Portland State University. Department of History
Date of Award
Master of Arts (M.A.) in History
1 online resource (iii, 137 pages)
Japanese -- Oregon -- Public opinion -- 20th century, Chinese -- Oregon -- Public opinion -- 20th century, Propaganda, Japanese, United States -- Foreign relations
After Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931, both Japan and China sought the support of America. There has been a historical assumption that, starting with the hostilities in 1931, the Japanese were maligned in American public opinion. Consequently, the assumption has been made that Americans supported the Chinese without reserve during their conflict with Japan in the 1930s.
The aim of this study is to question the accuracy of that assumption in the case of Portland, Oregon. An analysis of newspapers and print material specifically focusing on Japan and China from before the conflict reveal that the general American opinion of Japan by 1931 had shifted from admiration to suspicion and fear. The American view of China, meanwhile, had shifted from contempt to pity. When Japan invaded China, both countries lobbied for support via books, articles, and public speakers. By analyzing the speeches and publications available, this study finds that the Japanese argued for security and economic benefit, while the Chinese argued for liberty and justice.
In Portland, the public opinion was strongly supportive of Japan before the 1930s, and Japan's hostilities toward China did not immediately change the opinion. Instead, an analysis of The Oregonian, the Portland City Club, and a student summit at Reed college reveal that the opinion in Portland was far more forgiving of Japan than the general American outlook. Portlanders focused on how to ease the tensions between Japan and America, even supporting Japanese calls for an Asian League of Nations headed by Japan.
Further complicating the discourse in Portland was the issue of communism. Portland -- and the Pacific Northwest in general -- had been very involved with socialism in the period before the First World War. After the war, support for socialism had diverged into support for communism, for those who remained radicals, and vehement distrust of communism, for those who did not. The tension between these two groups led to outbursts of violence that left a mark on the memories of the people of the Northwest. Those who supported communism remembered the slights, which would lead them to support the Bolsheviks in the 1930s. Those who distrusted communism remembered the real threat that communism represented.
When the Japanese began their propaganda against China, one of their strongest claims was that the Chinese could not hold back the tide of communism, and that only Japan was properly prepared to do so in East Asia. This claim brought up old fears in the Portland populace, most of whom did not support communism. Thus, Japanese claims of working to prevent the communist threat, coupled with the assertion of an economic boon, helped maintain a more favorable view of Japan in Portland. Following the 1937 attack on Nanking, however, Japanese action was deemed reprehensible and Portland began to turn against Japan.
By profiling the public opinion of Portland toward Japan in the 1930s, this study adds to the growing body of research on the complexities of the relationship between America and Japan during the twentieth century.
Gagle, Michael Todd, "A Bridge Across the Pacific: A Study of the Shifting Relationship Between Portland and the Far East" (2016). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 2655.