Japan began its 35-year colonial rule over Korea in 1910, ending the rule of Korean dynasties. At first life was miserable for Koreans as the Japanese military sought to remove any hint of rebellion. Times were turbulent, but after a nationwide demonstration by the Korean people, the Japanese relaxed some of their controlling ways. However, by the 1930s, Japan was preparing for war with China and re-tightened its grip on Korea.
Koreans were required to fully assimilate themselves as Japanese. In addition to being enlisted into the Japanese military, Koreans were forced to speak only Japanese and worship only at Japanese Shinto shrines. By 1937, Korean schools provided instruction only in Japanese, and Korean children were not allowed to speak Korean in or out of school. In 1939, Koreans were asked to begin using Japanese names. By the end of the year, 84 percent had legally changed their names.
One of the more famous Korean novels was simply titled “Home” and published in 1936. It told of the depressed living conditions of Korean villagers and efforts by a student to organize them into protest. However, the Japanese government came down particularly hard on writers. In addition to closing all Korean newspapers, the destruction of individual ideals extended into literature as the Japanese stopped the work of the Korean Proletarian Artists’ Federation. The Federation focused on what were considered socialist ideals by left-wing artists and promoted the plight of Korean people through writing. This clashed with Japan’s requirement of assimilation.
Japan implemented a program to increase funding for the war and as a result, the economy grew. Its plan was to increase rice production and build huge manufacturing facilities that handled not only rice production but also fishing and forestry. Since all industries were owned by the Japanese, Koreans did not equally benefit from this growth. Even when Koreans tried to start their own businesses, getting loans to start proved difficult because they were charged at least 25 percent more in interest fees than their Japanese counterparts. In addition, Korean farmers were quickly forced into becoming sharecroppers as Japanese people gained control of most of the farmland.
Growth, Surveillance and the Future
Although Korea became the second most industrialized nation in Asia, with access to manufacturing, radio and movies, it was all at the expense of its individual culture. As the Japanese military continued expansion throughout the 1930s, Koreans were routinely spied on to ensure there was no resistance among the people. Anyone accused of being subversive faced harsh punishment. Koreans learned to keep quiet to keep the peace. Korea would still undergo massive changes in the next decade. By 1945, when Japan surrendered during World War II, Korea was split into two at the 38th parallel. The Soviet Union and the United States acted as trustees of the two countries. The north fell under the control of the communist Soviet Union while the south was controlled by the United States.
- General Photographic Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images