Abstract: Elephants Are Killed for Their Ivory: Shenyang Arsenal and Its Subsidiaries, 1919-1931

Chi Man Kwong


The Eastern Three Province Arsenal (<em>Dongsansheng binggongcang</em>), or the Shenyang Arsenal, was one of the largest arsenals in East Asia before the outbreak of the Second World War. With full support of the local authority, which was controlled by the warlord Zhang Zuolin, this state-owned venture emerged from a weapon repair workshop into an industrial complex that could produce more arms than all other arsenals in China combined between 1919 and 1931. Not only providing arms to Zhang Zuolin's Fengtian Army, with its subsidiaries such as the Fengtian Military Food Factory (<em>Fengtian liangmocang</em>) and Fengtian Uniform Factory (<em>Fengtian pifucang</em>), the arsenal helped to create the first modern logistics system of the Chinese army. It also developed its own types of weapon, ending China's complete reliance on imported arms and nurturing a generation of Chinese weapon specialists and military administrators. The development of the arsenal also expanded the state's capacity considerably, as the state was responsible for collecting raw material for the arsenal in Manchuria and from aboard. Although the Shenyang Arsenal had served the Fengtian warlord well, it drained a tremendous amount of resources from Manchuria. Moreover, while it was a means to end China's military dependence on Japan (in terms of arms production), the Arsenal still relied on Japan for raw materials to a large extent. The Arsenal was also seen by the Japanese as a menace, and partly explained the decision of the Kwantung Army to seize the Arsenal. During the Second Sino-Japanese War between 1937 and 1945, the Arsenal became an important asset of the Imperial Japanese Army. More than narrating the history of the Shenyang Arsenal, in this paper I attempt to identify the reasons for the (relative) success of this arsenal and explain its role in the Chinese state in Manchuria. In addition, I evaluate the Arsenal's effectiveness on research and development as well as the quality and quantity of its products.