1.2. The Era of Imperialism and Communism
Japan controlled Korea through its Government-General, the Governor-General always being a general or admiral, though in theory the position could have been held by a civilian. Koreans were stripped of the freedom of assembly, organisation, a free press and free speech. In the first decade of colonial rule, the majority of educational institutions were dramatically shut down since they did not meet certain compulsory criteria. For example, in 1912 there were 1,362 private schools with 57,377 students, by 1919 this figure had been reduced to 742 schools with 19,000 students.
The upper echelons of government administration were occupied by the Japanese, Koreans being confined usually to subordinate jobs. A police force, supported by a massive military force, maintained order, looking particularly for any signs of Korean nationalism. Japan attempted to distort Korean nationality and history. The Japanese colonial view of history was an ideological justification of the Japanese annexation of Korea. It referred to the national identity of Korea as that of a dependency and argued that Koreans did not have the ability for self-rule, and needed 'care' from an 'advanced' Japan.
Initially, Japan created a strict colonial ruling structure. It should be remembered that Korea had been a unified state since before 700, consisting of a society with a long history and a strong degree of cultural, racial, scholarly and linguistic unity. The early policy of Japan was directed at the repression of Korean nationalism and cultural consciousness. Nevertheless several Koreans confronted the colonial power and worked for the restoration of Korean sovereignty. A Japanese observer from the Tokyo Nichi Shimbun expressed a view on the lack of the freedom of speech and a free press in Korea in an editorial on October 2, 1910: "Newspapers were checked one by one; controls on companies were exercised to an extreme, unsatisfactory companies being destroyed one after the other...If one grumbled, he would be arrested...I felt as if I were in hell". In this respect, the early Japanese policy was aimed at the destruction of Korean nationalism and racial consciousness.
Christianity played a significant part in Korean enlightenment and progressive ideas. Indeed Korea today is the one country in Asia where Christianity took hold. The influence of Protestantism in particular during the Japanese colonial period was exceptional. Protestantism had been introduced to Korea at the end of the nineteenth century. Due to its strong bond with the lower strata of society, such as women, who were regarded as second-class members of society, and most of the commoners who were peasants at this time, and the use of the Han'gul (Korean vernacular script) version of the Bible, Protestantism had spread so widely in Korea that the peninsula came to be commonly described by missionaries as "the most Christian land in the Orient".
Although missionaries declared themselves to be politically 'neutral' to the Korean struggle against the Japanese, several missionaries, including Frederick W. Scholfield (1888-1970) and George S. McCune became greatly embroiled in Korea's struggle for independence by helping the Korean nationalist movement. While missionaries, mission schools and other organisations did not engage directly in the Koreans' national struggle, the enthusiasm for liberty and democracy which they infused in the people inspired many of them to resist Japanese colonisation.
However, on the eve of the manifestation of the March First Movement (MFM) for independence in 1919, most foreign missionaries were officially and individually non-political. As the MFM came closer, the missionaries were preoccupied with their religious affairs. Political questions were side-stepped in church gatherings and the use of church facilities was forbidden for political purposes. Demonstrations were identified as political, and not church-sponsored actions. When the Declaration of Independence was announced in P'yongyang on March First, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church officially forbade the participation of the church. Apart from personal indications of sympathy and moral support the missionaries rigorously side-stepped inspiring Christians in the direction of nationalist aims. Yet it was also the missionaries who first notified the outside world about the atrocities of March 1919.
In spite of ever sharpening difficulties, the Protestant churches in Korea continued to advance educational opportunities for Koreans, and to help in social reform activities. Mission schools were expanded and their educational accomplishments and proficiencies were improved. Graduates of these educational institutions became leaders in many fields of Korean society.
Economically Korea was transformed into an agricultural supplier for Japan. In particular, through the policy of the Land Survey (1910-1918) Korean land ownership was gradually transferred into Japanese hands. Partial landholders, tenants, and squatters with conventional 'tillage rights' were not allowed to declare ownership of land. Finally, the Japanese Government-General became the largest landowner in Korea, monopolising even mining and timber management. By 1930, the Japanese colonial regime had grabbed approximately 40% of the land of Korea itself. The sum of land held by Japanese individuals and corporate businessmen including pro-Japanese Korean landlords also increased as the Government-General sold off land at discounted rates.
While Japan consolidated its harsh colonial rule of Korea, in late 1918, some Koreans came to hear of President Woodrow Wilson's self-determination of nations speech. This stimulated them to take steps to recover the sovereignty of Korea, concluding that imperialism was now a legacy of the past, that the era of rationalism and amity had come, and that Korea had the right to recover her sovereignty. Therefore, the following year, Korean independence activity came to a zenith in the MFM. This Movement was a nation-wide uprising of all social classes, and took the form of peaceful demonstrations appealing to the conscience of the Japanese. Approximately two million individuals took part.
The Japanese authorities responded with cruel repression, unleashing their armed forces to end the protests. Between March and December of 1919, the statistics of casualties from the official Japanese estimates are as follows: 553 deaths, 1,409 injured, and 12,522 imprisonments. But Korean nationalist statistics of the above are higher: 7,500 deaths, approximately 15,000 injured, and some 45,000 imprisonments.
Though the MFM was not successful in the way the nationalist leaders had hoped, the nationalists did not give up their desire for independence. After 1919, resistance to Japanese authority came primarily from abroad. In particular, the newly-formed Independence Army in Manchuria and Russia made incapacitating and periodic attacks on the Japanese troops and even ventured into the Korean peninsula. Exiled in Shanghai, diverse nationalist groups established the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea (PGROK) in 1919. The newly established Bolshevik Soviet government provided 400,000 roubles for the PGROK.
