우물 안 개구리

Postings by Sayaka Chatani

Contact: sayaka [at] froginawell.net
URL: http://prisonnotebooks.com/

자료소개: Chōsen chihō gyōsei (朝鮮地方行政)

Filed under: — Sayaka Chatani @ 8:27 am

I would like to quickly introduce one source from the colonial period, a journal called Chōsen chihō gyōsei, or Korean Local Administration. It was published monthly starting the early 1920s (I think it’s 1922). I am not sure exactly when they stopped publishing it, but we can read all the issues published between October 1924 and April 1939 online (through the National Library of Korea). I think this is a brilliant source for papers for students!

The publication of this journal reflects the turning point of the colonial administration in the 1920s, when nationalists, socialists, communists, religious groups, and of course, Japanese colonizers increasingly intervened into rural societies across the peninsula. It was the 1914 reform that fixed the administrative units in the form that still remains almost unchanged today. In the 1920s, the smallest unit, ŭp (or yu 邑) and myŏn(or men 面), were fully working as the finest branch of the colonial bureaucracy — this means they became a part of the big record-producing machine. As I flipped through (or rather click through) the journal online, some of the cover images became more and more elaborate, as if they symbolize the increasing professionalism and the officials’ pride in it:

(September 1924 —— February-June 1926 *They liked the image of Lady Justice! —— May-July 1928 —— June-December 1929)

In each issue, there are usually a couple of articles that discuss big ideological issues, but the rest is quite technical. I like reading about technical issues. They often show us more reliable fragments of life in the countryside than ideological discussions. One series that I believe have a lot to dig and analyze is 『行政論壇』 and 『當路者の批判』. 『行政論壇』introduces a couple of opinion pieces, and 『當路者の批判』is responses from usually ten various local administrators to the suggestions made in the previous issue’s 『行政論壇』. In a nutshell, this was a forum for local administrators to exchange opinions. The following is the reason why I think someone should study this closely.

First of all, this is a good source to study politics of the gunsu (the head of gun or county). Most of the participants in this series are gunsu (occasionally officials in the do (province) and the myŏn as well). The gunsu was right in the middle in the hierarchy of local administrations. Some of them were a lot keener on situations on the ground than others, I am sure. But overall we can assume that they were a little detached from everyday conducts on the ground, and more well-educated on average than the head of myŏn. Based on what I read, many local (educated) youth admired the gunsu as they found the gunsu charismatic and intellectual. Their eager participation in this peninsula-wide forum might be a reflection of their ambivalent position in the hierarchy and their desire to participate in larger politics in the central stage.

Second of all, this is a good place to think about how the vibrant discussion in this forum affected the imperial rule. Take a look at this exemplary table of contents from the November 1932 issue:

As you can see, the topics of the『行政論壇』 & 『當路者の批判』are technical and specific. In this issue, the suggestions are: 1. Expand the regulations on myŏn taxes, land taxes, and value-added taxes. 2. Open a path to special civil service for myŏn officials. 3. Let the myŏn office manage a model farm as a farming training center for rural youth.

I think this specificity is the key in creating a vibrant discussion forum in this journal. The contributors sound confident, and they are not afraid of challenging each other. These frank exchanges of opinions about specific issues might have provided the support base for the authoritarian rule, paradoxically. It might give a sense of independent decision-making to local administrators even without democracy, as we see in today’s Chinese countryside.

Another potentially interesting reading of this series is to compare Korean and Japanese participants. I did not pay any attention to the ratio or the contents of their opinions when I was browsing. If there is no particular difference between them, that is still interesting (and you could go back to why the Korean gunsu was so eager to participate).

Finally, of course, you could delve into the details that they discuss in the journal. You can compare the information here and memoirs and diaries written by local intellectuals, for example.

