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:
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…