Volume 16 (1998)

Images of Enemy and Self:
Russian "Popular Prints" of the Russo-Japanese War*

Yulia Mikhailova

"Popular Prints" in Russia
Images of War with Japan
Japanese Wartime Woodblock Prints: a Comparison

Images of War with Japan

Hardly had the first Japanese bullets struck the Russian ships at Port Arthur and Chemulpo when they immediately echoed back in "popular prints." Hundreds and thousands of colorful prints soon appeared in all the remote corners of Russia, leaving newspapers and official information far behind. Before people had time to understand well who was fighting with whom and what the mobilization was for, peasants and towns-people grew excited over pictures of thousands of Japanese in bright blue uniforms or as tiny weaklings smashed by huge fists of smart Russian Cossacks and sailors.
Images of Japanese soldiers pushed images of graceful geishas and cherry blossoms into the background. This new image of Japan absorbed all the biting irony and humor, all the ardor of popular indignation, all the creativeness of lubok traditions and contributed to the popularity of the war among the masses, at least during its first months while the atrocities and hardships were not yet great and the ineptitude of the Russian command was not yet obvious. The overall number of "popular prints" of the Russo-Japanese War was more than three hundred, and many pictures were re-printed thousands of times. However, lubok prints appeared only during the first half a year of the war. As soon as the Japanese won one victory after another (the destruction by a mine of the flagship Petropavlovsk was followed by the defeats at Tyurenchen and Nanshan and the siege of Port Arthur began), "popular prints" first became more serious, but then lapsed into silence. The topics were soon exhausted. The last print The Battle at Shakhe and the Seizure of Liaoyan was censored on 18 October 1904 and contains no commentaries at all.
"Popular prints" of the Russo-Japanese War may be tentatively classified into three categories: allegoric, realistic and satirical.

