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

It is broadly recognized that wars and conflicts produce negative images of adversaries and that perceptions distorted by hostile feelings, in their turn, are not favorable for further friendly relations between nations. It is exactly this dangerous spiral that dominated the Russian attitudes towards Japan for a long time in history.
In analyzing the process of enmification1 scholars have introduced a variety of constructs: the view of the enemy as "devil," the perception of the "incorrigibly malevolent" adversary, misrepresentation through "mirror imaging," and "diabolical images of the enemy." Various psychological mechanisms involved in this process - perceptual distortions, good-bad stereotypes, projections, exaggerated fear, anxiety-based overreactions, frustration-aggression, scapegoating - have also been studied.2 Though enmification usually occurs according to the above-mentioned general pattern, cultural variations exist and historical consequences in specific cases are different.3 In view of the prospect for the future rapprochement between Japan and Russia, it would be instructive to know what images of Japan in Russia underpinned the complicated history of relations between the two countries in the hope that this understanding could help to sweep away old hatreds and fears.
Though some articles briefly mention Russian or Soviet perceptions of Japan,4 with the exception of a recently published book by a young Russian scholar Vasilii Molodiakov,5 no substantial research in the field has been undertaken. Molodiakov examines the attitudes towards Japan of Vladimir Solov'ev, Valerii Briusov and Andrei Belyi, each of whom was a prominent philosopher or writer at the end of the 19th through beginning of the 20th century. Having chosen a geopolitical approach in his analysis, the author traces how the "myth" about Japan as the "yellow peril" came into being in Russia and emphasizes that in contrast to Europe or the US where it circulated mainly on the level of "yellow press," in Russia this myth became an inspiration for the most outstanding intellectuals of the time and their prophetic vision of the future.6
However, was this the only image of Japan in the Russian society at that time? This paper will attempt to shed some light on this subject and contribute to the study of Japan's image in Russia on the level of mass consciousness during the Russo-Japanese War and thereafter. The object of analysis are mainly the so called "popular prints" (lubki) produced during the war.7
It is assumed that the popular mind is quickly shaped by "symbolic" items, hence, graphic forms of representation play an especially important role in reflecting the existing images of Self and Other and in creating them. Graphic images appeal not only to consciousness, but to emotions as well, and in case of multiple recurrence easily turn into identifying icons. "Popular prints" of the Russo-Japanese War were a part of an officially sponsored propaganda effort. At the same time they expressed the perception of war and reaction to it not of the intellectual elite, but of the ordinary people, and thus reveal the attitudes towards the enemy and Self on the mass level. The paper argues that because lubki prints were closely connected to folklore and images which had existed in the mass consciousness for a long time, they were instrumental in creating and supporting stereotypes of Japanese in the mind of ordinary Russian people.
The article begins with a historical overview of "popular prints" in the Russian culture. It then examines images of Japanese and Russians through the "popular prints" depicting the war and classifies them into three categories: allegoric, realistic and satirical. A brief comparison with Japanese war-time woodblock prints follows. Finally, in way of conclusion, the impact of these "popular prints" on Japan's image in Russia and the Soviet Union is highlighted.