Korea under Japanese rule

Japanese colonial period in Chōsen (Korea), 1910–1945

Korea was under Japanese rule during much of the early twentieth century. It was the culmination of a process that began with the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1876, whereby a complex coalition of Meiji government, military, and business officials sought to integrate Korea both politically and economically into the Japanese Empire, first as a protectorate in 1905 (Japan–Korea Treaty of 1905), and officially annexed in 1910 (Japan–Korea Annexation Treaty). In 1945, defeated at the hands of the Allies after World War II, Japan relinquished control of Korea, and the peninsula was divided into two countries, North Korea and South Korea, which still exist today.

The average Korean alive in 1945 was to a far greater degree the product of Japanese rule than the Choson Dynasty. ~ Brian Reynolds Myers

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  • The present Japanese régime in Korea is doing everything in its power to suppress Korean nationality. The Government not only forbade the study of Korean language and history in schools, but went so far as to make a systematic collection of all works of Korean history and literature in public archives and private homes and burned them.
  • One of the most neglected aspects of the history of Korea under Japanese colonial rule is the significant role of the drug trade during the colonial period. Korea emerged as a major producer of opium and narcotics in the 1920s, and in the 1930s became an important supplier to the opium monopoly created by the Japanese-sponsored Manchukou regime. The latter development sparked an international controversy due to Manchukou's unsavory reputation in connection with the illicit drug trade, and would later lead the International Military Tribunal for the Far East to identify Korea as the 'principal source of opium and narcotics at the time of the Mukden Incident and for some time thereafter.'
    Moreover, emigrant Koreans played an extensive role in drug trafficking in China, and especially Manchuria. This disreputable element of the Korean Diaspora was usually employed at the lowest rung of the drug trafficking ladder as poppy farmers, drug peddlers, or the proprietors of opium dens. As Japanese nationals, Korean drug traffickers were immune from prosecution by Chinese authorities due to extraterritoriality.
  • My opinion of Japanese administration in Korea has been derived from the consideration of what I saw in the country, what I have read about it in official and in unofficial publications, and from discussions with persons, Japanese, Korean and foreign, who were living in the Peninsula at the time of my visit. It is true that at the time Japan annexed Korea in 1910, the actual conditions of life in the peninsula were extremely bad. This was not due to any lack of inherent intelligence and ability in the Korean race, but to the stupidity and corruption which had characterized the government of the Korean dynasty, and to the existence of a royal court which maintained a system of licensed cruelty and corruption throughout Korea. Such was the misrule under which the Koreans had suffered for generation after generation that all incentive to industry and social progress had been destroyed because none of the common people had been allowed to enjoy the fruits of their own efforts. From 1910 to 1919 Japanese rule in Korea, though it accomplished much good for the people, bore the stamp of a military stiffness which aroused a great deal of resentment. The New Korea of which I write is the Korea which has developed under the wise and sympathetic guidance of Governor-General Saito. At the time of my own visit to Korea in 1922, the Governor-General had nearly completed three years of his tenure in the office.
  • [I]f indigenousness were the key to state longevity on the peninsula, the Japanese would not have taken Korea so easily in 1910. Take it they did, of course, and their propaganda soon reached far more Koreans than had ever heard of the ancient sages...

    The DPRK derives its legitimacy from the myth that the anti-Japanese hero Kim Il Sung was all right-thinking citizens' choice as the man to found and lead the new Korea after liberation in 1945.

    Until the mid-1960s the USSR was credited with defeating Japan, but since then propaganda has claimed that Kim and his guerillas freed the race on their own. That this is known to be untrue by those who lived through the time is of minor importance. The painful historical reality of mass collaboration (and the military insignificance of all armed Korean resistance to colonial rule) is precisely what made the Kim myth so attractive.

  • We hereby pledge the following:
    1. Today’s undertaking reflects the demands of our people for justice, morality, survival, and prosperity. Therefore, we will act solely in the spirit of liberty, never in the spirit of enmity.
    2. To the last person and to the last moment, we will forthrightly express the will of the Korean people.
    3. We will respect order in all our actions and ensure that our demeanor and claims are always honorable and upright.
  • The origins of the Korean War linked the late nineteenth century collapse of Chinese power in east Asia with the rise of Cold War ideological conflict. The fall of the Qing Empire, with which Korea had long been associated, opened the way for Japanese imperialist expansion across the region. The first country to be taken over was Korea, after China lost the 1894–95 war against Japan. By 1910 Korea was fully annexed to Japan, as an integral part of its empire. The Japanese administration did its best to stamp out Korean identity. The royal palace in Seoul was demolished and Japanese became the medium of instruction for all higher education. Tokyo even tried to force Koreans to wear Japanese dress and assimilate in social codes and family life. But at the same time, just like in the European empires that the Japanese admired and feared in equal amounts, there was widespread segregation of colonizers and colonized. Most Koreans understood that they could never become full members of the Japanese Empire, even if they had wanted to. From the beginning, the occupation of Korea gave rise to nationalist resistance. For many young Koreans, the real insult of the Japanese takeover was that it came just as they were formulating their own views of their country’s future. Some of them went into exile, and the nationalisms they conceived there were intense and uncompromising, as ideal views of one’s own country formed abroad often are. Korean nationalists wedded themselves not only to defeating Japan and liberating their country but also to building a future, unified Korea that was modern, centralized, powerful, and virtuous. Korea, they believed, could not only produce its own liberation but would stand as an example for other downtrodden peoples.

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