Did Japan modernize or Korea? Scholars have debated this question with vigor throughout this century. I do not believe the answer is so black and white. While looking at the history of the colonization, evidence of both should appear. The word colonization alone generally means to move into another people’s land and exploit resources. However, positive results can appear during a negative situation. Regardless of what point of view an individual takes, there is no doubt that Japan has dramatically influenced Korea.
This is common with most nations in the industrialization period or the modernization period. Think about it, every treaty endorsed between nations leads to policy change. The lessons learned from previous agreements, aid in creating new policies. Korea, suggested by Cummings, was a buffer zone between China and Japan.
China acted as the big brother or role model for Korea. Culture, language values and society itself developed by free choices made by the Korean government. However, China was always ready to step in if Korea seemed to get to powerful or weak. Cummings makes this relationship sound as if everything was all right as long as Korea depended on the aid of China and respected China’s dominance of the region. Japan although at times respected China’s power believed that if Korea would consider themselves equal to China Japan could take the role of the regional superpower. Japan also, at times thought they were superior to both China and Japan and should incorporate them both into the Japanese empire and at times had been fairly successful in dong so.
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Many factors allowed the Japanese colonization of Korea. For one, Korea had adopted an isolationist philosophy early in its history. Cummings has said many times that when you landed in Korea the first question asked was “when are you leaving?” In addition, Korean tradition did not place a high value on trade. Cummings went on to say that Korea was the only place that when a profit was made, it was not a joyous occasion.
Do not be misled by that statement that would leave one to think that Korean people were inferior and should be exploited, for I do not believe that at all. The Confucianism heritage did not believe in profit. However, equitability was not forbidden ed. Such led to the tributary and cultural exchanges between Korea and China. These beliefs show that the Korean people were not one to exploit other kingdoms and preferred to be left alone. Japan and China have not always had that same isolationist view, although both of those countries did adopt this philosophy several times in their history, they were very eager in foreign affairs.
With Korea’s, political in turmoil in the 1800’s Korea became an easier target for outside influences. The Korean nobles were trying to gain more power from the royal family. One strategy used to obtain power was to ensure the kings were weak. If a king died prematurely, they selected the weakest family member to replace him.
If it was not the weakest family member then it was one in which specific families could manipulate so that there over all real power increased. As this began to occur other noble families began to align themselves with foreign countries in order solidify or strengthen their political position. These alliances became very influential in foreign policies. For example, when the Americans wanted to open Korean ports, the initial trade agreement was not made with the Korean government but with the Chinese government. Why did this occur? Well there are several reasons. First throughout Korean history Korean’s have always looked up to the Chinese in these types of matters.
Second because of the family alliances mad with China, China was given the right to make these decisions. As stated before family alliances were made with China to strengthen the power of noble families. However, China was not the only country giving aid to Korean nobles. Russia and Japan had their share of supporters too. This diversity and rivalry of support only further weakened the unity of power in Korea.
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When Japan defeated Russia in the Japanese -Russian war, Japan had successfully knocked Russia out of the picture for the time being. Although other European countries had now placed interest on the Korean peninsula there, presence was not a big factor. When Japan showed their strength against Russia, this only left two more powers bidding in Korea. They were the United States and China. The United States had power but not any substantial positioning in Korea.
In addition, a treaty between the United States and Japan was in the works. This treaty stated that Japan stays out of the Philippines and the United States will stay out of Korea, except to continue its mining operations. As proof that America would honor their agreement, they left the responsibility of protecting the mining operations to the Japanese Now the United States was effectively out of contention, this left only China. China was in a state of decline and during the Japanese – Russian war found themselves pushed out of Korea. In addition, with the decline of China, Japan made a treaty with Korea stating that Korea was an independent nation. Followed by those words Japan then stated that all foreign affairs of Korea would be administered by Japan until Korea was mature enough to make these decisions on their own.
By 1910, this treaty and the continual decline of Korean politics led to the complete annexation of Korea into the Japanese Empire. Let us examine the “Modernization” efforts into Korea by Japan. First, there were economic changes. For one, Korea now exported to Japan.
The main trade was rice to Japan in return for manufactured goods. Another change was the land registration policy. Japan invested a lot of time and money to survey Korea and map out who owns what. The basis of ownership was as follows: Korean royal land was transformed or given to the Oriental Development Company, naturally owned by Japan. Korean nobles kept their land as long as they exported the produce to Japan.
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Of course, the peasants cultivated the land. This land registry map is still the format used today. Japan also introduced fertilizing companies to increase the rice production. Also, the Japanese encouraged the building of dams. These two items created a major change in rice production methods and output. The Japanese also changed the way that Korean peasants paid rent.
Although there was no Korean law, there was a tradition that if harvest was bad the landowners would adjust the rent in order to ensure the peasants survival. The Japanese introduced fixed prices. The prices were very high and if the peasant could not pay, they could not live on the land. The Japanese introduced several other new aids into Korea, such as heavy industry, which could not have occurred with out Electricity. The increase and modification of sea ports. Also the Japanese built the infrastructure by building better roads and allowed foreign countries to build railroads within Korea.
Japan also increased and allowed certain foreign countries to mine in Korea and improve the mining techniques. One of the most important things the Japanese introduced to Korea was the central bank. Although primitive, it gave the Korean’s a financial foundation and framework… Besides farming, economic, and tenant changes, the Japanese also changed the social order. The Japanese quickly seized power out of the Korean people’s hands and replaced it with Japanese personnel. The new social order is as shown above: This is a major change for many reasons.
