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Bibliographic Data: Uchida, Jun. Brokers of Empire: Japanese Settler Colonialism in Korea, 1876-1945. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2011.

Main Argument: Uchida argues that the Japanese emigrants to Korea, "in remaking their lives on the peninsula, also helped to make the nation's empire" (3). Although these people were driven first by personal considerations and only secondarily by national interests, "their mundane activities and the state's ambitions were inextricably entwine" (ibid). However, due to the politics of memory and forgetting in Japan's postwar, the story of Japanese settlers in Korea has been expunged from history, creating parallel archives of "official repression" and "nostalgic innocence" which support the incorrect claim among historians that Japanese colonialism in Korea can be equated solely with the rule of the Governor-General. Uchida argues on the contrary that he "was not the only wielder of power in the colony. Numerous civilians helped maintain and expand Japanese hegemony on a daily basis, while pursuing interests and ambitions of their own. … More than eyewitnesses or bystanders of the Governor-General's rule…settlers shaped how the Japanese empire began as much as how it ended, and indeed, how it fared during the 36 years of its existence" (4-5).

Historiographical Engagement: Louise Young, Japan's Total Empire; Peter Duus, The Abacus and the Sword; other recent books on the Japanese empire

Introduction: Argument, Sources, Examples Uchida refers to settlers, such as the merchant Kobayashi Genroku of the clothier Chôjiya who is his first example, as "brokers of empire" because settlers such as he "actively mediated the colonial management of KOrea as its grassroots movers and shakers" (5). They were brokers because they were motivated by profit, because they "mediated Japan's rise as a modernizing nation and empire" and because they "operated simultaneously as agents and pawns of colonial power" (6). Many also at times occupied quasi-official positions, because the line between the state and the settlers shifted over time--thus giving the settlers some influence. Finally, the term "brokers" highlights the ways in which "Koreans both constrained and channeled settler agency" (7). Uchida argues that "settlers became the crux of empire as well as the crucible of encounter in spite of themselves," rendering Japanese colonials in Korea "intense yet fragile" (8). Furthermore, "historians have missed the state's struggle to anchor its authority in the multiethnic polity and its continual efforts to rule through local actors, practices, and institutions" (14). Historians have in effect oversold the Governor-General's power, and also given settlers short shrift as independent agents in their own right (to say nothing of earlier historians who simply discounter Japanese settlers outright). Uchida's analysis of the "colonial middle" is also informed by the concept of "colonial modernity," which approaches colonies "as a fluid and contingent space of encounter shaped by a global framework of modernity and not reducible to a simple dialectic of rule and resistance" (15). Uchida also wants to articulate Korea as "Japan's Algeria," not to fit Japan into European models but to complicate the models themselves. Although Japanese and British and French colonists shared similar social concerns and hang-ups, in terms of economic and political power the Japanese settlers were far weaker than their counterparts. Furthermore, they occupied a legal space of liminality that kept them in uncertainty but also generated the roles they played that Uchida explores in this book.

Chapter 1: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter looks at the "world of the settlers" and the process by which "subalterns of a modernizing nation became agents of foreign domination reveals simultaneously how they became 'Japanese' on the colonial periphery" (36). Uchida concludes that "it was the diversity of modernizing Japanese, rather than the coherent force of a modernized Japan, that propelled the construction of empire in Korea" (91). From the ranks of the most successful members of each of the waves of emigration emerged the "brokers of empire," respected voices in the settler community who were influential there and in the metropole, which "signified the transformation of subaltern migrants into sub imperialists, a trajectory that mirrored the rapid rise of Japan on the global stage" (93). As the sword overpowered the abacus, however, settlers' narratives began insisting that they had been highly skilled at wielding both, a symptom of their fear of being regarded as mere dekaseginin ("sojourners"), thus developing "a complex colon mentality that would depend with the consolidation of Japan's control over Korea, and stay with them to the end of colonial rule" (95).

