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South Manchurian Railway Company Publications

A guide to Japanese-language materials published by the South Manchurian Railway Company (Mantetsu) held in the Asian Division at the Library of Congress.

Introduction

The cover of a book containing photos of the South Manchurian Railway titled Mantetsu ensen shashincho.
Cover of Mantetsu ensen shashinchō. 1913. Asian Division. Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress holds some 6,000 Japanese-language works published by the former South Manchuria Railway Company (SMRC), which operated from 1906 to 1945. These publications include hardbound books, paperback books, pamphlets, and periodicals. Also found in this collection are manuscripts consisting of drafts of published and unpublished works handwritten on official SMRC stationery. Many items are in fragile condition due to their age and require careful handling. Most of these items are housed in the Asian Division, but some can also be found in the Law Library and the Geography & Maps Division.

Known in Japanese as Minami Manshū tetsudō kabushiki kaisha 南満州鉄道株式会社, or Mantetsu 満鉄 for short, the SMRC played a central role in Japan’s economic and colonial expansion across northern China, particularly the region known as Manchuria. During the first half of the twentieth century, SMRC’s many offices, bureaus, and research centers formed one of the largest and most advanced clusters in the world for social scientific research on Asia. As a result, these materials should interest not just historians of modern Japan and its empire, but also researchers concerned with the economic, political, and social history of East Asia more generally.

This guide highlights the historical background of the collection, provides an overview of the types of materials one can expect to find within it, and offers suggestions for how to effectively search for these materials using the Library’s online catalog.

Background

Nearly all of the items in this collection are among those that were captured by the Allied Forces during the Occupation of Japan (1945-52) after World War II. During the Occupation, Allied Forces personnel gathered any documents or publications deemed to be of potential value for intelligence gathering purposes and sent them back to the United States for processing at the Washington Document Center (WDC). From there, government documents and records were sent to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), while published materials were directed to the Library of Congress.

Among scholars and librarians these materials have come to be known as “confiscated” or “requisitioned” literature (sesshū bunken 接収文献). The numerous varieties of printed material captured during and after WWII represent some of the most unique items in the Library’s Japanese collection. Many of these publications are the only ones of their kind available in North America and, in some cases, the world.

Among the items sent to the WDC were the contents of the research library in the South Manchurian Railway Company’s (SMRC) Tokyo offices. In addition to numerous works focused on the economics, politics, and history of the Japanese empire and countries across Asia, this library also included publications from the SMRC’s many research departments and bureaus. These SMRC publications are the focus of this research guide.

The SMRC's Tokyo offices also housed more than 6,800 volumes of Chinese-language materials, consisting mostly of social scientific studies and late-Qing editions or reprints of classic works. These items were transferred from the WDC into the Asian Division in 1959. See the South Manchuria Railway Company Chinese Collection for a full list of titles.

For more information about the history of the Washington Document Center and the flow of these printed materials from Japan to Washington, D.C., the following two essays are helpful starting points: