The Manchurian Crisis, 1931

What was the Manchurian Crisis?
In 1931 the League faced its most serious challenge yet, when Japan invaded the Chinese province of Manchuria.
Where is Manchuria?
Manchuria is a province of north-east China. It had a sparse population but was rich in minerals, agricultural land and forestry. It bordered Korea, which was controlled by Japan.
Why did Japan invade Manchuria in 1931?
In 1931 Japanese troops invaded Manchuria. There were a number of reasons for this, both economic and political:
  • Japan had suffered badly in the Depression, as it had few natural resources and its main export was silk.
  • Japan exported much of its silk to rich countries, like America, but the impact of the Depression meant people were not buying luxury goods. By 1932 silk was worth one fifth of its value in 1920. Production and employment had fallen by 30% by 1930.
  • Japan started to look for land and resources elsewhere to minimise the impact of the depression.
  • Japan already had large industries and a railway line through Manchuria, and guards to protect it. Japan was worried China might expel Japanese industry.
  • The Japanese government wanted to take the land to upset its old enemy, Russia, and use that as a way to distract people from its domestic problems.
  • Japan wanted to seize the opportunity while the Japanese army was growing stronger and Chinese power was weakening.
  • In September 1931 there was an explosion on the Manchurian railway in Mukden. This is believed to have been set up by the Japanese army, but the Japanese blamed Chinese bandits. This became known as the Mukden Incident.
  • The Japanese army was stronger than its civilian government and took control, marching into Manchuria and taking over.
What happened when Japan invaded Manchuria?
By March 1932 the Japanese army had invaded the whole province of Manchuria and renamed it Manchukuo. The Chinese emperor, Pu Yi, was installed as a puppet leader controlled by the Japanese.
Why was the League of Nations reluctant to act over the Manchurian crisis at first?
This incident looked like a clear case of aggression as Japan had invaded Manchuria and was in the wrong. However, the League was reluctant to act for a number of reasons:
  • Many argued that Japan owned Manchuria and was entitled to take control. China had previously agreed economic rights in the area.
  • China and Japan were seen as a long way away from the League's headquarters in Geneva. Britain and France felt it was too far away to be a concern to them.
  • Japan was a powerful member of the League, there was a lot of confusion surrounding the Mukden Incident and there was a convincing argument that China had attacked Japan first.
  • China was very disorganised and some people thought it was a good thing Japan had invaded the region. It was seen by some as protection against communism.
How did the League respond to the invasion of Manchuria?
China appealed to the League and called upon it to act.
  • At first, the League issued a moral condemnation and told Japan to remove its troops. The Japanese refused and there was not much the League could do.
  • The next tool at their disposal was to issue economic sanctions. However, Japan's biggest trading relationship was with the USA, who was not a member of the League. This would therefore be pointless.
  • Geographically, Manchuria was far away from the League's more powerful members. The nearest powerful country was the Soviet Union, but it was not a member of the League and could not be called upon for help.
  • The League could use military action but members would not send their armies as they could not afford to fight someone else's battle so far away in the midst of a depression.
  • The League didn't want to do nothing, so it appointed Lord Lytton to lead a commission of inquiry into Manchuria.
What did the Lytton Commission do in Manchuria?
The Lytton Commission spent six weeks investigating in the province and concluded the invasion was not justified. It presented its findings in the Lytton report.
What decisions did the League of Nations reach about Manchuria?
The League considered the findings in February 1933 and accepted them by 42 to 1, but failed to impose economic or military sanctions. By this point the crisis had lasted for 18 months and many people criticised the League for being too slow to act.
What were the results of the Manchurian Crisis?
There were a number of results to the League's actions in Manchuria:
  • In response to the League's judgement, Japan left the organisation and continued to occupy Manchuria.
  • The League looked ineffective and slow.
  • In 1933 Japan invaded the Chinese province of Jehol, and launched a full-scale invasion of China in 1937.
What was the significance of the Manchurian crisis for the League of Nations?
The Manchurian crisis was significant because the League had failed. One of its members had broken the rules, but the League was slow to react and did little. The crisis demonstrated the League was weak and indecisive, and that powerful countries could get away with aggression.
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