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Reconstructing China: Japanese technicians and industrialization in the early years of the People's Republic of China*

  • AMY KING (a1)

The Chinese Communist Party was confronted with the pressing challenge of ‘reconstructing’ China's industrial economy when it came to power in 1949. Drawing on recently declassified Chinese Foreign Ministry archives, this article argues that the Party met this challenge by drawing on the expertise of Japanese technicians left behind in Northeast China at the end of the Second World War. Between 1949 and 1953, when they were eventually repatriated, thousands of Japanese technicians were used by the Chinese Communist Party to develop new technology and industrial techniques, train less skilled Chinese workers, and rebuild factories, mines, railways, and other industrial sites in the Northeast. These first four years of the People's Republic of China represent an important moment of both continuity and change in China's history. Like the Chinese Nationalist government before them, the Chinese Communist Party continued to draw on the technological and industrial legacy of the Japanese empire in Asia to rebuild China's war-torn economy. But this four-year period was also a moment of profound change. As the Cold War erupted in Asia, the Chinese Communist Party began a long-term reconceptualization of how national power was intimately connected to technology and industrial capability, and viewed Japanese technicians as a vital element in the transformation of China into a modern and powerful nation.

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I am grateful to Mariko Yamamoto for superb research assistance, and to Rana Mitter, Henrietta Harrison, Evelyn Goh, participants in the University of Leeds’ Sino-Japanese Relations Research Network, participants in the Bristol University ‘China in Transition (1945–1955)’ workshop, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions. The ‘China in Transition (1945–1955)’ workshop where this article was presented was funded by the Leverhulme Trust's China's War with Japan programme at Oxford University and the British Inter-University China Centre.

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R. Ward (2011). Delaying repatriation: Japanese technicians in early post-war China, Japan Forum, 23:4, p. 473

H.P. Bix (1972). Japanese imperialism and the Manchurian economy, 1900–31, The China Quarterly, 51, pp. 435440

A.S. Moore (2013). Constructing East Asia: Technology, Ideology, and Empire in Japan's Wartime Era, 1931–1945, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California

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M.A. Tamanoi (2000). Knowledge, power, and racial classification: the ‘Japanese’ in ‘Manchuria’, Journal of Asian Studies, 59:2, pp. 252259

B. Gao (1997). Economic Ideology and Japanese Industrial Policy: Developmentalism from 1931 to 1965, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

E.F. Vogel (2005). Chen Yun: his life, Journal of Contemporary China, 14:45, pp. 748750

T.M. Cheung (2009). Fortifying China: The Struggle to Build a Modern Defense Economy, Cornell University Press, Ithaca

A.B. Kennedy (2013). China's search for renewable energy: pragmatic techno-nationalism, Asian Survey, 53:5, pp. 913919

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