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Under the Black Umbrella

Under the Black Umbrella: Voices from Colonial Korea, 1910–1945

Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Cornell University Press
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  • Book Info
    Under the Black Umbrella
    Book Description:

    In the rich and varied life stories in Under the Black Umbrella, elderly Koreans recall incidents that illustrate the complexities of Korea during the colonial period. Hildi Kang here reinvigorates a period of Korean history long shrouded in the silence of those who endured under the "black umbrella" of Japanese colonial rule. Existing descriptions of the colonial period tend to focus on extremes: imperial repression and national resistance, Japanese subjugation and Korean suffering, Korean backwardness and Japanese progress. "Most people," Kang says, "have read or heard only the horror stories which, although true, tell only a small segment of colonial life."

    The varied accounts in Under the Black Umbrella reveal a truth that is both more ambiguous and more human-the small-scale, mundane realities of life in colonial Korea. Accessible and attractive narratives, linked by brief historical overviews, provide a large and fully textured view of Korea under Japanese rule. Looking past racial hatred and repression, Kang reveals small acts of resistance carried out by Koreans, as well as gestures of fairness by Japanese colonizers. Impressive for the history it recovers and preserves, Under the Black Umbrella is a candid, human account of a complicated time in a contested place.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7016-5
    Subjects: History, Anthropology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    H. K.
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
    (pp. xix-xxi)
  6. [Map]
    (pp. xxii-xxii)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)

    In the late 1800s, the people of Korea experienced a series of collisions with the modern world that sparked change of ever-increasing magnitude. These changes began before, and escalated during, the years of the Japanese occupation.

    To glimpse the intensity of these changes, one must look back to sec Korea before she arrived on the international scene. For hundreds of rears the basic Korean lifestyle had been stable, with a population of subsistence farmers topped by a thin layer of educated elite.

    A series of invasions (Mongols in 1231, Japanese in 1592, Manchus in 1627) caused Korea to close her...

  8. 1 : First Encounters
    (pp. 6-14)

    When Korea, long known as the Hermit Kingdom, opened its doors to the world, its people faced a dizzying barrage of first encounters. Businessmen, missionaries, soldiers, and statesmen from all corners of the world brought new inventions, languages, weapons, and rules. That first generation, those who were adults between 1880 and 1910, are the ones against whom the explosive crash of opposing ideas hit with unexpected force. They should tell this story, but they are no longer alive. Their children speak for them.


    (m) b. 1910, bank manager, North P’yŏngan Province:

    I want to tell...


    • 2 : Shouts of Independence MARCH 1, 1919
      (pp. 17-23)

      The Independence Movement began simply. Thirty-three representatives of the Korean people met at a restaurant in Seoul, read aloud their declaration, and formally proclaimed Korea to be an independent nation. Having made their public statement, the men walked to the Japanese police station and turned themselves in.

      What happened next surprised everyone. Unplanned and unexpected, those who had been silent became vocal. Over the following months, thousand of students, shopkeepers, farmers, and others, both old and young, called out for freedom in separate demonstrations throughout the country.

      The Japanese were stunned by the enormity of the movement and quickly moved...

    • 3 : A Map Changed My Life
      (pp. 24-36)

      My father had no job when I was born. He was a Confucian scholar, a “superior man” (sŏnbi), so it was beneath his dignity to engage in any menial wage-earning work. In fact, you might definesŏnbias a person who doesn’t work. When it rains and the roof leaks, he sits there in his room with the rain pouring on his head. My father never applied for the civil service exam (kwagŏ) under the Chosŏn dynasty. He was asŏnbigoing nowhere.

      I spent the first sixteen years of my life in the small village of Waesŏk, north of...

    • 4 : Choosing an Education
      (pp. 37-48)

      Every family must decide if, and how, to educate its children. In Korea before the 1890s, that choice was simple, for the only school available was the male bastionsŏdang, village school. Here, the local boys studied Chinese writing and Confucian precepts under the guidance of a male teacher. Then, around the turn of the century, many western-style schools began to be built, and by 1910 Koreans could choose among modern schools built by Koreans, by newly arrived missionaries, or by the Japanese.

      The most common school for boys continued to be the ancientsŏdang, which posed no threat to...

    • 5 : Through the Eye of a Needle
      (pp. 49-60)

      The year the Japanese took over Korea, 1910, is the year I was born, so I never knew life without them. However, the first thing of importance that I remember is the March First Independence Movement in 1919. You may wonder how a child like me at such a young age could get involved in the Independence Movement. It sounds like the claim of Kim Il Sŏng [president of communist North Korea, 1948–1994], who boasted that he was active fighting for Korean independence at an age when most children aren’t even aware they have a country.

      It happened like...

    • 6 : Business Ventures and Adventures
      (pp. 61-74)

      Tradition holds that sons follow in the professions of their fathers, but Koreans, especially during the 1920s, found more and more choices open to them. Under the new “cultural” rule (period of accommodation, 1920–1931), the Japanese continued to restrict, but did not entirely block, Korean entrepreneurship. The stories that follow give voice to this wider range of options.