Chapter 2: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter looks at the relationship between settlers and the state, which Uchida sees as mobilized by "a cognitive gap: where settlers saw themselves as partners in governance, the state treated them as interlopers"--the problem of the kan/min (officials/people) dichotomy transplanted to colonial soil (97). Settlers became a political entity not only through their interactions with Koreans but also with the state, precisely because the Meiji constitution was only imperfectly extended to them. The Government-General espoused a "state logic," while the settler logic privileged the Japanese minzoku, and the gap between these two actually served to intensify settlers' identification with the metropole, as that was where settlers went to try to instigate change in Government-General policy.

Chapter 3: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter looks at the after-effects of the March First Movement, in the wake of which Japanese rulers in Korea articulated the ideal of "cultural rule" (bunka seiji) and within it, the policy of "naisen yûwa" (harmony between Japanese and Koreans). Although the ultimate goal of assimilation did not change, Japan was forced to participate in the global discourse of national distinctiveness, if not independence. Settles at least rhetorically recognized the need to share power with Korean elites, but often were unable to put the ideal into practice. At the same time, however, settler participation in government policy, whether semiofficially or autonomously, extended the reach of that policy and the government itself into new areas; thus "settler leaders effectively coauthored strategies of rule" (186). Uchida concludes that "the brokers of empire played a critical rule in reconfiguring dôka as ethnic harmony, and colonial Korea as a multiethnic polity" (not coincidentally prefiguring the construction of Manchukuo) (ibid).

Chapter 4: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter looks at the settler discourse on Korea and Koreans, "through which the brokers of empire shored up the colonial state and its claim to legitimacy, against mounting Korean defiance" (188). As Korean scholar Kim Yun-sik noted in 1924, whereas "Western imperialism turned missionaries into its tools, Japan used scholars as its principal tools" (qtd. ibid). The colonial archive of Korean studies "registers subtle shifts in the anxiety of those who govern" as it "evolved in dialogue with Korean nationalism in the 1920s" (189). Whereas until 1919 the Japanese were able to simply slot the Koreans into their pre-existing worldview, after 1919 "the pundits were forced to acknowledge that their Korean counterparts were progressive, politically keen, and in touch with global trends" (225). The Japanese "tried to keep Koreans in a cultural and temporal limbo, [but] dynamic political realties continually intruded to upset the deceptive coherence of their narrative, calling into question the veracity of their assumptions" (ibid). By the 1930s, however, both sides sought a discursive middle ground as their ideas ran into crises: "both sides came to believe that compromise was necessary to pursue their disparate political agendas" (224).

Chapter 5: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter looks at the industrialization of the peninsula. Uchida looks at the ways in which settlers allied with elite Koreans to urge the colonial government to expand Korean industrialization (each for their own ends) and concludes that "Korean industrialization was a long-term and internally contested process, driven by a constant negotiation between the colonial and metropolitan authorities and local economic actors, in which the role of settler businessmen as brokers remained crucial" (261). Korea was both "an agricultural appendage to the metropolitan economy and a heavily settled colony with autonomous demands for industry," as demonstrated by continued lobbying for railroads and rice. The goal of an industrial Korea attracted diverse interest groups operating "across the dichotomy of colonial and national capital", and the key role that settlers played as informal brokers of empire allowed them, at times, to advocate for policies that colonial bureaucrats could not officially support. Korean capitalists showed a degree of solidarity with their class-fellows that saw them labeled as collaborators, even as they articulated their own coded language of dissent.

Chapter 6: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter looks at the collaboration between settlers and Korean elites, who jointly "worked toward expanding their political rights in a kind of parallel universe" (264). These collaborations, however, only further exposed the fact that the two groups had fundamentally divergent interests, particularly as Korean nationalism grew at all levels of society and even diehard Korean allies became politicized, particularly as coercion and repression became the increasingly preferred tools of the Japanese state. At the same time, it is important to understand that "some of the most important struggles for power in Korea took place within, not against, the colonial state structure," and that "most of these struggles took place at the local, not national, level" (302).

