Monday, March 13, 2006

Badly Defended Apologist Views

Regarding the above picture from this post, this comment was posted:
That picture was taken after the Japanese forced modernization on Korea after taking over, and also made the Koreans take care of their cultural heritage.
That picture was also taken before the USAF forced urban renewal upon 69 Japanese cities in the spring and summer of 1945, just to help everyone place it in within a certain time period.

The commenter also left a link to a post about how much good Japan did for Korea between 1910-1945, at a blog called Occidentalism. What follows is my response to a few of the assertions made in the post, as commenting on the post at the blog is no longer possible.

Before you read the post, however, you may want to read Andrei Lankov's brief outline of the colonial period; and you especially should read Plunge's well-written piece about the contribution Japan made to Korea's economic growth (or lack thereof), as the linked-to post seems to have Plunge's piece in its sights. Plunge argues, among other things, that Korea was well on it's way to developing with the aid of many western nations, and that Japan in fact derailed that development to institute its own form of modernization.

Our commenter, in his post, later refers to Plunge's writing as "a flurry of wild assertions and unforgivable deception by omission," which, ironically, is a very good description of his own writing.

If you look at the top of his post, you'll be treated to a photo of a rather pathetic looking Korean person, followed by this caption:

This was the true state of Koreans in the Choson Era.

I'm impressed he found one photo to sum up every aspect of life in Korea over a 500 year period. I can do that too.

How happy they all look, even though they're hard at work. Of course, I'd have to be lacking in critical thinking abilities to make a sweeping statement about this photo, saying that it represented the lot of all Koreans at that time. Percival Lowell, an American who came to Korea in 1883 and served as the counselor and foreign secretary to the 1883 Special Mission from Korea to the United States, lived in Korea for months after his return and wrote the book Choson: Land of the Morning Calm (1886). He also took numerous photos, and to look at these dozens of photos (here; click' search') taken by one of the first westerners to arrive in the country, before the results of early modernization began to be seen a decade later, one might get the idea that Korea was not quite as terrible as our commenter would have it (and though I wouldn't call his photos representative of what all of Korea was like at the time, they provide a broader look at the subject than the single photo of what appears to be a beggar/laborer/slave in the Occidentalism post).

At any rate, he goes on to ridicule Korean medicine (or rather shamanistic rituals), and lauds the Japanese for introducing modern medicine to Korea, when it was actually introduced by Christian missionaries. The first medical school was opened in Seoul in 1886, and by the turn of the century Severance Hospital Medical School was opened, with the first trained doctors graduated from Severance in June 1908 (Severance would of course become Yonsei University).

We're also shown a photo said to be of Seoul's cityscape, full of thatched roofs, which is compared to an older photo of Tokyo, and on the basis of these two photos, Korea is called a 'basket case'. As Kushibo points out, it's a rather misleading photo, as it is by no means representative of all of Seoul. This photo, which appears in Isabella Bird Bishop's Korea and Her Neighbours (1898), shows a cityscape of tiled roofs in northwestern Seoul, which allows for a more favourable comparison to Tokyo.

From Korea and Her Neighbours, plate opposite pg. 426
This photo, also from the same book, looks out from Namdaemun's balcony to the northeast. This area is also apparently mostly tiled houses (as opposed to the thatch roofed street stalls). Both photos would have been taken between 1894 and 1897.

Ibid. opposite pg. 440
We're also shown the following picture of Namdaemun from the 1880s or 1890s, which the writer, judging by the caption, seems to think shows the reader that Koreans lived in slavery.

Compare this to the following photo, taken by George Rose in 1904:
The thatched roofs outside the gate have been tiled (another 1904 view is here); one small example of the progress being made, prior to the establishment of Japan's protectorate over Korea.

I'll quote from Plunge's post for a moment:
In 1904, an American by the name of Angus Hamilton visited Korea... He said of Korea, “The streets of Seoul are magnificent, spacious, clean, admirably made and well-drained. The narrow, dirty lanes have been widened, gutters have been covered, roadways broadened. Seoul is within measurable distance of becoming the highest, most interesting and cleanest city in the East.” He continued on to say, “Seoul was the first city in East Asia to have electricity, trolley cars, water, telephone and telegraph systems all at the same time.” Much of this was thanks to trade with the United States. Seoul Electric Company, Seoul Electric Trolley Company and Seoul Fresh Spring Water Company were all US owned.
Seoul's first telegraph service, from Seoul to Incheon, began in 1885, while Gyeongbok Palace had electric lighting installed by 1886 (as recounted here). Tram service began in 1899, and the first streetlights appeared 1900. The first commercial telephone service in Seoul appeared in 1902; the first train line (Seoul-Incheon) was opened in 1899, and by 1906 one could travel from Sinuiju to Busan via Seoul by rail. Seoul's public water system began service in 1908. As the linked articles relate, in almost every case the companies maintaining these untilities were forced by the Japanese to turn over the companies to them.

In the comments section of the pro-Japanese post, when the above quote from Plunge's post was brought up, along with favourable opinions of Seoul from this traveller, the post's writer at Occidentalism responded:
It is telling that you should neglect to quote one of the most celebrated writers about Korea, Isabella Bird Bishop, who visit Korea four times and met the King and Queen. Her last visit was in 1897 and she described Korea and Seoul as:
*Largely having no currency system
*Seoul the most odoriferous city in the world, caused by narrow ditches for garbage on the streets
*In Seoul, the houses of commoners were thached roofs and walls made of mud
*Seoul and Korea was compared unfavorably with Japan
He goes on to quote unfavourable views of Korea by Bishop, from the beginning of the book, which would have been recorded in 1894. He unfortunately omits these passages, from her last visit to Seoul in 1897:
Seoul, in many parts, specially in the direction of the south and west gates, was literally not recognizable. Streets, with a minimum width of 55 feet, with deep stone-lined channels on both sides, bridged by stone slabs, had replaced the foul alleys, which were breeding-grounds of cholera. Narrow lanes had been widened, slimy runlets had been paved, roadways were no longer "free coups" for refuse, bicyclists "scorched" along broad, level streets, "express wagons" were looming in the near future, [...] shops with glass fronts had been erected in numbers, an order forbidding the throwing of refuse into the streets was enforced [...] and Seoul, from having been the foulest is now on its way to being the cleanest city in the Far East!

