Japanese Colonialism in Korea

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At the end of Japanese occupation in 1945, Korea emerged onto the world stage as one of Asia’s most industrialized nations. Her people surfaced all at once ecstatic, confused, on the way to prosperous times, clothed in rags, united as Koreans, and yet still divided into societal factions preceding and formed during Japanese occupation. In the decade following her liberation, Korea fought a civil war, leaving the newly once-again-autonomous nation divided on the 38th parallel. As the South grew into “The Miracle on the Han River”, her northern counterpart degenerated drastically into famine, poverty and a grim human rights crisis—all of which persists in the present-day. These two pictures of post-Japan Korea offer a disparity in indicating the effect of Japanese colonialism. Gathering from Hildi Kang’s Under the Black Umbrella, the Korean Park-Kyung Won-centric film The Blue Swallow, and sentiments expressed in the Korean Communist Party’s 1934 “Platform of Action of the Korean Communist Party”, evidence stands to support both the detriments and benefits of colonialism, but the term colonized cannot be compromised in the face of ambivalent results. The fact remains that even in the kindest depictions of Japanese colonialism, Korea was colonized—subdued, sheltered and suppressed for the sake of a people not her own. More a defeated people than equalized subjects, many Koreans found themselves subject to targets of bigotry. Acts of prejudice ranged from petty forms of ill-social reception by the Japanese to larger scale instances of extrajudicial mistreatment. Kim Sobun, a housewife during the later years of Japanese occupation recounted the lower address of “madam”1 she received from a group of her Japanese friends-- a difference slight enough to blend into the everyday, but notably implicative of difference between Japanese and Korean social status (Kang). On a level involving legal authority, the case of Christian “martyrs” well illustrates the ability held by Japanese police authority to instigate extrajudicial arrests and torture filled prison stints in spite of the Japanese constitution’s official “ guarantee [of] freedom of religion” (Kang). These martyrs many-a-time died in jail after long imprisonments involving torture—without official sentences. Such acts were not limited to the numerous protestant leaders and missionaries imprisoned, but extended to various political prisoners and people with suspect ideologies. The legal system endeavored to identify and provide retribution to as many anti-Japanese and potentially anti-Japanese individuals as possible in a skewed manner that ignored the rights guaranteed to Korean citizens as subjects of the empire of Japan. Defiled were many due to their lack of legal rights in these extra judicious proceedings, and also defiled due to the lack of check on Japanese authority over Korea, were many young “comfort women” who, according to the testimony of Kim Pong Suk were “trained” to be sent to the Japanese army under the pretense of “becoming nurses and taking care of the Imperial Japanese soldiers”—a fate Kim providentially and unknowingly avoided, much unlike many of her elementary and middle school classmates (Kang). Many of those interviewed in Kang’s book were in grade school during the last years of Japanese occupation. They learned Japanese since preschool and harbored neither love for nor hatred toward Japan, interacting with Japanese children and hoping to participate in the war effort in only the spirit of innocence patriotism, living what they knew to be the only way of life—a life much different from their elders. The extra judicious proceedings of many Japanese authorities on Korean soil were an injustice to those subjugated by political and juridical force, but just as powerful was the method of subjugation by assimilation. Implemented through the educational system, unofficial—but all the same enforced—decrees to adopt Japanese names, Shinto worship and other...
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