In South Korea, the period is usually described as the "Japanese forced occupation" (Hangul: 일제 강점기; Hanja: 日帝强占期; RR: Ilje Gangjeom-gi). Other terms include "Japanese Imperial Period" (Hangul: 일제시대; Hanja: 日帝時代; RR: Ilje Sidae), "period of the Japanese imperial colonial administration" (Hangul: 일제 식민 통치 시대; Hanja: 日帝植民統治時代; RR: Ilje Sikmin Tongchi Sidae), and "Wae (Japanese) administration" (Hangul: 왜정; Hanja: 倭政; RR: Wae-jeong).
In Japan, the term "Chōsen (Korea) of the Japanese-Governed Period" (日本統治時代の朝鮮, Nippon Tōchi-jidai no Chōsen) has been used.
During the late 18th to late 19th centuries Western governments sought to intercede in and influence the political and economic fortunes of Asian countries through the use of new approaches described by such terms as "protectorate", "sphere of influence", and "concession", which minimized the need for direct military conflict between competing European powers. The newly modernized government of Meiji Japan sought to join these colonizing efforts and the Seikanron ("advocacy of a punitive expedition to Korea") began in 1873. This effort was allegedly fueled by Saigō Takamori and his supporters, who insisted that Japan confront Korea's refusal to recognize the legitimacy of Emperor Meiji as ruler of Japan, as well as for supposed insulting treatment meted out to Japanese envoys attempting to establish new trade and diplomatic relations.
The debate concerned Korea, then in the sphere of influence of Qing China, which certain elements in the Japanese government sought to separate from Chinese influence and establish as a puppet state. Those in favor also saw the issue as an opportunity to find meaningful employment for the thousands of out-of-work samurai, who had lost most of their income and social standing in the new Meiji socioeconomic order. Further, the acquisition of Korea would provide both a foothold on the Asian continent for Japanese expansion and a rich source of raw materials for Japanese industry. The arguments against such designs were outlined in Ōkubo Toshimichi's "7 Point Document", dated October 1873, in which he argued that action against Korea was premature, as Japan itself was in the process of modernization and an expedition would be far too costly for Japan to sustain. Okubo's views were supported by the antiwar faction, which mostly consisted of those returning from the Iwakura Mission in 1873. Iwakura Tomomi, the diplomat who had led the mission, persuaded the emperor to reconsider, thus putting an end to the debate.
Destabilisation of the Korean nation may be said to have begun in the period of Sedo Jeongchi (Hangul: 세도정치; Hanja: 勢道政治; lit. in-law politics) whereby, at the death of King Jeongjo of Joseon (r. 1776–1800), the 10-year-old Sunjo of Joseon (r. 1800–34) ascended the Korean throne, with the true power of the administration residing with his regent, Kim Jo-sun, as a representative of the Andong Kim clan. As a result, the disarray and blatant corruption in the Korean government, particularly in the three main areas of revenues – land tax, military service, and the state granary system – heaped additional hardship on the peasantry. Of special note is the corruption of the local functionaries (Hyangni), who could purchase an appointment as an administrator and so cloak their predations on the farmers with an aura of officialdom. Yangban families, formerly well-respected for their status as a noble class, were increasingly seen as little more than commoners unwilling to meet their responsibilities to their communities. Faced with increasing corruption in the government, brigandage of the disenfranchised (such as the mounted fire brigands, or Hwajok, and the boat-borne water brigands or Sujok) and abuse by the military, many poor village folk sought to pool their resources, such as land, tools, and production, to survive. Despite the government abolishing slavery and burning the records in 1801, increasing numbers of peasants and farmers become involved in gye or "mutual assistance associations".
At this time, Catholic and Protestant missions were well-tolerated among the yangban, most notably in and around the area of Seoul. Animus and persecution by more conservative elements, the Pungyang Jo clan, took the lives of priests and followers known as the Korean Martyrs, dissuading membership by the upper class. Peasants continued to be drawn to Christian egalitarianism, though mainly in urban and suburban areas. Arguably of greater influence were the religious teachings of Choe Je-u, (최제우, 崔濟愚, 1824–64) called Donghak (Eastern Learning), which became especially popular in rural areas. Themes of exclusionism (from foreign influences), nationalism, salvation and social consciousness were set to music, allowing illiterate farmers to understand and accept them more readily. Along with many other Koreans, Choe was alarmed by the intrusion of Christianity and the Anglo-French occupation of Beijing during the Second Opium War. He believed the best way to counter foreign influence in Korea was to introduce democratic and human rights reforms internally. Nationalism and social reform struck a chord among peasant guerrillas, and Donghak spread all across Korea. Progressive revolutionaries organized the peasants into a cohesive structure. Arrested in 1863 following the Jinju uprising led by Yu Kye-chun, Choe was charged with "misleading the people and sowing discord in society". Choe was executed in 1864, sending many of his followers into hiding in the mountains.
Gojong of Korea (r. 1864–1907), enthroned at the age of twelve, succeeded Cheoljong of Joseon (r. 1849–63). King Gojong's father, the Heungseon Daewongun (Yi Ha-ung; 1820–98), ruled as the de facto regent and inaugurated far-ranging reforms to strengthen the central administration. Of special note was the decision to rebuild palace buildings and finance the project through additional levies on the population. Further inherited rule by a few elite ruling families was challenged by the adoption of a merit system for official appointments. In addition, Sowon – private academies – which threatened to develop a parallel system to the corrupt government and enjoyed special privileges and large land-holdings, were taxed and repressed despite bitter opposition from Confucian scholars. Lastly, a policy of steadfast isolationism was enforced to stanch the increasing intrusion of Western thought and technology. He was impeached in 1873 and forced into retirement by the supporters of Empress Myeongseong, also called "Queen Min".
