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Korea During the Colonial Period Essay

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Updated: Mar 26th, 2019

Korea became a colony under Japan in August 1910 and freed itself later in 1945. This was when Japan lost in World War II. Japan was defeated mainly as a result of powerful nations which supported South Korea. However, as will be discussed in this paper, there were some positive aspects that were drawn from the rule. For instance, one of these developments was the massive transformation of education.

It is imperative to note that the latter injected significant insight on how Koreans would engage themselves both in economic and political development of their country. It is also worthy to note that the history of Korean colonialization did not start in 1910. Rather, it commenced way back at the onset of the century with numerous debates and treaties.

In addition, the history and synopsis of Korean colonization is still important in the history of the world bearing in mind that it later shaped global political history of the major powers as they are known today. Most importantly, Japan rule in Korea set the course for World War II with Japan being on one side and America and its close allies on the other alliance.

This paper explores pre-colonial period that culminated to Korean colonization, events that marked resistance to colonial aggression from Japanese rule, economic exploitation as well as the significance of this rule.

Pre-colonial period

The history of Korean colonialization did not start in August 1910. While the annexing of Korea was done in 1910 by employing of Annexation Treaty, it was declared a Japanese protectorate from 1905 through the Eulsa Treaty. According to Heo and Roehrig (9), this treaty was as a result of coercing of Korean authorities by the government of Tokyo.

Additionally, this was the treaty that helped establish Japanese protectorate in Korea and as well formalized control of peninsula by Japan (Heo & Roehrig 9). Before then, there was the Ganghwa treaty which gave Japan some interest to involve itself in Korea issue.

The latter took place during Joseon era. This may be a clear indication that before the close of 1910, there was sufficient history on how Korea had formally became a Japanese protectorate. Indeed, historians believe that the control of the land started way back and as early as 1876.

Colonial period

This period was historically documented to be between 29th August 1910 and 15th August 1945 meaning it was approximately 35 years of rule. The Japan rule in Korea started with what was known as the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty of the year 1910. It was a way of finalizing the Japanese control over the Korean nation.

This aspect was significantly preceded over by numerous efforts such as the Japan-Korea Protocol of the year 1904. Kang (2) observes that the colonial period could be categorized into three periods. These were subjugation period, the cultural accommodation period and the assimilation period. The following is an analysis of the three periods and details of events that took place during each of the period.

The dark age of subjugation (1910-1919)

In a period of about nine years after Korea became Japanese Protectorate, harsh realities dawned on Koreans. Instead of helping Koreans to overcome their difficulties in the due process of building their country, the Japanese authorities and mostly the military descended upon the natives. They were later turned into slaves. According to Kang (2), this period can best be characterized by the rule of the military with was mostly violent and full of threats.

It all started in 1910 when Japan took over until the year 1919. Peterson and Margulies (141) underscore that this period could best be described to be that of military rule. This definition results from heavy military operation that was characterized by harsh operations. There was little that could be associated with democratic rule during this Dark Age period, actually it is the military rule that helped Japan establishes its strong presence in the country (Peterson & Margulies 142).

Cultural accommodation (1920-1931)

This period can be regarded as a positive era in Korean history as it allowed unrestricted operations of businesses, media reporting and management of free schools. The best way to describe this period was that it was an era whereby educational change in the country was permitted. This left an indelible mark in the history of Korea. Indeed, the impact can still be felt until today.

This was seen more of a response to the criticism that was leveled against the colony characterized by harsh rule. The aim was to ease down some tension among the Korean people by reducing some of the restrictive policies that had been established during the entire period of colonial rule. Moreover, this period was termed as the conciliatory reform era largely due to the fact that it brought in some positive changes like education, economic revival and political participation.

Assimilation period (1931-1945)

This period is also referred to as the compulsory integration period. It came after the dissolution of Korean empire or the Korean royalty that had dominated for centuries. According to Robinson (44), the assimilation policy was a long term goal only to be ended by the defeat of Japan by Western powers. This program had become an urgent policy to the Japanese who were trying to bring in their history, culture and language into Korea.

It was achieved in a kind of movement that was supposed to create powerful or imperial citizens. As Robinson (45) documents, the failure to effect this program was occasioned by massive and huge volumes of studies that Japan colony tried to introduce in Korea. As a matter of fact, the Korean people could not have absorbed and embraced every detail immediately bearing in mind that the Japanese colony had instituted it as an urgent measure.

In essence, if this had succeeded, Japan would have permanently established itself as part of Korean culture, and more so, the Korean culture would have been absorbed by the mamoth education policy that had been introduced.

Characteristics of the colonial period

Other than the three periods that characterized the colonial era, there were other aspects that were significant in defining this rule. To start with, there was little that could be termed to be positive during the entire colonial period and autocratic rule. For example, soon after the treaty of 1910, Japan changed its course and introduced military dictatorship. Yoder (71) sums it all by noting that during the 35 years rule, Koreans were made worthless and only second to Japanese citizens.

This took place despite the fact that the colony was in foreign land; a case scenario that could be termed as a contravention of the general rule of respect. In essence, some of the Korean people went to Japan to be laborers, and one of the biggest migrations was just at the outset of World War II (Yoder 71).

Therefore, there was little that could be celebrated by Korean nation. Some of the characteristics of the colonial period included economic exploitation, education change, oppression, cultural genocide, the Second World War and eventually, the pursuit for Korean Freedom.

