I recently took delivery of Carter J. Eckert's book Offspring of Empire: The Koch'Ang Kims and the Colonial Origins of Korean Capitalism, 1876-1945, and based on what I've read thus far I can already say that nothing I've read in the last 12 months has been as revelatory as this book has been.
If one were to believe the farcical rubbish preferred by ignorant Korean activists with anti-Japanese axes to grind, the period between 1910 and 1945 was for Koreans one of unrelenting exploitation at the hands of rapacious Japanese imperialists, though long-time readers of this blog will already know better: for Korea the period was actually one of strong growth after a century of stagnation, and the benefits of this growth were shared substantially by Koreans from all walks of life. What makes Eckert's book fascinating is that it not only provides a wealth of information substantiating this assertion, but also goes on to show how closely Korean businessmen worked with their Japanese counterparts and the Japanese government itself to make this growth happen; far from being crushed by heavily discriminatory Japanese colonial policies, from 1920 onwards they were the beneficiaries of what can only be called affirmative action, in that through favorable loans, regulations and outright subsidies the colonial government went out of its way to prop up Korean businesses competing against more efficient Japanese concerns. The ties binding Korean entrepreneurs to the Japanese elite were incredibly far-reaching as well as extremely deep, and the following passage from Eckert's book is just one of very many which put paid to comfortable notions of Japanese domination and Korean humiliation:
Powerful Japanese officials and businessmen clamoring to join a Korean-founded and run club hardly fits the picture of Japanese apartheid favored by Korean (pseudo)-historians and grievance activists, does it? But this is par for the course when one examines the real facts of colonial Korea with a detached eye: most of what passes for conventional wisdom in the Korean popular media is revealed as a tissue of self-serving lies meant to boost self-pity and hatred of Japan. The systematic downplaying of the close and widespread links between the Korean and Japanese elite during this era, as well as the incredible economic benefits it brought Korea, is so egregious that a safe rule of thumb would be to treat any Korean scholarship on this period as a nationalistic lie (yes, lie) until given good cause to believe otherwise. Self-congratulatory Koreans wont to lecture Africans on development like to forget that the so-called "Miracle on the Han" didn't just depend on infusion of American and (especially) Japanese capital, but on the substantial experience with modern industrial capitalism accrued by Korean businessmen between 1876, when Japan forced the extremely insular Chosen kingdom open, and 1945, an extremely important factor setting Korea apart from any number of African colonies in which the natives were confined almost entirely to clerking and other low-level tasks. Not only did Koreans collaborate with the Japanese on a basis of equality unimaginable between Africans and their European overlords, but, as Eckert makes crystal clear, Korean businessmen profited to an extreme degree from Japan's late 1930s aggressions in Manchukuo and China. Koreans were much more beneficiaries and accomplices of Japanese imperial aggression than they were the victims they prefer to see themselves as being, with Korean magnates waxing fat off Japanese imperial subsidies, tariff preferences, bank loans and orders for military equipment.
The impetus for the formation of the [Chosen] Business Club had come from a section of the business community itself, but honored guests and speakers at the club's founding luncheon included members of the bureaucratic elite such as Minobe Shunkichi, governor of the Bank of Chosen; Commerce and Industry Section Chief Ikuta of the Government-General's Bureau of Industry; and even Vice-Governor-General Mizuno himself.
The club's membership also gradually came to encompass not only businessmen from the major banks and companies but also top-level colonial government officials, military officers, and educators. The membership list of 1936 reads like a Who's Who of colonial Korea, and includes most of the Chosen contingent in the industrial commissions later that year and in 1938. Nearly every major bureau of the Government-General was represented in the club by its highest-ranking official, including the Bureau of Police. And in 1936, as in 1920, the vice-governor-general acted as one of the club's advisers.
What is particularly interesting about the Chosen Business Club, however, is that it was founded and run not by Japanese but Koreans. The original sponsors and officers of the club were all Korean, among whom the most important was Han Sangnyong, chairman of the club for most of its existence. More and more Japanese were admitted over time, but the club's membership in the beginning was largely Korean, and new Korean members continued to be induced along with Japanese. In 1929 the club had 169 members, of whom 127 were Korean. By the end of 1936, the membership had more than quadrupled to nearly 700 members, about half of whom were Korean.
I shall have more to say about Eckert's book in time, much more, but I recommend that those wanting a truer picture of Korea's modern history run, not walk, to pick up a copy as soon as possible. The more aware one becomes of the vast gap separating the actual Korean experience from all the delusional claptrap about Korean "exploitation", "cultural genocide" [sic] and even a "holocaust" [!], the more necessary the existence of a site like Occidentalism comes to seem: Japan's extreme right revisionists may be loud and obnoxious, but the reason they're loud is precisely because they're a fringe the majority would prefer to ignore, while in Korea the deniers of historical reality needn't raise their voices as they already constitute the mainstream.
PS: I can't resist quoting one more passage in order to put some numbers to my claims about Korean business profiting from Imperial Army aggression. Below is one example:
The "Kyongbang" referred to above is none other than the Kyongsong Spinning and Weaving Company controlled by the famous Ko'chang Kims, one of whom - Kim Songsu - is revered by Korean historians as a supposedly pure-hearted nationalist who relied entirely on Korean domestic capital and Korean expertise in building up his empire, all in the face of alleged Japanese opposition. In truth Kyongbang would never even have survived its first years of operation without subsidies from the Government-General, and it would continue to receive Japanese subsidies for the first 14 years of its existence, while by far its biggest lender would be the Japanese-backed Chosen Industrial Bank, which by the 1930s would be lending vast sums to this Korean firm on terms so favorable that even Kyongsong itself refused to extend the same terms to loans between its own subsidiaries. How a Japanese-subsidized firm with Japanese co-investors and dependent on gigantic loans of Japanese capital, and which grew fat on the profits from supplying the Imperial Japanese Army, could have been transformed into a "purely Korean" operation surviving in the face of Japanese hostility, is one of those miracles only nationalistic Korean "historians" [sic] are capable of achieving, and if you doubt that there are indeed respected Korean "historians" [sic] who have managed this feat, just look at the works of, say, Cho Ki-Jun.
In carrying out the Government-General's policies, Kyongbang was not merely serving the government's interest, but was also making money. And this was the glue that really held the relationship together. In its report for the thirtieth fiscal period ending May 31, 1942, Kyongbang had informed its stockholders that during the last six months "we have, through [our] patriotic production, wholeheartedly devoted [ourselves] to [our] patriotic duty and achieved considerable results." The company was not indulging in the usual hyperbole found in corporate business reports: war was proving to be extremely profitable. Between 1938 and 1945 Kyongbang enjoyed a business boom without precedent in its previous twenty-one years of operation.
Sales were better than ever before. In 1937, a month before the Sino-Japanese War, the gross profit from sales during the previous six months had been 300,000 yen, the company's best sales period since 1919. A year later, in the heat of the Japanese military campaign in China, the company's accountants were dealing with figures they had never encountered before. The sales profits for the six-month period ending in May 1938 had doubled to over 600,000 yen. Six months later they shot up to nearly 1.5 million yen, a figure that become more or less the norm for the duration of the war.