Manchukuo Stamps

We welcome a guest posting by Alexander Akin, an occasional comment contributor here at Frog in a Well and currently a PhD Candidate in Harvard’s department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations. -K. M. Lawson

As a fan of Prasenjit Duara’s work on Manchukuo, I have long thought that it would have been interesting if he had illustrated his discussion of that state’s efforts to legitimize itself with some of the currency or stamps that it issued. These media were among Manchukuo’s most pervasive propaganda outlets, since everyone participated in the economy in some form or other. We can find examples of everything from the resurrection of Qing-era Manchu ideology to depictions of modern industrial development, slogans related to Manchukuo’s place in Japan’s grand project to realign East Asia, and even the illustration of a cartographic “geo-body” for the fledgling state. I thought I’d post images of some of the stamps issued by Manchukuo that use imagery or wording relevant to these themes. If you want to download the images for use in teaching a class or something like that, feel free- it’s not as if the Manchukuo imperial copyright enforcers will be coming after you!


Manchukuo’s claim to “authenticity,” to use Prasenjit Duara’s term, was based in part on the revival of Qing-era Manchu origin myths, including the hailing of Changbaishan as a numinous ancestral region. This 5-fen stamp, issued in 1935, depicts the famous lake atop Changbaishan. What makes this interesting is the fact that Koreans also claim this mountain lake as their national ancestral site (not to mention North Korea’s claim that it was the birthplace of Kim Jong-Il). The mountain is of course called Paekdusan in Korean.


On this 4-fen stamp, issued on September 18, 1940, Manchukuo cozies up to its best ally/ de facto master by celebrating 2600 years since the foundation of the Japanese royal house (that is, year 2600 of the Jimmu era). Energetic boys perform a dragon dance to celebrate the epic occasion. Another stamp issued on the same day (not pictured) reproduces a congratulatory message in the calligraphy of Prime Minister Zhang Jinghui.


Any newly established state will use maps to aid in the naturalization of its territoriality – that is, “Our country is real because it has a map!” Just ask Thongchai Winichakul (see his book “Siam Mapped”). This stamp, issued on March 1, 1942 to mark the tenth anniversary of the establishment of Manchukuo, depicts a slightly cartoonish map with a building representing the barrier gate at Shanhaiguan, the famous pass through which the Manchus were admitted by Wu Sangui to take over China. A small stretch of the Great Wall is visible to the left of the gate. Was this an allegorical reference to the role of Manchukuo in supplying resources for the Japanese invasion of China? That strikes me as too crudely obvious, something Manchukuo would not want to admit, but otherwise why the emphasis on Shanhaiguan?


Another stamp commemorating the tenth anniversary of the establishment of Manchukuo, this one issued on September 15, 1942, shows three men – a fisherman, an industrial worker, and a farmer – harmoniously developing and gathering the bounty of the motherland. On the tenth anniversary Japan also issued stamps saluting Manchukuo, including one depicting little boys of Japan and Manchukuo adorably marching in unison.


Here Manchukuo again faithfully hails its closest friend with the slogan “Japan’s prosperity is Manchuria’s Prosperity,” written in both Chinese and Japanese. On these stamps, issued in 1944, the Chinese version is written in the calligraphy of Prime Minister Zhang Jinghui, while the Japanese version is in the hand of Takebe Rokuzo, Director-General of Manchukuo’s General Affairs Board. Both stamps are valued at one jiao (10 fen). If I am not mistaken, Japanese was by this point one of the official languages in Manchukuo.


Manchukuo often overprinted its own older stamps with slogans to mark recent events, then re-releasing them for use. The underlying stamp in this case is a 4-fen issue of 1936-1937, showing the Northern Mausoleum at Mukden (another example of the use of Qing-era Manchu imagery to instill legitimacy, as this was the burial place of the early Manchu rulers before the Qing capital was moved to Beijing). It was overprinted in 1942 with the slogan “In commemoration of Singapore’s return to our East Asia.” This refers to the fall of British-ruled Singapore to Japanese forces on February 15, 1942. The overprinting of stamps with this slogan began on February 16.


Another overprint, applied this time to a 6-fen stamp of the late 1930s depicting a horse-drawn cart transporting bags of soybeans, commemorates the first anniversary of the beginning of the Pacific War. It gives the date 8.12.8 (December 8, Kangde year 8 [1941]), and declares, “The flourishing of Asia began on this day.” December 8, 1941 was the day on which Japan launched attacks on multiple targets across Asia including the Philippines, Malaya, Thailand and Shanghai; it was also the day on which the U.S. declared war in retaliation for the raid on Pearl Harbor. To Japan and its allies the first anniversary in 1942 still looked like the dawn of a glorious era of “Asian co-prosperity.”


The last stamp printed by Manchukuo, about three months before it collapsed under the Soviet “August Storm” offensive, was this 10-fen stamp issued on May 2, 1945 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the “Huiluan xunmin” edict, in which Puyi proclaimed that Japan and Manchukuo shared “One virtue, one heart (yi de, yi xin).” This slogan is inscribed in a circle in the center of the stamp.