Three years later, on 27 February 1876, the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1876, also known in Japan as the Japanese–Korea Treaty of Amity (日朝修好条規 Nitchō-shūkōjōki, 강화도조약 Ganghwado joyak) was signed. It was designed to open up Korea to Japanese trade, and the rights granted to Japan under the treaty were similar to those granted Western powers in Japan following the visit of Commodore Perry in 1854. However, the treaty ended Korea's status as a protectorate of China, forced open three Korean ports to Japanese trade, granted extraterritorial rights to Japanese citizens, and was an unequal treaty signed under duress (gunboat diplomacy) of the Ganghwa Island incident of 1875.
As a result of the treaty, Japanese merchants came to Busan, which became the center for foreign trade and commerce. Japanese officials then published Korea's first newspaper, Chōsen shinpō (朝鮮新報), in 1881. Chinese language articles were aimed at Korea's educated elite, which advocated for constitutional government, freedom of speech, strong rule of law and legal rights, and Korean-led industrialization. Few of these goals came to pass. Japanese language articles focused on news regarding business, specifically "the stagnant Pusan trade" in rice and other farmed goods, which fluctuated wildly due to weather conditions and the whims of the tax-levying elite class. It ceased publication sometime after May 1882.
The Daewongun remained opposed to any concessions to Japan or the West, helped organize the Mutiny of 1882, an anti-Japanese outbreak against Queen Min and her allies. Motivated by resentment of the preferential treatment given to newly trained troops, the Daewongun's forces, or "old military", killed Japanese training cadre, and attacked the Japanese legation. Japanese diplomats, policemen, students and some Min clan members were also killed during the incident. The Daewongun was restored to power briefly, only to be forcibly taken to China by Chinese troops dispatched to Seoul to prevent further disorder.
In August 1882, the Treaty of Jemulpo (Japan–Korea Treaty of 1882) indemnified the families of the Japanese victims, paid reparations to the Japanese government in the amount of 500,000 yen, and allowed a company of Japanese guards to be stationed at the Japanese legation in Seoul.
The struggle between the Heungseon Daewongun's followers and those of Queen Min was further complicated by competition from a Korean independence faction known as the Progressive Party (Gaehwa-dang), as well as Conservative faction. While the former sought Japan's support, the latter sought China's support. On 4 December 1884, the Progressive Party, assisted by the Japanese, attempted a coup (Gapsin coup) and established a pro-Japanese government under the reigning king, dedicated to the independence of Korea from Chinese suzerainty. However, this proved short-lived, as conservative Korean officials requested the help of Chinese forces stationed in Korea. The coup was put down by Chinese troops, and a Korean mob killed both Japanese officers and Japanese residents in retaliation. Some leaders of the Progressive Party, including Kim Ok-gyun, fled to Japan, while others were executed. For the next 10 years, Japanese expansion into the Korean economy was approximated only by the efforts of czarist Russia.
The outbreak of the Donghak peasant revolution in 1894 provided a seminal pretext for direct military intervention by Japan in the affairs of Korea. In April, 1894, the Korean government asked for Chinese assistance in ending the Donghak peasant revolt. In response, Japanese leaders, citing a violation of Convention of Tientsin as a pretext, decided upon military intervention to challenge China. On May 3, 1894, 1,500 Qing forces appeared in Incheon. The same day, 6,000 Japanese forces also landed in Incheon, producing the Sino-Japanese War. Japan won the First Sino-Japanese War, and China signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895. Among its many stipulations, the treaty recognized "the full and complete independence and autonomy of Korea", thus ending Korea's tributary relationship with the Chinese Qing dynasty, leading to the proclamation of full independence of Joseon Korea in 1895. At the same time, Japan suppressed the Donghak revolution with Korean government forces. With the exception of czarist Russia, Japan now held military predominance in Korea.
The Japanese minister to Korea, Miura Gorō, orchestrated a plot against 43-year-old Queen Min (later given the title of "Empress Myeongseong"), and on 8 October 1895, she was assassinated by Japanese agents. In 2001, Russian reports on the assassination were found in the archives of the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation. The documents included the testimony of King Gojong, several witnesses of the assassination, and Karl Ivanovich Weber's report to Aleksey Lobanov-Rostovsky, the Foreign Minister of Russia, by Park Jonghyo. Weber was the chargé d'affaires at the Russian legation in Seoul at that time. According to a Russian eyewitness, Seredin-Sabatin, an employee of the king, a group of Japanese agents entered Gyeongbokgung, killed Queen Min, and desecrated her body in the north wing of the palace.
When he heard the news, Heungseon Daewongun returned to the royal palace the same day. On 11 February 1896, King Gojong and the crown prince moved from Gyeongbokgung to the Russian legation in Jeong-dong, Seoul, from where they governed for about one year, an event known as the Korea royal refuge at the Russian legation.
After the Royal Refuge, some Korean activists established the Independence Club (독립협회, 獨立協會) in 1896. They claimed that Korea should negotiate with Western powers, particularly Russia, to counterbalance the growing influence of Japan. In 1897, this club had destroyed the 1537 Yeongeunmun, a special gate where Chinese envoys had been escorted and received, and contributed to the construction of Independence Gate and they held regular meetings in the Jongno streets, demanding democratic reforms as Korea became a constitutional monarchy, and an end to Japanese and Russian influence in Korean affairs.
In October 1897, Gojong decided to return to his other palace, Deoksugung, and proclaimed the founding of the Korean Empire. During this period, the Korean government conducted a westernization policy. It was not an enduring reform, however, and the Independence Club was dissolved on 25 December 1898 as the new Emperor Gojong officially announced a prohibition on unofficial congresses.
Having established economic and military dominance in Korea in October 1904, Japan reported that it had developed 25 reforms which it intended to introduce into Korea by gradual degrees. Among these was the intended acceptance by the Korean Financial Department of a Japanese Superintendent, the replacement of Korean Foreign Ministers and consuls by Japanese and the "union of military arms" in which the military of Korea would be modeled after the Japanese military. These reforms were forestalled by the prosecution of the Russo-Japanese War from February 8, 1904, to September 5, 1905, which Japan won, thus eliminating Japan's last rival to influence in Korea. Under the Treaty of Portsmouth, signed in September 1905, Russia acknowledged Japan's "paramount political, military, and economic interest" in Korea.