1. Allegoric prints.
We may call allegoric prints those which convey images of war in symbolic terms, using mainly symbols derived from Russian history and Orthodox Christianity to build up the spirit of nationalism and to evoke anti-Japanese feelings. From the time of Peter I, Russia's self-image was one of a great military power. This image was enhanced throughout the 18th and 19th centuries due to successful wars against the Turks and Napoleon. In particular, the Patriotic War of 1812 was an important step in the development of the Russian national consciousness, as Russia demonstrated that it was the only European state able to defeat the mighty Napoleon. The Balkan War of 1877-78 was fought under the slogan of Pan-Slavism, i.e. unification of all the Slavs under Russian leadership, and was regarded in Russia as the liberation of "brother-Slavs" from the "unfaithful" Turks. These ideas stimulated the development of the Slavic orientation in the Russian national consciousness. It is this self-image of Russia that helps explain the contents and the character of the 1904 "popular prints."
The print On the War of Russia with Japan (picture No. 1) belongs to the category of allegoric prints and contains the official Russian interpretation of the war. On the front-right side of the picture, we see a woman standing on what may be assumed to be the shores of Port Arthur's harbor. She is dressed in some mixture of clothing of the mediaeval Russian czars and knights. Her mantle and skirt are heavily decorated with the double eagle, the coat of arms of the Russian Empire. An icon, an attribute of the Orthodox faith, is fixed to her breast. Another double eagle is sitting on the woman's shoulder. She holds an olive branch, a symbol of peace. A white angel is floating over her head. Her sword is sheathed and her posture is full of dignity and pride.
On the left back side of the picture we see a dragon-like monster. He bares big sharp teeth. His awful jaw disgorges lightning. He has huge stretched forward paws with claws and protruding wings of enormous size. Flames are raging behind him. However, in spite of his terrifying attributes, quite appropriate to the "diabolic image of the enemy," he does not look terribly frightening and resembles a stupid eight-headed monster-serpent (zmei-gorynych) from Russian fairy tales who is supposed to be defeated by a valorous hero.
The woman symbolizes Russia as the herald of peace. This allegoric representation resembles much the so called "Apotheosis," a large figure of Russia surrounded by its minorities which used to be an essential final part of many buffooneries or farces performed for the entertainment of the common people. The dragon-like monster represents here the aggressive intentions of Japan. However, the main message, also expressed in the text, is not only to stress the menace coming from Japan. It is rather to emphasize the peaceful intentions of Russia, the idea that the Christian faith and Russia's glorious martial past would ensure her victory. The text blames Japan for its treacherous behavior - a surprise attack on Port Arthur - and predicts that it will be punished by God. Although prior to the Second Hague Peace Conference of 1907 there existed no rule of international law requiring a declaration of war before the opening of hostilities,11 the Japanese attack on Port Arthur was regarded by the Russians as inappropriate behavior for an "honest warrior."12 Since then the idea that Japan is an evil and treacherous country has been repeated over and over again in various prints, cartoons and articles.
In picture No. 2 The Russian Hero at the East: The Hero and Yellow Pygmies we see a Russian epic knight riding a huge white horse, a typical lubok image of a hero - Iliia Muromets or Eruslan Lazarevich. He occupies the central part of the picture and is very large in comparison with the Japanese soldiers surrounding him. While the Russian knight is dressed in medieval clothes and is armed with a lance, the Japanese have modern uniforms and weapons. The message is evident: the Russian national spirit is stronger than modern technology.
This print claims that the spiritual differences between the Russians and the Japanese are based on their racial differences. The Japanese are identified here with the Mongols, people of the yellow race known in Russia for their brutality. The Mongols conquered Russia in the 13th century, and their cruel yoke lasted for two and a half centuries. It is usually assumed that since that time the Russian people (= the Slavs) have hated all the people of the yellow race and had a feeling of disgust towards all those with slant eyes and yellow skin. In reality, however, Mongol blood, probably, runs in the veins of most Russians, and the above mentioned attitude should be classified rather as an invention of the 19th century intellectuals of pro-Slavic orientation. It is interesting that another influential group of Russian philosophers of the time, the Eurasianists, on the contrary, was proud to view Russia as "the legacy of Genghis Khan."13
It is the moral superiority of Russia over Japan that is accentuated in allegoric "popular prints." This is not just the opposition between a good Self and a wicked Other typical to all enmification cases. The Russian spiritual tradition, based on Orthodox Christianity, was obsessed with the "search for the right morality," and always acknowledged the priority of moral values at the expense of practical issues. Moral victory, i.e. the display of heroism, courage or dignity, could even be regarded as more important than the real outcome of a battle. Thus, a popular Russia song glorifying the heroic and tragic death of the Variag (see the explanation to picture No. 4 below) said: "No quarter for the proud Variag - No one asks for mercy!"

