Despite its checkered past, Manchukuo is interesting to historians because it was at the cutting edge of many social and political trends. Since Manchukuo was engineered from the ground up, its creators were free to imagine a completely new, advanced society that was also supposed to be uniquely Asian. Manchukuo is a very good image of what certain people at the time considered to be the Asian "land of tomorrow."
I have spent the past few years researching religion and society in Manchuria, with a special emphasisis on the Manchukuo period. The underlying question is how people thought about religion as a concept: what religion is, and what role it should play in society. But to understand how people saw religion, I have had to foray into new areas, such as law and the history of ideas. Eventually, this will all become a book on how religion was created as a social institution on the Manchurian frontier, but in the meantime, I have published a few interesting papers:
•"Local religion and imperial imaginary: the development of Japanese ethnography in occupied Manchuria," appeared in the American Historical Review, Vol. 111, no. 1 (2006) and examines how Japanese scholars such as Ōmachi Tokuzō came to understand a particular view of Chinese religion that was based on their own understanding of national spirit and civilizational progress. (Read Online)
•"Japanese print media and Manchurian cultural community: religion in the pages of the Shengjing Times, 1907-1944" examines a Japanese-owned newspaper published in Shenyang to ask whether the popular press created opinions or reflected them. This research appears as a chapter in Casting Faiths.
•"Rule of Law in a Brave New Empire: Legal Rhetoric and Practice in Manchukuo," was recently published in the Law and History Review, Vol. 26, 2 (2008), and examines why law was so important to the short-lived state. The answer, I conclude, lies in the importance of law to how states and societies define themselves. (Read Online)
•“Manchukuo’s filial sons: States, sects and the transformation of graveside piety,” will appear in the December 2008 issue of the journal East Asian History. A Chinese translation is being prepared for the journal Minsu yanjiu 民俗研究.
•“Inauthentic Sovereignty: Law and legal Institutions in Manchukuo” continues the topic of law, and shows how the various compromises of Manchukuo sovereignty were in many ways typical of international diplomacy at the time. This paper was presented at the IAHA conference in Manila, and will appear as an article in the Journal of Asian Studies.
•"Politics and charity: the Daoyuan-Red Swastika Society 1920-1940" examines why this new organization was formed and its difficult relationship with a series of governments. It was presented in Taiwan and recently at the Second Conference on Popular Religion and Secret Societies in Ji’nan Shandong, as “慈善团体与政治活动：道元紅卍字会二三十年代的演变.”
•"'God Bless Manchukuo:' the Manchurian Origins of Vatican Diplomacy" shows how Catholic missionaries of the French Missions Etrangeres de Paris reacted to the formation of Manchukuo, and why Vatican diplomats such as Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli recognized in Manchukuo a unique need and opportunity to transform how the Holy See conducted relations with non-Catholic states.