Two months later, Korea was obliged to become a Japanese protectorate by the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1905 and the "reforms" were enacted, including the reduction of the Korean Army from 20,000 to 1,000 men by disbanding all garrisons in the provinces, retaining only a single garrison in the precincts of Seoul. On January 6, 1905, Horace Allen, head of the American Legation in Seoul reported to his Secretary of State, John Hay, that the Korean government had been advised by the Japanese government "that hereafter the police matters of Seoul will be controlled by the Japanese gendarmerie" and "that a Japanese police inspector will be placed in each prefecture". A large number of Koreans organized themselves in education and reform movements, but Japanese dominance in Korea had become a reality.
In June 1907, the Second Peace Conference was held in The Hague. Emperor Gojong secretly sent three representatives to bring the problems of Korea to the world's attention. The three envoys were refused access to the public debates by the international delegates who questioned the legality of the protectorate convention. Out of despair, one of the Korean representatives, Yi Jun, committed suicide at The Hague. In response, the Japanese government took stronger measures. On July 19, 1907, Emperor Gojong was forced to relinquish his imperial authority and appoint the Crown Prince as regent. Japanese officials used this concession to force the accession of the new Emperor Sunjong following abdication, which was never agreed to by Gojong. Neither Gojong nor Sunjong was present at the 'accession' ceremony. Sunjong was to be the last ruler of the Joseon dynasty, founded in 1392.
In May 1910, the Minister of War of Japan, Terauchi Masatake, was given a mission to finalize Japanese control over Korea after the previous treaties (the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1904 and the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1907) had made Korea a protectorate of Japan and had established Japanese hegemony over Korean domestic politics. On 22 August 1910, Japan effectively annexed Korea with the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1910 signed by Ye Wanyong, Prime Minister of Korea, and Terauchi Masatake, who became the first Japanese Governor-General of Korea.
The treaty became effective the same day and was published one week later. The treaty stipulated:Article 1: His Majesty the Emperor of Korea concedes completely and definitely his entire sovereignty over the whole Korean territory to His Majesty the Emperor of Japan.
Article 2: His Majesty the Emperor of Japan accepts the concession stated in the previous article and consents to the annexation of Korea to the Empire of Japan.
Both the protectorate and the annexation treaties were declared void in the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea because both treaties were obtained under threat of force, and that the Korean Emperor, whose royal assent was required to validate and finalize any legislation or diplomatic agreement under Korean law of the period, refused to sign the document.
This period is also known as Military Police Reign Era (1910–19) in which Police had the authority to rule the entire country. Japan was in control of the media, law as well as government by physical power and regulations.
From around the time of the First Sino-Japanese War, Japanese merchants had been settling in towns and cities in Korea seeking economic opportunity. By 1910, the number of Japanese settlers in Korea reached over 170,000, creating the largest overseas Japanese community in the world at the time. The Japanese leadership's conviction that their country was overcrowded – especially in rural areas – led to encouraging farmers to emigrate.
Many Japanese settlers were interested in acquiring agricultural land in Korea even before Japanese land ownership was officially legalized in 1906. Governor-General Terauchi Masatake facilitated settlement through land reform, which initially proved popular with most of the Korean population. The Korean land ownership system was a system of absentee landlords, only partial owner-tenants and cultivators with traditional (but no legal proof of) ownership. Terauchi's new Land Survey Bureau conducted cadastral surveys that reestablished ownership by basis of written proof (deeds, titles, and similar documents). Ownership was denied to those who could not provide such written documentation; these turned out to be mostly high-class and impartial owners who had only traditional verbal cultivator rights. Japanese landlords included both individuals and corporations such as the Oriental Development Company. Many former Korean landowners, as well as agricultural workers, became tenant farmers, having lost their entitlements almost overnight.
By 1910, an estimated 7 to 8% of all arable land was under Japanese control. This ratio increased steadily; during the years 1916, 1920, and 1932, the ratio of Japanese land ownership increased from 36.8 to 39.8 to 52.7%. The level of tenancy was similar to that of farmers in Japan itself; however, in Korea, the landowners were mostly Japanese, while the tenants were all Koreans. As was often the case in Japan itself, tenants were forced to pay over half their crop as rent, forcing many to send wives and daughters into factories or prostitution so they could pay taxes.
Ironically, by the 1930s, the growth of the urban economy and the exodus of farmers to the cities had gradually weakened the hold of the landlords. With the growth of the wartime economy, the government recognized landlordism as an impediment to increased agricultural productivity, and took steps to increase control over the rural sector through the formation of the Central Agricultural Association, a compulsory organization under the wartime command economy.
In 1925, the Japanese government established the Korean History Compilation Committee (조선사편수회, 朝鮮史編修會), and it was administered by the Governor-General of Korea and engaged in collecting Korean historical materials and compiling Korean history. According to the Doosan Encyclopedia, some mythology was incorporated. The committee said that Korea had once hosted a Japanese colony called Mimana, which has since been debated by academic scholarship, as continued archaeological research in proposed/theorized areas on the Korean Peninsula have yielded no support for this conjecture.
The Japanese government conducted excavations of archeological sites and preserved artifacts found there. The Japanese administration also relocated some artifacts; for instance, a stone monument (hanja: 棕蟬縣神祠碑 ), which was originally located in the Liaodong Peninsula, was taken out of its context and moved to Pyongyang.
The National Palace Museum of Korea, originally built as the "Korean Imperial Museum" in 1908 to preserve the treasures in the Gyeongbokgung, was retained under the Japanese administration but renamed "Museum of the Yi Dynasty" in 1938.
The Governor-General of Korea instituted a law in 1933 in order to preserve Korea's most important historical artifacts. The system established by this law, retained as the present-day National Treasures of South Korea and National Treasures of North Korea, was intended to counter the deleterious effects of the speed of economic development as well as the lack of concern by Japanese developers for Korean cultural heritage on Korean historical artifacts, including those not yet unearthed.