Chapter 7: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter looks at the impact of the seizure of Manchuria on Korea. Brokers of empire attempted to articulate "the colonization of Manchuria as a joint Japanese-Korean venture, hoping for the beneficial side effect of mending fragile ethnic relations on the peninsula," while they "at the same time fell steadily into the arms of the colonial state" (308, 309). Even as the scope of their activities expanded geometrically, the brokers of empire were "further enmeshed in the colonial state, their visions and activities increasingly woven into the framework of moral suasion" (353). Thus as they became increasingly institutionalized they had "growing leverage and declining autonomy in the course of the 1930s" (354). Meanwhile, Manchuria deepened the bourgeois unity of the settlers and the Korean elites even as it also deepened settler ambivalence, because Koreans increasingly adopted the rhetoric of mutual profit to demand "equal partnership in the colonial enterprise," i.e. full citizenship (ibid).

Chapter 8: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter looks at the last act of Korea as a Japanese colony, specifically citizens and subjects under total war: "the policy of naisen ittai [unity between Japan and Korea] led to an unprecedented level of institutional integration of colony and metropole" (355). This mirroring encompassed "two distinct logics of governance," one "the compulsory unification of total war," and the other the "imperialization" of kôminka, which was directed primarily though not exclusively at Koreans and which represented the final, radical attempt to remake 25 million Koreans as members of the Japanese nation. Divisions remained, however, as the authorities focused on imperial subject hood and Koreans "adopted wartime rhetoric to demand civic equality" (357), with settlers caught in the ambivalent middle due to their distaste for ethnic unity. This chapter also looks at the institutionalization of the Ryokki Renmei, which had advocated emperor ideology on its own before 1937, as a "de facto ideological arm of the colonial regime" (363)--the equivalent of the Concordia Association. At the same time, however, the settlers never broke out of their zero-sum mentality vis-a-vis Koreans, unable to see gains made by the latter as anything but their loss, which Uchida argues "was a warped reflection of settlers' own subaltern status in the empire" (389). Barred from legally policing the boundaries of citizenship, settlers resorted to the age-old methods of discrimination, micro-aggressions, and violence. In much the same way that the Manchurian migration lost sight of its own goals, mobilization in the sense of getting people involved became the end of local organizers rather than people understanding and agreeing with the premises of the discourse. At the same time, "imperial subjecthood became externalized in ritualized acts of allegiance, while a contest for citizenship came to be fought within the inclusionary rhetoric of the wartime empire" (391). Thus settlers, who to the last were resistant to naisen ittai and ethnic unity, naively took Korean participation in such ritualized acts as an index of belief in them, failing to see that these were for the most part only a veneer of submission.

Conclusion: Argument, Sources, Examples Settlers, Uchida concludes, "played a pivotal role in each stage of Korean governance" (394), and that their "interactions with the state and civilians in Korea reveal a complex pattern of encounter in which all parties were transformed in fundamental, and often unexpected ways" (399). Looking at Korea through the lens of settlers, moreover, reveals that Korean nationalism did not die down after the 1930s but was transmuted into other categories, such as demands for citizenship. Indeed, the colonial project was riven with tensions from first to last, all of which, however, have been suppressed by post-war silence and denial. In the end, Uchida sees "an isomorphism between settler colonialism and the post-colonial present" in that settlers began to engage in collective amnesia (the March First Movement became a taboo topic by the 1930s) before 1945, another imperial legacy that needs further interrogation (402).

Critical assessment: This is an excellent (and exhaustive) book that meaningfully deepens our understanding of the Japanese empire in Korea: how it worked, how it changed over time, and how it was lived by its informal brokers. I agree with Uchida that his book demonstrates that modernity and the nation were negotiated and constructed in the imperial peripheries as well as in the core, and all in all, this book provides a very useful contribution to the discussion of how Japan's empire developed along with Japan.

Further reading: Lori Watt, When Empire Comes Home

Meta notes: Why are all the dates in this book bolded? It's very weird.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-02-07 05:04 (UTC)
thistleingrey: (Default)
From: [personal profile] thistleingrey
Huh, interesting.
I don't have more than that, but it does sound like an interesting study.

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Andrea J. Horbinski

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