History of Korea (1900-1950)

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The History of Korea from 1900-1950 began with a series of confrontations between a collapsing Joseon dynasty rent by Korean ruling class factionalism, which was then embroiled by significant criminal, economic, military, and then political influences as Japan occupied the Korean peninsula. In Japanese-occupied Korea (1905-1945) a period of repression and genocide of the Korean population occurred which led to the creation of numerous Korean nationalist and independence movements. During the period of the Occupied Korea Japan modernized Korea where it could have the greatest economic benefits, while using the country as a natural resource bank for global Japanese imperialist aims.

The influence increased with the signing of the Korea-Japan Annexation Treaty of 1910. The treaty is quite controversial, as historians question or acknowledge the treaty's provisions, the cicumstances that created the treaty, other matters, that even includes the name of the treaty.

With the treaty, the Japanese Empire eventually enforced her sovereignty over Korea for almost the entire duration of the first half of the century. Japan's defeat in the Second World War in 1945 ended Japanese influnce on the peninsula. Soon, administration of the country turned over to the victors of World War II, supposedly for the sake of peace, but eventually, this lead to the start of another war and the division of the peninsula into two distinct countries.

In Korea, the period from 1910 to 1945 is called either the Period of Japanese Imperial Rule (Ilje Sidae) or by the more ideologically charged expression Period of Imperial Japanese forcible occupation (Ilje Gangjeomgi).

Japanese rule of the Korean peninsula deeply affected Korean cultural and political development and informed post-World War II Korean society up to the present day. The loss of sovereignty was significant in contributing to the growth of Korean nationalism, but cultural and educational policies imposed by the Japanese Empire had deep effects on cultural development and contributed to ideological divisions among the Korean elite. This left a mixed legacy that persists today. Anti-Japanese sentiment is still strong throughout both North and South Korea.

Period of Japanese Rule
Japanese Name
Kanji 日韓併合 or 韓国併合
Hiragana にっかんへいごう or かんこくへいごう
Korean Name
Revised Romanization Ilje Sidae or Ilje Gangjeomgi
McCune-Reischauer Ilche Sidae or Ilche Kangjŏmgi
Hangul 일제시대 or 일제강점기
Hanja 日帝時代 or 日帝强占期


European colonization

Despite early attempts by Japan to gain control of Korea toward the end of the Sengoku period, nineteenth-century European colonialism likely influenced Japan's decision to annex Korea more than Toyotomi Hideyoshi's disastrous invasions of the late sixteenth century. The European powers had partitioned Africa between them, with France and Britain obtaining huge portions. The British had also won concessions from China, while the United States had taken over Hawaii, Alaska (which was a Russian colony before being purchased by the United States in the 1860s), and the Philippines. Moreover, the United States had forcibly opened up Japan in the mid-19th century, introducing the Japanese to previously-unseen technology and sparking the Meiji Restoration. In a world dominated by European colonial powers, Japan felt that it would have to colonize or be colonized; it would have to industrialize or be left out. Given its proximity, Korea was an obvious target for Japanese colonial ambitions.

Unequal treaties

It was a common practice for colonial powers to force advantageous treaties on weaker countries: these were the so-called "Unequal Treaties". For example, following the Opium War of the 1840s, Britain forced China to grant trading rights and land (Hong Kong) to the British Empire. Likewise, the Japanese, after attacking Korea in 1875, required Korea to give Japan extraterritorial rights and to open up three of Korea's ports to Japanese trade in February of 1876. Korea went on to sign treaties with the Britain, the United States, Russia, Italy, and various other countries in the next ten years.

Assassination of Queen Min

In 1895, Queen Min of Joseon was assassinated, allegedly by the Japanese henchmen. The Queen had opposed Japanese interference in Korea, so Ex-Emperor and Japanese minister to Korea are said to have orchestrated the assassination of the Queen. Japanese entered the royal palace, which was under Japanese guard, and pushed aside people trying to defend the Queen. The Queen was then raped and either stabbed to death or burned alive; if she was stabbed to death, her body was cremated. After the assassination, Emperor Kojong of Korea refused to talk with his father or mourn him when he died, as he believed he was involved in the assassination of Queen Min.