Gyeongbokgung, the Korean royal palace, was demolished during the Japanese occupation. In 1911, shortly after the annexation of Korea by Japan, ownership of land at the palace was transferred to the Japanese Governor-General of Korea. In 1915, on the pretext of holding an exhibition, more than 90% of the buildings were torn down. Following the exhibition, the Japanese leveled whatever still remained and built their administrative headquarters, the Government-General Building (1916–26), on the site.
Restoration of Gyeongbokgung to its former glory has been undertaken since 1990. The Government-General Building was removed in 1996 and Heungnyemun (2001) and Gwanghwamun (2006–10) were reconstructed in their original locations and forms. Reconstructions of the Inner Court and Crown Prince’s residence have also been completed.
A series of anti-Chinese riots erupted throughout Korea in 1931 as a result of public anger against the treatment of Korean migrants in Manchuria. In July, 1931, Koreans attacked the Chinese residents in both Korea and Japan. The Governor-General of Korea announced there were more than 100 dead Chinese victims. The Chinese claimed 146 people were killed, 546 wounded, and a considerable number of properties were destroyed. The worst of the rioting occurred in Pyongyang on July 5. The Chinese further alleged the Japanese authorities in Korea did not take adequate steps to protect the lives and property of the Chinese residents, and blamed the authorities for allowing inflammatory accounts to be published. The Japanese countered that the riots were a spontaneous outburst that was suppressed as soon as possible and offered compensation for the families of the dead. As a result of this riot, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Kijūrō Shidehara, who insisted on Japanese, Chinese, and Korean harmony, lost his position.
Attempts were made to introduce the modern household registration system. This brought about the abolishment of the Korean caste system. In 1911, the proclamation "Matter Concerning the Changing of Korean Names" (朝鮮人ノ姓名改称ニ関スル件) was issued barring ethnic Koreans from taking Japanese names and to retroactively revert the names of Koreans who had already registered under Japanese names back to the original Korean ones. By 1939, however, this position was reversed and Japan's focus had shifted towards cultural assimilation of the Korean people, and Imperial Decree 19 on Korean Civil Affairs (조선민사령; "勅令第19号「朝鮮民事改正令」") went into effect, whereby ethnic Koreans were forced to surrender their Korean family names and adopt Japanese surnames.
Korean migration had increased after World War I and accelerated after 1930; in 1939, there were 981,000 Koreans living in Japan as immigrants.
The combination of immigrants and forced laborers during World War II brought the total to over 2 million by the end of the war, according to estimates by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers. In 1946, some 1,340,000 ethnic Koreans were repatriated to Korea, with 650,000 choosing to remain in Japan, where they now form the Zainichi Korean community. A 1982 survey by the Korean Youth Association showed that conscripted laborers accounts for 13 percent of first-generation Zainichi Koreans.
From 1939, labor shortages as a result of conscription of Japanese males for the military efforts of World War II led to organized official recruitment of Koreans to work in mainland Japan, initially through civilian agents, and later directly, often involving elements of coercion. As the labor shortage increased, by 1942, the Japanese authorities extended the provisions of the National Mobilization Law to include the conscription of Korean workers for factories and mines on the Korean peninsula, Manchukuo, and the involuntary relocation of workers to Japan itself as needed.
Of the 5,400,000 Koreans conscripted, about 670,000 were taken to mainland Japan (including Karafuto Prefecture, present-day Sakhalin, now part of Russia) for civilian labor. Those who were brought to Japan were often forced to work under appalling and dangerous conditions. Apparently Koreans were better treated than were laborers from other countries, but still their work hours, food and medical care were such that large numbers died. This is clear from the 60,000 Korean laborers that died in Japan out of the near 670,000 that were brought there in the years 1939 to 1945 (line 119a). The total deaths of Korean forced laborers in Korea and Manchuria is estimated to be between 270,000 and 810,000. The 43,000 ethnic Koreans in Karafuto, which had been occupied by the Soviet Union just prior to Japan's surrender, were refused repatriation to either mainland Japan or the Korean peninsula, and were thus trapped in Sakhalin, stateless; they became the ancestors of the Sakhalin Koreans.
Most Korean atomic-bomb victims in Japan were drafted for work at military industrial factories in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the name of humanitarian assistance, Japan paid South Korea four billion yen (approx. thirty five million dollars) and built a welfare center for those suffering from the effects of the atomic bomb.
Japan did not draft ethnic Koreans into its military until 1944 when the tide of WW II turned dire. Until 1944, enlistment in the Imperial Japanese Army by ethnic Koreans was voluntary, and highly competitive, as illustrated on the chart to the right. From a 14% acceptance rate in 1938, it dropped to a 2% acceptance rate in 1943 while the raw number of applicants increased from 3000 per annum to 300,000 in just five years during World War II.
Korea produced seven generals and numerous field grade officers (Colonels, Lieutenants and majors) during 35 years of colonial governance by Japan, despite institutionalized discrimination.
The first and the best-known general was Lieutenant General and Crown Prince Yi Un. The other six were graduates of the Imperial Japanese Army Academy. They were: Lieutenant General Jo Seonggeun; Major General Wang Yushik; Lieutenant General Viscount Yi Beyongmu; Major General Yi Heedu; Major General Kim Eungseon (also military aide and personal guard to Prince Yi Un); and Lieutenant General Hong Sa-ik, who was executed for war crimes committed while commanding the prison camps in the southern Philippines in 1944-1945.
Other Japanese Army officers of South Korean origin moved onto successful careers in the post-occupation period. Examples include Park Chung-hee, who became president of South Korea, Chung Il-kwon (정일권,丁一權), prime minister from 1964 to 1970, and Paik Sun-yup, South Korea's youngest general, famous for his defense during the Battle of Pusan Perimeter during the Korean War. The first ten of the Chiefs of Army Staff of South Korea graduated from the Imperial Japanese Army Academy and none from the Korean Liberation Army.
