Korea's Colonial Period
Resident-General and Resistance
Outright control by Japanese began on February 1, 1906. The
Resident-General was invested with full authority in regard to Korea's
diplomacy, domestic administration and military affairs. Through the Council for
Improvement of Korean Administration, he pressed the Korean government to accept
Japan's aggressive policy in the fields of finance, banking, agriculture,
forestry, mining, transportation, education, culture, jurisprudence, internal
security, local administration and the royal household.
In order to cover up their coercive actions, the
Resident-General sent Stevens, paid by the Korean government, to the United
States to advance Japanese propaganda. Upon his arrival in San Francisco,
Stevens, who was said to have received several tens of thousands of dollars from
the Japanese, made a false statement that the Korean people in general welcomed
the Korea-Japan treaty. Infuriated by this canard, Korean emigrants Chang In-hwan
and Chon Myong-un
assassinated him in March 1907.
When Emperor Kojong dispatched an emissary to the Peace
Conference at the Hague in June 1907 and exposed to the world Japan's aggressive
policy, the Office of the Resident-General forced the monarch to abdicate the
throne, and the third Korea-Japan Agreement of July was forced upon Korea, which
provided a legal basis for Japan's appropriation of Korea. A large number of
Japanese officials penetrated the executive and judicial branches of the Korean
government, accelerating the Japanese scheme of complete Korean overrule. The
Korean armed forces were disarmed and disbanded and the judicial system was
reorganized to serve Japanese aggression. Moreover, in a secret memorandum
attached to the Korean-Japan agreement, it was stipulated that Korean military
forces would be dissolved and that courts, newly constructed prisons, and the
police would be turned over to Japanese management. This enabled the Japanese to
assume actual judicial and police authority.
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The Korean Empire was now a nominal one. The Japanese
aggressors exerted armed pressure upon the government through their military
forces and police. In June 1910, Japan instituted a military police system by
appointing the commander of the Japanese military police to the concurrent post
of superintendent for police administration.
While carrying out the war against Russia, Japan promoted a
puppet society, the Ilchinhoe. The people reacted with rage, and the Daehan
Chaganghoe Club, the Hwangsong (Hanyang)
YMCA and the National Education Research Association attacked the Ilchinhoe vehemently.
When Chang Chi-yon, publisher of the Hwangsong
Shinmun, assailed the protectorate treaty in an editorial, Japanese police
arrested him and closed down his newspaper. Another newspaper, the Daehan
Maeil Shinbo, published in Korean, Chinese and English, assailed Japan's
aggressive and oppressive policies and served as a guide for Korean national
Many leaders representing all walks of life committed suicide
in protest of the forced treaty, and many attempts were made to assassinate
ranking officials of the Korean government who had cooperated in bringing the
aggressive treaty into being.
Emperor Kojong appealed unsuccessfully to both the United
States and the Hague Peace Conference of 1907 for support in repudiating the
treaty. Korean resistance to Japanese control intensified, but was ruthlessly
suppressed by the Japanese military. Uprisings led by leading Confucian scholars
flared in the provinces of Ch'ungch'eong-do, Cholla-do,
Kyongsang-do and Kangwon-do.
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Although the resistance fighters, mainly young peasants, were
short of weapons, they fought bravely against the Japanese troops. The
resistance assumed major proportions and developed into all-out war with Japan
when the regular army joined in the fighting after its forced disbandment by the
Japanese. Fighting spread to every part of the country, as not only farmers and
soldiers, but also hunters and mine workers of northern Korea joined in the
resistance. Commanders included Confucian scholars of the yangban class
and a number of commoners.
Many pitched battles were fought between 1907 and 1909, but
the resistance fighters were more active in guerrilla tactics, rescuing Koreans
from Japanese captivity and destroying Japanese transportation and
communications facilities. F.A. McKenzie, the only foreigner who visited the
volunteer soldiers in their battle areas and personally observed their
activities, wrote the following:
"As I stood on a mountain pass, looking down on the
valley leading to Inch' Con, I recalled these words
of my friend. The Ôstrong hand of Japan' was certainly being shown here. I
beheld in front of me village after village reduced to ashes. Destruction,
thorough and complete, had fallen upon it. Not a single house was left, and not
a single wall of a house."
