Annexation of Korea (韓国併合)

The annexation of Korea refers to the Japanese annexation of the Korean Empire (which currently corresponds to the area of the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea), based on the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty on August 22, 1910. It is also expressed in Chinese characters as 日韓併合 (Nikkan heigo), 朝鮮合併 (Chosen gappei), 日韓合邦 (Nikkan gappo), etc. (It is written 韓日併合 in South Korea, and 日韓併合 in China).

With this annexation of Korea, the Korean Empire ceased to exist, and the Korean Peninsula that was its territory was occupied by Japan. Japan lost the effective control due to the end of the Second World War in 1945, and its rule of Korea officially ended upon signing the Instrument of Surrender in which they promised to follow the provisions in the Potsdam Declaration in good faith on September 2, 1945.

Japanese and Korean Views on the Annexation Treaty
Japan has adopted a stance that the annexation of Korea is "no longer valid" today, which implies the conclusion that the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty itself was legal. Contrary to that, both South and North Korea have maintained the stance that the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty and all the related treaties were illegal and invalid from the beginning, and the Japanese rule, extending back to its occupation of Korea, was totally illegal and invalid, because the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty was illegally concluded. South Korea and Japan, which resumed diplomatic relations in 1965, have not reached an agreement on this point.

The annexation of Korea refers not only to the momentary fact that the Korean Empire disappeared and Korea became a Japanese territory, but also sometimes refers to the continuous fact that Korea had been occupied as a result of the annexation.

Historical Backdrop and Public Opinions in Japan and Korea

Japan, which achieved rapid progress after the Meiji Restoration, believed the Korean Peninsula was geopolitically important, when it considered its national defense policy against foreign countries. This was because Japan thought if the Korean Peninsula, which had acted as an intermediary for exchanges between Japan and the continent since ancient times, together with Ryukyu, was possessed by an adversarial country, it would catch hold of a strategically fatal weakness of Japan.

The Yi Dynasty Korea maintained a tributary system with the Qing Dynasty China as its center, and was closed off to the outside world at that time. As the Japanese opening of the country to the world, and secession from the tributary system was a challenge to the Sinocentrist order that had assured East Asian international order for a long time, the Yi Dynasty Korea was critical of that decision. It regarded the request from Japan for modernization as interference in its domestic affairs. And, aside from whether it was out of good will or not, Japan was aware that it was an interference. Japanese intellectual persons' proposal for modernization was regarded as having an invasive purpose, or used as a tool for political strife inside the Korean Dynasty.

However, West European powers and Japan did not accept the continued isolation of the Korean Peninsula, and Japan took advantage of Ganghwa Island incident to conclude the Japanese-Korea Treaty of Amity with the Yi Dynasty Korea. With this as a start, the Yi Dynasty Korea was forced to enter into unequal treaties with these powerful countries and to open up their country. On that occasion, Japan held by the expression, "Korea was an independent country." However, it was difficult for the Korean dynasty and Korean intellectuals to understand the Japanese intention to force Korea to secede from the tributary system of the Qing dynasty, on the grounds that a tributary country, on which China had conferred sakuho (homage by Chinese emperors) in the Sinocentrism order, was originally an "independent country."
It is often misunderstood, but a country under the tributary system, i.e. 'a tributary country,' does not directly imply 'a subject state/protected state.'
The degree to which tributary countries politically depended on China greatly varied, and in many cases, tributary trading was a principal duty in the system. However, when it was interpreted with the logic of modern West European international relationships, a difference in perception between Japan and Korea occurred.

Although there were requests for reform from within the Yi Dynasty Korea, such as the Gapsin Coup that occurred after the opening of the country, Daewongun and Empress Myeongseong wanted to maintain the traditional Yi Dynasty Korea. Japan planned a political reform in the Korean Peninsula, together with Qing. However, Qing did not change its view that Korea was its subject state under the tributary system.

While tension arose between Japan and Qing, a peasant rebellion, the Donghak Peasant Revolution occurred, calling for the removal of the misrule and foreign invasion. Both Japan and Qing dispatched troops to Korea on the pretext of suppression, and in 1894, the Sino-Japanese War broke out. Japan, which won the Sino-Japanese War, succeeded in eliminating Qing's clout in Korea by concluding the Treaty of Shimonoseki that compelled Qing to acknowledge Yi Dynasty Korea as an independent country.

