Black Dragon Society
The Kokuryūkai was founded in 1901 by Uchida Ryohei, and was descended from the Genyōsha (Uchida was a follower of Genyōsha founder Mitsuru Toyama). Its name is derived from the translation of the Amur River, which is called Heilongjiang or "Black Dragon River" in Chinese (黑龍江?), read as Kokuryū-kō in Japanese. Its public goal was to support efforts to keep the Russian Empire north of the Amur River and out of east Asia.
The Kokuryūkai initially made strenuous efforts to distance itself from the criminal elements of its predecessor, the Genyōsha. As a result, its membership included Cabinet Ministers and high-ranking military officers as well as professional secret agents. However, as time passed, it found the use of criminal activities to be a convenient "means to an end" for many of its operations.
The Society published a journal, and operated an espionage training school, from which it dispatched agents to gather intelligence on Russian activities in Russia, Manchuria, Korea and China. It also pressured Japanese politicians to adopt a strong foreign policy. The Kokuryukai also supported Pan-Asianism, and lent financial support to revolutionaries such as Sun Yat-sen, and Emilio Aguinaldo.
During the Russo-Japanese War, annexation of Korea and Siberian Intervention, the Imperial Japanese Army made use of the Kokuryūkai network for espionage, sabotage and assassination. They organized Manchurian guerrillas against the Russians from the Chinese warlords and bandit chieftains in the region, the most important being Marshal Chang Tso-lin. The Black Dragons waged a very successful psychological warfare campaign in conjunction with the Japanese military, spreading disinformation and propaganda throughout the region. They also acted as interpreters for the Japanese army.
The Kokuryūkai assisted the Japanese spy, Colonel Motojiro Akashi. Akashi, who was not directly a member of the Black Dragons, ran successful operations in China, Manchuria, Siberia and established contacts throughout the Muslim world. These contacts in Central Asia were maintained through World War II. The Black Dragons also formed close contact and even alliances with Buddhist sects throughout Asia.
During the 1920s and 1930s, the Kokuryūkai evolved into more of a mainstream political organization, and publicly attacked liberal and leftist thought. Although it never had more than several dozen members at any one time during this period, the close ties of its membership to leading members of the government, military and powerful business leaders gave it a power and influence far greater than most other ultranationalist groups.
Initially directed only against Russia, in the 1930s, the Kokuryūkai expanded its activities around the world, and stationed agents in such diverse places as Ethiopia, Turkey, Morocco, throughout southeast Asia and South America, as well as Europe and the United States.
Activities in the United States
The organization was mentioned as an influence on the black nationalist organizations which were convicted of sedition in 1942, most notably Mittie Maud Lena Gordon's Peace Movement for Ethiopia. The other two organizations said to be influenced were the Brotherhood of Liberty for the Black People of America and the Nation of Islam.
The Kokuryūkai was officially disbanded by order of the American Occupation authorities in 1946. According to Brian Daizen Victoria's book, Zen War Stories, the Black Dragon Society was reconstituted in 1961 as the Black Dragon Club (Kokuryū-Kurabu.) The Club never had more than 150 members to succeed in the goals of the former Black Dragon Society.
In popular culture
- Agents of the Black Dragon Society appeared in the 1938 French film The Shanghai Drama directed by the celebrated Georg Wilhelm Pabst.
- Black Dragons appeared as villains in two Sam Katzman 1942 Monogram Pictures releases Black Dragons and Let's Get Tough! as well as a Republic Pictures film serial G-Men vs the Black Dragon that was turned into a Century 66 made for TV movie The Black Dragon of Manzanar. The Black Dragons also appeared as villains in 1942 American comic books published by DC Comics.
- Kokuryukai is mentioned in passing in the 1942 movie Across the Pacific when the Humphrey Bogart character meets with his U.S. Army intelligence handler.
- In the 1949 movie Tokyo Joe, starring Humphrey Bogart, Baron Kimura (Sessue Hayakawa) attempts to smuggle the leader of the Black Dragon Society from Korea into American-occupied Japan as part of a plot to stage a right-wing coup.
- In Max Brooks' book The Zombie Survival Guide, the Black Dragons are portrayed as a unit of World War II Japanese military. He asserts that this group was responsible for attempting to create a zombie army by breeding and training the undead in an operation known as Project Cherry Blossom.
- The Black Dragon Society is mentioned in the 1988 movie Bloodsport as the originators of an underground fighting tournament known as the Kumite.
- They also appear as henchmen to the villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the James Bond novel You Only Live Twice.
- The Black Dragon play a major role in the 1992 Raven series. After being hired to kill the titular character's parents while he was a child in order to stop his father's investigations into yakuza activities, Raven later joined the Black Dragon (being the only Westerner to survive their training) in order to kill as many Black Dragons as possible in revenge for the death of his parents. The Society's desire to destroy Raven's entire bloodline in retaliation follows the character throughout the series as he searches for his unknown son.
- In the fictional Battletech universe the Black Dragon Society is depicted as an extremist, traditionalist group within the Draconis Combine, supposedly with ties to the historical group.
- The Black Dragon appeared as the antagonists in the 1995 televised version of Fist of Fury.
- Time Magazine article
- 1942 World War II Chronology
- p.172 Burton, Jeffery F. Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites University of Washington Press, 2002
- pp 161-162 Inada, Lawson Fusao & the California Historical Society Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Experience Heyday, 2000
- Victoria, Brian Daizen Zen War Stories Routledge Curson 2003 p.61
- The Encyclopedia of Espionage by Norman Polmar and Thomas B. Allen (ISBN 0-517-20269-7)
- Deacon, Richard: A History of the Japanese Secret Service, Berkley Publishing Company, New York, 1983, ISBN 0-425-07458-7
- Jacob, Frank: Die Thule-Gesellschaft und die Kokuryûkai: Geheimgesellschaften im global-historischen Vergleich, Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg, 2012, ISBN 978-3826049095
- Jacob, Frank (Ed.): Geheimgesellschaften: Kulturhistorische Sozialstudien: Secret Societies: Comparative Studies in Culture, Society and History, Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2012, ISBN 978-3826049088
- Jacob, Frank: Japanism, Pan-Asianism and Terrorism: A Short History of the Amur Society (The Black Dragons) 1901-1945, Academica Press, Palo Alto 2014, ISBN 978-1936320752
- Kaplan, David; Dubro, Alec (2004), Yakuza: Japan's Criminal Underworld, pp. 18–21, ISBN 0520274903