The aim of this paper is to clarify the characteristics of the urban social problems that arose in colonial cities during the Asia‒Pacific War by examining the living conditions of Chinese laborers in the city of Fengtian (Shenyang), which expanded rapidly under Imperial Japanese rule.
Fengtian, including the Tiexi area, was a typical expanding industrial zone of Manchuko. However, as the wartime economy progressed, shortages of materials, fuel, and labor came to have a large impact on Fengtian, to the extent that by 1940 actual production had fallen to half of productive capacity. In addition to the scarcity of labor, declining productivity was also attributed to the flow of Chinese laborers moving from large Japanese companies in the Tiexi area to higher‒paying factories in order to earn a better livelihood.
Many Chinese laborers chose to move to jobs at small and medium‒sized factories because these factories paid two to three times as much as large Japanese companies and because it was easier to commute to them. Although the high wages were caused by fierce competition for laborers among the rapidly proliferating small and medium‒sized factories, the underlying cause was the extraordinary expansion of productivity underway in Tiexi. Production in wartime Fengtian was driven up both by heavy industry and by the production of necessities to support the growing population. However, the supply of labor did not keep pace with the expanding scale of industrial production, and as a result, labor shortages and competition for laborers across all industries led to high wages. Although high wages imposed a burden on small and medium‒sized factories, they were able, by depending on the black‒market for all stages of procurement, production, and sales, to offer wages on par with black‒market commodity price levels.
Within Fengtian, large Japanese heavy‒industry factories were concentrated in the Tiexi area to the west, while Japanese resided in the eastern district on the other side of the railroad tracks, and Chinese as well as Chinese‒owned small and medium‒sized factories specializing in consumer goods were located still further east in the old city and its surrounding areas. Because Tiexi had virtually no housing for laborers, the majority of the Chinese laborers working at Japanese companies lived around the old city and had to commute long distances of over ten kilometers between their homes and their factories. This was an other reason that laborers left their jobs in Tiexi.