Mitsui Bussan and the Manchurian soybean trade: Geopolitics and economic strategies in China’s Northeast, ca. 1870s–1920s

This article examines how soybeans became a global commodity, by focusing on the intermediary role of the Japanese trading company Mitsui Bussan. In the early twentieth century, soybeans were almost exclusively grown in Northeast China, also known as Manchuria. Their global commodification was a result of complex imperial rivalries among China, Japan, and Russia in northeast China as well as the rapid rise of vegetable oil consumption in Europe. We demonstrate how Mitsui Bussan navigated the shifting geopolitical terrain by taking advantage of the competition between the Russian and Japanese empires, utilizing Chinese middlemen effectively, and securing support from the Japanese government and military. By placing the soybean trade in a geopolitical context, we shed light on how global commodity markets, trade, and international relations were intertwined.