Ok. Maybe I should just write up an article by myself…

Some Issues on Modern Education in Korea

Filed under: — Sayaka Chatani @ 11:37 am

Education is always an important issue in history, and I regret that I have read works on the history of Korea’s modern education only sporadically. As I try to organize my notes while reading both secondary and primary sources recently, I get confused about exactly what issues are on debate back then and now. I am hoping that other people will give me clearer thoughts on this. (I’m writing this off the top of my head so my apologies for not providing specific names of historians as much as I should.)

I realized there are two very common topics in the historiography. One is how we conceive traditional and private 서당 (書堂, sodang) vs public elementary schools (普通学校). It is a fact that, compared to Taiwan, the spread of elementary schools in Korea was very slow during the colonial period, and sodang continued to sprawl even in the 1930s. Traditionally, historians see this as the failure of Japanese education, and/or the flourish of strong ethnic-centered education among Koreans. Many of the city history volumes and local history articles (written in the 1980s-2000s) I read emphasize this point. So this is an indication of the “undying national identity” for them. Historians like 渡辺学 also use the numbers of those schools as evidence that the Japanese colonial government was not the main agency that provided modern education. The fact that the Japanese forced to shut down many night schools and private schools in fear of socialist activities helps their point on the antagonistic relationship between sodang and elementary schools.

On the other hand, more recent scholars like 板垣竜太 show complementary relationship between  sodang and elementary schools. Many Korean children studied in both schools, and many of the same local elites donated money and negotiated with the local office to establish a sodang and to upgrade it to an elementary school. Both 板垣竜太’s work on Sangju and 김영희’s work on a village in 충청남도 show that the government depended on those local elites in introducing modern education if not an elementary school itself, and these two parties were more cooperative in making sodang into a modern institution. I myself also was surprised to find that, in 1922 when their concern for socialist activism was heightening, 『全羅南道青年会指導方針』regarded sodang more ideal for training rural youth than elementary schools. I just realized that those historians who use the government’s sources emphasize the conflict between sodang and elementary schools, and those who study local cases see more cooperation between the two.

The other issue is the emphasis to 実業教育 (practical education or vocational training). I find this issue more confusing in the historiography. Many tend to consider practical education the emblem of modern education, and discuss that Korean enlightenment thinkers already emphasized the importance of it before the Japanese rule started. There is some ambiguity about how to judge the Japanese call for practical education in the 1920s, but starting the 1930s, historians usually find an excessive amount of 実習 (on-site practice), and an neglect of knowledge-based education. I know 実業教育 does not necessarily mean 実習, but 実習 was justified as an integral part of 実業教育. To my confusion, many historians (again, I’m sorry for not specifying who, but in general) cannot make up their mind regarding whether the overall emphasis on practical training should be celebrated (as always is when they discuss Korean enlightenment thinkers), or considered oppressive when implemented by the Japanese, given a long tradition of Confucius training of Korean intellectuals. Reading 『文教の朝鮮』 and 『朝鮮社会事業』, I find that even among the Japanese activists, emphases on 実業教育 and Confucius thoughts coexisted for a long time. I suspect that the issue at stake was more about class differences, rather than how “modern” it sounded or how “Korean” or “Japanese” practical education represented. By “class differences,” I mean more than just “the lower class appreciated 実業教育 more than the elite.” I read an article about a diary written by a relatively well-educated young guy in 1930, in Dongbok, Cholla Namdo. He owned his own land, which made him upper-middle class already, but he was always disappointed at his farming job and had to remind himself of the importance of 実業主義 over and over. In his case, the emphasis on practical education and hard labor was supposed to help him fill the gap between the dream of obtaining higher education and the reality in front of him.

The Use of Collective Responsibility

Filed under: — Sayaka Chatani @ 6:13 am

It is a famous fact that the Government-General in Taiwan adopted the baojia (保甲) system in 1898 in reaction to a series of attacks against the Japanese. It is a method of mutual policing at the village level for the purpose of maintaining local order and preventing tax evasion. Although GGT officials explained that it was a system that they were adopting from the old Chinese dynasties, it had already been a familiar style of policing for the Japanese too since Toyotomi Hideyoshi and others adopted it to police hidden Christians and so on.

I never encountered a mentioning of a similar system in the history of colonial police in Korea. For example, Matsuda Toshihiko’s recent publication, 日本の朝鮮植民地支配と警察 1905-1945 (Japan’s Colonial Rule of Korea and the Police. 2009), discusses how the police tried to propagate its authority to the masses (民衆化) and how they tried to co-opt local leaders into their networks (警察化). But it does not look like there was a rule or a law about mutual policing like the baojia (保甲) system.

It turned out that the collective responsibility system was used in tenant contracts between Japanese agricultural companies (landlords) and Korean peasants, instead. One example was the Chosen kōgyō gaisha, run by the Shibusawa zaibatsu family. A scholar Asada Kyōji describes how the Chosen kōgyō gaisha established the gonin gumi (5-person groups) system and used it as a basic unit of Korean tenant farmers. (Asada Kyōji. 日本帝国主義と旧植民地地主制. 1992. 161). Apparently this was a common custom among the Japanese landholders as the half-governmental Oriental Developmental Company also required five tenant farmers to register together. In Ham Hanhee’s oral interview with a farmer in Cholla Namdo, he said that the most difficult part in getting a contract with the ODC is that “he needed four sponsors who were willing to take on a collective liability for his wrongdoings.” (Hahm Hanhee, Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University 1990. 82)

I wonder if the difference in where this collective liability system belonged somehow reflects the difference in the nature of rule in Taiwan and Korea… just a thought. Another thought is that, if it is possible that the infamous tonarigumi system in Japan during WWII was a product of the experiences of organizing local units in the Japanese colonies… maybe?

Thinking about the Japanese woman in Korean-Japanese (内鮮一体) couples

Filed under: — Sayaka Chatani @ 7:39 am

When I was preparing for my oral exams last semester, the professors who do not work on East Asia (I had a European historian and a Latin American historian in my committee) were always fascinated by the nature of “inter-racial marriage” in the Japanese empire. Both in the history of childhood and youth and the history of modern empire, the most complex and flexible interpretations of “race” happened on the ground where colonial societies had no choice but face the existence of inter-racial sexuality and mixed children. In the Japanese empire, inter-racial marriage was not problematized in the same way as it was in European empires. For example, in two articles of roundtable discussion on marriage (結婚改善座談会) published in Korean Social Work (朝鮮社会事業 – yes I still love this journal) in May and June 1935, the participants, mostly Japanese bureaucrats and educators in Seoul, never discuss problems of inter-marriage. The central problem was rather an increasing number of old single women in Korea. Their presentation of statistics of the marriage success rate among graduates of the elementary school bears much resemblance to today’s discussion of unemployment rates. They agree this is a problem that “kyoka dantai (moral suasion groups)” should become involved in. Another major issue brought up during this roundtable is, of course, the ways in which people conduct wedding ceremonies. For the participants, excessively luxurious wedding ceremonies often exhaust village economies. The venue of wedding ceremonies was also discussed — e.g. whether it was appropriate to imitate Taisho Emperor and to use the Chōsen Shrine for ordinary people’s wedding.

The lack of discussion on inter-racial marriage by contemporary experts is not the only interesting feature to note. “It is an open secret among Korean scholars,” one professor of modern Korean history said to me the other day, “that there were a significant number of married couples between Korean men and Japanese women but there is so little study on it.” This is another surprise to non-East Asian historians. In other places it is men from the colonizing countries and women from colonized societies that married, and this feminization of colonies is often regarded as an aspect of Orientalism. There were, of course, married couples between Korean women and Japanese men, but as Oguma Eiji has already pointed out, the Government-General in Korea encouraged Japanese women to marry Korean men because, they thought, Japanese mothers were supposed to build the foundations of Japanese culture in the home.

How do you define “coloniality” in this relationship represented by couples of Korean men and Japanese women? To offer my half-baked thought first, we really need to re-think how the ‘Japanese woman’ was interpreted in relation to modernity. I cannot easily connect this to the discussion of coloniality — or assure that it is a useful concept here.

