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Portrayal of the Lytton Commission in the Film

Still from the Film

The sources for information about the travels and work of the Lytton Commission are first and foremost its later Report. In addition to this is other archival material, such as that from from the League of Nations Archives and JACAR, as well as further printed sources. International press coverage, numerous pamphlets of various origins and also written accounts by the commissioners themselves, such as the travel description of Heinrich Schnee (Schnee 1933), give an impression of the Commission’s voyage. By contrast, pictorial sources appear to be limited to formal group photographs. The Japanese propaganda film is a particularly valuable source as it visualises the work of the Lytton Commission in moving pictures. It is, however, highly biased and the insights we can gain from it are not so much into the workings of the Commission itself but into ways and methods of medial instrumentalisation.

Several scenes of the film document the Commission’s travels by car, ship, railways and aeroplane. Moreover the Commissioners and their assistants were filmed while inspecting a number of carefully selected places and facilities in Manchuria. The film shows receptions at official governmental and military institutions as well as the Commission’s visits of historical and cultural sights and economically relevant regions. The representation of the Commission’s sojourn is not limited to official appointments, either. Leisure activities such as a common match of golf seem to have been used to emphasise that there had been agreeable and complaisant atmosphere during the voyage and relaxed social surroundings. What is also of importance is the representation of personal relations between the Commission and their Japanese hosts. Apart from official negotiations, informal talks both within the Commission itself and with Japanese officials are a common thread throughout the film, which underlines the image of cooperation, harmony and unconstrained working conditions and relations between Japan and the League of Nations’ delegates.

One does not have to go very far to uncover the pro-Japanese propagandist intentions of the film makers and their choice of not showing any tensions between the commissioners and the Japanese. Lytton complained that the commissioners were being "treated as prisoners" in Mukden (Lytton to Lady Lytton, 28 April 1932. Lytton Papers, cit. in Nish 1993: 129), which suggests considerable friction. The film, however, aims to convey a different message to the global public: It presents the League of Nations commission as emissaries of the world bestowing the new state Manchukuo with a dual diplomatic legitimation: that of the League of Nations and that of the individual nations from which the individual commissioners heralded. The depiction of the Commission in the film continuously follows this twofold pattern. Several banners are shown, for instance, to welcome the Commission and signs on houses and bridges greet them in English as “envoys of peace”, underlining their assignment and international authority from the League. The presentation of the commissioners in a position as national diplomats gains additional significance against the background of the claimed sovereignty of Manchukuo. Here several scenes resemble official state visits, e.g. receptions with the commissioners being driven in separate cars, each with the respective national flag affixed. In another scene, the entrance portal of an official building shows the flags of Manchukuo, Japan and the commissioners’ nationalities, presenting the ‘host’ as a fully sovereign member of the community of states. This seems to tie in with a Japanese strategy to influence and convince the Commission by pointing out national interests and preferences. The significance of Manchuria for Western economic interests is casually underlined by showing foreign business emblems (e.g. Demag, Skoda). At different places, local people are standing in the streets, waving little national flags. The commissioners are welcomed by Japanese officials and military, accompanied by military parades and folklorist processions. Thus the film gives the impression that the Commission’s arrival provided an occasion for picturesque public celebrations. In short, both the Japanese authorities and the population of Manchukuo are shown as being more than happy about the Commission’s visit.

Scenes in the film related to this argumentation are marked with the keyword “national identity.” Please follow the link and use the G key on your keyboard to navigate through the results within the video annotation database.

The League of Nations is not represented by a powerful symbol comparable to a national flag in the film. In fact, the question of an emblem presented a constant problem for the League until the late 1930s.In the absence of an official logo, the banners and posters that represent the League are mainly displayed as signs for welcoming the commission. They appear rather as an expression of politeness and political correctness, addressed directly to the League and depicting it as the guarantor of peace.

While the Lytton Commission is used as a group of national representatives in conformity with the sovereignty of Manchukuo, the local population plays a subsidiary yet instructive role throughout the film. The local population plays a subsidiary yet instructive role throughout the film. The people of Manchuria appear mainly as colourful folklorist spear carriers, dragon dancers, folk fete entertainers or to form an enthusiast crowd. Locals are shown waving national flags in the streets as a welcome and depicted as holding up posters along the roadsides. The population neither appears as acting subject nor as potential audience of the film. The power to act clearly is with the Commissioners, mainly Lytton, and the Japanese General Uchida. In fact, the film visualises a kind of different, distorted ‘public diplomacy:’ the powerful Japanese actors meet the members of the commission of inquiry in their position as diplomats; the welcome of the League of Nations and the appeal of world peace is the task of the public - a population under military pressure and without scope of political action. In conclusion, the film uses the population to stylise the Commission as welcome bringers of peace, which is really a distraction from the facts that firstly, this was not their specified assignment, and secondly, Japanese powers did much to hinder the Commission in their actual task of gathering objective information. Both the image of the Manchurian population as passive cheerers and the image of the Lytton Commission as an unimpeded power of order appear carefully constructed. Considering our other sources, they must both be judged as propagandistically strongly distorted.

Sequences in the film related to this argumentation are marked with the keyword “banner.” Please follow the link and use the G key on your keyboard to navigate through the results within the video annotation database.