The reformist group gained power in the Korean Peninsula immediately after the Sino-Japanese War. However, the conservatives, including the Royal family, recovered their power, when they found Japan had surrendered to the Triple Intervention, and moved closer to Russia, which resulted in more intensified political strife (The assassination of Empress Myeongseong occurred during this period). In 1896, the pro-Russia conservatives moved Gojong (Korean King) to the Russian Legation, and gained control of the government. Gojong attended to government affairs at the Russian Legation for over one year (Rokan Hasen [Royal refuge in the Russian Legation]). Believing this posed the risk that the Yi Dynasty Korea might be regarded as a Russian protected state, Japan tried to clarify the fact of its independence by changing its name to the Korean Empire in order to maintain Japan's clout on Korea in 1897. After all, with a similar constitution, the Yi Dynasty Korea, in fact, ruled Korea after the establishment of the Korean Empire. The reformist groups, such as Shinpo-kai (pro-Japanese political organization in Korea) (later called, Isshin-kai) were oppressed (the Japanese government was sometimes even asked to oppress the reformists), and modernization did not progress.

A public opinion that Japan should intervene once more in the reform of the Korean peninsula arose in Japan. Furthermore, a public opinion stating 'Japan should promote the reform by the annexation' emerged, because the political reform in the Korean Peninsula did not make much progress.

Taro KATSURA strongly moved ahead with this from the point of view that 'a new territory is required to be a powerful country comparable to Europe.'
With this, the Japanese government wanting to incorporate Korea into its territory, and the Japanese public opinion came to be in agreement.

Hirobumi ITO, Inspector General of Korea, and his group were opposed to it, because 'the annexation was too early.'
This opposing opinion was based on the following.
Firstly, in line with their policy on the rule of Korea, they were trying hard to take measures against the resistance forces and rebellions, believing that 'it was time to defuse potential resistance or independence forces beforehand.'
Particularly, they were conducting aggressive oppression, using measures such as burning down large parts of villages in the area where gihei (irregular armies that fought against Japanese invasions into Korea) actions were active (Mitsuo YOSHIDA, 2004134 Page). Secondly, they believed that 'it was time to make more efforts to nurture the domestic industries,' paying more attention to the Japanese domestic affairs. Thirdly, above all, they thought that "consent would not yet be obtained from the external international society."

Progress into a Protected State

Although the Korean Empire seceded from the tributary system, Russia, which obtained Manchuria, was obviously making southward expansion, taking advantage of the interest it had in the Korean peninsula. At the beginning, Japan tried to avoid conflict through diplomatic efforts. However, Russia increased pressure on Japan with its massive military power. In 1904, the Russo-Japanese War started.

Japan concluded the Japan-Korea Protocol on February 23, 1904 immediately after the start of the war to eliminate restrictions in its military actions in the Korean Peninsula. Furthermore, Shinpo-kai, which gave up on the independent reform by Yi Dynasty Korea, and wanted to pursue the annexation of Korea and Japan, generously cooperated with Japan in the Russo-Japanese War by dispatching as many as 50,000 men for railway construction works, etc. In August, the first Japan-Korea Treaty was concluded, recommending Tanetaro MEGATA for the financial advisor, and Durham Stevens for the foreign affairs advisor. It was an effort to secure its clout by adding the persons recommended by the Japanese government, and to restrict facilities offered to the other countries. At the same time, it increased its clout by buying back the customs rights that had been sold to Russia by Empress Myeongseong. Meanwhile, Gojong tried to thoroughly eliminate Japan's clout, and conducted diplomacy with secret envoys, such as sending secret letters to Russia during the Russo-Japanese War.

