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. 426This 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. 440We'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
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: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:
*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
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!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.
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.
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 hadWhat 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.
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.
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.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
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.
"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.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.
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.
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.His experiences at this time can be read here, while links to other time periods (some in Korea) can be found here.
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.
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. [...]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.
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.
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.