One chapter in Nam Pujin (南富鎭)’s book 文学の植民地主義 (Colonialism in Literature) deals with the issue of colonialism in love and marriage affairs. He introduces a number of Korean writers who wrote stories in which a Korean man dreamed of marrying a Japanese woman, a Korean couple who pretended as if they had been a Korean-Japanese couple, a Japanese woman who marries a Korean man, and mixed children who grew up hating their Korean origins owing to the social discriminations they received, and so on. Nam recognizes some “coloniality” in that it is usually Koreans who have to “confess” their origin, and will come to be “understood” by their Japanese partners even in recent love stories. His discussion of the novels from the 20s and 30s is more thought-provoking. Nam points out that “Naisen kekkon (Korean-Japanese marriage) was consistently the most trendy topic for literature, and despite its political nature, it was the most popular fantasy and hope to overcome obstacles that the state and ethnicity impose on one’s love and marriage” (27). We cannot say that Naisen kekkon was as prevalent among Korean masses as Korean writers and intellectuals experienced, but it seems to me that discussion of such marriages could appear fresh and even rebellious in a way that was not necessarily directed against the Japanese colonial government, but against older generations or elite Korean families.

Nam Pujin also presents a convincing argument that Japanese women represented ‘modernity’ in the eyes of Korean masses. This itself is an interesting and anomalous case from a comparative perspective. But at the same time, the story is not simply a reverse sexual representation of imperial modernity. Japanese women represented much more than that. What caught my attention was Nam’s description of a novel called 処女の倫理 (Ethics of the Virgin) written by a well-known Korean writer Chang Hyakchu 張 赫宙 in 1939. In this novel, an independent-minded Japanese woman fell in love with and married a Korean man, but was betrayed by him because he had an official Korean wife, and was discriminated against within Korean society. According to Nam, “double marriage” was quite common since many Korean intellectuals either abandoned or ignored their official wives whom they were forced to marry at younger age, and had love affairs with Japanese women. However strongly Korean men desired a Japanese woman as if it would symbolize an achievement of modernity, this particular novel depicted very unstable power relationships that could be caused as a consequence of such a phenomenon.

There is another piece of evidence on the complexity of the issue that I found in the roundtable article mentioned above. Mōri (a commissioner to the Government-General in Korea) says, “Ladies who were raised in Korea face difficulty in finding a marriage partner.” It soon becomes clear that he is referring to Japanese women who grew up in Korea. The first reason he gives is “women who grew up in Korea are too used to luxury and cannot even sew a Kimono. Those who grew up in Japanese (naichi) rural areas are pretty good at this.” According to Mōri, Japanese men preferred naichi women who were not as “modernized” as those who grew up in Korea. It makes sense that Japanese officials and business people who were dispatched to Korea received extra salaries and benefits, and their children regarded themselves as upper-class in comparison to both the average Japanese and Korean families. Does this mean what “the real Japanese woman” represented differed significantly for Korean writers and for Japanese men?

Given the resulting mess, I cannot pin down who colonized whom or even how we could know of it in this issue of Korean-Japanese marriage.

Non-Orientalizing Colonial Ethnography

Filed under: — Sayaka Chatani @ 11:32 pm

I am re-visiting reprints of a journal called Korean Social Work (『朝鮮社会事業』), which colonial bureaucrats and social reformers in Korea published nearly every month between 1923 and 1944. The articles were written mostly in Japanese, and many of the authors (both Korean and Japanese) expressed, just like the social bureaucrats in the Home Ministry in the metropole, a combination of reform-minded, progressive ideas and a colonizer’s mindset that could be characterized as a ‘civilizing mission.’

I would like to introduce here an article that I encountered in vol. 5 no. 10 October 1926 issue entitled “Sociology of Korea That Appears in Folklore”(「民間伝承に現はれた朝鮮の社会相」). The author used an alias of 青丘同人, under which he introduced a Korean folk story in almost every issue around these years. In this particular issue, however, he gave a more detailed analysis of the characteristics of Korean folklore. I cannot tell if he was ethnically Korean or Japanese (although he calls Japan “our country”), but he was obviously a very dedicated ethnographer of Korea, was trained in Western theories, and operated professionally in the Japanese language.

