Crossing Empire's Edge

Crossing Empire's Edge: Foreign Ministry Police and Japanese Expansionism in Northeast Asia

Erik Esselstrom
Copyright Date: 2009
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  • Book Info
    Crossing Empire's Edge
    Book Description:

    For more than half a century, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Gaimusho) possessed an independent police force that operated within the space of Japan’s informal empire on the Asian continent. Charged with "protecting and controlling" local Japanese communities first in Korea and later in China, these consular police played a critical role in facilitating Japanese imperial expansion during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Remarkably, however, this police force remains largely unknown. Crossing Empire’s Edge is the first book in English to reveal its complex history. Based on extensive analysis of both archival and recently published Japanese sources, Erik Esselstrom describes how the Gaimusho police became deeply involved in the surveillance and suppression of the Korean independence movement in exile throughout Chinese treaty ports and the Manchurian frontier during the 1920s and 1930s. It had in fact evolved over the years from a relatively benign public security organization into a full-fledged political intelligence apparatus devoted to apprehending purveyors of "dangerous thought" throughout the empire. Furthermore, the history of consular police operations indicates that ideological crime was a borderless security problem; Gaimusho police worked closely with colonial and metropolitan Japanese police forces to target Chinese, Korean, and Japanese suspects alike from Shanghai to Seoul to Tokyo. Esselstrom thus offers a nuanced interpretation of Japanese expansionism by highlighting the transnational links between consular, colonial, and metropolitan policing of subversive political movements during the prewar and wartime eras. In addition, by illuminating the fervor with which consular police often pressed for unilateral solutions to Japan’s political security crises on the continent, he challenges orthodox understandings of the relationship between civil and military institutions within the imperial Japanese state. While historians often still depict the Gaimusho as an inhibitor of unilateral military expansionism during the first half of the twentieth century, Esselstrom’s exposé on the activities and ideology of the consular police dramatically challenges this narrative. Revealing a far greater complexity of motivation behind the Japanese colonial mission, Crossing Empire’s Edge boldly illustrates how the imperial Japanese state viewed political security at home as inextricably connected to political security abroad from as early as 1919—nearly a decade before overt military aggression began—and approaches northeast Asia as a region of intricate and dynamic social, economic, and political forces. In doing so, Crossing Empire’s Edge inspires new ways of thinking about both modern Japanese history and the modern history of Japan in East Asia.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6205-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    On the evening of March 11, 1919, a minor scuffle broke out between a handful of plain-clothed Japanese police officers and U.S. Army personnel outside a Korean brothel in the Japanese concession zone of Tianjin, China. According to U.S. sources, the violence escalated at around midnight the next evening, when “a large group of excited Japanese civilians carrying clubs and pistols invaded the French concession.” Following the mob into the French concession, “the acting Japanese consul, mounted on a horse, led a body of more than one hundred Japanese troops and officers armed with rifles with fixed bayonets.”¹ In the...

  5. 1 Patterns of Police Work in Late Chosŏn Korea
    (pp. 13-38)

    As Japan’s first modern colonial acquisition, Taiwan served as a critical testing ground for many early formations of Japanese colonial policy. Undoubtedly, the lessons learned through successes and failures during the first ten years of colonial rule there proved valuable in facilitating Japan’s subsequent colonial annexation of Korea between 1905 and 1910. It would be logical to expect, for example, that Japan’s colonial police institutions in Korea were closely derived from the experience of colonial police in Taiwan.¹ However, what historians have long neglected to recognize is that there had been quasi-colonial Japanese police in Korea since 1880, fifteen years...

  6. 2 A Disputed Presence in Late Qing and Early Republican China
    (pp. 39-64)

    The early history of Japan’s Foreign Ministry police in China, South Manchuria, and the Sino-Korean border region of Jiandao (J. Kantō; Kor. Gando) had two things in common with the establishment of the consular police in Korea. First, in all three cases the initial deployment of police forces was quite small, and their duties were limited to the protection and management of Japanese civilian life and property in open treaty port communities. Second, in each case the Japanese government cited mutually recognized treaty agreements between Japan and Korea or Japan and China as the legal basis for their maintenance of...

  7. 3 Policing Resistance to the Imperial State
    (pp. 65-91)

    Until the end of the First World War, the Japanese consular police in northeast Asia had been a relatively small organization, focused on the duty of managing the public welfare of Japanese resident communities on the continent. As such, their daily activities consisted primarily of mundane administrative tasks and the execution of basic public health and security measures. The eruption of the Korean independence movement on March 1, 1919, and the emergence of an international communist movement centered in Moscow, however, both inspired a radical transformation in the perceived mission of the Japanese consular police. The treaty port environments of...

  8. 4 Opposition, Escalation, and Integration
    (pp. 92-118)

    On May 8, 2002, a small group of tired and desperate North Korean refugees rushed the gates of Japanese Consulate-General office in Shenyang, China, seeking political asylum. An armed contingent of local Chinese police quickly stormed after them and dragged the ragged travelers kicking and screaming from the consulate grounds. In the aftermath of this relatively insignificant local fracas, as dramatic videotape of the incident appeared on news broadcasts in Japan for weeks on end, many Japanese politicians and media outlets used the episode to criticize the Chinese government for its blatant disregard for Japanese jurisdictional authority within the confines...

  9. 5 The Struggle for Security in Occupied China
    (pp. 119-146)

    Without a doubt the Manchurian crisis of 1930–1932 had a powerful effect on the evolution of consular police ideology, activity, and organization. However, as illustrated in Chapter 4, these changes did not necessarily mark a radical shift in direction, but rather brought to fuller fruition trends with roots in the 1920s. This chapter will examine the further expansion of Gaimushō police facilities and operations in Manzhouguo and China proper during the mid-1930s and throughout the Sino-Japanese War of 1937–1945. During these years, Japan’s consular police forces continued to play an active role in prosecuting the war on Korean...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 147-154)

    Anyone who has spent time in East Asia during the summer months knows that it is a time of both oppressive heat and even more oppressive memories. Every August the citizens of China, Korea, and Japan are reminded of the fateful day in 1945 that signaled hard-fought victory for one society, long-desired freedom for another, and grim apocalyptic defeat for the third. Although the number of people with personal memories of the colonial and wartime eras grows ever smaller each summer, the power that public memories of violence and victimization wield seems to grow ever stronger. As vehement Chinese and...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 155-202)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 203-228)
  13. Index
    (pp. 229-234)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 235-236)