Some may be surprised to learn that all of these stamps are very inexpensive; at the time of Manchukuo’s collapse there were countless sheets of stamps still sitting in storage that eventually found their way into the philatelic market. The dates of issue given for these stamps are based on the listings in Scott’s Standard Postal Stamp Catalog, volume 4.

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  1. Alexander

    Great post. As for Shanhaiguan, maybe to draw a line between China and Manchukuo? Or even better to point to a line the Chinese themselves had drawn.

    Of course, while I like all this visual stuff a lot, I am reminded of my old college roommate, an actual illustrator. When I ask him questions about images he says things like “it’s there to balance the composition” or “somebody must have had a short deadline” I think is is safe to assume that somebody political told an artist to do a map. They may have told them to include Shanhaiguan, but that strikes me as a less safe assumption.

  2. Curious that no Manchu writing is shown – was Manchu an official language of Manchukuo? Know of any attempts for it to be taught in schools, used in documents, etc, during the time? Certainly was in Qing, and you’d think it would be used to legitimize the new state.

  3. I’m not as big a fan of Duara as you are, but these are some interesting and thought-provoking images.

    otherwise why the emphasis on Shanhaiguan?

    I would assume that it’s an appeal to Manchu pride. Since Manchukuo was nominally a revival of the Manchu/Qing state, noting the moment at which the Manchu became the Qing (loosely speaking, of course) and assumed the role of Emperor would seem pretty natural. It also raises the possibility that Manchukuo could (and this is quite consistent with Japan’s intent, I think) again serve as the point from which a pacifying conquest could return China to stability. By emphasizing the Manchu nature of the state, Japan could mask its own role and cast it as a revival… or “restoration” if you prefer.

  4. Dear AJ, It really is interesting that Manchu script isn’t used, especially since Mengjiang (the Mongol puppet state) prominently used Mongolian alongside Chinese on its currency. I don’t have an explanation yet for the divergence. Anybody out there know? Was Mongolian more widely spoken among the inhabitants of Mengjiang than was Manchu in Manchuria? Even then, the symbolic value of the script would have meant something. -Alexander

  5. Dear Alexander,
    I’m very glad to see some discussion of postage stamps at Frog in a Well. I’m currently writing my dissertation on the history of the modern postal system in China (1896-1949) and thought I might offer some opinion on some of the stamps you’ve shown us.
    The stamp picturing Changbaishan was specifically designed and issued on 1 January 1935 as a result of the Sino-Japanese Postal Agreement establishing postal relations between the Republic of China and Manzhouguo. The stamp was primarily used on letters sent from Manzhouguo to China. It was issued in both 4 and 12 fen denominations. A second set, of 2 and 8 fen denominations, depicted the Imperial Crest of the Manzhouguo Emperor encircled by two stalks of gaoliang (the typical representative crop of Manzhouguo).
    The postage stamp depicting the map of Manzhouguo might, although this is guess-work, include the image of Shanhaiguan not only because it is a symbol of the southern border of Manzhouguo, but also because it is the Exchange Office for mails going to and from China (along with Gubeikou). That is, it is the southern terminus of Manzhouguo postal territory. The symbol at the top of the stamp between “di” and “guo”, as a fun fact, is the imperial crest of Manzhouguo.
    Most likely, however, the inclusion of Shanhaiguan was simply done by the artists contracted by the Manzhuoguo Post Office. In my research on Republic of China stamps throughout its early history, almost invariably the Post Office has complete authority in their choice of subject matter with very little oversight by the Ministry of Communications. Interstingly, on 1 December 1937 a set (the seventh) of commemorative Manzhouguo stamps was issued which included another map of Manzhouguo. This map, however, does not picture Shanhaiguan, but instead commemorates Japan’s relinquishment of extraterritorial rights in Manzhouguo (including the transfer of rights of the leasehold on the South Manchurian Railway Zone).
    Generally speaking, I would have to disagree that the majority of stamps issued by the state of Manzhouguo issued Manchu iconography or harkened back to any special myths. The following is a list (not complete) of some of the stamps issued by Manzhouguo:
    1. First Issue (two separate stamps) (26 July 1932): stamps depict (1) White Pagoda (Buddhist) in Shenyang and (2)Manzhouguo Emperor
    2. Second Issue (two separate stamps) (1934):same as above.
    3. Third Issue (two separate stamps) (1 November 1934): same as above.
    4. Fourth Issue (4 separate stamps) (5 December 1936): (1) State Council Building; (2) Manchurian farmer hauling soya beans; (3) North Mausoleum near Shenyang; (4) a section of Rehe’s Detached Palace.
    5. Stamps to China – First Issue (two separate stamps): (1) Imperial Crest and (2) Changbaishan (the stamp text I am referring to [issued by the Manchoukuo Postal Society in 1940] states that “Changpai Mountain…with a fresh water lake at its summit is the home of many legends and is held in the same light by the populace of Manchoukuo as Mt. Fuji is observed by the Japanese.”)
    6. New Year Stamp (15 December 1937): depicts upright borders composed of the Chinese characters signifying “happiness” (shuangxi) and the same shuangxi in the center in red.
    7. Airmail Service Stamps (5 Dec. 1936; 1 April 1937): (1) depicts an airplane flying over a flock of sheep (2) depicts an airplane flying over the iron bridge across the Songhua River near Harbin.
    8. First Commemorative Issue (1 March 1933): two stamps depicting (1) crossed national flags of Manzhouguo with with map of country in background (Shanhaiguan not shown) (2) former State Council building.
    9. Second Commemorative Issue (1 March 1934): two stamps depicting (1) Puyi’s Palace and (2) a phoenix with stalks of gaoliang in the background.
    10. Third Commemorative Issue (2 April 1935): two stamps depicting (1) Mt. Fuji (in commemoration of the Japanese Emperor’s visit to Manzhouguo; (2) phoenix flanked by symbols of Japanese and Manzhouguo Emperor.
    11. Fourth Commemorative Issue (26 December 1935): two stamps depicting (1) outline map of Manzhouguo and Japan with flying goose (traditional symbol of posts in China) between the two countries (in commemoration of postal treaty between Manzhouguo and Japan; (2) former Communication Ministry flanked by crests of Japanese and Manzhouguo Emperors.
    12. Fifth Commemorative Issue (1 March 1937): two stamps depicting (1) sun rising over Manchurian plains; (2) general “magnificent” buildings with motor cars in foreground (not a real place).