The first thing that one notices in his article is a heavy emphasis on ordinary people’s history. The author criticized the official historical records for being too aristocracy-centered, and argued that in order to understand Korean society we need to turn to folklore — “the shapeless art of the languages of the masses.” Considering that folk studies were growing in Japan and everywhere else in the world, this itself is not quite unique. In fact, this global ethnographical turn in the 1920s led to a big wave of Orientalist colonial knowledge in most of the empires. We are also familiar with many accounts of Japanese ethnographers Orientalizing the colonial Other.

The rest of this article, however, turned out to be a lot different from the “Other”-ing that I expected to find. His analysis develops rather in an unexpected direction. One unusual aspect of his article is that he uses Marxist class struggle to analyze Korean sayings and popular jokes. Many of the social reform bureaucrats who were publishing this journal were overtly anti-Marxists, and they regarded social work as a necessity to prevent the spread of Marxism and Communism. Despite that, 青丘同人 fearlessly demonstrates “social revolutionary elements” hidden in Korean sayings. According to him, “the origin of social revolutions is embedded in the moment where ordinary people’s social conditions have totally changed and the old system no longer works. It must be clear that when ordinary people’s knowledge recognizes the ignorance of the ruler, they resort to action.” Popular jokes and sayings capture this exact moment. For example, the following joke shows how ordinary people mocked the way in which the privileged class would collapse from within:

A younger brother said, “No matter how arrogantly you behave, I am superior to you when it comes to our social statuses.” His older brother asked, “Why?” He answered, “Because when you were born, our father was just an ordinary official, but when I was born, he was already an emperor-appointed one.”

青丘同人 gives a number of examples in which ordinary people ridiculed the incompetence of the ruler and the old aristocratic system. He argues, “… people in Korea who did not prefer overt conflicts [with upper classes] turned to the mocking (笑殺) to comfort themselves. The only way of revenge for the weak was to passively laugh out the despotic behaviors of the stronger.” Doesn’t this line of argument sound familiar to us?

Another unique part is his attempt to deconstruct the stereotypes of the status of women in traditional Korea. He challenges the stereotypical understanding that Korean women had been oppressed by men, locked in the home and deprived of any freedom. He first explains that the structure of the inner house (内房) where women mainly stayed was so complicated because men needed to protect women from outsiders in the face of foreign invasions. What is interesting is that he quickly dismisses the importance of this original reason, and points out that this system of locking up women in the house lasted only because it worked for women too (“it was based on love”), and because women reigned over their own kingdoms in their inner houses. “Otherwise women would not stay inside more than three days.” 青丘同人 also disputes the alleged wickedness of the custom in which women were forced to wash clothes all day everyday so that they would not have energy or time for adultery. He regards washing clothes as more about providing appropriate exercise for women. “Compared to bodily disciplining like chastity belts in the West, foot-binding in China, and blackening teeth in Japan,” chastity control in Korea in the inner house was far more aesthetic (趣きのある).

The issue I want to raise is not about whether we agree or disagree with his analysis. As far as I can tell, he was an ethnographer who did not try to Orientalize Korea. In fact, many of the points he made are a precursor to what scholars in the 1980s and 90s (i.e. supposedly the Said-ian self-reflective age) attempted to argue. I always found it sad that, whenever we discuss colonial ethnographers, we inevitably find Orientalizing, Other-ing operations. I think this article by 青丘同人, someone I do not know who really was, is giving us an opportunity to think about ethnography as a more diverse field than we usually think.

UPDATE: I just found 青丘同人’s real name in volume 5 no.7. It is 清水兵三 (he started to use  “青丘 清水兵三”) . I might be able to track him down, now!