The Japanese government concluded the second Japan-Korea Treaty (called Eulsa Protectorate Treaty in south Korea) in November, 1905 after the Russo-Japanese War to eliminate Gojong's diplomacy by secret envoys and established the Korea Protection Agency in December to hold diplomatic authority under its control. However, Gojong, who did not accept the conclusion of the Eulsa Treaty, dispatched secret envoys to the second Hague Peace Conference in 1907 in order to denounce the conclusion of the treaty as compulsive and invalid (so-called Hague Secret Envoy Incident). The Japanese heads of state, including ITO, who was the Inspector General of Korea, were enraged and forced Gojong out of office. With Lee Wan-Yong's cooperation, Gojong was half-compelled to abdicate from the crown on July 20th, and Sunjong (Korean King) acceded to the throne of the second emperor of the Korean Empire. On July 24th, they concluded the third Japan-Korea Treaty to grasp domestic administration authority, and disbanded the army of the Korean Empire on August 1st immediately after that.

Former soldiers and others who were dissatisfied with this raised an anti-Japanese rebellion. However, it was soon suppressed, because most of the soldiers bore old arms, and had not been well trained as solders. The army was disbanded, because their significance as a military force was low. It is said the remaining soldiers participated in the later anti-Japanese gihei wars.

Period of Japan's Rule

The policy on the annexation of Korea was decided at a cabinet meeting in July, 1909, but Hirobumi ITO, who resigned from the Korea Protection Agency, and came back to Japan, continued to resist the early annexation, believing the annexation should be conducted later in the future. However, the Japanese public opinion grew in favor of the annexation, because an influential statesmen objecting to the early annexation disappeared due to the assassination of Hirobumi ITO by An Jung-geun on October 26th, and ITO, who was the first prime minister and one of the elder statesmen, was assassinated. Isshin-kai in Korea suddenly presented a report to the throne, "Statement calling for the annexation of Korea" on December 4, 1909, while preparations for the annexation of Korea were being made steadily. In Korea, citizens' speech meetings were held, the denouncement of Isshin-kai and an anti-Japanese trend rapidly increased, and Japanese newspaper reporters in Korea violently criticized Isshin-kai. In the first place, the "Statement calling for the annexation of Korea" said Korea and Japan would establish one government anew on an equal basis to create a large empire, which was not acceptable at all to Japan in view of the circumstances of those days. Furthermore, as it needlessly lead to the calcification of Korean public opinions, the Korea Protection Agency prohibited meetings and public speeches.

In spite of several complications that occurred for one year after the decision of annexation of Korea at the cabinet meeting, Japan integrated the Korean Peninsula based on the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty on August 22, 1910, as decided in the cabinet.

With this, the Korean Empire ceased to exist, and the Korean Peninsula was held under Japanese rule until the end of the Second World War (the Greater East Asian War, the Pacific War). The Korean Empire and Korea Protection Agency were discontinued, and instead, Chosen Sotoku-fu (Governor-General of Korea) was established to rule all of Korea. The Korean Imperial family was given the title of Okozoku (social position given to imperial family of former Korea) along the lines of the Japanese Imperial family. Furthermore, Koreans who contributed to the annexation of Korea were given the title of the Korean nobility.

Chosen Sotoku-fu made a survey based on the land survey project from 1910 to 1919, and determined the ownership of land. The ownership of over 99% of the land declared on that occasion was approved, as declared by the landlords. However, the land not declared or land designated as state-owned land (it is said it was mainly the land of unknown owners, such as hidden rice fields, and included the land of the former Korean Dynasties) was taken over, and then sold to the Toyo Takushoku Co. Ltd., which was founded according to the Toyo Takushoku Co. Ltd. Law (1909 law No. 63) and became the largest landlord in Korea, as well as other Japanese farmers. This triggered the transformation of small-hold land-owning farmers into tenant farmers and their massive departure from their villages. Chosen Sotoku-fu made various investments in conglomerates, such as Chisso Corporation, in the Korean Peninsula, using part of the fund of Toyo Takushoku Co. Ltd. Under the rule of Japan, merchants privileged in the Yi Dynasty period went to ruin failing to adapt to the trend of the era, while some conventional landlords who raised funds by buying and selling the land of which prices violently fluctuated gained power as emerging capitalists. Many of those emerging capitalists grew, keeping good relationships with Sotoku-fu.