Economic exploitation

Korea became Japanese protectorate through a treaty with the main aim of assisting the country rebuild itself. However, Japan took over the mandate to exploit the economic prospects of the country through measures such as land utilization. Initially, this measure was seen as the overall means of helping the country. However, as it turned out later, the economic gains only benefited the Japanese.

There is a divided concern for the rule when it comes to economic exploitation. Some view the rule has having helped Korea as a country overcome many obstacles. However, others view it as a real exploitation for selfish gain. Some of the positive reviews are that during the rule, electricity was a common facility. In fact, Seoul was to become the first city in the whole of East Asia to enjoy certain unique privileges.

However, even after all these developments, the agricultural economy remained backward and it seemed that Japan was only doing so to improve its economy. As noted by Pirie (61), Japan was merely attempting to put together the Korean economy with that of Japan, perhaps with a view of creating a Japanese economic empire. As late as 1930s, the economy of Korea had not recovered and was basically typical of an underdeveloped country.

Education change

Before Japan came to Korea, Korea had a stable education system and was regarded to be improving swiftly. It was important since the 14th century and could have improved tremendously had it got just boosts. When Japan came, the colony she introduced her own education system and mostly brought volumes of Japanese studies. There are positive and negative impacts; positive in the sense that Japan helped introduce education of a higher status in the country.

However, this education only helped to establish Japan as a world power capable of colonizing a country. Most of what was taught was Japanese culture, archaeologies and general philosophy from the Japanese ideologies. A positive note is that numerous schools were established and which have remained as important in the country up to the present.

In addition, the education for the Korean population has helped the country have more political participation and consciousness. Some of these schools were established by the Christian missionaries who to some extent, helped introduce western style.

Oppression in land related issues

The first thing that the Japanese did upon taking over Korean was to embark on surveying the land. The main aim was to consolidate their colonial system in economic terms. Much of the emphasis was laid on the administrative resources, the civilian police and mobilization of the military. The land survey was carried out despite the fact that Korea had done these survey years early.

Real-estate owners were forced to make reports about their lands and were given ultimatum to do so. This is contravention of the general rule of respect for one another, and most importantly, since Korea was the host country, it should have been allowed to govern its own land.

This survey took eight years and cost 20,400,000 yen, and the result was laying of the foundation for large scale expropriation of the country. In the process, some of the companies which had been established in Korea before the coming of Japan were impeded from developing. The resultants were rapid development of Japanese investments in critical industries crippling Korean industries.

Cultural genocide

By definition, genocide is a erosion of something in mass; for example, mass killings are regarded as genocide. In this therefore, cultural genocide is when culture of a region is eroded in mass and introduction of foreign values, practices, beliefs and norms. This part looks at the erosion of Korean culture and introduction of a foreign Japanese Culture. As discussed in the paper, some of the issues that were brought forward by the three periods of Japan rule were assimilation, education and language studies.

The fact that the assimilation, teaching of Japan language and general education were done by the Japanese, the Korean culture was eroded. In effect, the Japanese culture was introduced, and therefore brings in a concept of cultural genocide. This means that the Korean culture was changed to help establish the Japanese culture in Japan.

The World War II and Korean freedom

Lockard (647) reiterates that Korea was transformed into a colony of Japan and was harshly exploited. However, this suppression ended with World War II with the western nations fighting Japan. Eventually, Korea became free in 15th August 1945, the same year World War II ended.

Therefore, there is a huge link between World War II and the eventual freedom that was attained by Korea. Japan used some Koreans as soldiers in the war where they were drafted into the army of Japan. When Japan was defeated by the western allies, Korea achieved its independence, and even though it remains as painful to the Koreans, at least the country was given a chance to rebuild itself.

The significance of the colonial period

Dudden (64) underscores that at the onset that the colonial period was illegal since Japan deviated from the original master plan. It hid the intended policies and introduced its own measures in as far as colonization was concerned. However, this period and its culmination into World War II had some significance not only to Korea, but also to the western world. It has been argued that the ultimate winner of the World War II was United States of America and its allies.

Up to the present day, United States has remained a super power and it was praised for its military strength that defeated Japan. Furthermore, several Africans affiliated to American army participated in the war, and therefore, it was an important undertaking since it set the right course for other colonies to follow suit.

To recap it all, it is worthy to reiterate that in most instances, colonial periods have often been documented as eras of economic exploitation of host country by respective colonies. Nonetheless, the beginning of Japanese colonization in Korea was through some treaties, the important one being the treaty tat was crafted in 1910. This paper has offered succinct analysis of Korea during colonization period sues of this colonial period alongside its relative importance to global history.

Works Cited

Dudden, Alexis. Japan’s colonization of Korea: Discourse and power. Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 2006.

Heo, Uk & Terence, Roehrig. South Korea since 1980. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Kang, Hildi. Under the black umbrella: Voices from colonial Korea, 1910-1945. New York: Cornell University Press, 2001.

Lockard, Craig. Societies, Networks, and Transitions: Volume 3. Belmont: CengageBrain learning, 2010.

Peterson, Mark & Philip Margulies. A brief history of Korea. New York: InfoBase publishing, 2010.

Pirie, Iain. The Korean development state: From dirigisme to neo-liberalism. New York: Routledge publisher, 2008.

Robinson, Michael. Korea’s twentieth-century odyssey. Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 2007.

Yoder, Robert. Deviance and inequality in Japan: Japanese youth and foreign migrants. Bristol: The Policy Press, 2011.

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