(Source: The Korea Times, Descendants of Japanese Involved in Murder Apologize for Assassination of Empress (http://times.hankooki.com/lpage/200505/kt2005051017071968040.htm))

Warning: this paragraph may not be NPOV. This is based on information from a website documenting Japanese atrocities (http://www.kimsoft.com/2002/jp-rape.htm).

Tonghak Rebellion and protests for democracy

1894 and 1895 saw the advent of the Donghak Rebellion in Korea. This rebellion, fueled by religion and anger at the government, began in southwest Korea and spread to central Korea. The Korean government asked for Chinese assistance in ending the revolt. When China sent troops into Korea, Japan presented the Chinese dispatch as a justification send in its own troops to Korea. China and Japan soon went to war in the First Sino-Japanese War, which Japan won, and Japan forced another treaty onto Korea: the Treaty of Shimonoseki (1895). This treaty abolished class distinctions, liberated slaves, ended a Chinese-influenced civil service exam system, and reformed the system of taxation.

So Chae-p'il, who had gone to the United States and learned Western ways, and Protestant missionaries, introduced Western political thought to Korea. Soon after, protesters took to the streets, demanding democratic reforms and an end to Japanese and Russian influence in Korean affairs. The Russians had become involved in Korean politics because the King, did not trust the Japanese, and had gone to the Russian embassy in Seoul in order to run the country in an unimpeded manner. Fear of imprisonment by the Japanese government led So Chae-p'il to leave Korea for the USA again in 1898.

On the road to annexation

Russia gained control of several of Korea's forests and mines after permission was given to Russia to build and operate the Chinese Eastern Railway across Manchuria. Japan and Russia soon engaged in the Russo-Japanese War in 1904 and 1905. Japanese victory in the conflict put an end to Russian influence in Korea. Shortly afterwards, Japan and the United States, in the Taft-Katsura Agreement, agreed that Japan would be given a free hand in Korea, a departure from previous US statements which had led the Korean King to believe that the United States government would support Korean independence. In return, Japan agreed not to interfere in the American-occupied Philippines. Then-US President Theodore Roosevelt: "To be sure, by treaty it was solemnly covenanted that Korea should remain independent. But Korea itself was helpless to enforce the treaty, and it was out of the question to suppose that any other nation, with no interests of its own at stake, would do for the Koreans what they were utterly unable to do for themselves .. .Korea has shown its utter inability to stand by itself." By the end of 1905, Korea was already a Japanese protectorate. In 1907, Emperor Gojong abdicated, and his son became the new Emperor.

Korea annexed

On August 22, 1910, Korea was officially annexed by Japan under a Governor-General of Korea with the Korea-Japan Annexation Treaty signed by Lee Wan-Yong: Prime Minister of Korea, and Masatake Terauchi: Japanese Resident-General in Korea who became the Governor-General of Korea. Korea continued to be ruled by Japan until Japan's surrender to the Allied Forces on 15 August 1945. This treaty was never ratified and lacked the Imperial Korean seal making it unofficial and due to this annexation anti-Japanese sentiment is still strong throughout both North and South Korea.


Modern transport and communication networks were established across the nation in order to facilitate industrial exploitation and mining systems. An industrial base was established in Korea under Japanese rule for the production of mostly weapons and military arms for use in First World War, the Sino-Japanese War of 1937, and the Pacific War. Also, the average lifetime expectation rose from 26 years to 42 years (1945) and the population increased twofold, despite widespread economic poverty and malnutrion caused by the annual consfication of Korean rice by the Japanese government. The average amount of rice taken from Korea to Japan yearly was 1,056,000 sacks (8.33% out of 12,303,000 sacks) from 1912 to 1916, 2,196,000 sacks (14.29% out of 14,101,000 sacks) from 1917 to 1921, 4,342,000 sacks (28.57% out of 14,501,000 sacks) from 1922 to 1926, 6,607,000 sacks (40% out of 15,798,000 sacks) from 1927 to 1931, 8,757,000 sacks (47.06% out of 17,002,000 sacks from 1932 to 1936, and 7,161,000 sacks (36.84% out of 19,410,000 sacks) in 1937. Korea's underground resources were also taken advantage of at this time through the conscription of Koreans to work in mines connected to various railroads, all built by Japanese companies. During the Period of Japanese Rule, trade barriers between Korea and Japan were lifted. Many Korean businesses were unable to compete with their Japanese competitors in the Korean market (they lacked the capital, financial expertise, and low tax rates of their Japanese counterparts); as a result many Korean businesses went bankrupt, and many sectors which had been filled by Korean companies were after the introduction of Japanese rule largely the domain of Japanese-owned businesses.