Officer cadets had been joining the Japanese Army since before the Annexation by attending the Imperial Japanese Army Academy. Enlisted Soldier recruitment began as early as 1938, when the Japanese Kwantung Army in Manchuria began accepting pro-Japanese Korean volunteers into the army of Manchukuo, and formed the Gando Special Force. Koreans in this unit specialized in counter-insurgency operations against communist guerillas in the region of Jiandao. The size of the unit grew considerably at an annual rate of 700 men, and included such notable Koreans as General Paik Sun-yup, who served in the Korean War. Historian Philip Jowett noted that during the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, the Gando Special Force "earned a reputation for brutality and was reported to have laid waste to large areas which came under its rule."
Starting in 1944, Japan started the conscription of Koreans into the armed forces. All Korean males were drafted to either join the Imperial Japanese Army, as of April 1944, or work in the military industrial sector, as of September 1944. Before 1944, 18,000 Koreans passed the examination for induction into the army. Koreans provided workers to mines and construction sites around Japan. The number of conscripted Koreans reached its peak in 1944 in preparation for war. From 1944, about 200,000 Korean males were inducted into the army.
During World War II, American soldiers frequently encountered Korean soldiers within the ranks of the Imperial Japanese Army. Most notably was in the Battle of Tarawa, which was considered during that time to be one of the bloodiest battles in U.S. military history. A fifth of the Japanese garrison during this battle consisted of Korean laborers who were trained in combat roles. Like their Japanese counterparts, many of them were killed.
The Japanese, however, did not always believe they could rely on Korean laborers to fight alongside them. In Prisoners of the Japanese, author Gaven Daws wrote, "[O]n Tinian there were five thousand Korean laborers and so as not to have hostiles at their back when the Americans invaded, the Japanese killed them."
After the war, 148 Koreans were convicted of Class B and C Japanese war crimes, 23 of whom were sentenced to death (compared to 920 Japanese who were sentenced to death), including Korean prison guards who were particularly notorious for their brutality during the war. The figure is relatively high considering that ethnic Koreans made up a very small percentage of the Japanese military. Justice Bert Röling, who represented the Netherlands at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, noted that "many of the commanders and guards in POW camps were Koreans – the Japanese apparently did not trust them as soldiers – and it is said that they were sometimes far more cruel than the Japanese." In his memoirs, Colonel Eugene C. Jacobs wrote that during the Bataan Death March, "the Korean guards were the most abusive. The Japs didn't trust them in battle, so used them as service troops; the Koreans were anxious to get blood on their bayonets; and then they thought they were veterans."
Korean guards were sent to the remote jungles of Burma, where Lt. Col. William A. (Bill) Henderson wrote from his own experience that some of the guards overlooking the construction of the Burma Railway "were moronic and at times almost bestial in their treatment of prisoners. This applied particularly to Korean private soldiers, conscripted only for guard and sentry duties in many parts of the Japanese empire. Regrettably, they were appointed as guards for the prisoners throughout the camps of Burma and Siam." The highest-ranking Korean to be prosecuted after the war was Lieutenant General Hong Sa-ik, who was in command of all the Japanese prisoner-of-war camps in the Philippines.
Following the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the impending overrun of the Korean peninsula by Russian forces, Japan surrendered to the Allied forces on 15 August 1945, ending 35 years of Japanese occupation.
American forces under General John R. Hodge arrived at the southern part of the Korean Peninsula on 8 September 1945, while the Soviet Army and some Korean Communists had stationed themselves in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. U.S. Colonel Dean Rusk proposed to Chischakov, the Soviet military administrator of northern Korea, that Korea should be split at the 38th parallel. This proposal was made at an emergency meeting to determine postwar spheres of influence, which led to the division of Korea.
After the liberation of Korea from Japanese rule, the "Name Restoration Order" was issued on 23 October 1946 by the United States Army Military Government in Korea south of the 38th parallel, enabling Koreans to restore their names if they wished. Many Koreans in Japan chose to retain their Japanese names, either to avoid discrimination, or later, to meet the requirements for naturalization as Japanese citizens.
Upon Emperor Gojong's death, anti-Japanese rallies took place nationwide, most notably the March 1st Movement of 1919. A declaration of independence was read in Seoul. It is estimated that 2 million people took part in these rallies. The Japanese violently suppressed the protests: According to Korean records, 46,948 were arrested, 7,509 killed and 15,961 wounded; according to Japanese figures, 8,437 were arrested, 553 killed and 1,409 wounded. About 7,000 people were killed by Japanese police and soldiers during the 12 months of demonstrations.
After suppression of the uprising, some aspects of Japanese rule considered most objectionable to Koreans were removed. The military police were replaced by a civilian force, and freedom of the press was permitted to a limited extent. Two of the three major Korean daily newspapers, the Dong-a Ilbo and the Chosun Ilbo, were established in 1920.
Objection to Japanese rule over Korea continued, and the March 1st Movement was a catalyst for the establishment of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea by Korean émigrés in Shanghai on 13 April 1919. The modern South Korean government considers this Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea the de jure representation of the Korean people throughout the period of Japanese rule.
The Japanese occupation of Korea after annexation was largely uncontested militarily by the smaller, poorly armed, and poorly trained Korean army. Many former soldiers and other volunteers left the Korean peninsula for Manchuria and Primorsky Krai in Russia. Koreans in Manchuria formed resistance groups known as Dongnipgun (Liberation Army), which traveled across the Korean-Chinese border, using guerrilla warfare tactics against Japanese forces. The Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1932 and subsequent Pacification of Manchukuo deprived many of these groups of their bases of operation and supplies. Many were forced to either flee to China, or to join the Red Army-backed forces in eastern Russia. One of the guerrilla groups was led by the future leader of communist North Korea, Kim Il-sung, in Japanese controlled Manchuria. Kim Il-Sung’s time as a guerrilla leader was formative upon his political ideology once he came to power.
Within Korea itself, anti-Japanese rallies continued on occasion. Most notably, the Gwangju Students Anti-Japanese Movement on 3 November 1929 led to the strengthening of Japanese military rule in 1931, after which freedom of the press and freedom of expression were curbed. Many witnesses, including Catholic priests, reported that Japanese authorities dealt with insurgency severely. When villagers were suspected of hiding rebels, entire village populations are said to have been herded into public buildings (especially churches) and massacred when the buildings were set on fire. In the village of Jeam-ni, Hwaseong, for example, a group of 29 people were gathered inside a church which was then set afire. Such events deepened the hostility of many Korean civilians towards the Japanese government.
