Korean independence movements under Japanese colonial rule, 1919-1937 : a study in nationalism.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts (Hons)
Adherents of Chu Hsi’s neo-orthodoxy, Korea’s nineteenth-century rulers were seriously challenged by reformists in the 1880’s and the Tong-Hak Revolt in 1894. During the course of the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars, Korea lost her statehood to Japan. Yet in implementing her programme of assimilation, Japan’s “safe and sane” policy proved one of the greatest colonial failures of the twentieth century: Korea refused to submit her identity to her “younger brother”. Traditional armed resistance faded by 1913, but invoking Woodrow Wilson’s principle of self-determination, the Koreans surprised their masters with two Declarations of Independence in February and March, 1919. Organised by leaders of the Christian and Ch’ondogyo religions, the March Declaration was the first instance of mass-nationalism and a nation-wide civil-disobedience movement in the twentieth century. Failing to influence the Versailles peace deliberations, this Movement nevertheless initiated an energetic independence movement which endured up to and beyond the 1937 Sino-Japanese War. Failing to maintain the initial solidarity, the post-1919 movement, exiled, splintered into competing factions. Hope of unity was rekindled in 1927 when a legal, national Korean body enjoyed three brief years’ activity before dissolution by the Japanese. Koreans in China and Manchuria turned to terrorism, while nationalists at home strove to secure the social and economic welfare of their race. By 1937, all awaited war, their only perceivable hope. Although internally divided and externally thwarted, Korean nationalists addressed the questions of political ideology, socioeconomic reform and national objectives and identity. A constant obstacle to this quest, the Japanese presence distorted Korean nationalism. Hence continuity and progression were not strong. Nevertheless national consciousness grew, if fitfully, not according to Western models, but to the extent the movement broadened the Koreans’ understanding of their own concept of a nationalist: “Aeguk-jisa”, one who for love of the country determines to act on its behalf.