Japanese Publications on Colonial Bureaucracy

Filed under: — Sayaka Chatani @ 11:13 pm

I would like to introduce two recent publications on colonial bureaucrats here. One is Okamoto Makiko, Shokuminchi kanryô no seijishi (岡本真希子『植民地官僚の政治史:朝鮮・台湾総督府と帝国日本』, Politics of Colonial Bureaucrats)Sangensha, 2008, and the other is Ôtomo Masako, Teikoku Nihon no shokuminchi shakai jigyô seisaku kenkyû (大友昌子『帝国日本の植民地社会事業政策研究』, A Study of Colonial Social Work Policies of Imperial Japan)Minerva, 2007. Their works are both impressive in the scope of research and their ability to compare the nitty-gritty of colonial rule in Taiwan and Korea. From research of Sheldon Garon and many others, Japan’s historians all learned that government officials, especially those in the famous Home Ministry played a huge role in promoting social reforms and modernization and that their power permeated many aspects of people’s everyday life. There is no reason to believe that it was very different in the colonies. Despite the reasonable guess about the role of colonial bureaucrats, we did not have a good grasp of basic facts about them until these publications came out.

There is so much information in Okamoto’s thick volume and I would highly recommend that anyone who studies anything about colonial Korea/Taiwan use this as a reference book. Okamoto did an excellent job in departing from the concentration, in previous scholarship, on personal networks (“who knew whom” etc.) and focused instead on the system, laws, and principles that regulated the flows of people. I learned so much about the differences of status between the Government-General in Korea and the Government-General in Taiwan — e.g. By 1919 when the Cultural Policy was implemented, there was a wide consensus among Japanese politicians on the fact that the GGK had already established a semi-independent status unlike the GGT and the other colonies. The GGK and the GGT also diverged in the recruitment of local populations into the colonial bureaucracy. While the number of Korean officials increased, that of Taiwanese officials remained extremely low. Okamoto also elaborates upon how the GGK operated (or at least tried to operate) independently from the Japanese home government in many different ways. Her elaboration on how the quickly changing political climates in Japan influenced the top personnel in the GGK and GGT, changing the relationships between the Japanese government and colonial bureaucracy, is also impressive.  We still have a long way to go in dissecting the work of colonial bureaucracies. But with her work, we can finally refer to the Government-General with more pluristic terms — as a group of people, rather than one monster-like control machine.

Ôtomo’s work on colonial social work probably enjoys a little more limited audience. Her empiricism is striking and it is quite refreshing to read details of social welfare laws and programs without once mentioning Foucauldian governmentality. Her main argument is to show how the colonial officials tried to regulate modernization in the colonies (「抑制された近代化」). That itself is not eye-opening but what interested me was how similar the social work techniques were between the colonies and Japan — the use of “方面委員 (district commissioner)” programs, the emphasis on moral suasion (教化)and local improvement, for example. Ôtomo tries to define “modernization” in a scientifically measurable way (the “levels” of labor policy, poverty, economic security etc), but her work more interestingly demonstrates how colonial officials defined “the direction” of modernization.

Modernization or Japanization? –The Movie “Homeless Angels” 1941

Filed under: — Sayaka Chatani @ 10:17 am

I had a chance to watch a Korean movie from the colonial period, called “Homeless Angels (집없는 천사, 家なき天使),” at the Korean Film Archive (KFA) in Susek, Seoul, the other day. This movie was made by the infamously pro-Japanese director of the time, Choi Inkyu, in the late 1930s, and released in 1941. The Korean Film Archive listed it as one of 100 representative works that reflect Korean cinema, “because it is one of the very few surviving movies from the Japanese colonial era” despite the fact that the last scene (where all the children recite the pledge of allegiance to the Japanese Emperor) was propagandistic for the  Japanese imperialist cause.

The movie is about the founder of an orphanage called 香隣園 and the Korean boys who joined the orphanage. Conversations took place mostly in Korean, except for some occasional code switching with Japanese. Since Matt at GUSTS OF POPULAR FEELING has featured this movie a while ago, giving details of the plot and pictures of various scenes, I will not explain the story in detail here. I would rather like to point out the key historiographical issue in the discussions related to this movie among Korean film scholars, the KFA and GUSTS OF POPULAR FEELING.