On 10 December 1941, the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea, under the presidency of Kim Gu, declared war on Japan in Chongqing in china evacuation destination. The Korean Provisional Government organized Korean resistance groups "Korean Liberation Army". However, they only fought against Japan under the National Revolutionary Army. Afterwards, they became leaders of South Korea. On the other hand, Kim Il-sung led tens of thousands of Koreans volunteered for the National Revolutionary Army and the People's Liberation Army. The communist-backed Korean Volunteer Army (KVA, 조선의용군, 朝鮮義勇軍) was established in Yenan, China, outside of the Provisional Government's control, from a core of 1,000 deserters from the Imperial Japanese Army. After the Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation, the KVA entered Manchuria, where it recruited from the ethnic Korean population and eventually became the Korean People's Army of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Economic output in terms of agriculture, fishery, forestry and industry increased by tenfold from 1910 to 1945 as illustrated on the chart to the right. This phenomenal rate of development was unexpected even by the Japanese. Princeton's Atul Kohli concluded that the economic development model the Japanese instituted played the crucial role in Korean economic development, a model that was maintained by the Koreans in the post-World War II era.
Randall S. Jones wrote that "economic development during the colonial period can be said to have laid the foundation for future growth in several respects." According to Myung Soo Cha of Yeungnam University, "the South Korean developmental state, as symbolized by Park Chung Hee, a former officer of the Japanese Imperial army serving in wartime Manchuria, was closely modeled upon the colonial system of government. In short, South Korea grew on the shoulders of the colonial achievement, rather than emerging out of the ashes left by the Korean War, as is sometimes asserted."
There were some modernization efforts by the late 19th century prior to annexation. Seoul became the first city in East Asia to have electricity, trolley cars, water, telephone, and telegraph systems all at the same time, but Korea remained a largely backward agricultural economy around the start of the 20th century. "Japan's initial colonial policy was to increase agricultural production in Korea to meet Japan's growing need for rice. Japan also began to build large-scale industries in Korea in the 1930s as part of the empire-wide program of economic self-sufficiency and war preparation." In terms of exports, "Japanese industry as a whole gained little ... and this is certainly true for the most important manufacturing sector, cotton textiles. This export trade had little impact, positive or negative, on the welfare of Japanese consumer." Likewise in terms of the profitability of Japanese investors: colonial Korea made no significant impact.
According to scholar Donald S. Macdonald, "for centuries most Koreans lived as subsistence farmers of rice and other grains and satisfied most of their basic needs through their own labor or through barter. The manufactures of traditional Korea – principally cloth, cooking and eating utensils, furniture, jewelry, and paper – were produced by artisans in a few population centers."
However, under Japanese rule, many Korean resources were only utilized for Japan. Economist Suh Sang-chul points out that the nature of industrialization during the period was as an "imposed enclave," so the impact of colonialism was trivial. Another scholar, Song Byung-nak, states that the economic condition of average Koreans was aggravated during the period despite the economic growth. Most Koreans at the time could access only a primary school education under restriction by the Japanese, and this prevented the growth of an indigenous entrepreneurial class. A 1939 statistic shows that among the total capital recorded by factories, about 94 percent was Japanese-owned. While Koreans owned about 61 percent of small-scale firms that had 5 to 49 employees, about 92 percent of large-scale enterprises with more than 200 employees were Japanese-owned.
The Japanese government created a system of colonial mercantilism, requiring construction of significant transportation infrastructure on the Korean Peninsula for the purpose of extracting and exploiting resources such as raw materials (timber), foodstuff (mostly rice and fish), and mineral resources (coal and iron ore). The Japanese developed port facilities and an extensive railway system which included a main trunk railway from the southern port city of Pusan through the capital of Seoul and north to the Chinese border. This infrastructure was intended not only to facilitate a colonial mercantilist economy, but was also viewed as a strategic necessity for the Japanese military to control Korea and to move large numbers of troops and materials to the Chinese border at short notice.
From the late 1920s and into the 1930s, particularly during the tenure of Japanese Governor-General Kazushige Ugaki, concentrated efforts were made to build up the industrial base in Korea. This was especially true in the areas of heavy industry, such as chemical plants and steel mills, and munitions production. The Japanese military felt it would be beneficial to have production closer to the source of raw materials and closer to potential front lines for a future war with China.
Lee Young-hoon, a professor at Seoul National University states that less than 10% of arable land actually came under Japanese control and rice was normally traded, not robbed. He also insists that Koreans' knowledge about the era under Japanese rule is mostly made up by later educators. Many of Lee's arguments, however, have been contested.
In 1907, the Japanese government passed the Newspaper Law which effectively prevented the publication of local papers. Only the Korean-language newspaper Taehan Maeil Sinbo (大韓每日新報) continued its publication, because it was run by a foreigner named Ernest Bethell. For the first decade of colonial rule, therefore, there were no Korean-owned newspapers whatsoever, although books were steadily printed and there were several dozen Korean-owned magazines. In 1920 these laws were relaxed, and in 1932 Japan eliminated a significant double standard which had been making Korean publication significantly more difficult than Japanese publication. Even with these relaxed rules, however, the government still seized newspapers without warning: there are over a thousand recorded seizures between 1920 and 1939. Revocation of publishing rights was relatively rare, and only three magazines had their rights revoked over the entire colonial period. In 1940, as the Pacific War increased in intensity, Japan shut down all Korean language newspapers again.
Following the annexation of Korea, the Japanese administration introduced a free public education system modeled after the Japanese school system with a pyramidal hierarchy of elementary, middle and high schools, culminating at the Keijō Imperial University in Seoul. As in Japan itself, education was viewed primarily as an instrument of "the Formation of the Imperial Citizen" (황민화; 皇民化) with a heavy emphasis on moral and political instruction.