Japanese landowners

As the Japanese government encouraged its citizens to emigrate to its new Korean dominions for colonization and development, these settlers came and bought many land reforms from the Korean aristocracy who had monopolized the land and farms before 1884. Many Korean farmers were hired by these Japanese, and labored under significantly higher taxation rates than before, and learned slightly more advanced agricultural methods from the Japanese. As such, Korean farmers suffered under the high degree of their labor, which was required in order to supply rice to an increasingly urbanized Japan. The ownership registration process that Japan required of the Koreans made it not only difficult for the Korean aristocracy to hide and monopolize farming land, but also made it impossible for self-employed Korean farms to keep their estates from being exploited and taken by the Eastern Real Estate Corporation, which had been established in the beginning of the colonial era by the Japanese Governor-General to consficate all land of hereditary ownership. Consequently, Japanese landowners succeeded in monopolizing the management of Korean farms and property, very much like their pre-19th century Korean precedessors. This is well demonstrated during the years 1916, 1920, and 1932, during which the ratio of Japanese land ownership started at 36.8%, then rose to 39.8%, and finally jumped to 52.7%, while the ratio of Korean ownership began at 63.2%, dropped to 60.2%, and finally ended up at 47.3%.


The Japanese gathered Koreans to work in Japan in 3 steps. First, the Japanese government permitted recruitment of Korean workers by Japanese companies. The number of Korean employed in thie way is estimated at about 0.6 million people. From 1939 and until the end of World War II in 1945, the Japanese government also offered jobs at local offices in Korea to 10,000 Koreans. Finally, from February 1942, the Japanese government forced tens of thousands of Koreans to move into Japan to forced labor.In a broader sense, #2 and #3 fit into the category of forced labor.

In 1938, 0.8 million Koreans were living in Japan as intentional immigrants. But with many immigrants/workers during WW2, it is estimated that about 2 million Koreans were living in Japan at the end of WW2. (GHQ estimation) In 1946, 1.34 million people returned to Korea (also estimated by GHQ) and 0.65 million Koreans remained in Japan.


Residents of the Korean peninsula, whether ethnic Korean or Japanese, did not have right to vote or right to hold office in the House of Representatives (衆議院). The election law was amended in 1945 to allot 18 seats of the House of Representatives to the Korean peninsula; however, this did not go into effect because of the end of the war later in the same year. However Koreans living on the mainland Japan did have both a right to vote and a right to hold office. Park Sung-Kong (朴春琴) was the first Korean to be elected into the House of Representatives in 1932, and re-elected in 1938. Several members of the Korean Royalty were appointed into the House of Peers (貴族院) including Park Yong-Hyo (朴泳孝) in 1932. 38 Koreans were elected into local assemblies in 1942.


The Korean royalty was incorporated into the Japanese royalty during the Japanese Rule. Lee Eun (李垠), then the prince of the Korean royalty, married Masako (方子) of Nashimotonomiya (梨本宮). Koreans who supported the annexation also were invited into the royalty. Lee Wan-Yong (李完用), the last prime minister of the Korean Empire, was given the title of the Count (later Duke) by Japanese fiat and against Korean resistance. In total 76 Koreans were titled Count, Baron, etc. all of which were later invalidated by the Koreans.

