ahorbinski: an imperial stormtrooper with the word "justic3" (imperial justice)
[personal profile] ahorbinski
Bibliographic Data: Duus, Peter. The Abacus and the Sword: The Japanese Penetration of Korea, 1895-1910. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Main Argument: Contrary to the title, this book essentially starts with the attempts by Japan to open Korea in the early 1870s. Duus argues that "Korea was a laboratory where the Meiji leaders experimented with the various models of imperialism" and concludes that "the historical record suggests much greater tentativeness in Japanese policy" on "what to do about Korea" than has previously been suggested by people who have drawn a straight and unflinching line from the opening attempts beginning in 1868 to annexation in 1910 (424, 425). Duus also views Japanese imperialism as essentially "mimetic" of Western powers' due to Japan's military, economic, and capitalistic "backwardness," and he also argues that the Japanese colonists were not racist towards the Koreans. I agree that the Japanese military was nowhere near as strong as Western powers' until the early 1900s, when the Japanese beat the Russians handily in the Russo-Japanese War, but I think that trying to set up a paradigm of "feudal-militaristic imperialism" and "backwards imperialism" fundamentally misses several very important points, and I disagree on this point, and on the question of racism, completely.

Historiographical Engagement: The criticism of this book that I hear most often is that it doesn't use hardly any Korean language sources, because Duus doesn't know Korean. Thus, it is a portrait almost exclusively from the Japanese side, although to his credit he does read a lot of works by Korean scholars writing in Japanese. Other than that, the usual suspects of the old "Japan was backwards" consensus--ironically, although Duus shares their views, this book became one of the beachheads of the new wave of studies of Japanese empire, which usually take a diametrically opposite view.

Introduction: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter outlines the origins of Meiji imperialism, saying that "about all that can be said with certainty is that by responding to the intrusion of Western imperialism by reconstructing Japan as a modern nation-state and by undertaking the industrialization of the economy, the Meiji leaders set themselves on the road to imperialist expansion" (23). [Well, yes. In the 19thC, as industrial nations successfully substituted "the law of nations" for natural law, it seemed clear that there were two choices: devour or be devoured.] Duus argues that "Meiji imperialism, and more specifically expansion into Korea, was the product of a complex coalition uniting the Meiji leaders, backed and prodded by a chorus of domestic politicians, journalists, businessmen, and military leaders, with a subimperialist Japanese community in Korea" (ibid). This imperialism proceeded on two interlocking tracks, political and economic, arguing that "the industrialization of Japan did not impel the Japanese leaders to adopt an imperialist policy in Korea but merely empowered them to do so" (24).

Chapter 1: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter document Japanese relations with Korea from the Meij Restoration in 1868 to the Triple Intervention in 1895, when Japan was able to remove Korea from Chinese influence after the Sino-Japanese War but failed to turn Korea into a de facto protectorate. Duus argues that the Japanese leadership over these decades had no consensus over what to do about Korea--although there was agreement that the country had to be modernized and normalized (in much the same way that the Western powers were doing to China) to safeguard Japan's sovereignty, and that Japan not being preeminent in Korea vis-a-vis other Western powers was also not good, there was no consensus as to whether the Koreans should be cajoled into doing it themselves or whether they needed Japan, in some fashion--and what fashion?--to do it for them.

Chapter 2: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter examines the failure of Japan to establish a de facto protectorate during the Sino-Japanese War, in the course of which the Japanese came around to trying to "Egyptianize" Korea through economic domination. These efforts floundered in the face of the Triple Intervention and Japan's failure to find a group of reliable high-level collaborators with a stable political base. Even reformist exiles whom Japan forcibly returned to Korea proved not to be Japan's kind of traitor.

Chapter 3: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter examines the years 1895-98, when Japanese influence in Korea was more or less at its nadir as the Japanese were more or less shut out of the race for concessions in Korea and the Russian influence waxed to its greatest point after the Japanese consul in Seoul engineered the assassination of Queen Min and King Kojong took up residence in the Russian legation. By 1898, "ironically, the newfound independence of the Korean court quickened its appetite for dependence on outsiders. Reform-minded officials saw the introduction of foreign investment, technology, and experts as a means of civilizing their country; corrupt and venal officials used competition among the foreigners to line their pockets with bribes and kickbacks; and the king and his circle hoped to shore up the monarchy by astute manipulation of the foreigners" (133). With all three of these elements in play, Korean sovereignty was being steadily undermined.