2. Realistic prints
Realistic prints were meant to convey information from the war theater as closely as possible to reality. Indeed, many correspondents were dispatched to the Far East. Among them were famous photographers V. Bulla and V. Taburin. However, their photos could not be delivered quickly to the Western part of Russia. It usually took about a month and a half for a train to cross Siberia, while some sort of graphic information was required more urgently. The way out was found in drawing pictures which were stylistically close to photos. They were both published in magazines and reproduced as separate sheets of prints. The influence of historical and battle painters such as Vasilii Surikov and Vasilii Vereshchagin, himself a participant in the war, is evident here.14 Some realistic prints depict events close to the facts of the war; however, many convey rather the spirit of war, the impressive and terrifying battle scenes, the sufferings of people. However, lubki prints did not have to convey the truth. While portraying fighting with the Japanese, the author of the print might well have in mind not the real event, but another "popular print," for example A Panorama of the Chesmenskaia Battle. One and the same event, even one of minor importance, when the Russians managed to achieve some success or displayed heroism, was repeated in several prints. The heroic deed of the cruiser Variag, the repulse of the first Japanese attacks on Port Arthur, some episodes of confrontation on the Yalu river, the sinking of a Japanese cruiser - all this was quickly grasped by the printing press and spread in colorful sheets around Russia, inspiring people to the war effort.
The absence of precise information about the events at the remote Far Eastern battlefield, exaggerated reports about the heroic deeds of the Russians and, of course, expectations of the inevitable victory over the Japanese can well be seen in the print The Defeat of a Japanese Cruiser (picture No. 3). It represents the first night attack of the Japanese on Port Arthur and had already been approved by the censorship committee on the fifth day after the attack. As is well known, the Japanese activities were very successful. Two Russian battleships and one cruiser were badly damaged, 14 people were killed and 71 wounded. Though the Japanese also had some losses, the Russians had hardly any precise information. Rumors and imagination created a picture of a Japanese cruiser going to the bottom.15 Sources of information the authors of the print refer to are a telegram from Paris to the newspaper Novoe Vremia "confirmed by a report of a merchantship which came to Tientsin from Japan." On the left side of the picture, a Russian battleship with the Andreevskii flag is steadily standing on the water in spite of bombs, mines and waves. On the contrary, a Japanese cruiser is all in flames and about to sink. No one in Russia could have thought at that moment that by June 1904 the Russian Pacific Fleet would be blocked in the Port Arthur harbor, that on the eve of the year 1905 Port Arthur would capitulate, or that the Baltic Fleet would be completely destroyed on 27 May 1905.
Every Russian schoolboy or schoolgirl knows the story of the Variag, which became the first victim of the war in the unequal battle with the Japanese. The Russians did not surrender, but opened the Kingston valves and sank their ship so as not to let the enemy get the booty. Sailors and officers took refuge on foreign ships stationed in the same harbor Chemulpo. It is this particular moment that we see in the print Vanquished, Destroyed but not Surrendered (picture No. 4). The Variag is going down to the bottom while the Russian crew is boarding the French cruiser Pascal. This picture strongly bares traces of a photo, but it was probably the only one which depicted events so realistic.
Two messages stand out here: glorification of the Russian heroism and morale, and the international solidarity of the European countries against the Japanese. The text at the bottom of the print says:

In a hot and unequal battle our sailors demonstrated unprecedented energy. Three times fires in riggings were put out. Wounded crew members were quickly replaced by others. Slot-holes were repaired on the spot. Both sides of the cruiser were completely damaged, guns destroyed... The foreigners were deeply touched by the heroism of the Russians. Many of them cried seeing the Russian ships going to a certain death. When the Russians passed the foreign ships targeting the port exit, their crews lined up along the decks. Russians were shouting "hurrah!" and singing the national anthem.

Thus, Russian heroism, bravery and courage are extolled to emphasize that the Japanese are no peers to the Russians in an honest battle. The Japanese may win only by resort to conniving or due to their numerical superiority in manpower. There is no place for "barbarian Asians" in the international club of the civilized nations, claims this print.
The initiative in the war belonged to the Japanese nearly throughout the whole campaign while the Russians were passive. Realistic prints indirectly betrayed the ineptitude and passivity of the Russians. In the texts the Japanese are constantly "on the move": they are "landing," "building fortifications," "pushing by force" and "attacking," while the Russian are "observing," "settling down," "keeping calm," "repulsing attacks." However, the portrayal of war required battle-scenes where the Russians would not have been only on the defensive. So, stories had to be invented. For example, the text to the picture No. 5 The Repulse of a Japanese Landing by the Russians (censored on 17 (30)16 April 1904) said:

The newspaper Standard telegraphed: "The Japanese fleet under the command of general Togo escorted a significant number of the Japanese merchant transport to the coast west of the Yalu and the Japanese landed." However, the Japanese did not notice a Russian detachment in the nearby ambush. When 12,000 of the Japanese landed, the Russians went out of the ambush, attacked the Japanese unawares, inflicted serious casualties and pushed them out.