During colonial times, elementary schools were known as "Citizen Schools" (국민학교; 國民學校; gungmin hakgyo) as in Japan, as a means of forming proper "Imperial Citizens" (皇國民; Hwanggungmin) from early childhood. Elementary schools in South Korea today are known by the name chodeung hakgyo (초등학교; 初等學校) ("elementary school") as the term gungmin hakgyo has recently become a politically incorrect term.
The public curriculum for most of the period was taught by Korean educators under a hybrid system focused on assimilating Koreans into the Japanese empire while emphasizing Korean cultural education. This focused on the history of the Japanese Empire as well as inculcating reverence for the Imperial House of Japan and instruction in the Imperial Rescript on Education.
Integration of Korean students in Japanese language schools and Japanese students in Korean language schools was discouraged but steadily increased over time. While official policy promoted equality between ethnic Koreans and ethnic Japanese, in practice this was rarely the case. Korean history and language studies would be taught side by side with Japanese history and language studies until the early 1940s under a new education ordinance that saw wartime efforts increased and the hybrid system slowly weakened.
One point of view is that, although the Japanese education system in Korea was detrimental towards the colony's cultural identity, its introduction of public education as universal was a step in the right direction to improve Korea's human capital. Towards the end of Japanese rule, Korea saw elementary school attendance at 38 percent. Children of elite families were able to advance to higher education, while others were able to attend technical schools, allowing for "the emergence of a small but important class of well-educated white collar and technical workers ... who possessed skills required to run a modern industrial economy." The Japanese education system ultimately produced hundreds of thousands of educated South Koreans who later became "the core of the postwar political and economic elite."
Another point of view is that it was only after the end of Japanese rule with World War II that Korea saw true, democratic rise in public education as evidenced by the rise of adult literacy rate from 22 percent in 1945 to 87.6 percent by 1970 and 93% by the late 1980s. Though free public education was made available for elementary schools during Japanese rule, Korea as a country did not experience secondary-school enrollment rates comparable to those of Japan prior to the end of World War II.
In the initial phase of Japanese rule, students were taught in Korean in public schools established by ethnic Korean officials who worked for the colonial government. While prior to this schools in Korea had used mostly Hanja, during this time Korean came to be written in a mixed Hanja–Korean script, where most lexical roots were written in Hanja and grammatical forms in Korean script. Korean textbooks from this era included excerpts from traditional Korean stories such as Heungbujeon (흥부전).
In 1921, government efforts were strengthened to promote Korean media and literature throughout Korea and also in Japan. The Japanese government also created incentives to educate ethnic Japanese students in the Korean language. As a response, the Korean Language Society was created by ethnic Koreans. In 1928, as the assimilation policy began to ramp up, the first Hangul Day (October 9) was celebrated to commemorate the Korean alphabet.
The Japanese administrative policy shifted more aggressively towards cultural assimilation in 1938 (Naisen ittai) with a new government report advising reform to strengthen the war effort. This left less room for Korean language studies and by 1943 all Korean language courses had been phased out. Although the government report advised further, more radical reform, the 10-year plan would never fully go into effect.
The Japanese rule of Korea also resulted in the theft of tens of thousands of cultural artifacts to Japan. The issue over where these articles should be located began during the U.S. occupation of Japan. In 1965, as part of the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea, Japan returned roughly 1,400 artifacts to Korea, and considered the diplomatic matter to have been resolved. Korean artifacts are retained in the Tokyo National Museum and in the hands of many private collectors.
According to the South Korean government, there are 75,311 cultural artifacts that were taken from Korea. Japan has 34,369, the United States has 17,803, and France had several hundred, which were seized in the French campaign against Korea and loaned back to Korea in 2010 without an apology. In 2010, Prime Minister of Japan Naoto Kan expressed "deep remorse" for the removal of artifacts, and arranged an initial plan to return the Royal Protocols of the Joseon Dynasty and over 1,200 other books, which was carried out in 2011.
Japan sent anthropologists to Korea who took photos of the traditional state of Korean villages, serving as evidence that Korea was "backwards" and needed to be modernized.
As Japan established the puppet state of Manchukuo, Korea became more vital to the internal communications and defense of the Japanese empire against the Soviet Union. Japan decided in the 1930s to make the Koreans become more loyal to the Emperor by requiring Korean participation in the State Shinto devotions, and by weakening the influences of both Christianity and traditional religion.
The primary building of Gyeongbokgung palace was demolished and the Japanese General Government Building was built in its exact location. The Japanese colonial authorities destroyed 85 percent of all the buildings in Gyeongbokgung. Sungnyemun, the gate in Seoul that was an iconic symbol of Korea, was altered by the addition of large, Shinto-style golden horns near the roofs (later removed by the South Korean government after independence).
Protestant missionary efforts in Asia were nowhere more successful than in Korea. American Presbyterians and Methodists arrived in the 1880s and were well received. In the days Korea was under Japanese control, Christianity became in part an expression of nationalism in opposition to Japan's efforts to promote the Japanese language and the Shinto religion. In 1914, out of 16 million people, there were 86,000 Protestants and 79,000 Catholics; by 1934 the numbers were 168,000 and 147,000. Presbyterian missionaries were especially successful. Harmonizing with traditional practices became an issue. The Catholics tolerated Shinto rites. The Protestants developed a substitute for Confucian ancestral rites by merging Confucian-based and Christian death and funerary rituals.
Missionaries, however, were alarmed at the rise in communist activity during the 1920s. Communist literature was effectively banned in Korea at this time, but it was sometimes smuggled into the country disguised as Christian literature, often addressed to missionaries to further avoid suspicion. Communist concepts, such as class struggle, and its partner nationalist movement were resonating well with some of the peasants and lower-class citizens of colonial-era Korea; this was worrying to some missionaries because of communism's atheist components. At one point, communist students in Seoul held an "anti-Sunday School conference" and loudly protested religion in front of churches. This protest renewed Japanese governmental interest in censorship of communist ideas and language.