This extraordinary metamorphosis was the work of four months, and is due to the energy and capacity of the Chief Commissioner of Customs, ably seconded by the capable and intelligent Governor of the city, Ye Cha Yun, who had aquainted himself with the working of municipal affairs in Washington [...]

Along with much else the pungent, peculiar odor of Seoul has vanished. [...] So great is the change that I searched in vain for any remaining representative slum which I might photograph for this chapter as an illustration of Seoul in 1894.
A deceptive ommission? I'll let the reader decide. What she had to say about the changes in the city between 1894 and 1897 only strengthens Plunge's basic thesis; and the aforementioned favorable impressions of Seoul in 1904 seem to continue from where Bishop left off. If you compare the two photos below (the first, again, taken by Bishop between 1894 and 1897, and the second taken circa 1900, after streetcar service began) , you can see, again, just how quickly Seoul was changing.

Many of the aforementioned examples of modernization were also mentioned by F.W. McKenzie, a Canadian journalist who lived in Korea for decades, in his 1920 book Korea's Fight For Freedom (about which more will be said later). Though he was very disappointed in the lack of reform in the political and judicial system (and in Korea's ability to stand up for itself) in the ten years between the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars, he did recognize the changes that had occurred:
In the period between 1894 and 1904 the developments would have seemed startling to those who knew the land in the early eighties. There was a modern and well-managed railroad operating between Seoul and the port of Chemulpo, and other railroads had been planned and surveyed, work being started on some of them. Seoul had electric light, electric tramways and an electric theatre. Fine roads had
been laid around the city. Many old habits of mediaeval times had been abolished. Schools and hospitals were spreading all over the land, largely as a result of missionary activity. Numbers of the people, especially in the north, had become Christians. Sanitation was improved, and the work of surveying, charting and building lighthouses for the waters around the coast begun. Many Koreans of the better classes went abroad, and young men were returning after graduation in American colleges. The police were put into modern dress and trained on modern lines; and a little modern Korean Army was launched.
What really motivated me to write a response to the Occidentalism post was the following claim (using the photo from the top of this post), as it was something I was already looking into while researching this.

Koreans boldly claim that Japan destroyed many Korean cultural monuments that were in truth destroyed by Korean neglect. The above is a before and after photo of Namdaemun. Is this what Koreans mean by Korea being ‘ruined’ by the Japanese?

Again, this is a perfect example of choosing a very selective (and favourable) example. Yes, Namdaemun looks super. But what about Gyeonghui palace, which was almost entirely destroyed during the colonial period? And what of Gyeongbok palace, which had only a few buildings standing by 1945, after the Capitol building had been built directly in front of the throne room; or Changgyeong palace, which had a zoo built on its grounds? (photo, Feb. 1968) Are there pictures of Seodaemun or Hyehwamun available that show how the Japanese restored them? Can replacing the Wongudan altar with the Chosun hotel really be seen as 'preserving' Korean cultural monuments? To see what Seoul looked like at the end of the colonial era, this large map made by the US military in 1946 even shows individual buildings, and allows you to see the remains of former palaces. The Japanese "made the Koreans take care of their cultural heritage"? How? Using the example of the capital city, all but three city gates were demolished during the colonial era, and out of five palaces, only two were left relatively intact. Preserving a cultural monument like Namdaemun, (or, more importantly, Seokguram Grotto) was the exception, not the rule. It was not 'Korean neglect' that demolished these landmarks, but decisions made by the Japanese colonial authorities that these structures were not worth preserving that led to their disappearance.

This comment, written by the writer of the post, appeared in various guises in the comments section:
If Korea was so dynamic, why would US President Theodore Roosevelt say that “…Korea has shown its utter inability to stand by itself”?
Because Roosevelt was justifying abandoning Korea to Japan, which was the politically expedient thing to do at the time. Roosevelt also said it because he was unaware of the situation in Korea. That is to say, he was unaware that guerrillas, known as Uibyeong, or "righteous army", armed at first with rusting muskets, were engaging Japanese troops across the penninsula. In 1907, after the forced disbandment of the Korean army by the Japanese, many of its soldiers joined the righteous armies, leading to better organization amongst them. As Andrei Lankov's article notes, the guerrilla war in Korea lasted from 1906 to 1912, when it was crushed by the brutal Japanese response.

Those wanting a more contemporary view of the conflict, and a better idea of the Japanese response, should read the aforementioned Korea's Fight for Freedom, by F.A. McKenzie, which can be read here (or here, where it's broken into chapters).

McKenzie was a Canadian journalist working for a British newspaper, who, though he initially thought a great deal of Japan, was eventually turned against it due to the brutal nature of its occupation. The book traces the history of Korea from the late 1800s to the Samil uprising in 1919. He wrote in the preface to the book in 1920 that
I have long been convinced, however, that the policy of Imperial expansion adopted by Japan, and the means employed in advancing it, are a grave menace to her own permanent well-being and to the future peace of the world.
A rather precient conviction, on his part. In the autumn of 1906, he became the only westerner to travel out into the countryside and meet one of the righteous armies, as the guerrillas were known, then harrassing the Japanese military. He travelled by horse from Seoul to Icheon, then "Chongju" [likely Chungju], Chee-chong [Jecheon], Wonju, and then back to Seoul. He encountered combatants on both sides, as well as the civilians who had suffered the wrath of the Japanese counter-insurgency operations. [from chapters VIII and IX]
As I stood on a mountain-pass, looking down on the valley leading to Ichon, I beheld in front of me village after village reduced to ashes.