It is likely that the landing of the First Japanese Army headed by general Kuroki 125 km west of the Yalu is referred to here. The sparseness and the insufficient number of the Russian army allowed the Japanese to realize their plans successfully: by 10 (23) April Kuroki's army of 45,000 completed their concentration on the left bank of the Yalu. Sporadic Russian attacks occurred though, and it is probably one of them which is represented here.
This print is very colorful. Yellow fur coats of the Russian soldiers in red papakhas contrast well with the bright blue Japanese uniforms. We see faces of the Russians distorted by fear and anger. Not so much are they attacking, but rather carrying away the wounded and dead, who are potrayed as young people. The Japanese in the back-side of the print move like a huge crowd, their strength doubled by the presence of battleships. This print, in spite of the artist's intention to show the success of the Russian army, conveys the horror and the inhumanity of war, emphasizing again the aggressiveness and the cruelty of the Japanese.

3. Satirical prints

It is the satirical "popular prints" though, where the popular humor is most revealed, that provide us with the most information about the Russian images of the Japanese enemy and Self. Here, indeed, one can see grotesque scenes of the Japanese in defeat and in panic, bold attacks of Cossacks and sailors, or the vicissitudes of relations with the US and England. At the beginning of the war when expectations about victory were strong, satirical "popular prints" were bold and insolent, even arrogant. They made fun of the cowardliness and weakness of the Russian adversary, attributing to him stupidity and greed, ridiculing his physical height, skin color and facial features. It seemed that "popular prints" knew no restraint. Their mockery may seem to us crude and primitive, their humor flat and gaudy. But it was for these very features that "popular prints" were appreciated by the ordinary Russian folk.
Most typical are the prints The Enemy is Terrible but God is Benevolent (picture No. 6) and Cossack Petrukha (picture No. 7). In picture No. 6 we see a huge figure of a Russian fellow in boots, mittens and a fur-cap striding across the Sea of Japan, one boot in Korea, another already close to Japan, with Manchuria left far behind. Small Japanese ships turn over as soon as he steps into the sea. The Japanese are hastily running away. America, England and China are stunned by the victorious march of the Russian.
The most striking feature of the picture is the contrast between the huge size of the Russian giant and the miniature size of the Japanese. Like Gulliver among the Lilliputians, he is holding one bunch of Japanese in his fist, another bunch is stuck behind his sash, and still other behind the top of his boot. The text written in verse is abundant in derogatory attributes regarding the Japanese. They are "yellow-skinned," "slant-eyed," "foul," "snub-nosed," etc. One may only wonder how these tiny people could become a fearful enemy and why they cannot be defeated without God's benevolence.
In the print Cossack Petrukha (picture No. 7) a huge Russian Cossack is easily screwing off the legs of Japanese soldiers booted in well buttoned white boots with straw soles, an invention of the Japanese army of the time. For some reason, probably because the Russian army always suffered from the lack of ammunition and clothing, these neat buttoned boots especially fascinated the prints' painters. We see another Japanese soldier pierced by a lance. The caption maintains that it is not even necessary to kick the Japanese; they may just as easily be thrown right and left. One of the "popular prints," The Martial Song of the Russian Sailors, directly maintained "We'll twist your cheeks off without any lead or gun - just by a fist blow." The same conventional Russian military icon, the courageous Cossack, is repeated in nearly the same manner throughout many prints. He is whipping with a lash, pulling by the ear (which becomes as large as a donkey's), or killing the Japanese by a flick of his little finger. These images symbolized the physical weakness, ineptitude or the stupidity of the Russian adversary.