      Life was especially hard for farmers, who often lived at subsistence level. The first two informants recall this poverty. Other young men put forth great effort to learn skills and find new jobs, many of which put them in varying degrees...

    • 7 : I Almost Went to Canada
      (pp. 75-84)

      Mr. Kim died of illness in San Francisco shortly before the interviews began. His wife, Ms. Yi, tells their story.

      In order to avoid the wars, Grandfather settled in a small village near the Yalu River, bought land, and became prominent in the community. As prosperous farmers, we became self-supporting, slaughtered our own pigs and chickens, and raised all our own food.

      Father, being second son, was free to leave the farm, so he attended the Presbyterian theological seminary in P’yŏngyang for four years. I went to high school in the city.

      You know that girls sometime get love letters...


    • 8 : A Red Line Marks My Record
      (pp. 87-98)
      YI HAJŎN

      After graduation from high school in 1940, I went to Hosei University in Tokyo, Japan. In less than a year, the police department from my home in P’yŏngyang dispatched five secret police detectives all the way to Tokyo to arrest me.

      Because of that arrest, I now own two documents that verify the red line across my record—my indictment from the Japanese police that sent me to prison, and a commendation from the Korean government for the same set of circumstances. Of ten such acknowledged activists who have moved to the San Francisco area, I am one of the...

    • 9 : Passive Resistance
      (pp. 99-106)

      By the late 1930s, overt resistance continued only along Korea’s northern border. The Righteous Armies and freedom fighters of the early years faded from view, and even the peasant protests of the 1920s and early ’30s disappeared due to the increase in repressive police power and efficient communication networks. People turned to passive, everyday forms of resistance—hiding crops, feigning ignorance, conveniently disappearing—or protested in ways only slightly more obvious, singing songs with hidden meanings, taking part in labor strikes, spreading anti Japanese rumors, and, especially Christians, refusing to bow to Shinto shrines.¹

      Barrington Moore, when writing about the...

    • 10 : Thought Police Stay for Dinner
      (pp. 107-110)

      One thing I like to brag about is that Father invented a mint pill calledIndan, like a peppermint, that is good for many things, and he had it patented in China. He sold these mints. Father was a practicing physician in Korea, but moved us to Manchuria (where I was born in 1924) and then to Shanghai, looking for a better life. He found a better job, teaching physics and chemistry at three Chinese colleges in Shanghai, but he did not escape the watchful eye of the Japanese thought police.

      I was sent to a Japanese primary school in...

    • 11 : Becoming Japanese
      (pp. 111-122)

      Governor-General Minami Jiro, who ruled Korea from 1936 to 1942, believed that his historic mission was to achieve the complete union of Korea and Japan.¹ Among many other new rules, Koreans were now required to recite the Pledge of Imperial Subjects (1937), speak only Japanese (1938), worship at Shinto shrines (1939), and—the ultimate indignity—change their names to Japanese (1940).²

      Shinto ceremonies were not religious, the government said; they simply honored the Emperor. However, since the Japanese considered their Emperor a living god, his ancestors were also gods. Bowing at the shrines honored the living Emperor by honoring the...

    • 12 : Drafted to the Kobe Shipyard
      (pp. 123-129)

      My father had one very unique skill—putting tiles onto roofs. In those days, tiles were set quite differently from today; it required a truly special skill. Obviously, rich people kept building houses, and they always wanted tile roofs, and they asked for Father because of his skill. But even rich people do not build houses every day, so sometimes we had money but mostly we didn’t. It wasn’t easy to live, because we had seven children and father refused other work.

      Because our family was poor I paid for my own schooling, doing odd jobs to earn money. From...

    • 13 : The War Effort
      (pp. 130-138)

      The Second World War raged, and Japan needed help. First they engaged Koreans in labor draft (ching yong), forcing men, women, and children to collect war donations, join “voluntary” labor corps, and work in mines, construction sites, and factories. Toward the end of the war, the military draft (ching hyŏng) policy put Korean men into armed fighting units. Against this, whenever possible, Koreans continued their passive resistance by hiding, ignoring the summons, or finding essential home-front jobs. More often, no loopholes existed and no escape was possible.


      (m) b. 1919, day laborer, North Ch’ungch’ŏng Province:...

      (pp. 139-148)

      In the summer of 1945, rumors chased each other through the air. People listened and watched but dared not comment.

      August 7 (or August 6 in western hemisphere), America bombed Hiroshima; August 9 (or August 8), Russia declared war on Japan, and Russian airplanes attacked the Korean city of Ch’ŏngjin in North Hamgyŏng Province; August 10 (or August 9), America bombed Nagasaki; and by August 15 (or August 14) Japan surrendered and Korea was released from Japanese control.

      KIM WŎN’GŬK [KIM WON KEUK], (m) b. 1918, Tobacco Authority officer, North Hamgyŏng Province:

      That summer, rumors were like leaves on the...


      (pp. 149-149)
      (pp. 150-152)
    • APPENDIX C: Historical Overview, 1850–1945
      (pp. 153-156)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 157-160)
    (pp. 161-162)
    (pp. 163-166)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 167-167)