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After the Enquiry: the Lytton Report

After their five-month field trip to Japan, China and Manchuria, the League of Nations Commission of Enquiry compiled their report of the investigation, which was finished at Peiping on the 4th September 1932. The so-called Lytton Report リットン報告書 李頓報告/李顿报告 sums up the background of the collision of Japan and China over Manchuria, the context of the Manchurian Incident, the current situation of Manchuria and ends with the views and recommendations of the Commission on the situation. The report especially points out the complexity of the Manchurian question. Due to this, the Commission concludes, they could not find a final resolution which would satisfy both conflicting parties Japan and China. Instead, the report proposes a negotiated compromise between the Japanese and Chinese governments guided by suggestions of the League of Nations (Chapter IX).

The Report’s Argumentation - Summary

On the one hand, the Lytton Report relays several claims of the Japanese Government, issues which our film version also uses as part of its argumentation. The Commission stated several reasons for supporting Japanese interests in Manchuria:

Diversity of the Manchurian population: The report outlines the many non-Chinese of Manchuria’s total 30 million inhabitants. Two-thirds of Manchuria’s foreign population are listed as Japanese. Apart from the 28 million Chinese (including the Manchu) there were counted 230.000 Japanese, 800.000 Koreans (who had had Japanese nationality since the Japanese occupation in 1910), as well as Russians (150.000) and Mongolian minorities. The Report acknowledges the Japanese argument that the rights of non-Chinese inhabitants had not been fully protected during the latter years of the Chinese administration of Manchuria (Chapters II, III).

Japanese economic commitment in Manchuria: Japan had already made substantial economic investments in Manchuria, a point on which the film elaborates in many scenes. Since the Russo-Japanese War 日露戦争 (1904-1905), Japan had invested not only in railway facilities, but also in diverse commercial, agricultural and industrial facilities as well as mining (Chapters II, III, VIII).

On the other hand, the Report expresses a sceptical and adversary view on the Japanese claim of self-defence in the Manchurian Incident and on the legitimacy of the new state of Manchukuo:

Long-time military and banditry conflicts: There had already been a strained relationship between the Japanese army in Manchuria and the Chinese resistance troops, who were intentionally described as bandits in the Japanese claims. However, the Report clearly states that the 18 September Incident cannot be regarded as a legitimate act of self-defence by the Japanese troops in Manchuria (Chapters I, IV).

The legitimacy of Manchukuo: The Report concludes that “Manchukuo” (the “new state” is always mentioned in quotation marks) had not been established because of the Manchurian populations’ request for autonomy from China. On the contrary, the Report summarises the extent of the dependency of the new government and administration on Japanese military and civil infiltration and direction (Chapter VI,1). In this atmosphere of Japanese pressure, interviews with non-Japanese Manchurians hardly seemed to have given a convincing picture of the current situation.

But despite huge anxieties, a large number of written complaints about the current situation reached the Commission from a variety of people (Chapter VI,3). On the whole, the Report states that an international acknowledgment of Manchukuo would not provide a peaceful resolution of the region’s troubles. Though it recognises the importance of the region for Japan’s economic development, the Report regards the maintenance of Manchukuo as incompatible with existing international obligations, as opposed to the interests of China, and as unwelcome to the population of Manchuria (Chapter IX).


In its conclusion, the Commission argued for the establishment of an autonomous government in Manchuria under Chinese sovereignty combined with a profound demilitarisation of the region. Although the suggestions of the Lytton Report gave consideration to Japanese interests in Manchuria (e.g. the autonomous government should have foreign advisers with at least one from Japan), the Japanese government immediately strongly opposed the explicit non-recognition of Manchukuo in the Report (Chapter X). The Chinese Government signalled its acceptance regarding most of the Report’s suggestions but did not approve of the foreign initiatives and influences envisaged as part of the autonomous status (Usui 1995: 105-106).

Consequently, the 69th Council and the Special Session of the Assembly saw heated disputes not only between Chinese and Japanese delegates, but also between a number of smaller states (among them e.g. Sweden, Ireland, Switzerland, Tchechoslovakia, Spain) who were hoping for a swift decision against Japan for violating the League’s Covenant, and major powers (among others Great Britain and France) who tried to persuade Japan into concession. However, the Japanese government refused to conduct a fundamental change of position, and the League’s Committee of 19 elaborated the draft statement on the Sino-Japanese question based on the Lytton Report.

On 24 February 1933 the Assembly adopted the statement by majority vote with the exception of Japan (objection) and Siam (abstention). As a result, the Japanese delegation left the Assembly, arguing that Geneva was constraining peace and security in East Asia, and the Japanese Government declared its withdrawal from the League of Nations on 27 March 1933, which became legally effective in March 1935.