24 November 2005

Foreign Dispatches on Korea's Colonial Economy

Abiola Lapite at Foreign Dispatches has posted a long and provocative essay on the Korean economy under Japanese rule, comparing it favorably against the record of British colonialism in Africa.
Although it is hardly ever mentioned today, the truth was that the Japanese could so take for granted Korean complicity in their aggression in Manchuria that the Japanese government was willing to heavily subsidize the settlement of Korean rice farmers in the region. For every anti-Japanese nationalist operating behind Chinese or Soviet lines (and nearly all of whom were communists), there were probably 5 to 10 Koreans active in doing their bit to prove their loyalty to Imperial Japan while advancing their personal prospects. As with French claims of resistance after the war, most post-war claims of resistance to Japanese rule in Korea are nothing but self-serving lies, which is the reason why the attempt at a "collaborator" witch-hunt by Roh Moo-hyun's Uri Party was so laughable: it would have meant the indictment of pretty much the entire class of educated or enterprising Koreans who existed prior to the end of Japanese rule.

In closing, let me make clear that I don't wish to imply that the Japanese annexation of Korea was done as an act of charity or that any number of material improvements to a people's standard of living justifies conquering them, nor am I trying to claim that Japan's rule wasn't harsh, repressive and discriminatory, which by any reasonable definition it was. The point of all of the above is that the mainstream take on the colonial period amongst the Korea populace today is horrendously misleading and pretty much designed to keep anti-Japanese sentiments aflame rather than to get at the truth of Korea's colonial experience: to give but one example of how distorted Korean history is, Japanese rule was not a uniquely brutal phase of Korea's history, with torture and repression both long predating and following on the period when Japan ran the country. If Koreans want the Japanese to be more honest about the past, the least they can do is to take their own advice rather than perpetuating a picture of history so blatantly false it only serves to bolster the credibility of Japan's extreme right: if you discover that you've been lied to on a grand scale by one of two parties, it's only natural to suspect that the other side is much closer to the truth.

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