Chapter 4: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter explores Japanese participation in the race for concessions, mostly in their efforts to secure control of the projects to build railroads between Seoul and Busan and Seoul and Uiju, which they secured in 1904. They failed in their efforts to shackle the Korean government to their control through a large loan, however.

Chapter 5: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter looks at the events of 1901-05, as the fortunes of the Russo-Japanese War gave the Japanese the leverage they needed to compel the Koreans to sign a de facto protectorate agreement in February 1904 and then an actual protectorate treaty in November 1905.

Chapter 6: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter covers the events from protectorate to annexation, including the forced abdication of Kojong in 1907 and the "righteous armies" guerrilla campaigns that led the Japanese to conclude that outright annexation would be the best way to govern Korea. This decision was aided by the resignation of Itô Hirobumi from the post of resident-general in June 1909, since Itô (ironically given his fate) had been the strongest proponent of the protectorate approach: "Itô had seriously underestimated the unpopularity of the Japanese and the disruptive impact of reform, and he overestimated the intrinsic appeal of 'civilization' to the Korean populace. … For the same price Japan could enjoy full sovereignty over the peninsula, free to turn it into a springboard for broader and more aggressive actions on the continent. … What propelled the process was not simply the increased capacity of Japanese for expansion but their ultimate failure to build a stable collaborative structure that might have enabled them to stop short of full colonial control" (241).

Chapter 7: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter looks at the mechanisms by which Japan came to dominate Korea's trade through several key areas: transportation (most of Korea's trade goods were shipped by Japanese vessels, or after the railways, by Japanese trains); the rice trade, which came to be dominated by Japanese buyers after it was made legal for foreigners to purchase rice, with the probably result that Korean consumers of rice were squeezed by price increases; and the market for cotton goods, which Japanese textiles came to monopolize. Although Chinese trade dwarfed that with Korea on an absolute scale, the Japanese played a pervasive and dominant role on the peninsula that they did not on the continent, exemplifying the pattern by which Japan acted as an industrial power in its trade with Asia and as an undeveloped country in its trade with the West, exemplifying the bifurcated structure of the Japanese economy in this time period.

Chapter 8: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter covers emigration to Korea by Japanese; "by the time of annexation the Japanese residents on the Korean peninsula had grown into the largest overseas community of Japanese in the world" (289). Settlers predominantly came in two uneven waves, the adventurers and petty capitalists of the Sino-Japanese War followed by a wave of similar types at the beginning of the Russo-Japanese War. After that, with the establishment of the protectorate, people of higher economic class began to appear, whether serving out short-term assignments or planning to relocate permanently. The Meiji leadership was keen to promote "settlers" (who went to Asia with their families and did not assimilate) going to Korea to farm the supposedly empty wastelands of the peninsula (which didn't really exist), but they looked down on "emigrants" (who went to the West, often as single men, and eventually assimilated). By 1908, the government had formally decided on a policy of promoting the former to Korea and Manchuria and deprecating the latter, inaugurating a long-standing practice of putting Japanese nationals squarely in the path of possible military difficulties. The company set up to bring settlers over, the Oriental Development Company, soon found itself functioning as a bank that facilitated the Korean land grab perpetrated by Japanese of all classes; by 1919, more than 50% of the country's land had been expropriated through direct or indirect means, leaving Korean farmers in tenancy to Japanese landlords. Thus the wretched conditions of rural Japan were replicated on the peninsula, except worse because of the added layer of colonial exploitation. Those Japanese who did emigrate to Korea tended to be from prefectures in close geographical proximity and seem to have been motivated by the desire for economic improvement and may well have been influenced by chain migration, suggesting that "migration to Korea was simply an extension of the same processes that led to internal migration from the countryside to the cities during the same period" (314).

Chapter 9: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter looks at the settler community, which was concentrated in Seoul and Busan but also strung throughout towns along major transport routes, particularly the railways. Some few settlers lived on the land amongst their Korean neighbors, but they were by far the exception. Typical settlers were urban and engaged in commerce or a service operation, and if in commerce typically rather small-time. Before the protectorate most settlers were of the "old middle classes," but after the protectorate and annexation the ranks of the "new middle class" swelled in response. Japanese living in Korea agitated for and after the protectorate received a degree of self-government unequal to that of villages in Japan, but these institutions were swept away after the annexation: the colonial regime could only tolerate autocratic government within its territory.