Up to Chong-ju [Likely Chungju] nearly one-half of the villages on the direct line of route had been destroyed by the Japanese. At Chong-ju ....I noticed that its ancient walls were broken down. The stone arches of the city gates were left, but the gates themselves and most of the walls had gone....I struck directly across the mountains to Chee-chong [Jecheon], a day's journey. Four-fifths of the villages and hamlets on the main road between these two places were burned to the ground.

The destruction in other towns paled to nothing, however, before the havoc wrought in Chee-chong. Here was a town completely destroyed...Not a whole wall, not a beam, and not an unbroken jar remained.... Chee-chong had been wiped off the map.
One has to wonder how allowing their military to leave a swath of burned out villages and towns in its wake helped the Japanese 'modernize' Korea. After going to Wonju and then to a place called Yan-gun, McKenzie finally found members of the righteous army. On his way home, while passing through a valley, he was surrounded by other members of the righteous army who, due to his western clothes, mistook him for a Japanese, and was told
"It was fortunate that you shouted when you did. I had you nicely covered and was just going to shoot." Some of the soldiers in this band were not more than fourteen to sixteen years old. I made them stand and have their photographs taken.
This best known photo of the Uibyeong is credited to Mckenzie.

In June, 1908, a high Japanese official said that about 20,000 troops were then engaged in putting down the disturbances, and that about one-half of the country was in a condition of armed resistance.... The taunts about Korean "cowardice" and "apathy" were beginning to lose their force.
They would further lose their force after the Samil movement, a civil disobedience campaign against Japanese rule which began on March 1, 1919, the colonial authorities' response to which left thousands of Koreans killed, imprisoned and tortured. McKenzie spends a good portion of his book covering the Samil movement, offering first-hand accounts of the brutal treatment of those demonstrators targeted and arrested by the authorities. McKenzie's book goes a long way towards showing that Koreans were attempting to stand up against the Japanese, at first with rusted rifles, and later, without any weapons at all.

The Japanese response to Korean activism throughout the first decade under the Japanese is described in detail in the recent paper "American Missionaries in Korea and U.S.-Japan Relations 1910-1920" by Akifumi Nagata. Another description of the Samil movement is by Frank Schofield, a Canadian doctor working at Severance Hospital who was very active and vocal during the Samil movement (and whose story is well worth reading, as he was the only foreigner to be told of the demonstrations in advance, who visited a number of villages burned by Japanese troops, and saw first hand the conditions in Seodaemun Prison before being forced to leave by the Japanese). On April 13, 1919, Schofield had this letter published in the Seoul Press (a Japanese-run English-language newspaper):
Since its occupation of Korea, Japan has been saying that materially it has done much for Korea, but I want to raise a question, Has it been solely for Koreans? The duty of the government is to make the majority of its people happy. Only then, the government can be said to be doing the right thing. The duty of a government is not just to provide the people with material comforts, education, and strength, but to make them happy and secure as well.

The Japanese government must realise that the reason as to why Korean people have risen against it with what must seem like foolish courage. The Japanese government must do deep soul searching and recognize that what the Korean people want is not material things but real freedom.
His experiences at this time can be read here, while links to other time periods (some in Korea) can be found here.

The subtext of a great deal of pro-Japanese commentary over at Occidentalism is not just that Korea as a country or a society or an economy was backwards, but also that Koreans as a people were (and are) backwards, and benefitted from Japanese 'tutelage'. If we separate the racist aspect of this thinking from the fact that Korea as an economy and society was not as advanced as the west, or as advanced as Japan was, an obvious question is 'why'?

McKenzie certainly had his own ideas about this:
The Yi method of government killed ambition--except for the King's service--killed enterprise and killed progress. The aim of the business man and the farmer was to escape notice and live quietly.
The Chosun dynasty's brand of Confucianism is often blamed for the lack of Korea's development (as is corruption and factionalism), but Samuel Hawley, in his book The Imjin War, has his own ideas about Korea's lack of progress, and roots them in the results of the 1592-1598 Japanese invasion of the Korean penninsula: [from pgs 564-5]
The scorched-earth policy pursued by the Japanese in the latter part of the war, coupled with the flight of farmers from their fields, additionally dealt a serious blow to Korea's economy, a blow that fell most heavily on the breadbasket provinces of Kyongsang and Cholla in the south. In the survey of 1601, the first conducted in the wake of the war, it was found that only 300,000 kyol of cultivated, tax-paying land remained in the kingdom, down from the 1.5-1.7 million kyol assessed just prior to the war in 1592. This loss of four-fifth's of Korea's farmland meant not only a tremendous drop in the amount of food being produced, but also a huge reduction in the amount of taxes the government could collect, taxes that were now desperately needed to fund the nation's rebuilding. It was a blow from which Choson Korea would never fully recover. One hundred years after the war, the amount of land under cultivation had still not returned to pre-war levels. Two hundred and fifty years after the war, Kyongbok palace in Seoul, the residence of the King and thus the center of the kingdom, still remained a burned-out shell. The government lacked the funds to rebuild it. [...]

The government, its tax revenues down to a mere fraction of prewar levels, was forced to sell upper class yangban status and official titles to the highest bidder to raise desperately needed funds. The number of yangban in Korea accordingly increased, and with it the number of individuals eligible to serve as public officials. This in turn intensified the factional fighting that resumed once peace was restored [...] leaving the government embroiled in an endless series of obscure political wranglings, blind to the changes taking place in the outside world.
Needless to say, it would be incredibly ironic if Korea's 'backwardness', which Japan used as an excuse to establish a protectorate over, and later, colonize, Korea, was in fact aided in part by the effects of Japan's previous invasion, 300 years before.

To say something nice about the post at Occidentalism, it does have a number of interesting photos; it's just the misleading way they're used that's a problem. I don't have a problem with apologist writing hewing closely to the Japanese right's line - it's the fact that it's so poorly written and argued that's annoying, along with the misrepresentation and glaring omissions (which its adherents seem to be oblivious to). On the other hand, responding it gave me a chance to clarify my own thoughts on that era, and learn a lot in the process, so I guess I should thank him for his comment.