Primarily the elite class is no longer Korean. The Korean people have been relegated to a second class citizen. Another important change in the social structure is the Korean merchant class has now moved up the latter equaled with the peasants. As stated before the Confucianism thought is that merchants were the lowest class of people. Another change to Korean society was education. Education before the occupation was reserved for royalty and nobles.
During colonization, the Japanese mandated education to all Korean people and it was compulsory to take elementary schooling. The curriculum changed as well. The Japanese as part of their assimilation policy taught school in Japanese, not Korean. This led us to other social changes; such as for the first part of colonization, the Japanese prohibited the use of the Korean language. This included conducting business, teaching, writing and publications. Now that we have explored the changes or modernization made in Korea, let us take those same changes compare them to how they may or may not have been used for exploitation.
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In this argument, I will follow the same sequences as the changes presented earlier. First, the exporting of rice to Japan. Although in modern society to sustain economic growth exporting goods is a necessity, the Japanese were not thinking of the Korean economy, but were simply thinking of new ways to eliminate food shortages in an inexpensive manner. Colonizing Korea was the most efficient way to increase food supply in the long term.
The second change was the registering of land policy. It is true that mapping of land ownership benefited the Korean people far more than the Japanese. The intent behind it was not generosity. If one examines the benefits for the Japanese, this will be clearer.
It is noteworthy to point out that this was a lengthy and expensive policy for the Japanese. No one trying to exploit resources is going to go through this policy without reaping benefits. So what are the benefits? By determining who truly owns the Korean land, the Japanese can now devise a plan for exploiting the land. For example, the Oriental Development Company obtained the royal land, while the nobles kept their own land. This map gave legitimate claim to both landowners and now the Oriental Development Company. It was no secret to the Japanese that the nobility prided itself on being landowners, therefore legitimizing their title and deeds helped to ensure loyalty, or at least served as a mechanism to.
Keeping the landowners in power of their old holdings was also an attempt to keep the peasants in the same position, meaning the Japanese were ensuring themselves cultivators of the fields. Japan also introduced fertilizers and dams to the Koreans for the purpose of increasing production. This was not an attempt to make the Koreans rich, or even to lighten their burden. It was a clear case of Japan trying to maximize their investments. The building of dams actually burdened the peasants because they still had to pay their rent with rice as well as build the dams. So this technology actually hindered them more then it benefited them at the time.
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It is true that after the occupation that this technology has helped the Korean people, we must keep a focus on the intent. Traditional Korean society was flexible for poor harvest year as it pertained to rent. The Japanese on the other hand had a fixed rent. Fixed rent hurt the peasants during a bad harvest because there was no saving mechanism in place during the good years.
Although a fixed rent policy is common through out the world today, when a society has to chance of saving it leads to a harsh disadvantage. Obviously one advantage out this system was the development of savings. Electricity was added to the Korean Peninsula, but it was not so that average person could connect a radio or other such devises it was developed to aid heavy industry which in turn gave the Japanese more profit. Al though electricity has benefited Korean society the motives for such development was not to increase the quality of life for Korean people, and was not used for such until long after the Japanese were no longer occupying Korea. It is true that Japan significantly improved the infrastructure and transportation area of Korea. The Japanese wanted to improve transport time and efficiency for troop and merchandise movements through the peninsula, there fore they improved the roads, seaports and developed a railroad system.
These improvements increased the speed while decreasing costs. For the military, it gave Japan another advantage in controlling the Korean population. In economics, it gave Japan a cost cutting factor. Korean exploitation is obvious when one looks at the changes made in social stature.
The restructuring of the social class left the Korean people second class citizens in their own country. The Japanese created two new social classes at the top of the social ladder, which only Japanese people could populate. This class system did not give Korean people any possibility of moving up to a better social stature. The Japanese introduced education to all Korean people, at least at the elementary levels.
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However, teaching classes in Japanese rather than Korean did nothing to aid Korean culture, that only pushed the assimilation policy and place more constraints on rapidly fading Korean heritage. Eventually the Japanese did ease some of the Korean language restrictions, but this was only an attempt to appease the Korean people who were trying to revolt. It had nothing to do with modernization of Korea. I think it is fair to say that the Japanese occupation and annexation developed and shaped Korea n in many distinctive ways. There were technological advantages gained by Korea.
However, exploitation was the main purpose for Japan’s annexation of Korea. The benefits that came out of the occupation were by products needed on order to try to keep Korea under Japanese control, as well as to keep Korea profitable for Japan. Did Japan modernize Korea? No. Did the Japanese aid in the beginning of Korea’s industrialization period? Yes, the infrastructure and technology forced upon Korea definitely gave the Korean people a foundation to industrialization. The problem I have in saying that Japan modernized Korea is that modernization in general has a positive connotation. I do not want to become a victim to the cliches of one race blaming another for certain hardships.
However, I propose this question, Did the Japanese occupation lead to positive modernization of Korea or the divisiveness that has haunted Korea for almost fifty years? I will not say that if Japan did not invade Korea that Korea would be unified today, or am I willing to say that another country would not have tried to colonize Korea. I do believe that Korea when their society was ready would have mobilized themselves to become an industrialized nation. I also believe that when they would have come to that point that they would have enjoyed the same type of success in growth rate that was present from the late 1960’s. The only difference is when would Korea start..