Chapter 10: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter details what Duus bluntly calls "the Korean land grab." To be blunt, land was cheap in Korea and Korean farmers were often eager to sell, particularly during the Russo-Japanese War when it was expected that Japan would be defeated and sellers would be able to reclaim their land for free after the Japanese absconded. Initially the authorities made it illegal for foreigners to purchase land, but even before this ban was rescinded in 1907, de facto purchase could be accomplished indirectly and tax officials more often than not made no protest. Duus seems to presume in his final remarks that the Japanese would have wanted to modernize Korean agriculture, all other things being equal, but in point of fact they had no incentive to do so, as they could make a tidy profit selling rice to Japan by exploiting their tenants harder and harder with no extra outlay of capital. It was not until the 1960s that Koreans regained the average height and stature they had had before annexation in 1910.

Chapter 11: Argument, Sources, Examples In this chapter Duus examines the Japanese discourse about Koreans, arguing that the Japanese weren't racist because they often chose to construct their colonial domination in the image of a family in which a parent or an elder brother was leading the child or younger brother to civilization and enlightenment and because there was a parallel discourse that emphasized the "heritage" and "ethnic background" which Koreans and Japanese shared. His own evidence contradicts him; if the vitriol he quotes isn't racism, then I don't know what is.

Conclusion: Argument, Sources, Examples In this conclusion Duus argues that Japanese imperialism was "mimetic" and "backwards" and that imperialism in general needs to be disaggregated into "backwards" and "forwards" typologies. I disagree almost totally with his conclusions, except insofar as he does point out that the evolving domination of Korea was conditioned by the increasing development of the Japanese economy, Japanese capitalism, and the Japanese military. Japanese imperialism does seem to have had some distinctive traits, but it was thoroughly modern.

Critical assessment: This book is absolutely the benchmark for the field, and while the evidence that Duus marshals is worthwhile the book is marred on the whole by his inability to recognize the essential violence of all imperialism, Japanese imperialism included, or to call a spade a spade in the case of Japanese racism. Later writers like Mark Driscoll have not failed in this regard, at least. In the acknowledgements Duus thanks several readers who helped him "avoid what might have appeared to be an endorsement of Japanese imperialism" (xii), which is really rather telling. Although he never says this explicitly, the impression lingers, partly because Duus uncritically accepts the idea that modernity = good and partly because the Korean elites come off very poorly indeed. This may be fairly accurate or it may be an artifact of the sources or both. I've articulated most of my other objections in other sections of the above; here let me just note that I think Duus' book is almost atavistic in the attitudes it takes, perhaps because he evidently worked on it for a very long time. And finally, let me wave my "Japanese modernization was not solely imitative" banner one more time, as well as my "kokumin does not mean 'citizen'" flag. (This is a tic that Gluck shared too. Is this also a throwback to modernization theory?)

Further reading: Mark Driscoll, Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque; Uchida Jun, Brokers of Empire

Meta notes: Colonialism encompasses violence on multiple levels. And racism can be couched in a variety of terms while still being racism. And reading this book in 2014, when the fates of none of the major players in this story--Russia, Korea, Japan--are what anyone would have predicted in 1905, is both full of ironies and something of a headtrip.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-01-26 06:23 (UTC)
thistleingrey: (Default)
From: [personal profile] thistleingrey
Ch. 11's elder-brotherism: it's also a replacement for China's self-positioning over centuries.

The Korean elites don't seem to have done a great job from some Korean perspectives, either. Do you know Hyung-Il Pai's Constructing Korean Origins: A Critical Review of Archaeology, Historiography and Racial Myth? It's controversial at best in the field, from what I can tell, but it is simultaneously somewhat sympathetic to the useful investigative work undertaken by occupation-era Japanese scholars and, well, angry about how their heavily biased perspectives on Korean history and archaeology have influenced subsequent Korean constructions of historiography and national formation. This review overlaps what I remember of it. I haven't looked for her recent Heritage Management in Korea and Japan: The Politics of Antiquity and Identity yet.
Edited (first I had one too many words, then two too few) Date: 2014-01-26 06:25 (UTC)


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Andrea J. Horbinski

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