By the mid 1920s the Korean independence movement could be divided into the left-wing socialist camp, backed by Russia (formal support), and the moderate nationalist camp, supported by Western missionaries (informal support). Leftists denounced the moderate nationalists for playing into the hands of the Japanese by shunning confrontation. However, facing several obstacles in promoting their retaliatory activities, both the nationalists and socialists sensed the urgency for a combined force against Japanese imperialism.
An increasingly effective anti-Japanese force was made up of those who turned to the new Soviet regime for stimulus and support. The origins of Korean Communism are related to the indifferent attitude and lack of response to Korea's suffering by the West. After the Versailles Conference and especially after the MFM, disillusionment with the West amongst Koreans became increasingly widespread. The Washington Conference of 1921-22 unquestionably added nothing to Western prestige in the eyes of Korean nationalists generally. On the other hand, they were touched by the Bolsheviks, especially when Bolshevik leaders spoke with ardour about liberating the oppressed peoples of the Far East. There was no doubt that the Bolsheviks were against Western imperialism and strongly anti-Japanese since Japanese armies were on Russian soil. The Bolsheviks desperately wanted solid supporters. It was therefore natural that between 1918 and 1920 a Russo-Korean affiliation should grow, the first Soviet affinity with an Asian people.
Both the nationalists and Communists, openly and secretly, directed movements against the Japanese, including pro-Japanese Korean organisations. As of 1925, there were some 180 politically-oriented societies; 128 labour leagues, 44 youth organisations, 300 religious youth societies, and other diverse groups which urged political, economic, and social reforms. But the Japanese Peace Preservation Law of May 4, 1925, and the ordinance of April 1926, of the Government-General, severely impeded organised activities by Koreans of all views.
To summarise the 'Cultural Period' (1919-1931), the MFM was a turning point of Japanese colonial policy within Korea. After 1919, Japan realised that its iron rule had to be replaced with more sophisticated methods. Japan therefore replaced the policy of terror and coercion with a more subtle policy of co-operation with the Korean middle and upper classes. However, the tyrannical and exploitative Japanese colonial policy continued as relentlessly as ever though with less conspicuous rules. On socio-cultural activities, Japan used conciliation tactics such as a degree of freedom for the press. This was granted through permission for newspaper publication. Overall, Japan's policy of alliance and concession with co-operative elements within Korea, and the selective repression of militant nationalists and socialist revolutionaries succeeded remarkably well.
While the colonial period continued, Korean financiers became increasingly dependent on Japanese banks, and by the 1930s various industrialists were bonded inextricably to Japanese monetary affairs.
In 1931 Japan took control over Manchuria in order to pursue her expansionist policy into China proper. By the end of that year, Korean people were compelled to use the Japanese language and study a Japanized historical view of Korean history in an attempt by Japan to obliterate all Korean identity.
In 1935 as part of a forced assimilation policy, Japan established the Shinto Shrine Order, which required worship at Japanese Shinto shrines. Japanese suppression of Korean Christians heightened an already flammable political problem. The Shinto shrine problem divided the Korean Christian churches. An increasing number of Christians were jailed because of their refusal to make obeisance in the Shinto ceremonies, regarding them as idolatry.
At the outset of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937 Japan attempted to destroy Korea's identity completely. In particular, under the mottoes of "Japan and Korea are One", Japan launched a massive program to mobilise Koreans into the Japanese war effort. The Japanese created organisations to direct all Koreans into their hands. In addition, Japan strengthened her economic plans for war by tightening control over rice production and industrial development. Japanese subjugation and domination centred on the segregation of race, resulting in a rice ration for the Japanese but millet and not rice for the Koreans.
A further attempt was made to destroy Korea's identity as a country as well as to amplify Japanese national consciousness amongst the Koreans. In October 1937 the colonial regime promulgated the "Pledge for Imperial Subjects" (PIS). The PIS was to be recited at all public meetings whether they were educational, political, religious, cultural, or social. What is more, in 1938 Japan prohibited all academic societies devoted to Korean studies, closing Korean newspapers and magazines altogether. While hastening Japanization attempts through instruction and propaganda, on November 10th 1939, the Government-General also proclaimed the Name Order, by which all Koreans were required to change their family and personal names to Japanese names from April 1940.
Between 1940 and 1944 some 5,600 Koreans were arrested and found guilty as "thought criminals". Since Christianity introduced to Korea Western ideas, not only were a number of Christian leaders persecuted as "thought criminals", but Christian hospitals were closed by the Japanese authorities. By the end of 1941, all Western missionaries had been deported from the Korean peninsula.
During the Second World War, Japan forcibly conscripted and mobilised four million Korean men to fight for Japan and to work in mines, factories, and army camps. One hundred thousand Korean women were forced to become Comfort Women, sexual slaves for Japanese soldiers. In 1944 the Japanese ratified a special Student Labour Mobilisation Ordinance that required students to become part-time labourers. In the final period of Japanese dominion, the Korean people staggered under the burden of war mobilisation and political pressure. It was only the dropping of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 that ended Japanese colonial rule in Korea.
In less than a hundred years, from the end of the nineteenth century until the middle of the twentieth, Korea had experienced no less than four distinct influences; Confucianism (as the traditional way of life), Japanese Imperialism, Western Christianity, and Soviet Communism. These four elements have affected the Korean peninsula forcefully and persistently. Thus during this time, Korean society had to cope not only with foreign pressures but also internal modernisation. Consequently, at the end of the Second World War, the partisan divisions between nationalists and Communists was merely papered over. It was the beginning of a new international conflict, the Cold War.
1.3. A Corrupt Christian Regime and Inefficient Government Table of Contents