The situation of the volunteer army was extremely difficult,
in that it had to supply itself as best it could with weapons and other
necessities to fight against Japan, while the Japanese army and police could
easily obtain war supplies from their country. The Korean armed resistance
gradually grew weaker, and Japan reported that the Korean volunteer army had
ceased to exist in November 1910 or in March 1912 with its last operation in
Hwanghae-do province. McKenzie reported, however, that the volunteer army's
resistance might have continued until 1915. At home the resistance took the form
of underground organization, while a group of patriots crossed the Amnokkang and
Tuman-gang rivers into Manchuria, where they organized the Korean Independence
Army with its stronghold in Kando. This army became the main force in all
subsequent struggles against the Japanese. The volunteer soldiers performed
their duty as the vanguard in independence resistance both at home and abroad,
demonstrating the nation's ability to resist Japan's colonial policy.
When the resistance army established a stronghold at Kando,
Manchuria, the population of the Kando district as of 1909 consisted of 83,000
Koreans and 21,000 Chinese. The Resident-General, in order to destroy the Korean
independence movement there, set up a branch office and stationed an army plus
military and civilian police forces in Kando. A corps of Korean independence
fighters under the leadership of Hong PCom-do had
already moved to Kando, but Japan sought to oppress Korean residents in the
district by demanding that China recognize Kando as Korean territory.
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There was a change of policy, however, as a result of China's
concession authorizing Japan's Southern Manchurian Railroad Company to lay
branch lines and exploit mining resources in Manchuria. In return, Japan
concluded a treaty with China on September 4, 1909, recognizing Chinese
territorial rights over Kando.
Nevertheless, the Japanese consulate general newly established
in Kando continued to exert pressure against Korean independence activities. A
young Korean patriot, An Chung-gCun (1879-1910),
assassinated Resident-General Ito at the Harbin Railroad Station on October 26,
Under the treaty concluded on August 22, 1910, and proclaimed
a week later, Japan gave the coup de grace to the Korean Empire and changed the
Office of the Resident-General to that of Government-General. The proclamation
of the treaty had been preceded by severe suppressive measures, including the
suspension of newspaper publication and the arrest of thousands of Korean
leaders. The capital in particular was guarded tightly by Japanese combat
troops. The treaty was the product of a conspiracy between treacherous Korean
officials, who had been the target of national hatred, and Japanese officials of
the Office of the Government-General.
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Between 1905 and 1908, Japanese control over Korea's currency
was secured with the rapidly growing volume of Daiichi Bank notes. Supported by
generous loans from their home government, Japanese merchants could easily
expand their activities and invade the Korean market. Japanese firms operated in
Korea with a combined capital in excess of 10 million Won. The number of
Japanese residents in Korea in 1908 totaled to 126,000, and by 1911 the number
had risen to 210,000.
The number of Japanese residents engaged in farming also grew
rapidly as Japan's seizure of Korean land gathered momentum. Korean farmers
controlled by the usurious Japanese capital became an easy prey to
expropriation. The Office of the Government-General enacted a series of laws
concerning land ownership to the decided advantage of the Japanese.
In the meantime, large Japanese capitalists coercively
purchased land, mainly in ChColla-do and Ch'ungch'eCong-do
provinces, during the period between 1905 to 1910. The Honam Plain in ChColla-do
province, long known as the Korean granary, was rapidly becoming a Japanese
farm, and such land seizures quickly spread to other provinces. Intruding into
fertile and well-irrigated lands on a nationwide scale, the Japanese advanced
toward the north, occupying first the Taegu and Choch'iwon areas along the
Seoul-Pusan railway and the Hwangju area along the Seoul-ShinCuiju
In order to carry out land expropriation on a broader and more
systematic scale, the Government-General began the practice of distributing to
Japanese farmers unclaimed land and military farms of the Korean government.
Having worked out a plan aimed at resettling Japanese farmers in Korea, he
established the Oriental Development Company in 1908 and seized Korean land,
reducing the royal property and its budget.
The Japanese plan called for the seizure of state-owned
unreclaimed land, military farms cultivated by troops, and the mobilization of
Korean laborers for their reclamation. Within a year, the company had seized
30,000 hectares (75,000 acres) of military farms and unclaimed land. By means of
usurping the Korean government's control over its own financial management, the
Japanese also removed property from the royal household. This policy was aimed
at preventing Emperor Kojong from raising resistance funds.
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The Independence Club's advocacy of modern reform raised
popular consciousness of political participation. Schools founded by Christian
missionaries introduced Western style, modern education to Korea. In the face of
intensifying Japanese aggression, the government worked toward resolving
educational problems. It promulgated regulations for the HansCong
Normal School, foreign language institutes and primary education in 1895, and
those for medical colleges, middle schools and commercial and technical schools
in 1899, thereby laying the foundation for modern education. In 1904, commercial
and technical schools were expanded to include agricultural schools. Foreign
language institutes for Japanese, English and French came into being in 1895,
for Russian in 1896, and for Chinese and German in 1900.