It was generally assumed that Russian's enemies were very much afraid of Cossacks since the time of the war with Prussia (1759-1762). Thus, "popular prints" and cartoons of 1812 portrayed the French falling down in a dead faint on hearing the word koza (goat) which sounded to them similar to Cossack.17 However, there was a great discrepancy between the reality and this image of a Cossack. The Russian Cossack troops were armed in an outdated fashion with sabers and lances. The Cossacks were not to live up to their reputation, being of an inferior standard in comparison with European cavalry. The special terms of employment of Cossacks, whereby they were responsible for the provision of their horse, uniform and equipment, meant that these soldiers were not going to expose these items to unnecessary risk, particularly when compensation was paltry. In Russia itself, Cossack troops, known for their loyalty, were often used by police to suppress demonstrations of dissidence and did not enjoy much love of the population. Cossacks were hardy, brave and obedient soldiers, but they lacked education and sophistication, flair and intuition. While the Russians laughed at the Japanese cavalry and artillery, this fueled a major under-appraisal of Japanese martial qualities.
In reality the Japanese army was superior to the Russian army in many respects. It was equipped with the most modern technology; battleships and cruisers were mainly Britain built. Officers were educated and civilized and enjoyed the confidence of their soldiers. The logistic support was also superb.
Gradually and reluctantly, as the war proceeded, Japan's military achievements had to be appreciated. In a book Talks about a Japanese published in June 1904 and written in a form of a conversation between an old soldier and a young recruit, thus imitating the common people's style, the Japanese army was described in the following way:
[The Japanese] are good seamen, they understand this business... It is astonishing that this army has been built in 20-30 years. During the Chinese campaign a Japanese did not lag behind us. He strains himself to the utmost, but pushes forward, doesn't want to show he is worse than others... [Though] they lack bravery, the infantry fights well. Artillery and cavalry are worse than Russian.18
However, Russians tended to emphasize the "unnatural," inhuman qualities of the Japanese, rather than their mastery or craft in warfare. One book of the time designed for popular consumption said:
Mother-Russia had many adversaries in her life, but it is for the first time she meets one like the Japanese... Turks in comparison with the Japanese are children. One has to wake a Turk up, make him take the rifle - he is a careless and indifferent enemy. A Chinese is even more simple... A Japanese, in a word, is an Asian; he is much more cunning than a Chinese and very able in night deeds: he is like an owl in the night, sees everything and is able to fight.19
Another Russian conventional military icon was the valiant and smart sailor. We see him, for example, at the print How a Russian Sailor Cut off the Japanese Nose (picture No. 8). This humorous story was based on a true fact. On 1 (14) March the Czar nominated Vice-Admiral Makarov as the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Pacific fleet. He was a good scholar, an experienced warrior, an active and courageous commander, respected even by the Japanese. During the period until his tragic death on 31 March (12 April) the Russian fleet completely changed its passive tactics, undertook a number of skillful maneuvers and attacked the enemy several times. For example, the Japanese wanted to block the Port Arthur harbor by sinking their old steamers at the entrance. The flotilla was accompanied by a cruiser and several destroyers. The Russians guessed the enemy's intentions, successfully attacked and destroyed the ships. The prow of one steamer was blown up by a mine. The Japanese were really taken aback by the insistence of the Russians in taking up the fight, and the message passed to general Togo was that for once the enemy had shown resilience and was prepared to do battle.20 The spirits of people in Port Arthur became high and it is this mood which one can feel through the print.
The humor lies here in a pun: the Russian word nos means both the nose of a person and a ship's prow. We see pictures of stunned Japanese soldiers, fountains of blood flowing out of the holes in their faces while the noses themselves are lying separately "in Manchuria." An important element of fun is hidden in the word "nose" itself. "Sharpening of noses" was an usual comic interlude during the breaks in drama performances. It included singing, dancing, fighting and laughing and was very popular among the commoners.21 Vladimir Nabokov, noting the meaning of the image of "nose" in Gogol's literary works, wrote that for Gogol as for every Russian the "nose" seems to be comic, something living quite separately from the person who owns it. It is an element of the Russian rude carnival humor in general and of the Russian jokes about the nose in particular. Noses amuse and sadden the Russians. There are many proverbs and sayings concerning the nose. This word in Russian is a part of many idiomatic expressions, such as povesit' nos v unynie meaning "to be discouraged"; ostat'sia s nosom, "to be duped"; vodit' za nos, "make a fool of someone"; sovat' nos vo chto-libo, "pry into something"; and uteret' komu-libo nos, "get the better of somebody."22 Thus, the print actually meant to say that the Russians made fools of and got the better of the Japanese who poked their noses into something not their own business, i.e. tried to fight against the Russian army, but failed.