Naming of the period of Japan's rule in South Korea

It is known that the period of Japan's rule is called the Japanese forced occupation period (Korean public broadcasting, KBS, Korean Broadcasting System is trying to unify the names into this), the Japanese Imperial period, or Japanese administration period by South Korea. The first two show a recognition that validity or legitimacy in the annexation of Korea and the Japanese occupation of Korea is not accepted, and the Japanese rule of the Korean peninsula is seen as a mere military occupation. Furthermore, the Japanese colony period is also used, but recently it tends to be avoided based on the recognition that it implies the legitimacy or validity of the treaty of the annexation of Korea and the Japanese occupation of Korea.

Evaluation of the period of Japan's rule in the Republic of Korea

Calling the Japanese historical research justifying the Japanese rule 'colonial historical view,' South Korean historians/academic societies started their research from the strong criticism of that after Korea's independence. The ethnical historical view, which came up in opposition to what they called 'colonial historical view,' served as the pillar of the later historical research. Under those circumstances, the modernization germination theory, arguing modernization had already germinated in the Yi Dynasty Korea period, and the Japanese rule destroyed the germination, resulting in the impeded modernization, appeared after Korea's independence in spite of recognizing that the various modernization during the Japanese rule. On the other hand, Kim Wansop, a critic and writer, and O Seonhwa from Jeju, a professor at Takushoku University and a representative of the Japanese conservatives, wrote books in which the Japanese rule was positively evaluated. Furthermore, there is the colony modernization theory by Lee Yong-hoon, a professor at Seoul University, and others, arguing that the Japanese rule promoted modernization. However, they are the minority in South Korea. Recently, Lee Yong-hoon studied materials from the Yi Dynasty Korea period, and stated that the Korean economy rapidly collapsed at the end of the Yi Dynasty Korea period, strongly denying the modernization germination theory. Furthermore, outside the country, Carter J. Eckert, a Korean history professor, Harvard University, regarded the germination theory in South Korea as "not logical, but a theory for the purpose of impeaching Japan," and strongly denied the modernization germination theory. He published the results of his study determining South Korean capitalism was born during Japanese colonization, and particularly the capitalism and industrialization in South Korea after the war was modeled after Japanese modernization policies. At the same time, he pointed out the similarity of the Japanese rule to Chung-hee PARK's government, and said it was one form of military dictatorship, and caused Korean capitalists' dependence on dictatorship.

Discussion on whether Korea under the rule of Japan can be called a colony or not

The designation of a territory as a colony is often used for the political subordination of a new territory placed under a special political system, compared with the original territory. The naming started from applying actually used names to models extracted from actual examples, and the concept of colony is being determined to exclude value judgments mainly from prior models. This is because unless the prior facts have not been modeled, names can not be given, and discussions can not be held.

However, the discussion on what the Japanese-style rule of the colony was like has continued to argue over the difference from prior models made by Europe and America.
Furthermore, there is criticism of using the word colony for both, based on the recognition that 'the Japanese governing policy was different from the rule of different ethnic groups by Western countries in the same era, and was good politics,' and 'colony is the word to express the misrule conducted by foreign countries to rule different ethnic groups.'
It is advocated from this position that the word 'colony' should not be used for the Japanese rule of Korea.

The then Japanese government that ruled Korea did not legally give any special designation (colony, overseas territory, etc.) for Korea. However, the use of both colony and overseas territory was seen in official documents (See [10][11]). There was a discrepancy in the opinions of independent scholars and thinkers on whether Korea was a colony or not. Tatsukichi MINOBE, a scholar of constitutional law, and Inazo NITOBE, a scholar of colonial policies, as well as social scientists such as Tadao YANAIHARA generally considered it as a colony, while Kiyoshi TABOBASHI, a historian, Ikki KITA, a thinker, and others did not. An expression that Korea was a colony is seen in Japanese statesmen's comments after the war, and in some diplomatic documents, such as the Japan-North Korea Pyongyang Declaration. However, there is an argument over whether this can be taken as the Japanese government's official view or not (See the list of Japanese comments on apologies for the war).

Comparison of Historical Perceptions

The following difference is seen in the historical perceptions on the history of the annexation of Korea.
('The conservatives' and 'the reformists' shown below are the group names used by the Japanese media, and do not mean conservative or reformist, as defined.)