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The Repressive Past Japanese Colonialism

The thirty-five years of Japanese colonialism in South Korea’s history were marked by coercive sociopolitical repression and economic exploitation. The colonial authorities relied heavily on coercion, terror, and surveillance to rule the Korean population.[1] For instance, the 1919 independence movement was met with brutal reprisals, which left 7,500 people killed, 15,000 injured, and 45,000 arrested.[2] The colonial authorities also used an assimilation policy aimed at effacing Korean identity and incorporating Koreans as second-class citizens.[3] Throughout this process, the Japanese authority widely used Korean collaborators. Historians invented the idea that the Koreans and the Japanese share a common ancestry in order to facilitate assimilation and even to conscript Koreans into the Japanese army.[4] Koreans suffered the most after the outbreak of the second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, when the country became a reservoir of human and other resources for the Japanese military and industry. Some 140,000 Korean men and women were victims of forced labor, and thousands of women were forced to work as sex slaves - known as “comfort women” - for the Japanese military.[5]

  • [1] Michael E. Robinson, Korea’s Twentieth-Century Odyssey, 6th ed. (Honolulu, HI:University of Hawaii Press, 2007), p. 43.
  • [2] Robinson, Korea’s Twentieth-Century Odyssey, p. 48.
  • [3] Gi-Wook Shin, Ethnic Nationalism in Korea: Genealogy, Politics, and Legacy (Stanford,CA: Stanford University Press, 2006), pp. 42-45.
  • [4] Shin, Ethnic Nationalism in Korea, p. 45.
  • [5] Robinson, Korea’s Twentieth-Century Odyssey, pp. 97-98.
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