The KFA interprets this movie as mostly a humanist story of enlightenment by Koreans for Koreans, and argues that “the propagandistic sequence is inserted irrespective of the plot and thus does not pose a substantial threat to the text’s actual subject.” In critique of this interpretation, Matt has highlighted the militaristic nature of the training that children receive, and indirect expressions that praise Japanese military advancement in the film. His interpretations suggest that children could represent Koreans in general, and that the film could leave the audience with the lesson that Koreans could have become real Japanese citizens if they had made a great effort.1 The interpretations of this movie among film scholars today are similarly divided on how to interpret the nature of this movie in the same way as the Japanese imperial authorities were bewildered.2 Is this a mere Japanese propaganda? Or is this a ‘Korean’ humanist story of rescuing and enlightening homeless children?

Let’s step back from this question for a moment. There are many elements in this movie that reflect the global trends at the time. The first thing to notice is that in the movie there is clear pastoral idealism depicted as a reaction to industrialization. The film shows the decadence and corruption of urban culture, and its contrast to the healthy, disciplined, frugal and simple rural life. The idealization of rural agricultural life is found in media and intellectual discourse, not only in Korea and Japan, but also in Britain, Germany and other places in the world since the 1900s. Secondly, the special role of children as ‘our future’ and ‘our hope,’ but at the same time, as those that adults have to lead in the right direction, can be considered as a new concept that rapidly spread around the world in the 1910s. Historians often point out Stanley Hall‘s theory of developmental child psychology as having helped create and spread such an image of children. With these two elements combined, it is not surprising to see that large-scale youth movements were launched around the world around the same time — the Boy Scouts, Hitler Jugend, Japanese Seinendan, Communist Komsomol, etc. All these youth groups praised militarized discipline and pastoral ideology. Lastly, while idealization of rural life is clearly a rejection of modern consumerism, the movie seems to imply that Western Enlightenment itself was the basis of their activities. In the movie, the founder of the orphanage gains support from his brother-in-law, a rich doctor who owns an empty Western style house, a sizable farm and a farmhouse outside of Seoul available for use. There was a quick flashback scene in which this brother-in-law was spending time with his German girlfriend there, showing that he was educated in the Western style and is familiar with European culture. More interestingly, the founder names his son and daughter ” Johann (요한)” and “Mary (마리아)” respectively, which we can’t help but see as bizarre given the setting of Japanese colonialism. Overall, the adults who help the children in this film are all “Westernized.” This close relationship between the Enlightenment thought and anti-industrial youth movements was also prevalent in other parts of the world.

Coming back to the question of how to interpret the nature of the movie “Homeless Angels,” it is clear that the film was not simply about “Koreans helping Koreans.” At the same time, the question of “to what extent it was Japanese” has become a much harder question to answer because Korea, as well as Japan, was embedded within the larger historical trends of the time. The same difficulty of separating “Japanese” colonial modernity from world-historical trends is a common problem with many of the writings about the Korean colonial history. I wish that historians had better tools to capture the interaction of all the world, regional, national, provincial, and personal contexts instead of endeavoring to fit all the elements into narrower national terms. 


  1. I would add the fact that the orphanage was available only for boys. It reflects the tendency of Japanese colonialism that regarded Koreans as military and labor human resources at the time. []
  2. See 강성률, 영화로 보는 우리 역사 3 [집 없는 천사]와 찬일: 계몽을 가장한 자발적 친일, 내일을 여는 역사, no. 20, 2005.6, pp.227-232 []

School Strikes in Colonial Korea: 1937-1939

Filed under: — Sayaka Chatani @ 9:00 pm

I had a chance to look into two primary sources on ‘school strikes (同盟休校)’ (mostly in common schools) in the colonial period of Korea (the Kominka period in particular), and translated some of the records from Japanese to English. The documents I looked at are: 高等外事月報 (朝鮮総督府警務局) and 朝鮮思想運動概況(朝鮮軍). It is quite interesting and I would like to share some of the anecdotes here.

