Populist Collaborators

Populist Collaborators: The Ilchinhoe and the Japanese Colonization of Korea, 1896–1910

Yumi Moon
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 304
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    Populist Collaborators
    Book Description:

    An empire invites local collaborators in the making and sustenance of its colonies. Between 1896 and 1910, Japan's project to colonize Korea was deeply intertwined with the movements of reform-minded Koreans to solve the crisis of the Choson dynasty (1392-1910). Among those reformers, it was the Ilchinhoe (Advance in Unity Society)-a unique group of reformers from various social origins-that most ardently embraced Japan's discourse of "civilizing Korea" and saw Japan's colonization as an opportunity to advance its own "populist agendas." The Ilchinhoe members called themselves "representatives of the people" and mobilized vibrant popular movements that claimed to protect the people's freedom, property, and lives. Neither modernist nor traditionalist, they were willing to sacrifice the sovereignty of the Korean monarchy if that would ensure the rights and equality of the people.

    Both the Japanese colonizers and the Korean elites disliked the Ilchinhoe for its aggressive activism, which sought to control local tax administration and reverse the existing power relations between the people and government officials. Ultimately, the Ilchinhoe members faced visceral moral condemnation from their fellow Koreans when their language and actions resulted in nothing but assist the emergence of the Japanese colonial empire in Korea. In Populist Collaborators, Yumi Moon examines the vexed position of these Korean reformers in the final years of the Choson dynasty, and highlights the global significance of their case for revisiting the politics of local collaboration in the history of a colonial empire.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6795-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Author’s Note
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. 1-21)

    In March 2004, almost sixty years after the nation’s liberation in 1945, the South Korean national assembly passed a law, in the name of “purification of the nation’s history” (kwagŏsa ch’ŏngsan), for the purpose of “investigating pro-Japanese acts” during colonial rule.¹ Unexpectedly, the act provoked a series of scandals that shattered the political prospects of prominent ruling party leaders. Sin Ki-nam, the chair of Yŏllin Uri Party at the time, featured in the most dramatic and excruciating case. Sin initiated a “committee for truth, reconciliation, and the future” on August 1, 2004, saying that “the problems of the past were...

    (pp. 22-45)

    The Chosŏn dynasty (1392–1910) was long and stable. Major popular rebellions did not occur before its final century. The dynasty suddenly encountered a series of popular rebellions, the coup of elite officials, a palace mutiny, and successive foreign invasions in the nineteenth century. These challenges did not oust the old political frame of the Chosŏn dynasty, until the 1894 Tonghak Rebellion deeply unsettled the regime. King Kojong was tolerant and mild. He moderated reforms between conservative literati and elite reformers. His mediation may have postponed the dynasty’s collapse, but it delayed the fundamental resolution of accumulated problems and social...

  8. 2 PEOPLE AND FOREIGNERS: The Northwestern Provinces, 1896–1904
    (pp. 46-80)

    An Chung-gŭn (1879–1910), a Catholic Korean youth, assassinated Itō Hirobumi (1841–1909) in 1909 and became an icon of Korean patriotism and nationalism. He wrote in his memoir that he had killed Itō for the peace of East Asia (tongyang p’yŏnghwa) because Itō had broken his “promise” to protect Korean independence when Japan waged war against Russia. An recalled his jubilation upon seeing Japan prevail in the Russo-Japanese War and his bitter sense of deception when Itō Hirobumi proclaimed protectorate rule in Korea.¹ An’s life is emblematic of many Korean reformers who admitted the strength of Western civilization and...

  9. 3 SENSATIONAL CAMPAIGNS: The Russo-Japanese War and the Ilchinhoe’s Rise, 1904–1905
    (pp. 81-116)

    When Japan launched the Russo-Japanese War in February 1904, Korean reformists observed the military campaigns with wonder and suspicion. Yun Ch’i-ho, the leader of the Independence Club, was one of the reformers who oscillated between these two feelings. After Japan declared victory in the war, Yun wrote in his diary: “I am glad Japan has beaten Russia. The islanders have gloriously vindicated the honors of the Yellow race. The white man has so long been the master of the situation that he has kept the Oriental races in over for [sic] centuries.” He was nonetheless reluctant to celebrate the victory,...

  10. 4 FREEDOM AND THE NEW LOOK: The Culture and Rhetoric of the Ilchinhoe Movement
    (pp. 117-161)

    In February 1905, Yi Min-hwa, a major in the Wŏnju defense army, was called into the military court of Wŏnju for a face-to-face examination with sixty members of the Ilchinhoe. The major had filed a case against the organization, charging that it had violated Korean imperial authority at one of its assemblies. He had dispatched two divisions of soldiers in civilian clothes to the assembly to observe the proceedings. The soldiers had reported that an Ilchinhoe member had included in his speech to the assembly the statement that “both His Great Imperial Majesty and the Ilchinhoe members are all subjects...

  11. 5 THE POPULIST CONTEST: The Ilchinhoe’s Tax Resistance, 1904–1907
    (pp. 162-193)

    The elite records of protectorate Korea, whether written in Korean or Japanese, depict the Ilchinhoe’s movement with scorn, abhorrence, and anxiety. It is hard to grasp how the Ilchinhoe emerged as a strong popular organization in a short period of time if we reference the portraits of the group in the records of the Korean court, the media of the elite reformers, or even the documents of the Japanese protectorate. While the people’s rights (minkwŏn) were reiterated both in the Ilchinhoe’s statements and in the discourse of the elite reformers, the word directed a very concrete course of actions in...

  12. 6 SUBVERTING LOCAL SOCIETY: Ilchinhoe Legal Disputes, 1904–1907
    (pp. 194-240)

    Landownership and its reform in agrarian society were burning issues that changed Korea’s historical course in the twentieth century. The cadastral survey of the Kwangmu government moved in the direction of clarifying the private ownership of landowners and streamlined complicated property rights in the lands affiliated with government agencies. This process accompanied the Korean emperor Kojong’s own endeavor to reinforce the financial power of the monarch and to concentrate all the public lands under the control of the Royal Treasury. As shown in the previous chapter, the Ilchinhoe’s movements addressed some popular reactions to Kojong’s financial reform and had critical...

  13. 7 THE AUTHORITARIAN RESOLUTION: The Ilchinhoe and the Japanese, 1904–1910
    (pp. 241-279)

    Historians of the Japanese empire have long debated what exactly Japan intended when it installed protectorate rule in Korea and how and why it reached its final decision to annex Korea. The crux of this debate is based on understanding the characteristics of the Japanese protectorate as a form of government and identifying the factors that made Japan move from governing Korea through a form of “indirect rule” to controlling Korea as a colony over which Japan had complete sovereignty.¹ The question is whether Japan regarded it as acceptable that the protectorate reserved some autonomous space to the Korean government....

    (pp. 280-288)

    Kim Myŏng-jun, once an Ilchinhoe member, said at one of Taehan Hyŏphoe’s assemblies that “the civilization of our generation is not other than that the rights of the people are consolidated, their freedoms are articulated in law, and they live life in comfort. The people in Korea do not have the freedom—even if they wish—to engage in civilized conduct in this civilized era…. Without freedom and the rights of the people, we cannot call it a ‘normal state’ [kŏnjŏn kukka].” Kim argued that the rights of the government are given only to such a “normal” or “healthy” state,...

  15. Index
    (pp. 289-296)