Plunge said...

I'm flattered at your posting, but do you know what kind of hell you are letting yourself in for by saying ANYTHING bad about occidentalism? They have accused me of just about every atrocity known to man and of saying the most absurd and horrific things about Japan. They will definitely do their best to assassinate your character.

Great post by the way, I LOVED it and I loved the pictures you found. Your analysis of the photos and the writings of myself an others was excellent.

Why have I missed your site until now?

Kushibo said...

A fascintating read. Thanks for all that work.

I must admit I did not know about the second writing by Ms. Bird, which negates so much of what she had written before.

I have been planning for some time to write a post about the state of Korea just before Japanese imperial rule, to demonstrate that it wasn't quite the backward cesspool Japanese imperial apologists claim. When I eventually get around to that, I might crib a few lines from you.

nig said...

Well done. A well researched piece of writing. I am planning to keep an eye on the comments section to see any attempts to make opposing arguments.

Unfortunately I can't read the Occidentalism side of things because I am banned indefinitely from that site for disagreeing with it's agenda.

Plunge said...

Sorry, had to make one more comment. Just again at the excellent job you have done and the research you put into your posting.

I'm going back to mine and linking to yours at the beginning for a must read.

Great, great stuff.

PK said...

A very well written piece. Thank you for your effort. I can see now why Plunge so adamantly requested his readers to take a look at your piece.

Being a history buff myself I still managed to learn more. Well worth the read.

Plunge said...

It was Angus, not Alexander Hamilton and I'm surprised you've never been able to find the quote. Keep looking.

In the final analysis, Korea fell into Japanese rule without a war being fought. That shows a country filled with a deep spiritual and physical sickness, not the forward thinking, growing country that you describe.

That is one of the most ridiculous comments I've read in a long time. Anyone who understands the situation in Korea at the time understands why there was no immediate war or armed conflict.

More telling is you inability to comment critically on this post which does such an excellent job of showing how you distorted and stretched facts to 'prove' your point. It, as well, shows the dishonesty of those commenting on your site as they cherry-picked their 'facts' to further their cause.


Mika said...

A quote from the article.

"we again confirm that 91 years ago we surrendered our country to the Japanese colonial government due to our hopeless ineptitude. On Aug. 29, 1910, the imperial government of Japan promulgated that it had taken over the entire government and administration of Korea, and Wednesday was the anniversary of the national humiliation. In studying this history, let us find out who chased the fish - annexation - into the net. Choson, or Korea, suggested annexation to Japan first."

A quote from the Chosun Ilbo article. 

"The Korean Peninsula late in the 19th century was a battleground for imperialist powers Japan, Russia, Britain, the United States and China. Anything that happened interlocked like a cog with the international situation. That is true even for the Kabo Peasants War now being touted as if it was somehow symbolic of nationalism and class struggle because it attacked the nobility and rejected foreign influences. In fact, we now know it to have been funded by an ultra-nationalist organization in Japan. History textbooks dealing with the era must offer lessons for the future by reviewing the harsh choices we faced at the time, the way we dealt with the machinations of the great powers, and the reason we eventually lost our sovereignty.
If we instead use history textbooks as a mere vehicle for particular ideologies and rationalize the past under the headings of nation and class struggle, modern history education is capable of doing a great deal of harm. The great powers'interest in and rivalries over the Korean Peninsula continue. If we do not teach our children that tragedy struck a century ago because we failed to assess the world situation accurately, history could well repeat itself."

At least there are some Koreans who have a lot of sense. If people like you and the majority of Koreans keep going on and on blaming Japan and ignoring failures which Koreans caused themselves, then Korea will never be able to even identify the cause of their country's problem.

nice try said...

I don't get it. How does the above refute the fact that Korea was already on the road to modernization without Japan's involvement? Oh that's right, it doesn't.

Did you choose not to read the part where Japan's invasion 300 years before, started a chain reaction causing the backwardness of the Koreans at the time? This post already had your counter-argument covered. A sure sign that this post is soundly irrefutable. Thanks for highlighting this.

Catallus said...

Did you choose not to read the part where Japan's invasion 300 years before, started a chain reaction causing the backwardness of the Koreans at the time?

Can someone please explain to me why a well-governed Chosun was unable to recover in 300 years from much less damage than post-WW2 Korea has done in 50?

I'm sorry, but this is a pathetic attempt to explain away domestic incompetence: the average European nation has experienced tens of attempts at invasion over the last 400 years, and yet that hasn't stopped the Dutch, the French, the Germans and many others from making rapid progress. Chosun was indeed a weak, moribund state whose squabbling elites invited the attention of all the wrong parties for selfish reasons, and that is why the country fell to Japanese rule, not because of events which occurred 300 years prior. It's ridiculous how little respect for truth you pro-Korea apologists have when it comes to admitting the country's failures.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Very interesting stuff.

Catallus, the answer to your question I think is money from America and Japan. To my understanding after the Korean war Japan loaned Korea a stack of money and America pumped lots of aid into Korea to prop it up against the communist threat in Asia. They also pumped money into many other countries. Korea however did manage to do very well to use that money (unlike other asian countries) and their own hard work (and the power of some dictatorships) to build up a strong economy.

I think there is however no doubt that Choson as a power was a joke in Asia as the King seems to have had very little control and understaning of power as others in his family often had more influence over affairs of state than he did.

That's my understanding anyway. I could very well be wrong because I am only vaugely read on this topic. It is however absolutely facinating. I'll be sure to come back and see how the discussion turns out.

Jing said...

Nice post, solid writing. It's remarkable how so much of the writing (sorry excuses) on the rightist Japanese point of view amounts to the intellectual equivalent of a "she was a slut, she deserved it" defense.

Also I've never understood what would lead a non-Japanese person to be embrace such a quixotic Japanese view point. Actually, I have my guesses, but it wouldn't be polite to voice them in civil company.

nice try said...

