See other posts in this series: Part I Part II Part IV Part V
This post is a particularly difficult for the Korean to write because, after all, he received a good amount of education in Korea, especially when he was young and impressionable. It is difficult for the Korean to be objective, but he will try his best.
We are still dealing with the question as to why Koreans hate Japanese so much. If you only read one post out of this series, the Korean recommends this one. Although there is plenty of bad blood that goes back thousands of years (as the Korean illustrated in earlier posts,) the old bad blood only comes back because the modern relation between the two countries was so incredibly bad.
First, some historical background. By early 20th century, Japan was emerging as a world-scale superpower both in terms of its economy and military strength. Its status was simply unrivaled in East and Southeast Asia, which produced no other nation that measured up to Japan. Subsequently, Japan began colonizing Korea and China. Korea was annexed to Japan in 1910, and was not liberated until 1945 after Japan had lost World War II.
It is important to realize that the nature of Japan’s 36 year rule of Korea was brutal and exploitative, in a way that was fundamentally different from most European colonization. European countries colonized areas that were not exactly “nations” in a modern sense, like India and sub-Saharan Africa. In India, for example, there was no shared sense of nationhood between Bengalis in the north and Tamils in the south. (In fact, they don’t even speak the same language, and to this day must use English to communicate.)
On the other hand, Korea had a very strong sense of nationhood that lasted for thousands of years; furthermore, Korea had despised its island neighbor for its lack of cultural achievements. Japan’s rule over Korea was therefore completely unacceptable to Koreans everywhere, and Koreans rebelled in a scale that was incomparable to any other colonized regions in the world. In reaction, in order to maintain its colony, the Japanese colonial government was constantly on surveillance, and its brutality escalated over the period of colonization, peaking at the end of World War II.
When one (especially a Western one) hears the words “Atrocities of World War II”, the first response would always be “Holocaust.” And there is no doubt that it is a good answer. On the other hand, such a focus on Holocaust tends to blind us from other atrocities of World War II. And it is a historical fact that many of those atrocities were committed by Japan, upon Korea and China. This is not to diminish the horror of Holocaust. There certainly has not been any mass murder that was as wide-scale, efficient, and systematic (and therefore horrific) as Holocaust. The atrocities committed by Japan are smaller in scale (because they didn’t quite kill 10 million people) and less systematic (because some of them essentially involved soldiers running amok while the government didn’t do anything, e.g. the Rape of Nanking, whereas the Holocaust was actively organized by the government.) But the Korean believes that the Japanese atrocities are at least as depraved as the Holocaust, if not more. It’s like trying to compare Timothy McVeigh and Charles Manson. McVeigh killed a lot more people after a lot more preparation, but Manson tortured his victims.
Here is the list of atrocities committed by Japan to Korea. They are organized by the Korean’s subjective ordering of least depraved to most depraved. Read on, and see if you agree with what the Korean said so far. For the things for which Wikipedia has an entry, the Korean provided a link. That does not mean that the Korean thinks the Wikipedia entries are entirely correct; they are there just for the sake of reference.
Various Cultural Affronts – the biggest thing under this category would be Japan’s attempt to change Korean names into Japanese style names, known as Chang-ssi-gae-myeong. As the Korean explained before, family name is extremely important to Koreans, and forcing to change them is an intolerable insult. Japan also stole innumerable treasures from Korea, such as porcelain products, paintings, old books, and so on.
Another affront was more subtle. The Japanese colonial government turned the main palace of the Korean Emperor into a zoo. Many palace buildings were torn down – the most notable is Gyeong-bok-gung, half of which was torn down to make way for the colonial government building. Still another is borderline hokey. The colonial government drove in hundreds of steel shafts into major mountain peaks in Korea, under the belief that doing so will cripple the spirit of the land. The shafts were still being dug out in Korea to this day.
Murder of Empress Myeong-Seong – Empress Myeong-seong was a strong-minded wife of Emperor Go-jong. She was a shrewd politician and a diplomat, who often tried to use other superpowers (mostly Russia) in the region to check the rising influence of Japan upon Korea. A Japanese lieutenant general (with or without the backing of the Japanese government is unclear) commissioned what is essentially a band of Japanese thugs to enter the imperial palace in broad daylight and stabbed the Empress to death. Her body was carried away into a corner of the palace and burned by the same band. This historical fact was recently recreated in a musical “Last Empress”, which played in the U.S. in 1998. Read the Wikipedia article here. (Scroll down to “Eul-mi Incident.”)
Kanto Massacre – in 1923, there was a massive earthquake in Kanto, Japan, which killed more than 50,000 people. In the aftermath of the earthquake, the Japanese government declared martial law, and issued a special advisory that Koreans were conspiring to commit murder, rape, arson, and poisoning the wells. This created a mob riot and massacring of Koreans living in Japan. Up to 6,000 Koreans are believed to have been killed. Read the Wikipedia article here. (Scroll down to “post quake violence”.)
Forced Labor – As World War II intensified, Japanese government drafted Korean men for its war efforts. The number ranges anywhere between 300,000 to 1 million. They were mostly put in hard labor, usually in mines or factories. Quite a few of them (estimates range from 20,000 to 200,000) were killed or injured in mines or factories with substandard (to put it nicely) labor conditions.
Torture and Massacre – Japanese colonial government liberally tortured those who were arrested on the suspicion of independence movement for Korea. The most well-documented case is that of Yoo, Guan-soon, who was a 19-year-old student of Ewha School when she played a key role in organizing the March 1st Movement, the largest mass-protest against the Japanese rule in 1919. Yoo was arrested and died in prison; her teachers at Ewha were able to retrieve her body because Ewha was established by Americans and Principal James Fry of Ewha threatened diplomatic actions if the body was not returned. The returned body of Yoo was in six pieces; her scalp was missing; her nose and ears had been cut off, and all of her finger and toenails were plucked off.
Brutal suppression of independence movement was not limited to individuals. In response to the March 1st Movement, in April 5th, 1919, Japanese military police marched into a village of Je-am-li, a village known for its Christian-based independence movement. The police rounded up roughly 30 Christians in the village into the town church, locked the doors and set the building on fire. 22 died trapped in the building, and 8 were shot outside of the church as they tried to escape.
Comfort Women – As World War II raged on, the Japanese military, directly and indirectly, rounded up between 100,000 and 200,000 women to be used sex slaves, euphemistically called “Comfort Women”, for the Japanese soldiers. These women were usually raped 20 times a day, and as many as 40 times a day, according to accounts from survivors. The women were mostly Korean and Chinese, but there were also a few Dutch and Australian (read: white) women kidnapped from Dutch Indies and various Pacific islands. Read the Wikipedia article here.
Unit 731 – this one is so incredibly depraved that the Korean can’t even go into describing it. He will only say that it was a secret medical unit of the Japanese military, conducting various human experiments. The Wikipedia entry is here. Just read it.
So, why do Koreans hate the Japanese?
How can they not?
-EDIT Oct. 21, 2008 7:07 p.m. EST- While the Korean put this part of the Korea-Japan saga as a representative sample, please remember that this is only one part of a four-part series. The Korean has been noticing that many of the comments here could have been addressed simply by reading other parts of the series. Therefore, please read all four parts before expressing any opinion. The Korean believes his readers are intelligent: waiting to grasp the full picture before opening one's mouth is the least that an intelligent person can do.
Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at firstname.lastname@example.org.