<Students’ Complaints in 1937-1939>
The main complaints throughout these years were about the excessive amount of ‘practice (jisshū)’ classes at the expense of academic training. Many went on strike because they perceived that they were not receiving adequate education or were not provided with qualified teachers. In many of these cases, the quality of education mattered more than ethnicity. To give a few examples;

  • 69 male students out of the total of 80 fourth graders were discontent about the educational policy of the new Japanese principal who emphasized only ‘practice’ classes and disregarded academic courses. The class president and 5 other students gathered all the male students and decided to go on school strike during that week. They carried out the strike the next day. But after the local police and the school caught the six instigators, all the rest attended school the following day. (Kyŏnggi, Common School, May 1937)
  • 32 forth graders went on strike in the hope that the school would hire an additional teacher and reduce the number of self-study hours. The police detected the plan, and dissuaded them from carrying it out. (North Ch’ungch’ŏng, Common School, March 1937)
  • Students were discontent with a Korean teacher of Buddhism and the Korean language for his short temper and ineffective pedagogy. 32 students went on strike for two days. (South Kyŏngsang, Buddhist School, May 1937)
  • Civil engineering students were discontent with the Japanese principal’s decision to hire a new Japanese teacher to replace a resigning Korean teacher since the new teacher lacked adequate educational background. 101 students went for strike, but after the principal explained his intention to promote school reform and discipline by hiring a Japanese teacher, and promised to hire another Japanese teacher with higher technical knowledge, the students were satisfied and resumed attending school. (South Ch’ungch’ŏng, 1939)


Korean War Criminals in the Movement to “Set History Straight”

Filed under: — Sayaka Chatani @ 1:54 am

Frog in a Well welcomes a guest posting from Sayaka Chatani on the issue of Korean War Criminals and the difficulty Korean historians have found in addressing them in modern Korean historiography. Sayaka is a PhD student in the History Department of Columbia University. Her research interests are in the transnational history of early to mid-twentieth century East Asia, mainly focusing on the colonization and decolonization of Korea and Taiwan.


Colonial legacies are one of the most hotly debated political issues in South Korea. The phrase “legacies of Japanese imperialism (ilche chanjae)” is ubiquitous in newspapers and in bookstores, and the topic not only triggers controversies among academics, but inspires social movements, and leads the government to adopt policies to resolve the remnant problems.

Among the many controversies surrounding the history of Japan’s colonial rule in Korea, much attention has centered on the question of collaborators. Many Korean historians argue that former pro-Japanese collaborators subsequently prevented Korea’s unification and brought about significant harm to South Korean society. They see punishing them as a prerequisite to restoring a healthy society.1 In the context of ‘setting history straight,’ The South Korean government has confiscated the property of descendants of nine collaborators.2 A presidential fact-finding panel has finished its second investigation to identify the names of pro-Japanese collaborators, and continues working on a third investigation.3

In contrast to their excitement over the issue of collaborators, historians have only given very limited attention and analysis to the issue of Korean war criminals despite the significant number of Koreans put on trial and executed as Japanese prison guards. When a few Japanese and Korean historians do face the issue, they tend to simplify the complex experiences of Korean war criminals to fit the dominant minjung discourse that blames a distinct group of collaborators for betraying the majority of Korean people. The fact that Korean war criminals were both victims and victimizers makes it difficult for nationalist historians to openly discuss the issue.


  1. For example, Ahn Byung-ook, “The Significance of Settling the Past in Modern Korean History,” Korea Journal, Autumn 2002, pp.7-17, and Chung Youn-tae, “Refracted Modernity and the Issue of Pro-Japanese Collaborators in Korea,” Korea Journal, Autumn 2002, pp.18-59 []
  2. New York Times, “World Briefing, Asia: South Korea: Crackdown On Collaborators” May 3rd 2007. []
  3. The Korea Times, “202 Pro-Japanese Collaborators Disclosed.” September 17, 2007 []

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