Who said Chosun was well goverened? Koreans themselves know about their own history, and how Mongolian, Japanese, Japanese invasions, then the Korean War, shaped their nation throughout their history. As well as the irresponsible and incompetent leaders.

But it is a fact that Japan's (Hideyoshi) previous invasion (known to be the most brutal in Korean history) did have a lasting effect as four fifths of the farmland was devastated and 90% of the population were uprooted from their homes, not to mention the "trophy" 38,000 ears and noses taken back to Japan to "prove" to Hideyoshi how well they were doing before Yi Sun-Shin blew them out of the waters. More than 100,000 of the best of Koreans were kidnapped and taken back to Japan, along with many other things they plundered.

"Within four years, 90 percent of Koreans were uprooted from their homes and forced to wander the countryside in search of meager food and shelter. One of these wanderers, the scholar O Huimun, compiled a nine-year diary that describes the roads lined with corpses, the destruction of farmland, mass rapes, suicides of women who sought to escape capture, and reports of cannibalism in the starved population"

Without taking sides, it is plain to see that Japan helped to create a condition, which they later used as an excuse to colonise the same sovereign land. And, no I am not pro-Korean. Just better informed than some.

So back on topic. Was Korea not on the road to modernization without help from Japan? oh, I thought so.

Matt said...

Plunge, Angus or Alexander (I miswrote), what is the page number that quote is on? All I can see is that you have quoted a Cummings speech paraphrasing Hamilton. I have never found the reference in any other place.

Hamiltons report (1904) says that was a water system, but the writer of this post says the water system was developed in 1908 - who is right?

Phone services and electricity are also available in the worst places in Africa to the wealthy - it does not mean a country is developing.

You can claim that Korea wasnt as bad as it was all you want to - it is you who is arguing against the historical fact that Korea was so weak that it could not fend off even the casual intrusions of the Japanese, Russians and Chinese.

Matt said...

A friend told me that my position on the matter might be a little unclear to some. Here it is.

It is not my intent to attempt to justisfy the Japanese control of Korea. However, given Korea's weakness and the political climate of the time (largely created by Korea's rulers), it is understandable that Korea would fall under the control of another country, which just happened to be Japan.

I also dispute the idea that Japan plundered Korea and was a disaster for the living standards, health, and education of the Korean people. Objectively, all these things were greatly improved under Japanese rule. To point this out is not an attempt justify Japanese rule of Korea, but to negate the anti Japanese discourse among Koreans (and deluded, non Korean foreigners).

I dont have any stake whatsoever in the nationalist ideology of either country. However, anti Japanism is a problem for Korea, and needs to stop.

nig said...

From Matt

"Phone services and electricity are also available in the worst places in Africa to the wealthy - it does not mean a country is developing."

Then, according to your own viewpoint the Japanese investment and restructuring in Korea during colonial times cannot be considered as development as it only benefitted the Korean upper class and Japanese migrants.

Mika said...

The fact is that they could not continue modernization and remain an independent state. The society was economically and politically corrupt. And It was the era that small countries which could not stand itself were meant to be colonized. Most Korean politicians didn't want to be colonized by Imperial Russia and so they suggested annexation to Japan.
Korea's biggest political group(一進会) built the‘welcome arch’(奉迎門) for the Japanese. Here is a picture of the arch.

In my impression, Koreans tend to evade the responsibility of their own by pretending to be total victims of "evil Japanese". And anyone who disagree with their view is called "the rightist Japanese". Pathetic. Accepting facts doesn't mean glorifying Japanese colonization of Korea. Pity that some can be so tiresomely anti-Japanese.

nice try said...

I am not anti-Japanese. I just agree with this post, that Matt's post was very poorly compiled. Korea need not thank Japan for forcing modernization on Korea for their own benefits. Korea was already modernizing. That's the extent of my argument. Feel free to stray from it, but see if you can refute that specific point.

Mka said...

Here are some pics of Koreans(and Japanese)during the annexation period. festival) (Skate festival)

Compare this with a living standard of South Asians and Africans under European rule. Statistics of infant mortality, longevity, public health, education etc, show that there can be little doubt that a living standard improved far more under Japanese colonialism than it had under Choeson. I recommend you to read the book "Offspring of Empire: The Koch’ang Kims and the Colonial Origins of Korean Capitalism. 1876-1945″by Carter J. Eckert.

nig said...

From Mika,

"Compare this with a living standard of South Asians and Africans under European rule. Statistics of infant mortality, longevity, public health, education etc, show that there can be little doubt that a living standard improved far more under Japanese colonialism than it had under Choeson"

I would like to see some statistical analysis to back up your first point.

i.e To prove that The Japanese colonisation of Korea yielded better improvements in the standard of living than European colonisation attempts in the same time period.

I am not saying you are wrong but it does seem to be a bit of a floating comment.

Your second point:

i.e Living standard improved far more under Japanese colonialism than it had under Choeson

This is not comparing like with like. Aside from areas in active conflict, the standards of living in most countries improved in the first half of the 20th century.

If you would like to go down that route you can analyse improvements between 1900-1950 compared with 1950-2000 in Korea and see which you would consider the superior administration period.

I would suggest the findings would prove that the Post War American-Korean ruling regime was superior to the Japanese one according to your scale.

None of us can really surmise how Korea would have progressed independently in the first half of the 20th century so that angle cannot effectively be used to justify colonisation.

Mika said...


The Korean peninsula was a colony/vassal state of Han/Tang/Mongolian/Ming/Manchurian-dominated China for most of its existence. Japan defeated China in the first Sino-Japanese War and as a result, China accepted the independence of Korea (the first prerequisite of the Treaty of Shimonoseki)in 1895. To celebrate Korea's independence from China, the Independence Gate was built. It still exist in Seoul. Is there any analysis that show Korea could be modernized under the Chinese rule?

nig said...


