What was happening in Korea while it was under Japanese control? Certainly, there were a lot of investments by Japanese companies. Heavy industry and mining developed in the north. Lighter industry developed in the south. But not many native Koreans were able to share in those developments.
The whole point of Japanese expansion was to gain control of “resources” and “markets” (as was the point of British control of India and her other Asian colonies). Japanese government policies in Korea therefore (on one hand) promoted development, and on the other hand, exercised tight control. The administration rewarded “co-operative elements in Korean society,' while increasing police control. An army of informers worked to eliminate political dissension before it could become organized. Even so, and in spite of heavy censorship of information, a sense of Korean identity and nationalism continued. That sense of nationalism was often conflated with leftist ideology, fed by growing interest in communist ideology among exiled Korean groups. Not surprisingly, considering the close proximity of Russia, the first formal Korean socialist organisations emerged among exile groups in Russian and Manchuria.
These groups often split and reformed and members may have belonged to, or have been involved in other groups with radical ideologies. Curiously, Japan itself was the home of at least some radical thinking. Korean students in Japan, often became members of such radical Japanese groups.* The increase in such groups led to efforts by the Japanese administration in 1925 to control political interests. That in turn led more Koreans to seek some sort of unity of purpose among the fractured leftist/nationalist groups.
Interestingly, it was the Korean Communist Party that became a major
force for unity among these radical groups. In 1927, the New Korean Society,
with top posts held by moderate nationalist was permitted to operate by the
Japanese authorities. By 1930 this group claimed 386 branches throughout Korea,
that managed to link worker groups, peasant groups and youth groups, but as this
organisation grew, at local level, leftists were gradually elected to office.
This led to a division on goals and by 1931 it collapsed.
1931 also saw the Japanese Kwantung Army manufacturing a pretext to attack Chinese troops in Manchuria, and Japan soon assumed control of all of Manchuria, as the puppet state of Manchukuo, with the last Chinese Emperor, Pu Yi as nominal Head of Government. In Korea, the Japanese now required a higher level of support from ordinary Koreans. This, in turn, led to more arrests for “political crimes” and harassment of the leaders of peasant and worker groups.
In the border zone between Korea and Manchuria, the Korean Communist Party began to organize underground guerilla groups, and this is likely where Kim Il Sung, may have begun to make his name.**
From (circa) 1935 there was an increased effort by the Japanese Colonial administration to enforce a cultural assimilation onto the Koreans, In schools, there was more emphasis on learning Japanese. All students and government employees had to attend Shinto services and adopt Japanese names.
In 1940, the administration re-organised all Koreans into 350,000 Neighbourhood Patriotic Associations. Each basic association consisted of ten households and became the basic unit for all government programs and requirements.
From 1943 all college students were required to serve in the Japanese military. And in later war years any ordinary Korean could be “mobilized” to work anywhere the government directed. By 1944,
16 percent of Koreans (4,000,000 people) were working outside Korea. This is the explanation for the wide dispersion of Koreans into other areas. Their descendants still live in both Japan and Manchuria. Socially, the policy aroused resentment, raised political and social consciousness and increased hatred for Koreans who collaborated with the Japanese. Korean prisons held thousands of political prisoners, which also spread radical ideologies.
· Japan is home to one of the largest non-governing Communist parties in the world, with 305, 000 members in over 22,000 branches. After the 2014 elections it held 21 seats in the House of Representatives and since 2016, 14 seats in the House of Councillors.
** There is some dispute as to whether the Kim Il Sung who became leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) is the same person that was leading a guerilla group. In any case, a North Korean TV program claiming to show this Kim’s guerilla war is a total fairy tale.