Imperial Designs: The Nations Behind the Scene
During and after World War Two, the victorious Allied Powers led by the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and China harked back to the turn-of-the-century Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars as evidence of Japan’s deep-seated militarism and ambition to control continental Asia. The surprise Japanese attack on the Russian fleet in Port Arthur in 1904 was widely cited as an early example of a treacherous Japanese “stab in the back.”
In taking on Russia in 1904, however, Japan actually had the strong support of both the United States and England. A large portion of Japan’s military expenses were met by loans raised in New York and London—and Admiral Tōgō’s surprise attack on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur was generally applauded as a bold, brilliant, and even “honorable” military strategy.
In this context, the Russo-Japanese War had a certain “proxy” quality. The Anglo-American powers supported Japan, while Russia was supported by its French and German allies. Many foreign postcards—especially by French and German artists—called attention to the “great power” dimensions of this struggle, often using familiar national stereotypes. These included the Russian bear, Japan as an exotic and feminine figure, tall and stuffy Brits, and an “Uncle Sam” America.
The last three images in this run are by Georges Bigot, a French cartoonist who spent several years living in Japan, rooted for the Russians, and invariably rendered his cartoon “Japanese“ with an unflattering and sometimes almost racist touch. In this sequence, Bigot adds two more peoples to the multi-cultural mosaic: a trampled upon Korea and feminized Manchuria, the latter being the reluctant prize coveted by both the Russians and Japanese.