Can I assume you can't support your earlier comments with evidence if you are resorting to that worn out and completely irrelevant stance of justification based on being the lesser of two evils?

matt said...

I see a reticence on the part of those in favour of Japanese colonization to actually engage with the argument put forward in this post, which was a refutation of the Occidentalism post which said that Japan had modernized Korea from a material point of view. There is nothing in that post that says anything about the weakness of Korea’s government. It describes Korea as a dirty country with backwards people which didn’t improve in a material sense at all until Japan took it over and modernized it. I decided to refute it by illustrating the section of Plunge’s post which described the modernization that took place before Japan took control of the country.

The idea that "Korea" gave itself up to Japan is flawed. Their rulers messed up - not the people in general. Matt's assertion that a 'spiritual sickness' afflicted the nation is hard to swallow when thousands of people across the country were engaging in guerrilla warfare against a far better-armed enemy. And Hawley's assertion that Japan's 1592 invasion (which led to the deaths of 10-20% of the population) led to Chosun's decline isn't new. In the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica it was written “Korea never recovered from the effects of this invasion, which bequeathed to all Koreans an intense hatred of the Japanese.”

I am curious as why there has been no acknowledgement of the fact that the Occidentalism post misrepresented Isabella Bird Bishop’s view of Seoul by omitting her later opinion of the city, when it was ‘unrecognizable’ due to its improvements. Matt has spoken before of “unforgivable deception by omission” and has also said that “misrepresenting content is unforgivable”. Are those universal standards or do they only apply to those who hold different opinions?

Matt said...

It is hard to argue against what you are writing because you are misrepresenting my position and merely knocking down a strawman. The fundamental argument I make is in the very first paragraph of my post.
I make the claim that the Japanese did not ruin the economy, and did not make Koreans starve. Here it is below.

Did Japan ruin the economy of Korea during the Japanese Administration? Koreans say that Japan did, and that they even stole all the rice and left people starving. However, there is a lot of evidence to say that was not the case. During the period of Japanese Administration, there were great increases in population, unprecendented in Korean history. This is not consistent with a people that are starving, because the population should decrease in that case.

That is my position, and it is factually correct. I am not 'in favor' of Japanese colonisation. That is just more strawman nonsense - I dont care which country would have ruled Korea (and if it wasnt Japan, it would have been another). Even your strawman argument ignores the fact that these few reforms in Korea made before Korea became a protectorate was forced on the Koreans by the Japanese, and pro-Japanese elements in Korean society.

The idea that a war 300 years ago explains the incompetance and corruption of the Choson rulers, or the fact that the Yangban class were a bunch of indigent parasites that refused to work and drained the wealth of the people strikes me as absolutely ludicrous. It is this kind of fantastic 'blame the Japanese' simplification that I have been arguing against.

Mika said...


If you think that my comments are wrong then provide some evidence to refute them. It's your job. I want to see a pic showing Africans enjoying a sports festival under the European rule. Korea could not become a independent state in the first place without Japan's effort. That's historical fact. And if you think that many of Japanese and pro-Japanese Koreans who contributed greatly to Korea's development are evil then how can you defend the legitimacy of the nation? Even Aegukga and Taegeukgi were created by collaborators with Imperial Japan, Ahn Eak-tae and Bak Yeong-hyo. Do Korea change the national anthem and flag?

nig said...

Matt Said:

"Did Japan ruin the economy of Korea during the Japanese Administration? Koreans say that Japan did, and that they even stole all the rice and left people starving. However, there is a lot of evidence to say that was not the case. During the period of Japanese Administration, there were great increases in population, unprecendented in Korean history. This is not consistent with a people that are starving, because the population should decrease in that case."


"Between 1932 and 1936, per capita consumption of rice declined to half the level consumed between 1912 and 1916. Although the government imported coarse grains from Manchuria to augment the Korean food supply, per capita consumption of food grains in 1944 was 35 percent below that of 1912 to 1916.

As of 1942, Korean capital constituted only 1.5 percent of the total capital invested in Korean industries. Korean entrepreneurs were charged interest rates 25 percent higher than their Japanese counterparts, so it was difficult for Korean enterprises to emerge."

nice try said...

Matt's stance is all good and well, but his "evidence" was a joke. If he can listen to his own conscience - “unforgivable deception by omission”,“misrepresenting content is unforgivable” then he would do well to delete the post, or update it with an apology, or at the very least add a link to this post (because he is a man of honour and not afraid to offer differing opinions to his own) until he can find some proper "evidence" to back up his opinion. I hope he doesn't search for them from Japanese ultra-nationalist sites, no he won't because he is level headed and has balanced opionions now. We all learn from mistakes.

nig said...

Mika said:

"I want to see a pic showing Africans enjoying a sports festival under the European rule"

Here you go. It is from Cameroon during French Colonial Rule in the first half of the 20th Century.

There are loads of photographs of African people playing cricket and football on that site too from the same time if you want to browse through it. It doesn't prove anything at all however. It is in fact completely irrelevant to the discussion but I wouldn't like to turn down a direct request.

Mika said...

Sorry, but that doesn't look like a 'sports festival' held by colonists(Whites). And what's the point of this discussion? Korea suggested annexation to Japan first. The primary responsibility for Korea’s loss of its independence in 1910 lies with the Koreans and their government as they failed to undertake the drastic reforms that were necessary to meet the challenge and threat posed by the predatory powers. If only Korea had followed Ito Hirobumi’s advice, it would have been spared the fate of being annexed.

nig said...

Mika said:

"If only Korea had followed Ito Hirobumi’s advice, it would have been spared the fate of being annexed."

Do you have any links/source material outlining Ito's advice to Korea on how to develop without Japanese annexation and when it was given?

You can't expect people to accept your point of view without well established supporting information. That is the crux of this whole topic.

matt said...

[Just to clear up confusion, I am the writer of this blog, not Matt from Occidentalism]

So the thesis of your post, the point you were trying to make, was contained in this first paragraph?

