The Russo Japanese War and Boy's Own Adventure Stories

The Russo Japanese War was an imperial conflict waged between two empires on the steppes of Manchuria. It pitted the old and decaying Russian Empire against the up and coming Japanese Empire. It is only natural that this war between empires would serve as a rich backdrop for a series of English and American Boys Own Adventure Stories.

At the turn of the Twentieth Century, the adventure story was a popular genre of English literature. The literary critic, Martin Green noted that the "[P]opular adventure tale that formed the light reading of Englishmen for two hundred years and more after Robinson Crusoe were in fact, the energizing myth of English Imperialism. They were collectively, the story of England told itself as it went to sleep at night; and in the form of its dreams, they charged England's will with the energy to go out into the world and explore, conquer and rule…. They are the books that explain how Britain came to acquire an empire… In themselves, they are romances, so have the character of personal fantasy, some of social myth; they explain how empire building felt to the men who set out to explore and exploit and acquire to their friends and relations at home."

The more serious and better written Imperial Adventure Stories were directed towards adults. Famous examples of these adventure stories are Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines, She, Rudyard Kipling's Kim and John Buchan's Greenmantle, Prester John. Later in the Twentieth Century, these adventure stories evolved into adventure movies such as Beau Geste, Gunga Din, and later A Man Who Would Be King. These adventure stories still hold a strong place in our contemporary imagination. Witness the latest release of Four Feathers.

Closely related to the Imperial Adventure Story was a sub genre known as the Boys Own Adventure Story. Up until the Franco Prussian War, England stood alone as the dominant World Power. As the Nineteenth Century drew to a close, England began to see the growth of economic and political rivals in Germany, Russia, France and the United States. A new wave of popular sentiment known as the New Imperialism arose in response to this competition. Boys Own Adventure Stories are an outgrowth of this new found support for the values of empire.

New Imperialists believed that England was growing effeminate. Imperial prosperity was beginning to destroy the manly qualities that allowed England to carve out an Empire. An antidote to this growing softness could be found in the rigors of colonial life and adventure. It was thought that Boys Own Adventure Stories could inspire the young men of England to develop the necessary personal qualities to maintain England's place in the world.

At the end of the Nineteenth Century, the United States had just finished settling the American West. Slowly, the American people turned their gaze towards the imperial stage. Having recently acquired Hawaii, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, America needed its own national story to justify and rationalize its new imperial status. The English genre of the Boys Own Adventure Story met this need perfectly.

The Boys Own Adventure Stories was a genre with very strict conventions. There were stock characters, plot devices and stories. At their core, these were stories that reinforced the manly virtues that were needed to conquer and administer a great empire. Selfless courage, martial ability and Christian values were at the heart of each tale. While the stories and their values remained constant, the locations and time in history in which they were set changed. Typical titles include, With the Allies to Pekin, With Kitchener in the Soudan, With Roberts to Pretoria, To Herat and Cabul, A Hero of Lucknow, and Fighting the Matabele. These remote settings often times located on the fringes of Empire were the backdrop in which these morality tales took place.

The Russo Japanese War provided the perfect setting for numerous Boys Own Adventure Stories. Manchuria with its wind blown steppes and exotic natives fell perfectly into the exploratory journey into the frontier genre of story. The War's many battles and skirmishes provided the stage and the opportunity for the young English and American heroes to prove their courage and martial skills. The great naval battles of the War also allowed the stories to touch on the general fascination of the time with the evolving technology of warfare.

For the student of the Russo Japanese War, these Boys Own Adventure Stories offer few insights into the War. The authors of these adventure stories were far away in England and America and they obtained their knowledge of the war from contemporary news articles. The value of these stories is in understanding of the popular culture of imperialism as it existed at the turn of the Twentieth Century. In all but one of the books listed below, the young heroes are on the winning Japanese side. In England, Russia was seen as the imperial rival and Japan was still seen as sympathetic ally. It was not until after the Great War that Japan was perceived as a threat to English and American hegemony in the Pacific.