Independence movement

After the former Korean emperor Gojong had died, anti-Japanese rallies took place nationwide beginning on 1 March 1919 (the [[March 1st Movement|1 March (Samil) Movement]]). A declaration of independence was read in Seoul. It is estimated that 2 million people took part in these rallies. The protests were violently suppressed: according to Korean records, 49,948 were arrested, 7,509 killed and 15,961 wounded; according to Japanese figures, 8437 were arrested, 553 killed and 1409 wounded. After the declaration of independence and the subsequent massacres, some of the aspects of Japanese rule considered most objectionable to Koreans were removed. The military police were replaced by a civilian force, and limited press freedom was permitted. Continued anti-Japanese rallies, such as the nationwide uprising of students in November 1929, led to the strengthening of military rule in 1931, after which freedom of the press and expression were curbed. Many witnesses, including Catholic priests reported that Japanese authorities dealt with alleged insurgency severely. When villagers were suspected of hiding rebels, entire villages of people are said to have been herded into public buildings (especially churches) and massacred when the buildings were set on fire. One priest who witnessed the aftermath of a mass killing by Japanese forces termed their actions "utterly savage and against the will of the Holy See." Such events deepened the hostility of many Korean civilians towards the Japanese government.


As the result of the introduction of Japanese school system, more Korean children could receive education. In May 1942, the number of elementary schools built in Korea counted 4,945, the number of the students totaled 1,876,455, and the school enrollment rate went up to 60%, which was about 42 times greater than the number at the beginning of the annexation period. There were also 75 junior high schools, 75 girl's high school (高等女学校), 133 trade schools (実業学校), 145 trade continuation schools (実業補修学校), 16 teacher's schools (師範学校), 24 vocational schools (専門学校), and 1 prep school in May 1944. Kejo Imperial University (京城帝國大學), which is today's Seoul National University and was one of six imperial universities back then, was established in Seoul in 1924. The numbers of Korean graduates from the law school and medical school of the university are as follows:

Law School Medical School
Year Japanese Korean Japanese Korean
1929 43 25
1930 44 25 43 12
1931 39 31 57 14
1932 45 20 44 21
1933 38 27 43 18
1934 36 30 42 29
1935 32 25 50 15
1936 41 38 54 12
1937 48 28 54 22
1938 38 29 58 12
1939 13 12 50 16
1940 30 25 22 4
1941 41 20 50 20
1942 43 21 44 18
1943 41 31 36 24
Total 572 387 674 237

Since the Korean language was officially outlawed (1) (http://www.worldwar2database.com/html/korea.htm), Classes were taught in Japanese during the early years of the annexation period. After March 1st (Samil) Movement in 1919, the education policy was relaxed, allowing the use of Korean language in schools. After the outbreak of World War II, however, this lenient policy was reversed, and school subjects such as Korean history and language were once again removed in favor of their Japanese equivalents. During the entire colonial period, Korean students were required to to pay their respects at a Shinto shrine, swear an oath of loyalty to the Emperor of Japan, and show their support for Japan's "Asia for Asians" policy. Teachers at elementary, middle, and high schools were dressed in military uniforms and armed with swords to enforce the intimidation of students. It was also during the Period of Japanese Rule that Japanese hair length regulations and regular corporal punishment was introduced (these school rules are still applied in modern Korea). More schools were built but as the data shows above, higher education was hindered for most Koreans in their own country.


Western and Japanese culture seeped heavily into Korea during the Period of Japanese Rule, and Korean intellectuals read and discussed European, American, and Japanese writers and artists. Authors tended to discuss social and political agendas, and some looked up to Western ideals such as modernization and mass education, as well as socialism. While many authors engaged in romanticism, the Korean Proletarian Artists' Federation of the 1920s and 1930s criticized the Japanese government and expressed the contempt of many Korean towards the Japanese authorities. The Federation was banned in 1935. In the meantime, the Japanese Governate based in Keijo (modern-day Seoul) rigidly enforced the oppression of Korean culture and language in public, eventually going as far as to ban the use of Korean in the media, outlawing Korean newspapers, encouraging the adoption of Japanese names in favor of their Korean counterparts, demolishing Korean national monuments and edifices, demonizing Korean heroes, degrading the status of Korean culture, and propagating the importance of the Japanese race while emphasizing the inferiority of the Korean race. This eventually led to a revival in nationalistic movements concerning Korea, including in-depth research projects into Hangul, the Korean alphabet, which resulted in the standardization of the Korean writing system by scholars such as Lee Hui Sung and Choi Hyun Bae in the 1930's, as well as underground publications of books about historical Korean figures.