Did Japan ruin the economy of Korea during the Japanese Administration? Koreans say that Japan did, and that they even stole all the rice and left people starving. However, there is a lot of evidence to say that was not the case. During the period of Japanese Administration, there were great increases in population, unprecendented in Korean history. This is not consistent with a people that are starving, because the population should decrease in that case.

The point of that paragraph is that "During the period of Japanese Administration, there were great increases in population, unprecendented in Korean history." This, you contend, shows that Koreans were not starving (the word 'starving' appears twice).

I think, however, that we need to look at the second paragraph:

Not only are the Korean claims dubious, but it seems that they benefitted in many ways from the Japanese Administration. Lets take a look at picutures of Korea before and during the Japanese Administration.

The rest of your post is a series of "pictures of Korea before and during the Japanese Administration."

Now, if 'the increase in population' was really the position you were taking in that post, why is it that population increase is never brought up again other than in one caption (out of fifteen captions) where you point out the increase in life expectancy that occurred under the Japanese? You don't even bother to provide any population statistics to illustrate the growth that did indeed occur.

Judging by the series of 'before and after' photos, I would tend to think that the point of that post was the second paragraph.

[T]hey benefitted in many ways from the Japanese Administration. Lets take a look at pictures of Korea before and during the Japanese Administration.

To me, it's very clear that the statement above is the position you took and illustrated with your use of photos.

But for some strange reason, you omitted it from your stated position above.

I have attempted to refute a number of the assertions you made in the captions of those photos and in your misleading use of certain photos.

What is your response?

Not only did you misrepresent people like Isabella Bird Bishop in the comments to your post, you are now misrepresenting your own argument in order to weasel out of responding.


Plunge said...

Matt, of "Gusts of Popular Feeling" between the various posts, yours especially, mine to a minor extent it is easy to show that Matt of Occidentalism's post is nothing more than complete and total gargbage.

For example, he misrepresents what I posted. The theme of my posting was that Korea was already modernizing, that the government of Korea, if slowly, was making changes, and that saying Korea benefitted from Japanese rule is ridiculous when Korea was already in the process of modernization.

It also needs to be remembered that the modernization of Korea under Japan was for Japan's benefit, not Koreas. Education, ownership of businesses, etc. was all for Japan's benefit.

Matt's post at occidentalism is a disgusting, inaccurate portrayal of life in Korea. If the assassination of Queen Min could have been avoided, things might have been quite different. But hey, Japan took care of that as well.

matt said...

Matt, your argument is a 'what-if' argument that is neither here nor there. I can accept that certain areas of Seoul had improved over a time period of time, especially since Pro-Japanese reformers and pressure from the Japanese government for Korea to reform was on the Korean government. However, the idea that a miracle of unprecedented scale happened between 1894 and 1897 is not accepted by reasonable people. You have to remember there is more to Korea than just one part of Seoul.

I would ask you then why Korea remained weak if such rapid progress, so weak the Japanese could take the country without a war.

My case is clear. Just because you misunderstand the argument does not make it wrong. Fundamentally:

1. Japanese occupation was not a disaster for the Korean race. People were not starved, standards of living was increased and lifespan more than doubled during the time of Japanese rule.

2. That objectively Korean conditions improved over the conditions they had before the Japanese came. 1/4 of the Japanese national budget was allocated to reform and build the Korean economy.

By 1945 Korea was the second most industrialized nation in Asia. The idea that Korea was already on the path of national development is accepted only by nationalist Korean historians, as far as I know.

In any case, historical fact rejects your thesis. You are like a guy that insists a boxer is in top shape, but gets knocked out in the first 10 seconds of round one. Korea was an awful, awful mess, and the erratic Korean foreign policy and endemic rebellion proves it.

matt said...

Just because you misunderstand the argument does not make it wrong.

Did you even read my last comment? I seemed to have understood your argument better than you.

1. Japanese occupation was not a disaster for the Korean race. People were not starved, standards of living was increased and lifespan more than doubled during the time of Japanese rule.

2. That objectively Korean conditions improved over the conditions they had before the Japanese came. 1/4 of the Japanese national budget was allocated to reform and build the Korean economy.

Good. I’m glad you included #2 this time around, because the photos you used to illustrate your argument overwhelmingly focused on #2.

Nowhere in your stance above do you talk about Korea’s political weakness. Your post dealt with visual indicators of modernity in Korea – lots of before and after photos. I criticized the misleading way you used some of those photos, and I agreed with Plunge’s assertion that Korea was already beginning to modernize, from a material point of view. You keep misrepresenting my argument.

You are like a guy that insists a boxer is in top shape, but gets knocked out in the first 10 seconds of round one.

Where do I say Korea was in top shape? I said it was beginning to modernize on its own. Misrepresenting an argument and attacking the misrepresentation is also known as a strawman argument, something you apparently seem to hate. Besides that, there is much more to my post than that argument, especially your misleading use of photos, your assertion that Japan ‘preserved’ Korean monuments, your assertions that Koreans did nothing to stop the takeover of their country (Lankov’s article says their were 2000 clashes between Japanese and Uibyeong in 1908 – 5 or 6 a day on average) and your misrepresentation of Isabella Bird Bishop’s writing.

However, the idea that a miracle of unprecedented scale happened between 1894 and 1897 is not accepted by reasonable people.

Ah, so this is how you deal with your misrepresentation of Isabella Bird Bishop. You dismiss her as not being ‘reasonable’, which begs the question: Why did you quote her extensively if she is not reasonable? By the way, the change did not occur over three years between 1894 and 1897:

This extraordinary metamorphosis was the work of four months, and is due to the energy and capacity of the Chief Commissioner of Customs, ably seconded by the capable and intelligent Governor of the city, Ye Cha Yun, who had aquainted himself with the working of municipal affairs in Washington [...]

