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    Esselstrom, Erik 2015. From Wartime Friend to Cold War Fiend: The Abduction of Kaji Wataru and U.S.-Japan Relations at Occupation's End. Journal of Cold War Studies, Vol. 17, Issue. 3, p. 159.


Propaganda and Sovereignty in Wartime China: Morale Operations and Psychological Warfare under the Office of War Information*

  • DOI:
  • Published online: 14 February 2011

During the later years of the War of Resistance to Japan (1937–1945), United States (US) propaganda activities intensified in both Japanese military-occupied and ‘free’ regions of China. One of the most important organizations behind these activities was the Office of War Information (OWI). This paper examines the OWI, and particularly its Overseas Office, as key institutional actors within a broader US total war effort which touched the lives of civilian populations in East Asia as well as combatants, arguing that:

US propaganda institutions and propagandists played demonstrable roles in representing and shaping the experience of war in China;

these institutions, which included Asians and individuals of Asian descent, simultaneously acted to advance US goals in the wartime ‘Far East’;

while cooperation between US and Chinese governments was sporadic in the area of psychological warfare, conflicts over control often undermined or limited operations;

despite these shortcomings, US propaganda institutions (which included both the OWI and offices within the Department of State) had developed comparatively wide-ranging capabilities by the end of the war, and continued operations into the Civil War of 1945–1949.

By 1945 propaganda had become an activity which regularly targeted allied populations as well as enemies. This process was facilitated by the early twentieth-century communications revolution, but was planned and controlled by the new engineers of the post-war order.

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L. Hawkins Jr. and G. Pettee (1943). OWI – Organisation and Problems, The Public Opinion Quarterly, 7:1, 1533

R. Smith (1972). OSS: The Secret History of America's First Intelligence Agency, University of California Press, Berkeley

F. Ninkovich (1980). ‘Cultural Relations and American China Policy, 1942–1945’, The Pacific Historical Review, 49:3

C. Simpson (1994). Science of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare, 1945–1960, Oxford University Press, Oxford

J. Barnes (1943). Fighting with Information: OWI Overseas, The Public Opinion Quarterly, 7:1, 3445

D. Price (2002). Lessons from Second World War anthropology: Peripheral, persuasive, and ignored contributions, Anthropology Today, 18:3, 1420

R. Minear (1980). ‘Cultural Perception and World War II: American Japanists of the 1940s and Their Images of Japan’, International Studies Quarterly, 24:4, 555580

J. Hart (2004). Making Democracy Safe for the World: Race, Propaganda, and the Transformation of US Foreign Policy during World War II, The Pacific Historical Review, 73:1, 4984

P. Richards (2007). Information Science in Wartime: Pioneer Documentation Activities in World War II, Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 39:5, 301306

D. Barrett (1970). Dixie Mission: The United States Army Observer Group in Yenan, 1944, Centre for Chinese Studies, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley

C. Siepmann (1946). ‘Propaganda and Information in International Affairs’, The Yale Law Journal, 55:5, 1259

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Modern Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0026-749X
  • EISSN: 1469-8099
  • URL: /core/journals/modern-asian-studies
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