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Special schools were established to provide various government
agencies with skilled workers. They offered curricula in such fields as mining,
law, postal service and electricity. There were many other schools founded by
private citizens and missionaries to encourage Korean nationalist conciousness.
Hagwon, founded in 1904 and operated by pastor Chon
Tok-ki, provided education for young men in close
liaison with the activities of the Shinminhoe, a secret independence
organization. Its membership included prominent intellectuals and patriotic
leaders. However, the school was forced to closed by the Japanese in 1914.
Through the Office of the Resident-General, Japan assumed
actual power over Korean education affecting reorganization of the educational
system by imperial edict. The Japanese attempted to bring all schools under
government management, reduce the number of schools, subordinate the content of
education to their colonial policy, and retard Korean education by lowering the
level of academic content. Through the decree for private schools promulgated in
1908, the Japanese strengthened their control over private schools and shut many
of them down.
Schools were, however, continuously established in the
Maritime Province and in the Kando district across the Tuman-gang river. In 1919
the number of Korean schools reached to 130 in Manchuria alone. Like their
colleagues at home, patriotic leaders in exile in Manchuria laid emphasis on
education as a prerequisite for the independence struggle.
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In 1905, Chu Shi-gyong made a
proposal to the government concerning studies of the Korean language and
compilation of a dictionary. As a result of his efforts and those of the
National Language Research Institute established in 1907, a new system was
introduced for the national script. Under this system, the exclusive use of
Chinese characters in official documents and communication was replaced by the
mixed use of Chinese characters and Han-gul.
Newspapers and books used the new writing system in order to
spread knowledge of European institutions more rapidly among the populace.
Through his work on Korean grammar and phonology published in the years
1908-1914, Chu Shi-gyong exerted a profound impact
on scientific research of the Korean language. He also taught that language and
script were the foundation of national spirit and culture.
On the basis of a modern understanding of the national
language, a new literary movement began, aimed at arousing national
consciousness among the masses. New-style poems, novels and travel accounts were
published in Han-gul. These creative literary
achievements were made possible by the translation and imitation of European and
American literature, from the latter part of the 19th century to the 1910s. This
early stage of the enlightenment movement provided a basis for the modern
literature of the 1920s.
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Further Moves Against Japanese Rule
The Japanese Government-General was constantly sensitive to
the public awareness and education of Koreans. Thus, in a nationwide search
conducted in 1910 for books on Korean history and geography, 200,000 to 300,000
were confiscated and burned. Included in the proscription were Korean readers,
biographies of national heroes of earlier centuries, and Korean translations of
foreign books relating to independence, the birth of the nation, revolution,
The Japanese also re-interpreted Korean history for their own
purposes. Historians employed at the Research Department of the Southern
Manchurian Railroad Company were ordered to distort Korean history. The
Historical Geography of Manchuria, Historical Geography of Korea, and Report
of Geographical and Historical Research in Manchuria are products of
such historiography. In The History of the Korean Peninsula (1915), the
Japanese limited the scope of Korean history to the peninsula, severing it from
relations with the Asian continent and brushing aside as fallacy judgments made
by Korean historians.
This Japanese attempt to annihilate the Korean national
consciousness was even more conspicuous in educational policy. The Educational
Act promulgated in September 1911 was geared mainly to secure manpower for the
operation of the colonial establishment. The Japanese also tightened their
control of traditional as well as private schools. More than 90 percent of
school-age children were denied the opportunity to learn, thereby keeping them
illiterate. The 12 years between 1910 and 1922 saw a spectacular decrease in the
number of private schools, from more than 2,000 to about 600. Such was the dire
effect of the efforts of the Japanese colonial masters to extinguish Korea's
Early in 1907, when resistance against the Office of the
Resident-General was at its height under the leadership of the "righteous
armies," the Shinminhoe came into being. The aim of this secret
organization was to recover independence. Led by An Ch'ang-ho, the association
continued to grow, and by 1910 had a membership of more than 300, representing
all the provinces.
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On December 27, 1910, Governor-General Terauchi was to attend
a ceremony dedicating the railway bridge over the Amnokkang river. On a false
charge that Shinminhoe members had engaged in a conspiracy to assassinate
him on his way to the ceremony, the Japanese arrested more than 600 of the
society members and their sympathizers, of whom 105 were convicted under severe
torture. Some were beaten to death and six members, including Yun Ch'i-ho, Yang
Ki-t'ak, An T'ae-guk and Yi Sung-hun, were sentenced
to prison terms.