The Boys Own Adventure Stories reached its peak in the early years of the Great War. The values taught in these stories helped form the character of a generation of English and American young men. These stories and their lessons accompanied them as they marched into the trenches of the Western Front. The idealistic values and world view extolled in these stories perished in the mud strewn killing fields of France and Belgium.

The following are Boys Own Adventure Stories set during the Russo Japanese War. I have not been able to find all these books. Any plot summaries would be greatly appreciated. Any additional titles would also be greatly appreciated.

A Soldier of Japan: A tale of the Russo-Japanese War. Illustrated Written by Captain F.S. Brereton. Published by Blackie & Sons

The opening incident of this war was as great a surprise to Valentine Graham and his father as to the Russians, for their junk lay opposite Port Arthur on February 8, 1904, and in spite of their signals was heavily shelled. They are rescued by the Japanese and indignant at their treatment, join the Mikado's forces. Valentine promptly takes part in a second dash upon Port Arthur and becomes a prisoner. In time he is sent up-country with other prisoners which whom he contrives to escape. They join a band of Hunhuse brigands and have a desperate encounter with the Cossacks. A week later they fall in with Kuroki's army and take part in the battle of the Yalu. Thereafter numerous adventures befall the hero who becomes noted throughout Manchuria for dash and intrepidity.

KOBO-: A Story of the Russo-Japanese War. Illustrated Written by Herbert Strang Published by Blackie & Sons

Bob Fawcett sent out to Japan just before the outbreak of the war to test the range finding apparatus of the Japanese fleet, has the good fortune to do a slight service to Kobo San, the descendant of an ancient Samurai family and high in the Government Service. When summoned to take up his duties, Bob shares in some of the most noteworthy naval actions of the war. These are, however, only the prelude to as exciting a series of adventures onland as ever a boy went through. Bob is captured by Cossacks, escapes, falls in with a band of Manchus, the leader of who is an old enemy of Kobo, is besieged with Kobo in a Korean temple and after defeating the besiegers reaches the army of General Kuroki in time for the Battle of the Yalu.

Brown of Moukden: A Story of the Russo Japanese War. Illustrated. Written Herbert Strang Published by Blackie & Sons

In Kobo, Mr. Herbert Stang gave a picture of the war from the Japanese side. In the present book, he approaches the same great subject from the Russian side. Mr. Brown is the victim of a conspiracy to connect him with the betrayal of certain military secrets to the Japanese; he suddenly disappears, and his son Jack is left friendless in Moukden. Jack's strange adventures when caught up in the whirlpool of the war and the means by which he ultimately traces his father's whereabouts are told with the same spirit and intimate knowledge of the East that made the success of Kobo.

FOR THE MIKADO-: A Japanese Middy in Action-Illustrated Written by Kirk Munroe Published 1905 by Harper & Brothers

The story of young Annapolis educated midshipmen who eventually find themselves at Port Arthur in the middle of the Russo Japanese conflict.

Under the Mikado's Flag; or Young Soldiers of Fortune-Illustrated by A.B. Shute, Written by Edward Stratemeyer Published 1904 by Lee and Shepard; Lothrop, Lee & Shepard.

At the Fall of Port Arthur; or, A Young American in the Japanese Navy-Illustrated by A.B. Shute Written by Edward Stratemeyer Published 1905 by Lee & Shepard; Lothrop, Lee & Shepard.

UNDER TOGO FOR JAPAN-; or Three Young Americans on Land and Sea-Illustrated by A.B. Shute Written by Edward Stratemeyer Published 1906 by Lee & Shepard; Lothrop, Lee & Shepard.

For Further Reading See

Martin Green Dreams of Adventure, Deed of Empire, London 1980
J. Bristow Empire Boys; Adventures in a Man's World, 1991
Jeffery Richards Ed. Imperialism and Juvenile Literature, Manchester 1989