The Devil in the Details
A few war prints portray heroic Chinese, and some battle scenes depict the Japanese and Chinese adversaries in relatively equitable ways—apart from the fact that the Japanese are always victorious. More than a few prints focus exclusively on “our heroes”—that is, Japanese fighting men alone. This is typical in war propaganda.
At the same time, disdain for the Chinese enemy is pervasive throughout these war prints and frequently carries both a harsh racist charge and an undisguised edge of pure sadism. As the gruesome details isolated here reveal, the Chinese are slashed with swords, skewered with bayonets, shot at close range, beaten down with rifle butts, strangled, crushed with boulders, pounded with oars while floundering in the sea. They tumble to their deaths off cliffs and warships. In one print, a civilian caught in battle lies crumpled on the ground with a still-open parasol on his corpse, conspicuous once again by his gaudy and (in Japanese eyes) outlandish clothing.
It is particularly sobering to keep in mind that this was not on-the-scene “realism.” The woodblock artists worked largely out of their own imaginations, tailoring this to news reports from the front. They were commercial artists catering to a home-front audience responsive to images of glory and gore alike.