The print Raeshnik (formerly, a box with moving pictures the display of which was accompanied with jokes; usually used at fairs) also pokes fun by playing with the image of "nose" (picture No. 9). A Russian sailor, Ivan-Lupinos (lit.: "Nose-beater"), is bullying a Japanese by beating his nose with maps of Europe. In the Russian language the word karty means both "maps" and "cards." Though the scene literally depicts the punishment of a card game loser, it expresses the Russian belief that the Japanese would lose the war, even in spite of the help of their European "friends." The picture also jeers at the Western allies of Japan who are now "assisting" Ivan-Lupinos by "holding tough the ears" of a Japanese soldier.
A common feature of enmification is representation of the enemy as an animal or as some ugly creature. In picture No. 10 a handsome Vasia-the-Sailor has the appealing charm of the so called "open Russian face." He is so smart that he uses the Japanese shells falling on Port Arthur as a lighter for his pipe. What a contrast he is to the frail, puny and crooked figure of Admiral Togo who is begging his Western friends for help. It was also Nabokov who noticed that for a Russian everyone "frail and puny is a crook."23 Russians, probably, thought a bit higher of the Englishmen, represented here as a stout and fat John Bull, than of the Americans: tall but thin Uncle Sam was also portrayed as sort of a crook.
Russian "popular prints" attempted to convey the idea that the Japanese would be unable to wage the war without the financial help of their Western "friends." Indeed, war expenditures were a heavy burden for the Japanese economy and Japan had to resort to foreign loans. In picture No. 11 In Pursuit of Money we see tiny Japanese soldiers, like a swarm of spiders or cockroaches, desperately trying to climb up the tall figure of Uncle Sam. The expression of Uncle Sam's face is angry, a hint that he expected a quicker and a less costly victory from his little friends. The poem at the bottom of the picture claims that the Japanese are real swindlers; they always resort to tricks and conniving which is again contrasted to the "simple honesty" of Russian fellows. However, unfortunately for Russians, honesty was not the only quality necessary to win the war.
Russian "popular prints" were so bold and impudent that they dared to poke fun even at the emperor of Japan as we see in the print A Clever Wife (picture No. 12). It is composed of several scenes. In the middle the "Japanese empress" is scolding her husband for his engagement in war with Russia and banishes him from her presence (in the right bottom scene). This may be viewed as a projected image of the Russian imperial family. It was broadly known that the Czarina Alexandra had the upper hand over her husband Nicholas II. It is likely that the title is borrowed from one of the numerous contemporary comedies which made fun of silly husbands who disobeyed their wives and got into trouble as a result. Both the "emperor" and the "empress" have Mephistophelian features, the often "devilish" representation of an enemy. In some other scenes of the print the Russians compare themselves to a huge bear and an elephant. The Japanese are running away from the bear in fear and even lose their white buttoned boots. The stately elephant pays no attention to the small, noisy pug barking in vain at him, a metaphor for the Russian attitude towards Japan, which, unfortunately, came to symbolize the Soviet attitudes towards Japan for many years. The latter image was borrowed from a famous fable by Ivan Krylov, An Elephant and a Pug, which obviously added to the print's popularity. It is also of interest that the word mikado, as the Japanese emperor is called here, became, in its plural form the mikados, one of the Russian colloquial pejorative terms for the Japanese.
Another of Krylov's fables was the source of inspiration for the print A Foolish Frog at Port Arthur (picture No. 13). The fable tells us about one ambitious frog who wished to be as large as an ox. By puffing and panting she bellied out and boasted in front of her friends. The result of her efforts was miserable. She exhausted herself and burst like a soap-bubble. Here we see the Russians making fun of the Japanese efforts to catch up with the Western states and to enlarge the territory of the Japanese empire by invasion. The frog with a huge belly and funny thin legs is, of course, Japan, while the ox here means Russia. Friends - to be understood in this context - are other Asian countries.