“Japanese imperialism, in its early-1900s advance into Manchuria, chose to assume the form of a railroad company.
“The South Manchurian Railway Company (Mantetsu) held its inaugural meeting on 26 November 1905. It had authorized capital to the order of ¥200MM, at the time the largest joint-stock company ever in Japan.
“Half the initial capital was invested by the Japanese government in the form of capital-in-kind, namely existing railways that were turned over to Japan from the Chinese Eastern Railway. The property of the existing railways given the SMR by the government had been destroyed by the ravages of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), with the railway shut down or demolished at many sites.
“The SMR quickly prove itself profitable: ¥3.6MM in 1907 profits, upwards of ¥14MM by 1912, a double-digit return on investment. Initially, however, the Japanese presence in Manchuria was of peripheral concern to the empire’s wider considerations in Korea, Formosa, and Sakhalin. But, that changed in 1931 as Manchuria became the new focus for military conquest, economic development, and mass migration.”
– Life Along the South Manchurian Railroad, by Ito Takeo & Joshua A. Fogel, 2016
“[T]he railways in Manchuria owe their creation to the international rivalry that colored the pages of Manchuria’s recent history … [T]he political and diplomatic history of modern Manchuria is the history of its railway development.
“British interests pioneered the laying of the first tracks in Manchuria when, in 1894, the Peining Railway was extended beyond Shankaikwan as far as Suichung. Then in 1897, Czarist Russia by way of notifying the world that she was to be reckoned with hereafter in the construction of railways in Manchuria, launched a huge construction program calling for the laying of a railway system shaped like the letter ‘T’ from Harbin.
“All three sections were started from Harbin, the western section toward Manchuli, the eastern section toward Nikolskussuriiski in the Maritime Provinces, and the southern section toward Dalny (now known as Dairen). The section south of Changchun (now Hsinking) on the southern branch line was ceded to Japan with the conclusion of the Russo-Japanese War and for the management of this line, the South Manchurian Railway Company was organized in 1906.
“… The total length of railways in Manchukuo at the end of 1937 was roughly 9,600 kilometers, including State Railways, South Manchurian Railway lines and private railways. Since the birth of Manchukuo, about 3,500 kilometers of new railways have been built, and many more are projected in all parts of the country.”
– “Manchurian Railways”, by Teruo Shimizu, The Far Eastern Review, January 1941