    Anyway, you get the idea. The vast majority of postage stamps issued by Manzhouguo depict symbols of the Manzhouguo state rather than Manchurian myths, etc. The certainly signify the authority of the state and its relations with Japan, but are limited in showing anything I would take to be foundation myths.
    As a side note, because Manzhouguo was not recognized as an official state they only signed postal agreements with a few countries (China, Nicaragua, Japan, etc.) so the actual use of the stamps was largely limited to Manzhouguo itself. The stamps issued by Manzhouguo and sent abroad were strictly controlled by existing postal treaties so that no mention could be made of the state of Manzhouguo on the stamps themselves (see the Changbaishan stamp as an exampe – no mention of Manzhouguo found therein).
    Cheers and hope you post more on stamps in the future.

  6. I stumbled across this page and was thrilled to see the picture of North Korea Scott No. 209 (1960). I collect maps on stamps and didn’t know about this one which has a portrait of Kim Jong Ho the creator of the Taedongjido map. The same portrait is used on North Korea Scott No. 3005 (1991). I would appreciate any information you can give me about Kim Jong Ho, the map, or this particular stamp. I will use it on my web page,

    Thanks for making me aware of the stamp. I have the N. Korea 3005, and I am looking for the S. Korea 1974d (2000).

    Diedrik Nelson

  7. For that, you have to go to old-fashioned printed books! The Scott catalogs are issued every year with price revaluations, covering all the stamps ever issuedby every country (the set has grown to a number of volumes, as you can imagine). If you only have access to the internet, you can look through the price lists of various stamp dealers. Their prices will vary; some will be higher than catalog while others will be lower. In general, many Manchukuo stamps, including those above, are quite inexpensive.
    -Alexander Akin

    PS. I sent in a long reply to Lane Harris that never appeared…?

  8. Since the long post in response to Lane Harris never appeared, I’ll just recap the main points- Because the titular ruler of Manchukuo was also the last emperor of the Qing dynasty, all of the illustrations of Qing-era buildings such as the North Mausoleum, phoenixes, palaces, the White Pagoda, etc. are all references to the imperial line, and reminders that it stretched back to the foundation of the Manchu state in the early 17th century- thus was “not” some fake lineage established by Japan for its own purposes, as most of the international community believed. In Mengchiang there was a similar effort, though not as well known, where Japan supported Demchugdongrub, who claimed descent from Genghis Khan. (To drive the point home, the only coin issued by Mengchiang has the date according to the Chinese calendar on one side, but on the other is dated in Mongolian in the Genghis Khan era). The Japanese strategy was to support ethnic leaders with a claim to a glorious past, at least as figureheads; I thought that Lane might have missed the significance of some of those bland-appearing illustrations that actually have a deeper historical significance. I am glad to learn more about the postal regulatory situation, which seems to have been complicated. I would not be surprised if the Shanhaiguan illustration was a direct reference to the January 1 agreement with China that Lane has brought to our attention. When can we expect to see the dissertation?
    Best regards and happy new year to all,
    -Alexander Akin

  9. It has been more than 2 years since the last post on this interesting discussion , I thought this might be a good time for a re-visit to the subject. As a researcher on the subject of Manzhouguo postal history I have acquired a stamp of Manzhouguo which bears a Mongolian postmark. Does anyone know how this could have occurred? The cancel bears the names Rehe and Chifeng ( which is in inner Mongolia ).

  10. Hi, my late father, Vladimir Lefleur, was born in Harbin 1934. He had a fairly large collection of Manchukuo stamps. I unfortunately never inherited his love of stamps, but would like to speak to people about his collection.

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