You say that the modernization that occurred before Japan took full control of Korea was due to Japan or pro-Japanese Koreans. Yet the Chief Commissioner of Customs, John McLeavy Brown, to whom these changes were due, was not Japanese (I think he was British, but I’m not certain); his assistant was trained in the US. Most of the utilities in Seoul were built by foreign (mostly American) companies, the schools and hospitals were built by foreign (mostly American) missionaries, and the newspapers which began to appear in Korean (and English) were edited by US-educated Koreans (like Philip Jaisohn and Syngman Rhee) or a British newspaperman (Ernest Bethel). Even James Creelman, who was as pro-Japanese as they come, said in 1901

The King of Corea is now an Emperor. Already the clang of the electric trolley car and the clamor of the gold miner are heard in his dominions. Steam railways and cotton mills are to be built. The protection sought for by the Emperor has been found, not in American bayonets, but in jealous American capital.

He would have been a little more on the money if he had said "fickle" American capital.

Mika said...

If you can read Korean, I recommend you to read these following articles.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I didn't realize the discussion was goin on this far.
Anyway, I have a different perspective on Korea.Probably we disagree on many points.But you might be interested in my blog.
I think it is a good idea to share different perspectives.

Anonymous said...

By the way,Even Makenzie wrote in th preface of "tragedy of Korea"
"No unbiased observer can deny that Korean owes the loss of her independence mainly to the corruption and weakness of her old national administration."
And you seem to omitt what Bishop said after the second trip:
Though the Koreans of today are the product of centuries of disadvantages, yet after neary a year spent in the counry, during which I made its people my chief study i am by no means hopelss of their fututure, in spite of the distinctly retrograde movements of 1897, Two things, however are essential.
Ⅰ As Korea is incapable of reforrming herself from within, that she must be reformed from without.
Ⅱ That the power of the Sovereign must be placed under strigent and permanent constitutional checks.Bishop p452 ”
"In spite of reforms the Korean nation still consists of but two classes, the Robbers and the Robbed,---the official class recruited from the yang-bans, the licenced vampires of the country, andthe Ha-in, literallly "low men" a residuum of fullyfour-fifths of the population, whose raison d'etre is to supply the bloodfor the vampires to suck."
" reform have been thwarted at every turn, not alone by therapacity of the King's male and famale favorites, and the measureless cunning adn craft of corrupt officials, who incite the Soveregn to actions concerning the money....p448"
These are written after she saw the modernization process you mentioned.

The modernization Angus Hamilton was talking was goiong on , but as you pointed out, it was done with the help of foreigners. Bruce Comming wrote in ";Japanese Colonialism in Korea: A Comparative Perspective 1997"
" Most of these systems were installed and run by Americans
Now if you are insisting Korea could modernize without help of Japan, I guess it might have been possible.
If you are asserting that Korea could mordernize without help of foreigners.I guess it was impossible.(No Asisan country could modernize without help of western nation).
We should also note what Bruce Commings said.
" Still, note the indexes that the American Hamilton chooses to highlight: electricity, telephones, trolleys, schools, consumption of American exports, and cleanliness. If we find that Japan brought similar facilities to Seoul and Taipei, do we place them on the ledger of colonialism or modernization? The Korean answer is colonialism; the Japanese and Taiwanese answer is modernization "
And if are saying annexation was unnecessary, it might be right.But as somebody pointed out..
" Before we pitched the net, a fish jumped into the net," said Midori Komatsu, who was the foreign affairs director at the Office of the Japanese Resident General in Korea, recollecting the eve of the Japanese annexation of Korea in August 1910.
let us find out who chased the fish - annexation - into the net. Choson, or Korea, suggested annexation to Japan first. Lee Ik-jik was a secret envoy of Prime Minister Lee Wan-yong."
(I discussed Isshinkai to some extent in my blog)
If you are blaming what Japan did to the guerillas as Makenzie described, I agree,Japan should be blamed for that.It was harsh, brutal, cruel. (By the way,do you know who led the guerila near the Manchukouo? )
Lastly if you wanted to say, colonization was wrong. I agree. It was wrong.But I am wondering what other choices Japan had in a situation where Western Impericalists was invading Asian nations,.Any suggestion?

Lucewin said...

I do not know this discuss is still going on or not. Just found this blog by searching through google.
Before I start to say something I want you to know that

First, I am not very good writer of English.
Second, I am Korean.

So, I think you are missing very important concept. Japanease's ultimate goal was not only invade over Korea.
They wanted to build large empire over Asia basically. So in their plan, taking over Korea was ONLY the first step for it. Because now Korea is independant country and have gotten very strong compare to 50 years ago. We say that Korea was invaded by Japan but at that time(at Japaneas invasion) 'Korea' was not exist. "the Korean Peninsula" was considered as part of Japan unlike many other colonized contries by European nations. Proof for this is, the number of Japanease immigration to 'Korean Peninsula' during their invasion period. It is significantly LARGE.
Please, please don't say that Japanease had more warm hearted mind than European nations so they helped Korean to indusrialized.
They had totally different policy over 'Korean Penisula' compare to European nations. what they did is simply unification of Korea and Japan.( For example, forcing Koreans to use Japanease and change their family name to Japanease fmaily name.)

Anonymous said...

Urban renewal in 1945? Remember Curtis LeMay and the Strategic Air Command firebombing 63 Japanese cities. That was "urban renewal". How many people did we burn to death?

Anonymous said...

Mika's comment is interesiting. He or she is assering that it was korea which wanted to becom a colony of japan.
It reminds me of a impudent raper's apology. he raped a girl by force, and got caught. and said, "she wanted to be raped by me"... brillant excuse. im truly impressed by some pro-japanese imperialism guyes.

kushibo said...

Re-reading this old post...

"Korea was so weak that it could not fend off even the casual intrusions of the Japanese, Russians and Chinese"

Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War
= 'casual intrusions'

Go figure.

Edge said...

I feel lucky that I found your blog. Great job! People say that the history cannot be undone. But, your post just makes me wonder what Seoul and Korea could have been if there was not a war and colonization. Korea may still be one and whole country with lots of potential.