Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Propaganda, Politics & Policy (1)

I recently went to the British Library’s Propaganda: Power and Persuasion exhibition (on until September 17th). It was a fascinating look at the history of propaganda, and the various ways in which politicians and other use the tools of propaganda to persuade and influence. The exhibition was filled with fascinating imagery and documents, some of which I’ll share on this blog over the next few days and weeks, with some commentary and, where possible and relevant, contemporary context and parallels.


“Hurrah, Hurrah for the Great Japanese Empire!
Picture of the Assault on Songhwan, a Great Victory for Our Troops”

大日本帝國萬々歳 成歡襲撃和軍大捷之圖

The image above is a painting by Japanese artist Mizuno Toshikata (who was part of the ukiyo-e tradition). Toshikata, who produced a number of jingoistic works in support of Japan’s overseas adventures in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, has done something rather interesting in this piece. The image depicts eight war correspondents in the lower right corner (identified by name, although my Japanese is too rusty to offer names here), observing the Japanese assault on Chinese troops at the Battle of Songhwan/Asan, Korea, on July 29th 1894:


Given Toshikata’s role producing pro-Japanese artwork as a form of propaganda, I thought it interesting that he would include eight embedded journalists who would, themselves, have been under strict orders to present the action in a patriotic manner.

The battle depicted was, it should also be noted, the first overseas battle fought by Japan in roughly 300 years, as well as the first deployment of a new Japanese army organized entirely on the European system. Despite the Japanese government’s confidence in their abilities, the campaign’s success would no doubt have boosted morale. The presence of correspondents embedded with the army provided a perfect opportunity to trumpet the newly structured military’s success with ‘credible’ eye-witness accounts.

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