Japanese Colonial Rule (1910-1945)
- Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945) was a deeply ambivalent experience
for Koreans. On the one hand, Japanese colonialism was often quite
harsh. For the first ten years Japan ruled directly through the
military, and any Korean dissent was ruthlessly crushed. After
a nationwide protest against Japanese colonialism that began on
March 1, 1919, Japanese rule relaxed somewhat, allowing a limited
degree of freedom of expression for Koreans.
- Despite the often oppressive and heavy-handed rule of the Japanese
authorities, many recognizably modern aspects of Korean society
emerged or grew considerably during the 35-year period of colonial
rule. These included rapid urban growth, the expansion of commerce,
and forms of mass culture such as radio and cinema, which became
widespread for the first time. Industrial development also took
place, partly encouraged by the Japanese colonial state, although
primarily for the purposes of enriching Japan and fighting the
wars in China and the Pacific rather than to benefit the Koreans
themselves. Such uneven and distorted development left a mixed
legacy for the peninsula after the colonial period ended.
- By the time of the Japanese surrender in August 1945, Korea was
the second-most industrialized nation in Asia after Japan itself.
- But the wartime mobilization of 1937-45 had reintroduced harsh
measures to Japanese colonial rule, as Koreans were forced to work
in Japanese factories and were sent as soldiers to the front. Tens
of thousands of young Korean women were drafted as “Comfort
Women” - in effect, sexual slaves - for Japanese soldiers.
- In 1939, Koreans were even pressured by the colonial authorities
to change their names to Japanese names, and more than 80 percent
of the Koreans complied with the name-change ordinance.
Liberation, Division, and War
- The Japanese surrender to the Allies on August 15, 1945, which ended
World War II, led to a time of great confusion and turmoil in Korea.
- The country was divided into zones of occupation by the victorious
Americans and Soviets, and various individuals and organizations
across the political spectrum from Communists to the far Right
claimed to speak for an independent Korean government. The Soviets
and Americans failed to reach an agreement on a unified Korean
government, and in 1948 two separate governments were established,
each claiming to be the legitimate government of all Korea: the
Republic of Korea in Seoul, in the American zone, and the Democratic
Republic of Korea in Pyongyang, in the Soviet zone.
- On June 25, 1950, North Korean forces invaded the South. The
Korean War drew in the Americans in support of South Korea and
the Chinese in support of the North.
- In July 1953, after three years of bloody fighting in which some
three million Koreans, one million Chinese, and 54,000 Americans
were killed, the Korean War ended in a truce with Korea still divided
into two mutually antagonistic states, separated by a heavily fortified “De-Militarized
Zone” (DMZ). Korea has remained divided ever since.