declaring Japanese ethnic membership, settler children’s writings expose how they articulated their relationship to the naichi metropole, and emphasized their identities as Japanese kokumin. Whether these children ever gained legitimate status as imperial shōkokumin during the turmoil and exigencies of war remains an unresolved question; however, what is clear is that the shōkokumin discourse itself operated as an imperial pedagogy, binding settler children to their double duties while not necessarily guaranteeing their rights at war’s end.
Shōkokumin; Japanese settler children; Manchuria; children’s wartime compositions; wartime Japan; the tsuzurikata essays; kokumingakkō
Notes on contributor
Helen J. S. Lee is Professor of modern Japanese literature at the Underwood International College of Yonsei University, Seoul. Her research has primarily focused on Japan’s empire with a particular focus on settler communities in colonial territories. She has published a number of articles with the positions: asia critique and the Journal of Japanese Literature and Language. She is also a co-editor of a volume, Reading Colonial Japan: Text, Context and Critique (Stanford University Press, 2012). Her current project deals with children, both Japanese and non-Japanese within Japan’s empire and their kokugo compositions.