Manchukuo, known by Westerners and Japanese as Manchuria, was a puppet state in the three northeast provinces of the Republic of China. China’s Qing Dynasty considered the territory to be the ‘homeland’ of the Manchus, the ruling family’s ethnic group. In 1931, Japan used an explosion on the South Manchurian Railway to invade the region (the Mukden Incident). World indignation at the aggression and an inquiry by the League of Nations forced Japan to withdraw from the League and adopt a more subtle tactic to gaining control of the area. Under the pretext of restoring the ancient nation of the Manchus, first, the Independent State of Manchukuo was founded in 1932 and later, in 1934, Henry Pu Yi, last of the Qing Emperors of China, was proclaimed Emperor of Manchukuo. Japanese troops used the new country as a base for their militaristic expansion, Japanese advisors controlled all government posts, and all the key industries soon fell under Japanese ownership. Very few countries recognised the new empire, apart from the Soviet Union it was mainly Japan’s military WWII allies Italy and Germany and those under their influence. Manchukuo’s government was abolished in 1945 after the defeat of Imperial Japan at the end of World War II.
Puyi as Emperor of Manchukuo, wearing the Manchukuo uniform with the insignia of the Order of the Orchid Blossom
Manchukuo orders were instituted in March 1934 on the occasion of the coronation of the Emperor Pu Yi. They were regulated by the Law Concerning Orders of Merit and Decorations from April 1934. The decorations closely follow the Japanese system of orders. All the decorations were designed and made in Japan, had the same classes and were awarded and worn in the same way as the Japanese orders. Most were conferred on Japanese royalty and nobility, Japanese advisors, military personnel and officials serving in Manchukuo. Very few are known to have been granted to foreigners.
The Grand Order of the Orchid Blossom
The Grand Order of the Orchid Blossom (Chinese: Ta Hsun Wei Lan Hua Chang) was established in March 1934 as the supreme honour of the Manchukuo Empire. It is the equivalent of the Japanese Order of the Chrysanthemum and its design is similarly based on the Imperial crest, although the orchid, reportedly Pu Yi’s favourite flower, became the royal flower of the country much later.
The Order has two classes, Collar and Grand Cordon. The Grand Cordon was conferred only on those who had already received the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Illustrious Dragon. The Collar, in its turn, was granted to those who already held the Grand Cordon of the Order. It is most likely that only two Collars were ever awarded: to Emperor Pu Yi and Emperor Hirohito of Japan.
The Collar is composed of 21 medallions connected with each other by gold links in the form of Buddhist endless knot designs. Eight of the medallions represent the eight Auspicious Omens of Buddha: a lotus flower, a vase, two goldfish, the endless knot, a conch shell, the wheel of law, an umbrella and a canopy. The two links at the back contain the first and last trigrams of the eight signs of the elements. They are alternated by golden cloud medallions with a larger dragon emblem in the centre. The badge is and Imperial Orchid decorated with pearls. The colours of the sash represent the Manchu Empire.
This Order is of the greatest rarity, and no specimens of the collar are known to be in private collections.
The Order of the Illustrious Dragon
The Order of the Illustrious Dragon (Chinese: Lung Kuang Ta Shou Chang), also known as The Order of the Dragon Ray, was established in March 1934 in the Grand Cordon Class only. It was the equivalent of the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun with the Paulownia Flowers and replaced the Order of the Auspicious Clouds when conferred.
The dragon is the highest-ranking animal in the Chinese animal hierarchy and the greatest of the four spirits of the gods, a symbol of power, strength, and good luck for people who are worthy. It had been the emblem of the Chinese emperors since 2200 B.C. In the Qin dynasty, the five-clawed foot dragon represented the Emperor while the four- and three-clawed ones were assigned to the commoners. The dragon for the badge design of the Order was adopted from the emblem on the back of the robes worn by the Emperor at his coronation, just like the one on the central medallion of the Orchid Blossom Collar. The Badge depicts a five-clawed dragon surrounded on all sides by clouds, a ring of 28 red jewels and eight points of golden rays. The dragon is encircling a blazing golden sun. The reverse has four seal characters which read Order of Merit Badge. The sash is light blue with white stripes, representing the sky and white sun.
The 28 jewels represent the 28 positions of the moon during its monthly cycle, and the clouds – good fortune.
The Order of the Auspicious Clouds
The Order of the Auspicious Clouds (Chinese: Ching Yun Chang), also known as the Order of the Prosperous Cloud, was founded together with the two higher Manchukuo orders in March of 1934. It is the equivalent of the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun, had eight classes and was quite commonly awarded.
The centre of the badge has a yellow-enamelled cabochon encircled by a red-enamelled ring. Four sets of white and yellow rays extend from the centre in four directions. Between the rays are four blue clouds on a black foundation. The colours of the Badge are those of the Manchukuo flag and represent the five nationalities of Manchukuo: Manchu, Japanese, Han Chinese, Mongolian, and Korean. The cloud is regarded in China as an auspicious symbol, hence the name. On the reverse – four usual characters reading Order of Merit Badge. The ribbon is pale grey with a red stripe representing sincerity.
The Order of the Pillars of State
The Order of the Pillars of State (Chinese: Chu Kuo Chang) was founded in September 1936. It was equivalent to the Japanese Order of the Sacred Treasure, had eight classes and was quite commonly awarded.
The centre of the Badge is in the form of an octagonal pillar base; it is yellow-enamelled and surrounded by concentric bands in the other national colours: black, white, blue and red, as those on the Manchukuo flag . Four pillars styled as those used in Oriental palaces and temples are arranged in a cross around this centre. They are red-enamelled and topped with silver blocks, gilded on the borders. The design of the badge represents love, sacrifice, perseverance, and devotion. The reverse has the usual seals.