Japan planned huge colony, says scholar

By Mark O'Neil in Beijing, South China Morning Post, Monday, 12 March 2001

Japan planned to settle five million people in China—or an eighth of its then population—but the plan was aborted by its defeat in World War II, a Chinese scholar said.

The Beijing Morning News yesterday quoted Zhang Yibo, chairman of the September 18 War Research Association in Liaoning province, as saying that he found details of the plan in a Japanese government document published in 1939.

On September 18, 1931, Japanese army officers in Shenyang set off explosives on a railway line outside the city, which they used as a pretext to occupy the three provinces of the northeast and set up the puppet state of Manchukuo.

Mr Zhang said the document called for the settlement of five million people in China over 20 years. Japan's population at that time was 40 million.

He said the Japanese cabinet approved the plan, adopting it as one of seven priority projects, and set up a Ministry for Colonialisation to oversee it.

Large-scale settlement started in 1937 and, by the end of the war in August 1945, 318,000 Japanese, mostly farmers, had moved to live in China, seizing 1.52 million hectares, he said.

Japan's rulers believed their overcrowded country, largely dependent on agriculture, could not support such a big population, so large-scale migration was essential. They launched nationwide propaganda campaigns aimed at persuading the landless poor in the countryside to move to Manchuria, which had the lowest population density in China. Tens of thousands answered the call and set up settlements there, taking over the land of the original owners, who were forced to become day labourers.

The Soviet Army invaded Manchuria on August 8, 1945, one week before Japan's surrender. By then, high Japanese officials in the Manchukuo government and senior army officials knew that the end was about to come and had made plans to escape home.

But thousands were left to the mercy of the Soviet Army and the vengeance of local people. Many committed suicide. Of those who fled, some left their children with local families, who brought them up as their own.