This Japanese fabrication was exposed by such foreign
missionaries as H. G. Underwood, G.S. McCune and S.A. Moffet. P.L. Gilette,
Secretary-General of the Korean Young Men's Christian Association, went to China
and declared to the world that the incident was a fabrication. The same
disclosure was made in a booklet entitled The Korean Conspiracy Case by
A.J. Brown, Secretary-General of the Presbyterian Missions in Foreign Countries,
at the request of missionary organization in Korea. Brown criticized Japan's
colonial policy, calling Korea "a well-regulated penal colony."
In spite of Terauchi's maneuvering to dissolve the Shinminhoe,
commanders of the "righteous armies" organized the Independence Army
Headquarters in 1913 under the leadership of Im Pyong-ch'an
with the aim of redirecting popular opinion to the cause of restoring national
sovereignty. The objectives of the Korean Sovereignty Restoration Corps,
originally organized at Aniram, a Buddhist monastery in Taegu in 1915, included
independence agitation through direct action and through diplomatic channels,
and the supplying of military funds to the Provisional Government of Korea in
Exile in Shanghai. The corps planned an assault on Japanese military police
stations in 1919, mobilizing thousands of villagers.
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Land Survey and Other Forms of Oppression
At the time the Government-General was established, the
Japanese embarked on land surveying for the consolidation of their colonial
economic system. They concentrated all of their administrative resources on this
project, mobilizing both military and civilian police forces.
Prior to this, in order to reorganize its financial
administration in 1898, the Korean government had launched a land survey, and
the Office of Land Survey of the Ministry of Finance issued land certificates in
1901 to farms that were surveyed. The project was not completed and in 1905
Japan forced the Ministry of Finance to carry out a land survey to provide an
inventory of the Korean government's revenue sources, paving the way for seizure
In 1908, the Japanese forced the Korean government to
establish a land survey office to ascertain the amount of real estate owned by
the royal household. On the basis of this survey, all immovables owned by the
household, except the palaces, the royal mausoleum and royal tombs, were listed
as government property. In 1912, the Government-General promulgated laws
requiring real-estate owners to make reports on their land within a prescribed
period of time, empowering the Japanese financial office to further endorse
their ownership of all Korean land.
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The land survey took eight years, beginning in 1910, and cost
20,400,000 yen. It laid the foundation for wholescale expropriation of the
By utilizing the favorable new conditions, the Oriental
Development Company was able to expand its ownership of land to 154,221
hectares. The number of tenant farmers subordinate to the company exceeded
300,000. These same tenant farmers had already been deprived of their right to
cultivate land as a result of Japanese aggression.
The number of disputes concerning land ownership which arose
as a result of the survey amounted to 34,000 cases. Most of these disputes came
from Koreans who were deprived of their land by the survey, or by false
accusations from Japanese in their attempts at illegal acquisition of land. The
Government-General resolved the disputes by the application of the
"enforced conciliation law."
In 1911 the Government-General enforced measures to provide
the Japanese freedom to fell trees, and the authority of Japanese lumbering
companies in Korea was expanded. In May 1918, the Japanese promulgated the
Korean Forestry Ordinance, forcing forest owners to register with the colonial
office. Through a survey separating state and private forests, the Japanese used
the pretext of nationalization to transfer the ownership of 1,090,000 hectares
of village forests and 3,090,000 hectares of grave forests to Japanese lumbering
companies. Excessive felling of trees by the Japanese brought about devastation
of Korean forests, and extensive erosion followed in the devastated mountains.
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To impede the progress of existing Korean companies and
prevent the creation of new ones, the Company Ordinance was issued in December
1910. This ordinance empowered the government to grant charters, resulting in
great hindrance to the development of Korean capital. Even chartered companies
were subject to suspension or dissolution by the Government-General at will, and
heavy penalties were stipulated for violators.
The reduction of Korean capital was accompanied by rapid
growth of Japanese investment in fundamental industries.
The Regulations for Fisheries Associations of 1912 also
enabled the Japanese to bring Korean fisheries under their control by enforcing
joint sale of all that Korean fishermen caught. About 30,000 Japanese fishermen
residing in Korea, and about 90,000 other Japanese fishermen, mostly poachers,
devastated Korean fishing grounds which had been providing a livelihood for
200,000 Korean fishermen.
Korean farmers fared no better, as the Government-General
controlled financial associations by means of usurious loans. In addition, the
Oriental Development Company served as an agent of the Government-General in
implementing a large-scale resettlement program that saw no fewer than 98,000
Japanese owner-families settled in Korea prior to 1918.
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provided by the Korean Embassy