Constructing Empire
312 pages, 6 x 9
22 photos, 21 tables, 3 maps
Release Date:15 Aug 2020
Release Date:15 Feb 2019
Release Date:29 Apr 2019
Release Date:15 Feb 2019

Constructing Empire

The Japanese in Changchun, 1905–45

UBC Press

Civilians play crucial roles in building empires. Constructing Empire shows how Japanese urban planners, architects, and other civilians contributed to constructing a modern colonial enclave in northeast China, their visions shifting over time.

Before 1932, the northeastern city of Changchun was much like other Chinese treaty ports where the Japanese had established themselves in ways similar to other imperialists. But the Japanese thereafter endeavoured to surpass their rivals by transforming the city of Changchun into something much grander – a modern, Asian capital for the new puppet state of Manchukuo. Providing a thematic assessment of the urban environment, economic development, and social change in Changchun, Bill Sewell examines the key organizations involved in the development of the Japanese empire there. Including a discussion of the wartime and immediate postwar eras, Constructing Empire encompasses the entirety of the Japanese presence in Changchun. This book shows how Japanese activities in, and statements about, Manchuria were about more than simply building imperial outposts and enclaves – they were part of broader efforts to assert visions of Japan's evolving place in the world.

This engaging book sheds light on evolving attitudes toward empire and perceptions of national identity among Japanese in Manchuria in the first half of the twentieth century.

Constructing Empire will appeal to academics and other readers interested in the history of the Japanese empire, the origins of the Asia-Pacific War (the Second World War in Asia), Chinese history, urban history, and colonial studies.

The narrative in these chapters is grounded in vibrant historic detail, which results in a readable, empirically rich account. Sherzod Muminov, Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review
The quality and the amount of research [Bill Sewell] has done is very impressive, and the book is sophisticated and informative. Yuxin Ma, American Review of China Studies
 [Sewell] succeeds in demonstrating the complexity of Japanese society in Changchun/Xinjing. Constructing Empire’s detailed chapters will be indispensable to graduate students and faculty researching or teaching the Japanese Empire and Japanese urban history. Alan Thornton, Journal of Asian Studies
This book serves as a study of an important dimension of Japanese imperialism and, at the same time, an exploration of an audacious undertaking in twentieth-century urban high modernism... [Sewell] offers an unexpected finding in the degree of continuity in the life of Japanese Changchun that might encourage us to reconsider, at the 'street level', the sharpness of the great divide of imperial history conveniently marked by the Japanese conquest of 1931. Yoshihisa Tak Matsusaka, Wellesley College, American Historical Review
This book is the first major study in English that uncovers and evaluates the rich urban history of modern Changchun. In doing so, it makes a valuable contribution to both Chinese and Japanese history, as well as the fields of comparative imperialism and urban historical studies. Erik W. Esselstrom, associate professor, Department of History, University of Vermont
Constructing Empire displays an extraordinary amount of research and erudition regarding Changchun. As the first substantial study of the capital city of Manchukuo, it is a groundbreaking piece of scholarly work. Jordan Sand, professor, Department of History, Georgetown University
Bill Sewell is an associate professor of history at Saint Mary’s University. He has contributed to Harbin to Hanoi: Colonial Built Environment in Asia, 1840 to 1940, edited by Laura Victoir and Victor Zatsepine; Japan Review; and Japan at the Millennium: Joining Past and Future, edited by David W. Edgington. He is also the editor of Resilient Japan: Papers Presented at the 24th Annual Conference of the Japan Studies Association of Canada and Seven Crucial Centuries: Changes in Premodern Chinese Society and Economy, 499 BCE–1800 CE by John Lee.


1 City Planning

2 Imperialist and Imperial Façades

3 Economic Development

4 Colonial Society


Notes; Bibliography; Index

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