In addition, Japan destroyed the Korean Imperial Palace "Gyungbok Palace" which was originally constructed in 1394 AD, by Jung Dojun a Korean architect. Located near northern Seoul, the palace had endured various reconstructions and eventually ended up as a massive 330 building complex. Standing at 410,000 square meters of land, it was a symbol of magistery for the Korean people and the home of the Royal family. In 1911, the Japanese destroyed all but 10 buildings, leaving no photographic record. Oddly Japan took many pictures of the poor and underprivledged in Korea but none of this historical palace. Currently the area is used as a National Museum, with many Koreans still hoping to resurrect part of the original palace. Archeological work only brings out the 330 foundations for the building, but the exact design, color, height, etc will never truly be determined.

Koreans and the Japanese Imperial Army

During the early years of the Japanese rule, some Koreans volunteered or forced to join the Japanese military, often because joining offered the opportunity to study, and other options were not open for them. Among notable Korean personnel in the Imperial Amy was Hong Shi-Yok (洪思翊), a lieutenant general. Many later gained administrative posts in the government of South Korea, one well-known example being Park Chunghee (朴正熙; 박정희).

Koreans were conscripted into the Japanese Army during the Pacific War. Many Korean students were sent to fight against both Chinese Nationalist and Communist forces during the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). From 1944, all Korean males were obliged to join the Imperial Japanese Army (April 1944) or work in the military industrial sector (September 1944) like other Japanese nationals did. Prior to 1944, 18,000 Koreans passed the examination for induction into the army. (The application ratio was 48.3 in 1943.) Since 1944, about 200,000 had been inducted into the army. The total number of Korean military personnels was 242,341, and 22,182 of them died during WW2. At the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal 148 Koreans were convicted of Class B and C war crimes, 23 of whom were sentenced to death.

1940s and the end

A Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea was established during the Period of Japanese Rule in Shanghai. On December 11, 1941, shortly after the Attack on Pearl Harbor, the government under the leadership of Kim Gu, declared war on Japan. Seven days after the sundering of the friendship Pact, Soviet tanks invaded Korea from Siberia, meeting little to no resistance. Japan surrendered to the Allied Forces on 15 August 1945, ending 35 years of Japanese rule. US forces under General Hodge, would not arrive to southern part of Korea until 8 September. Colonel Dean Rusk proposed splitting Korea at the 38th parallel at an emergency US meeting to determine spheres of influence during this time. Efforts by the "Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea" to establish control over Korea at the conclusion of the war were resisted and ultimately stopped by both United States and Soviet occupation authorities. The US occupation authorities in southern Korea viewed the self-proclaimed government as a communist insurgency and refused to recognize the "Provisional Government". Bitterness over the division of Korea into two halves by Soviet and US occupation authorities is widely felt by many Koreans to this day.


In the case of Korean A-bomb Victims in Japan, during the Second World War, many more Koreans were drafted, enslaved or kidnapped for work at military industrial factories in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There were a total of 70,000 Korean casualties in both cities; 40,000 were killed and 30,000 were exposed to the A-bomb radiation.

During World War II, Japanese officials and local collaborators forcibly kidnapped poor, rural women from Korea (and other nations) to perform sexual services for men in the Japanese military. These victimized women became known as comfort women. Estimates regarding number of Korean women sexually enslaved within this system range from 20,000 to 300,000.

It has been claimed that the Japanese government intentionally destroyed the reports on these Korean women. Some have cited Japanese inventory logs and employees on the battlefield as evidence for this claim: one of the names on the list was of a comfort woman who stated she was forced to prostitute by the Japanese. She was classified as a nurse along with at least a dozen other verified comfort women who were not nurses or secretaries. Currently, the South Korean government is looking into the hundreds of other names on these lists.

See also

External links

ja:韓国併合 ko:일제강점기


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