According to South Korean accounts, many Koreans became victims of Japanese brutalities during the colonial period. Korean villagers hiding resistance fighters were dealt with harshly, often with summary execution, rape, forced labour, and looting. Starting on 1 March 1919, an anti-Japanese demonstration continued to spread, and as the Japanese national and military police could not contain the crowds, the army and even the navy were also called in. There were several reports of atrocities. In one instance, Japanese police in the village of Jeam-ri, Hwaseong herded everyone into a church, locked it, and burned it to the ground. They also shot through the burning windows of the church to ensure that no one made it out alive. Many participants of the March 1st Movement were subjected to torture and execution.
Although officially voluntary, and initially resisted by the Japanese Colonial government, convinced by the Pro-Japanese elites of their society, 80% of Koreans voluntarily changed their name to Japanese in 1940. Many community leaders urged the adoption of Japanese names to make it easy for their children to succeed in society and overcome discrimination.
A study conducted by the United States Library of Congress states that "the Korean culture was quashed, and Koreans were required to speak Japanese and take Japanese names". This name change policy, called Changssi-gaemyeong (창씨개명; 創氏改名), was part of Japan's assimilation efforts. This was heavily resisted by the Korean people. Those Koreans who retained their Korean names were not allowed to enrol at school, were refused service at government offices, and were excluded from the lists for food rations and other supplies. Faced with such compulsion, many Koreans ended up complying with the Name Change Order. Such a radical policy was deemed to be symbolically significant in the war effort, binding the fate of the colony with that of the empire. A number of prominent ethnic Koreans working for the Japanese government, including General Hong Sa-ik, insisted on keeping their Korean names. Another ethnic Korean, Park Chun-Geum (박춘금, 朴春琴), was elected as a member of the Lower House from the Tokyo Third District in the general election in 1932 and served two terms without changing his Korean name, but has been registered as chinilpa by the current Republic of Korea government.
During World War II, about 450,000 Korean male laborers were involuntarily sent to Japan. Comfort women, who served in Japanese military brothels as a form of sexual slavery, came from all over the Japanese empire. They numbered somewhere from 10,000 to 200,000, and they included an unknown number of Koreans. However, 200,000 is considered to be a conservative number by modern historians, and up to 500,000 comfort women are estimated to be taken. These women faced an average of 29 men and up to 40 men per day, according to one surviving comfort women. However, of the 500,000, less than 50 are alive today. Comfort women were often recruited from rural locales with the promise of factory employment; business records, often from Korean subcontractees of Japanese companies, showed them falsely classified as nurses or secretaries. There is evidence that the Japanese government intentionally destroyed official records regarding comfort women.
In 2002, South Korea started an investigation of Japanese collaborators. Part of the investigation was completed in 2006 and a list of names of individuals who profited from exploitation of fellow Koreans were posted. The collaborators not only benefited from exploiting their countrymen, but the children of these collaborators benefited further by acquiring higher education with the exploitation money they had amassed.
The "Truth Commission on Forced Mobilization under the Japanese Imperialism Republic of Korea" investigated the received reports for damage from 86 people among the 148 Koreans who were accused of being the level B and C war criminals while serving as prison guards for the Japanese military during World War II. The commission, which was organized by the South Korean government, announced that they acknowledge 83 people among them as victims. The commission said that although the people reluctantly served as guards to avoid the draft, they took responsibility for mistreatment by the Japanese against prisoners of war. Lee Se-il, leader of the investigation, said that examination of the military prosecution reports for 15 Korean prison guards, obtained from The National Archives of the United Kingdom, confirmed that they were convicted without explicit evidence.
Koreans, along with many other Asians, were experimented on in Unit 731, a secret military medical experimentation unit in World War II. The victims who died in the camp included at least 25 victims from the former Soviet Union and Korea. General Shiro Ishii, the head of Unit 731, revealed during the Tokyo War Crime Trials that 254 Koreans were killed in Unit 731. Some historians estimate up to 250,000 total people were subjected to human experiments. A Unit 731 veteran attested that most that were experimented on were Chinese, Koreans and Mongolians.
Colonial Korea was subject to the same Leprosy Prevention Laws of 1907 and 1931 as the Japanese home islands. These laws directly and indirectly permitted the segregation of patients in sanitariums, where forced abortions and sterilization were common. The laws authorized punishment of patients "disturbing the peace," as most Japanese leprologists believed that vulnerability to the disease was inheritable. In Korea, many leprosy patients were also subjected to hard labor.
Many Koreans were drafted for work at military industrial factories in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. According to the secretary-general of a group named Peace Project Network, "there were a total of 70,000 Korean victims in both cities". Japan paid South Korea 4 billion yen and built a welfare center in the name of humanitarian assistance, not as compensation to the victims.
Collaborators of the Imperial Japanese Army were prosecuted in the postwar period as Chinilpa, or "friendly to Japanese". In 2006, South Korean president, Roh Moo-hyun, appointed an investigation commission into the issue of locating descendants of pro-Japanese collaborators from the times of the 1890s until the collapse of Japanese rule in 1945.
In 2010, the commission concluded its five-volume report. As a result, the land property of 168 South Korean citizens has been confiscated by the government, these citizens being descendants of pro-Japanese collaborators.Madam Oh, 1965 South Korean film
Femme Fatale: Bae Jeong-ja, 1973 South Korean film
Mulberry, 1986 South Korean film
Modern Boy, 2008 South Korean film
My Way, 2011 South Korean film
Bridal Mask, 2012 South Korean TV show
Assassination, 2015 South Korean film
The Silenced, 2015 South Korean film
Spirits' Homecoming, 2016 South Korean film
The Handmaiden, 2016 South Korean film
The Last Princess, 2016 South Korean film
The Age of Shadows, 2016 South Korean film
Love Lies, 2016 South Korean film
Below is a list of Governors-General of Korea under Japanese rule:Terauchi Masatake (1910–1916)
Hasegawa Yoshimichi (1916–1919)
Saitō Makoto (1919–1927, 1929–1931)
Yamanashi Hanzō (1927–1929)
Kazushige Ugaki (1927, 1931–1936)
Jirō Minami (1936–1942)
Kuniaki Koiso (1942–1944)
Nobuyuki Abe (1944–1945)