Japanese Occupation: Comparison of China and Korea
Japanese Occupation: Comparison of China and Korea
Over the last sixty years, Northeast Asia has changed tremendously in terms of global political and economic positions. Many scholars associate the growth with Japanese occupation during the Second World War. Japan in the early 20th century had grown into an economic and military powerhouse because of its reception of Westerners in the 19th century. China, on the other hand, had not welcomed the Europeans. In addition, China was undergoing a cultural revolution. The divergence in power enabled Japanese occupation. On the other hand, Korea was a nation always in isolation thus encouraging exploitation. Difference in factors that enabled occupation is what shaped the divergent implications. Japanese occupation during China’s Cultural Revolution helped shape the country’s concept of a nation and contemporary identity. Conversely, Japanese occupation of isolated Korea modernized the region.
The 20th century Sino-Japanese war mostly known through the fall of China’s capital city of Nanjing in 1937 marked the end of China’s history. China was always known for its traditional Confucian ideals characterized by minimal technology and prioritization of a natural life. The ancient Confucian identity is what led to China being in constant conflict with industrialized Europe in the 19th century (Che, Du, Lu, and Tao 2). Lack of industry and technology made the country inept to defend itself during the second Sino-Japanese war. Japan’s invasion degraded China to its weakest point. Chinese revolutionaries exploited this weak state to forge the concept of modern China as anti-communist and industrialized (Che, Du, Lu and Tao 2). However, while the traditional form of governance was destroyed during the Japanese occupation, the experience of war resulted in most Chinese holding anti-Japanese sentiments, which are still evident today.
As both Japan and China govern using Confucian ideals, repatriation and reconstruction are welcomed concepts following the conflict. However, modern China with a greater position of strength exchanges with Japan in a cold war marked by undeniable tension. Over the last few years, the tension has re-emerged as seen through the territorial disputes for Islands Diaoyu and Senkaku. (Che, Du, Lu and Tao 26). The diplomatic minefield between Japan and China is also seen in trade and investment. While the two nations are major trading partners with similar regional interests, the ghosts of the Japanese invasion impede the flow of economic exchange. According to Che, Du, Lu, and Tao in their study, regions mostly damaged by the invasion attract less Japanese investment (27). In addition, the intensive margin effect of the occupation resulted in less regional firms investing in trade across China and Japan.
Korea early in its history had adopted an isolationist philosophy. The country’s mix of isolationist and Confucian ideals did not prioritize profit. Thus, Korea was a poor state compared to Japan (Woodside 12). With the 19th century political turmoil, Korea became a ground for external influences. The peak came with Korea’s complete annexation into Japan. Under Japan, Korea would trade rice for manufactured goods. The region was surveyed and mapped resulting in the enactment of a land registration policy, which is still in use today (Caprio 119). Japan through investing in electricity and modification of seaports was able to introduce heavy industry into Korea. With industry came internal infrastructure development of roads and rail, which attracted foreign investment for Korea’s mining activities. One important economic contribution of Japan was the introduction of the central bank, which shaped Korea’s financial framework. By the time Korea realized its independence from Japanese occupation, it was the second most industrialized republic across the whole of Asia.
Japan also changed Korea’s social order by availing education to all. However, learning was based on the Japanese language, an act that eroded Korea’s identity as education assimilated most Koreans into Japan (Caprio 212). The situation was furthered by the 1939 decree stating colonial authorities to adopt Japanese names. While Japanese economic ambitions modernized Korea, its social order corroded Korea’s cultural identity resulting in regional division. Therefore, Japan’s withdrawal in 1945 was bound to result in great confusion. America and Russia divided Korea into zones based on reception or rejection of communist ideals. With American and Russia failing to enter an agreement for a single Korean regime, the country was divided into two, which was the basis for the 1950s Korean War and future antagonism between South and North Korea. Going back in time, one can trace Korea’s division to the Japanese occupation.
The ghost of the Japanese occupation of China and Korea puts the stability of North East Asia at peril due to its societal implications. At the surface, occupation was beneficial in that it modernized Korea and helped shape China’s contemporary cultural identity. However, below the surface are explosive societal aspects. Korea’s isolationist philosophy meant adaptation of Japan’s identity throughout the annexation period. Lack of a common cultural identity encouraged division based on the divergent American and Russian interests. On the other hand, the occupation pits two of the world’s biggest economies against each other resulting in cold diplomatic relations, which not only impede growth, but also increase the possibility of future war. The experience of war that came through the Japanese occupation determined how the three nations interact with each other and with the rest of the world.
Caprio, Mark. Japanese Assimilation Policies in Colonial Korea, 1910-1945. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009. Print.
Che, Y., Julan Du, Yi Lu and Zhigang Tao. Once an Enemy, Forever an Enemy? The Long-Run Impact of the Japanese Invasion of China from 1937 to 1945 on Trade and Investment, MPRA Paper No. 38791, (2012): 1-43. Print.
Woodside, A. M. The Occupation of Japan: An Analysis of Three Phases of Development, Parkland Scholarship Papers, 151 (2015): 1-13. Print.
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