Manchurian Crisis

The Manchurian Crisis 1931-1933 followed the Mukden Incident in which Japanese rail tracks were destroyed in an explosion. Claiming that it was saboteurs, the Japanese responded with force, taking control of the Chinese province of Manchuria. The issue was investigated by the League of Nations which found Japan to be at fault. The Japanese ignored the League of Nations and left the organisation. The province was not returned to Chinese rule until the end of the Second World War.

League of Nations cartoon in response to the Manchurian Crisis
Cartoon by David Low showing the perceived weakness of the League of Nations

After the Wall Street Crash the US government introduced tariffs to protect her industry from Japanese competition. The tariffs had a huge impact of Japanese industry and led to high unemployment. As the economic situation got worse army leaders voiced their opinion that the only way in which Japan could solve its economic problems and show that it was still a strong nation was through expansion. The Japanese already had a colony on the Asian mainland and were highly influential in several areas, particularly a Chinese province called Manchuria.

Manchuria was the source of much of Japans imported raw materials such as coal and iron ore. In September 1931 the Japanese owned railroad from Manchuria to the coast was vandalised at Mukden.

The Mukden Incident and the Invasion of Manchuria

The Japanese Imperial Army had the permission of the Japanese government to launch retaliatory actions if the Chinese attacked any Japanese property in the area. As a result, Japanese troops responded to the explosion at Mukden by attacking the nearby Chinese Garrison, taking and securing it with ease as the Chinese government had ordered troops in the area not to resist any attacks by Japanese troops in this area.

The Incident was a masterstroke by Japanese officers determined to begin the process of territorial expansion. The explosion at Mukden was very probably staged by Japanese troops to enable a retaliatory attack. Following the seizure of Mukden Japanese troops began occupying other towns and cities in the area. Within 5 months the whole of Manchuria was under the control of the Japanese army.

The Chinese Response to the Invasion of Manchuria

The policy of the Chinese Government at the time of the Mukden Incident was one of non resistance towards Japanese troops in this area. This was primarily because they wanted to concentrate their efforts on defeating Communism in China and securing a strong and stable government. As a consequence the small Japanese force of some 11,000 men were able to take control of much of Manchuria very easily, despite the presence of a quarter of a million Chinese troops in the area.

Manchurian Crisis. Investigators at the scene of the Mukden Incident
The Lytton Commission was established by the League of Nations to investigate the explosions. Investigators are shown here at the blast point.

In order to try and retain control of Manchuria the Chinese appealed to the League of Nations. In October the League of Nations passed a resolution saying that Japanese troops should withdraw and established a commission which would investigate the claims of both sides. The Japanese rejected the League of Nations resolution and insisted on direct negotiations with the Chinese Government. These negotiations failed and the Japanese proceeded, now against some resistance, to take control of the remainder of Manchuria. They then proceeded to launch an attack on the Chinese city of Shanghai which was outside of the area of Japanese economic control.

The League of Nations response to the Manchurian Crisis

The initial response of the League of Nations was to follow its pre-arranged process for arbitration. They listened to the complaints of the Chinese and the Japanese position and then the Council, minus the representatives of China and Japan, discussed the issue before coming up with a Resolution. In this case the resolution called for Japanese withdrawal from Manchuria whilst a Commission investigated the issue.

The Japanese ignored the wishes of the League of Nations and continued to expand whilst negotiations and diplomatic efforts to solve the crisis continued.

When the commission produced its report on Manchuria in October 1932 it stated that Japan should leave Manchuria. A Special Assembly of the League of Nations was then held to vote on the issue in February 1933. When the vote reiterated that Japan should leave Manchuria, the Japanese delegation simply walked out of the League of Nations, never to return.

What happened next?

According to the League of Nations rules the failure of Japan to comply with a resolution should have been followed by economic sanctions and / or collectivemilitary action to enforce the resolution. The League in this case however, did neither. Countries could not agree on what economic sanctions should be imposed and the major powers of Britain and France were unwilling to risk their armed forces in a conflict on the other side of the world. Moreover, such action may have placed British and French Colonies in the Far East at risk of attack.


BBC Bitsize revision notes on the Manchuriand and Abyssinian Crises.

WW2 DatabaseAccount of the Mukden Incident and following military campaigns.

International Relations in the Interwar years
Impact of the Great DepressionManchurian CrisisAbyssinia Crisis
League of Nations response to Abyssinia and ManchuriaHitler's Aims: Lebensraum and GrossdeutschlandReoccupation of the Rhineland: International Response
AnschlussChamberlain and AppeasementSudetenland plebisite
Munich AgreementPre-War policy towards PolandNazi Soviet Pact
Pact of Steel
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