Updated October 15 2017
Manchukuo - A Case of Mistaken Identity
The Central Bank of Manchukuo 满洲中央银行 was established on 11 June 1932 at Hsinking (Changchun) as the national bank of the newly created Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo (1932-34), later the Empire of Manchukuo (1934-45), under the supposed leadership of Pu-Yi, the deposed last emperor of China. The region more commonly known as Manchuria, or the North-Eastern Provinces, was the homeland of the Manchu's who had invaded China to impose their rule - the Qing Dynasty - from 1644 until it's overthrow in 1911-12 which had ended the reign of the then infant Pu Yi.
In 1931, the region was seized by Japan following the Mukden Incident. This had been a staged 'attack' on a Japanese owned railway, and was used as the justification for the invasion and occupation of the region by Japan. Six months later in 1932, a puppet government was established, with Puyi installed as the nominal regent and emperor, Kangde. In reality he was a figurehead with control in the hands of Japanese military officials.
Manchukuo's government was abolished in 1945 after the defeat of Imperial Japan at the end of World War II.
The Central Bank had three main series of currency issue: a brief and now rare provisional issue of 1932 using overprinted notes of the Provincial Bank of the Three Eastern Provinces (of 1929). A short-lived and now scarce series depicting the flag of Manchukuo at the left and the Imperial Palace at Hsinking (Changchun) on the right. The Third series (the focus here) depicts a series of portraits of historical/mythical figures significant in Chinese history.
This well known Central Bank of Manchukuo portrait series of notes, issued by the Japanese puppet state from 1935 to 1945, varies in details and colour over several issues, but the front of the notes including the portraits remain basically the same. It is the identity of these portraits which is questionable, despite apparently firm assertions by several paper money catalogues and other sources. The 50 Fen, 1 Yuan and 10 Yuan in particular: their descriptions puzzled me from early on, though I initially accepted them, and over time I began to realise why these identifications were mistaken.
The origin of these identifications is unknown (to me at least) and this is an attempt to correct this widespread error.
The 50 Fen (Cents) of 1935 P J129 (brown), 1941 P J141 (green)
The front depicts a bearded figure to the right, and an as yet unidentified gateway appears on the back. The figure is commonly identified as "Chien Lung" (The Qing Emperor Qianlong, 1711-1799). Manchukuo, formerly Manchuria, was the home of the Qing or Manchu Dynasty and the new first and only Emperor of Manchukuo, the deposed Emperor of China Aisin Gioro Puyi, was the last of this Imperial line. This may partly explain the source of the mis-identification. Some of the portraits of Qianlong are most likely another source, but a similarity does not necessarily make something the same. In some portraits Qianlong appears with a slight beard and similar dragon decorated clothing as the 50 Fen portraits, however; the figure on the banknotes has a much fuller beard, untypical of emperors, and most importantly: very different head-wear.
What does this mean? The figure is not of the emperor but does however resemble closely the imagery of various Daoist gods of prosperity. The most likely candidate is the God of Wealth - Zhao Gongming as can be seen by his beard, clothing, the scepter which he holds, and the hat with protruding cloud forms sported by many deities and the obvious point that as the god of wealth, he would be a natural choice for currency. And on this there is precedent; in fact he is probably the only Daoist deity to appear on any Chinese currency not issued by Japanese puppet regimes. The Commercial Bank of China depicted him on most of their currency issues, as did numerous smaller commercial issuers - usually in the form of an overprinted red seal.
The 1 Yuan of 1937, 1944 (?), 1945 (left)
The bearded and crowned figure at the right is commonly identified as being "Ti'en Ming" also known as Nuerhachi, the first Qing Emperor (of Manchuria), assumedly by the same source as for the 50 Fen. However again this identification is spurious. The figure is that of a Daoist deity, possibly the earth god Tu Di Gong.
The temple (?) complex on the reverse is yet to be identified. It may be part of one of the Manchu Imperial Tomb sites.
The 5 Yuan of 1938, 1944 (?), 1945
The portrait on this banknote is simply described as a "man with beard" in catalogues, if labelled at all.
The identity is that of the ancient Confucian philosopher Mencius (372-289 BC).
The back depicts the Manchukuo General Affairs State Council Building at Hsinking (Changchun). Now in use by the Jilin Provincial Government (PRC).
The 10 Yuan of 1938, 1944, 1945 (left)
Unsurprisingly, the portrait on this denomination is again not "Chien Long" (Qianlong) but most likely also Zhao Gongming - the God of Wealth. The portrait differs from that used on the 50 Fen; the clothing is plain, the beard different and the sceptre is omitted. This makes the identification of this specific deity less certain, however it is certain that this is a deity of some kind; there are other wealth gods, and various other deities besides who appear similar. In any case it is not a portrait of Qianlong.
The vignette on the back of all versions of this note depicts the headquarters of the Central Bank at Hsingking (Changchun).
The 100 Yuan of 1938, 1944, 1945.
All versions of this denomination depict the ancient philosopher Confucius (551-479 BC) on the right. The building at the front left of all versions is the temple of Confucius at Harbin.
The engraved reverse of the 1938 100 Yuan (shown) depicts a vast flock of sheep, with shepherd.
The lithographed back of the 1944-1945 100 Yuan depicts soya bean storage silos (Osiers), possibly at Dairen.
The 1000 Yuan of 1945.
As with the 100 Yuan of this series, the rare 1000 Yuan shows Confucius (551-479 BC) on the right. The building at the front left is again temple of Confucius at Harbin.
The portrait is notably different in style; cruder, darker and with somewhat different headwear. The expression of the philosopher is fairly sinister with shadowed eyes, dark lips and bared teeth! This is probably deliberate by the engraver.
The Central Bank headquarters appears on the back.