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Caprio, Mark E., Japanese Assimilation Policies in Colonial Korea, 1910-1945.

Caprio, Mark E., Japanese Assimilation Policies in Colonial Korea, 1910-1945

(Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009)

ix, 320 p. | ISBN 9780295989013 (pbk.) | RRP AUD 87.95

The year 2010 marks the hundred-year anniversary of Japan's annexation of Korea and its integration into the Japanese Empire. On 22 August 1910 Japan formally annexed its neighbour, a neighbour that became the second major colony of a growing Japanese empire after Taiwan was annexed in 1895. Japanese intellectuals and politicians had become well aware of the importance colonial expansion played in developing a rich country and strong military akin to various Western powers. Although Koreans technically acquired Japanese nationality on this date, they were immediately differentiated from their colonial masters in regards to the rights and duties of citizenship.

Japanese Assimilation Policies provides a welcome examination of Japan's strategy and approach in integrating Korea into the Japanese Empire. Japanese political administration of its colonies, particular Taiwan and Korea, has been the subject of a large body of work in Japanese (and to a lesser extent English) as have individual areas of the Japanese colonial venture: education, language policy, local government administration, and rural revitalisation to name a few. In contrast, Japanese Assimilation Policies, as its title suggests, evaluates the particular plans that the government-general in Korea devised to administer the newly acquired colony.

After an introduction and comparison of Japanese assimilation policies with those of the West, Caprio introduces the prior development of colonial policies by the Japanese with the historical cases of Hokkaido (the northern island of Japan populated by the indigenous Ainu peoples), the Ryokyo Kingdom (present-day Okinawa), and Taiwan (colonised by Japan in 1895).There are chapters devoted to the early states of colonial rule in Korea (1910-1919), interwar colonial rule (1919-c. 1937), and wartime assimilation policies (c. 1937-1945). The book concludes with Korean responses to Japanese assimilation policies across the colonial period.

Caprio contextualises colonial Korea in the line of Japanese acquisitions and demonstrates how Japan learned from its prior experiences in Hokkaido, the Ryokyo islands, and Taiwan. By contrasting the Japanese colonial experience with that of Western countries like the United States and France, we see how the Japanese integrated or jettisoned certain policies depending on their perceived success with other colonial powers. He further--and arguably most valuably in the context of other research--illustrates how Japanese policies to assimilate the Korean people developed over the three-and-a-half-decade occupation of the Korean peninsula.

Of interest even to those unfamiliar with Japanese or Korean history is the central role education policies played in the assimilation of Korea, particularly the similarities and differences with other Western powers at the time. Like other colonial powers, Japan followed a model of segregated and unequal education, with the exception of certain elite students whose future role it was assumed would be to mediate between coloniser and colonised. And, like other colonial powers, Japan faced linguistic issues in its assimilation of Korea. The First Education Ordinance from 1911 offered Koreans a truncated and segregated version of elementary education that stressed moral over practical education or, as Caprio terms it, 'the loyal subject before the prolific student'. Compulsory elementary education was never introduced during the colonial period (although it was scheduled to begin in 1946). Indeed, a comparison between Japan's modernising education policy in 1872 and the 1911 model in Korea shows a clear difference in intent. Whereas Japan's 1872 Ordinance expressed a desire effectively to leave no Japanese family uneducated, no such desire was expressed in Korea until it became necessary in the 1930s to conscript Korean men into the military.

We can see these early steps are contrasted by the fervent push for all-out assimilation as Japan's military involvement in Asia widened. Many of these changes reflected the role that Koreans were expected to play in the expanding Japanese Empire. Civic education was replaced by national education in order to train students as members of the Empire. Korean language became an elective class, replaced by physical education. These changes were reflective of the need of healthy Koreans competent in Japanese language to serve in the military. An increasing emphasis on women's education was the philosophy of ryosaikenbo ('good wives; wise mothers') and they were advised that their place in society was in the home raising children and attending to domestic tasks.

My only real criticism of such a thoroughly-researched and valuable work is the chapter on Korean responses and challenges to Japanese assimilation policies, particularly its short length. Caprio unequivocally states at the beginning of the chapter the often oversimplified and ideologically-charged history of external aggression and invasions of Korea, writing that 'few struggles [that of a united Korean people protecting their peninsula from invaders] are so neatly defined'. However, after three chapters describing the intimate details of Japanese assimilation policies, this one short chapter takes such a complex and ideologically-fraught issue and condenses it to the point of leaving the reader wanting more. Although the author goes some way to dispelling this simplistic rendition of resistance against Japan with an informed analysis of reactions by so-called 'patriots' or 'collaborators', it is evident that this is only skimming the top of the proverbial barrel. I sincerely hope that Caprio or other scholars will follow up some of the issues raised in this final chapter with an equally thoughtful and necessary book on such a contentious subject.

erik ropers

university of melbourne
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Author:Ropers, Erik
Publication:Melbourne Historical Journal
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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