Oct 20, 2020 in Research

Comparative Analysis of Colonial Taiwan And Korea


Taiwan and Korea from the end 19th century to the end of the Second World War were colonized by Japan. In this paper, analysis of eastern imperialism and the way it was embodied, based on Japanese colonial experience in Taiwan from 1895 to 1910 and in Korea from 1910 to 1945, is provided. The history of Korea and Taiwan during colonization has both similarities and differences: though both colonies faced domination of Japan in all spheres of life and suppression of locals’ interests, colonized Taiwan and colonized Korea had many differences due to different approaches and strategies of Japan regarding these countries exploitation.

Development of Japanese Empire and European Imperialism

Western and Eastern colonialism have many things in common, though Japan colonized Taiwan and Korea to be strong empire among the most powerful European states. Japan’s strategy was to strengthen the power of the state, which lies in political and military control over territories. However, Japanese imperialism is related to ‘new imperialism’ ideology: not only to exploit, but also to develop and cooperate with colonies. As Japan Empire entered the world of powerful and military might imperialist states, it had to take territories that were not far from Japan and were not culturally different from it. As colonization of Taiwan and Korea did not come at the same time, criteria for comparison will be different. Apart from chronological analysis of events in Korean and Taiwan history under Japanese rule, this paper emphasizes strategies of Japan regarding each country and the way these strategies were embodied in real history of Korea and Taiwan. To complete this task, intentions and policies of Japan regarding its power in Asian region as well as its interests in both countries have to be deeply analyzed.

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Similarly to European empires’ colonization of the end of the 18th century, Japan Empire intended to demonstrate its power and potential via political dominance on other countries that were much weaker in terms of political independence. However, Japan lacked sources for rivalry with old and flourishing European colonies, that is why Japanese Emperor trained to govern and colony on nearest territories, such as Taiwan and Korea.

The Beginning of Colonization

Taiwan and Korea were colonized with difference in 25 years because Japan had different strategies regarding each country. The history of Taiwan under Japanese rule begins in 1885 after short-lived Republic of Formosa’s resistance movement that was suppressed by Japanese forces. Taiwan was the first colony of Japanese Empire, which means that it was designed as model colony under the “Southern Expansion Doctrine”. Because Taiwan served as a model colony, Japan invested considerable funds in its industrialization and modernization.”. It means that Japanese policies regarding Taiwan government were directed to improve its economy and to increase living standards. Before the occupation, Taiwan’s population was heterogeneous, and it was difficult to govern this island that had neither proper identity nor political independence. These factors considerably contributed to Japanese rulers, as it was easier to take over poorly-governed and politically weak region.

Colonization of Korea in 1910 was a result of Japan-Korea Treaty of 1876, which united military, political and business officials in effort to promote economic and political integration into Japan in order to provide opportunity for employment to millions Koreans as well as to get access to Japanese sources and markets. As Korea was under the influence of Qing China, Duus claims that Japan attempted to form a puppet state from Korea. In 1905 under the Japan-Korean Treaty, Korea was declared a protectorate of Japanese Empire. In 1904 Japan announced 25 reforms for Korea, which made Korea accept Japanese Superintendent, new military order after Japanese military system as well as to accept other reforms that increased Korean dependence on Japan. For example, Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty of 1910 begins with the demonstration of Japan’s domination on Korea: “His Majesty the Emperor of Korea makes the complete and permanent cession to His Majesty the Emperor of Japan of all rights of sovereignty over the whole of Korea”. Thus, colonization of Taiwan was more spontaneous than it of Korea because Taiwan was colonized 25 years earlier.

Resistance of Taiwan and Korea at the Early Stage of Colonization

Similarly to Koreans, Taiwanese people demonstrated disagreement with imperial policies of Japan. To review the key events that have taken place during Japanese rule in Taiwan, it is worth using periodization, which divides colonial history of Taiwan into three stages: from 1895 to 1915, from 1915 to 1937 and from 1937 to 1945. During the early period of occupation, Taiwan was marked with high level of resistance: the Tapani incident was the biggest uprising, headed by Taiwanese Han in 1915. Han and Aborigines raised a violent fight against Japanese forces, though it was eventually surpassed by Japan. There are different visions on this event in Taiwanese and Japanese historiography: from Taiwanese side, this uprising is interpreted as expression of nationalism and resistance towards both Chinese and Japanese occupation, whereas Japanese historians interpret it as rise of criminality.

In the beginning of Japanese rule, Korean life was affected by military rule that did not offer political freedoms or liberties to Korean people. Based on these policies, the March First movement broke out in 1919. Though this March begun as peaceful demonstration, due to participation of two million people it became widespread across the Korean peninsula. Similarly to the Tapani incident, the uprising lasted for several weeks despite brutal suppression by Japanese forces. There were minor uprising for independence in Korean for several month, until the Japanese army regain control. Thus, both Taiwan and Korea met annexation with protests and uprising, which demonstrates involvement in national affairs as well as desire to achieve political independence.

As in the beginning of colonization Japan leaded strict policies, soon the importance of encouragement, protection of rights and liberties for people of colonized countries was emphasized by Japanese officials. In 1920, policy of cultural rule was instituted and ended in 1930. Under this policy, rebirth of political magazines and newspapers in Korea was permitted, which means the Japanese officials recognized significance of political, economic, cultural, social and media rights for Korean people. Thanks to critical journalism in Korean media, colonial public sphere became a modern politico-social phenomenon. It means that despite stereotyping of Eastern imperialism, Taiwan and Korea were given rights and liberties that promoted intellectual, cultural, and civilian development of Taiwanese and Korean people.

Japan’s Efforts in Colonies Modernization

Japanese government promoted industrialization and increased economic development in both Korea and Taiwan. As Korea was industrialized very quickly compared to Taiwan, it is supposed to be the contribution of Japanese officials. Nevertheless, according to Duol and Ki-Joo, before Japanese involvement the indexes of total production growth and labor, productivity grew rapidly. In Taiwan, industry was developed under Japanese rule: sugar factories were the heart of industry. During colonization, Taiwan turned traditional sugar production into modern machinery production, which promoted harsh income. Nevertheless, there was still crucial difference between Taiwan and Korea in terms of industrialization in the beginning of colonial period.

In both Taiwan and Korea, Japan Empire led colonial policies that were centered in political, cultural, economic and military dominance of Japan. Japanese Empire recognized cultural, linguistic and religious similarities between Japan and Taiwanese people. However, Japanese government’s rhetoric made believe that Japan is making generous and prudent mission by annexing Taiwan: to establish new administration, to improve economy, to adjust proper infrastructure, education and medical service. Overall, the scholars agree that Japan has considerably contributed to Taiwan’s development, however, emphasizing that this was made via submission and passiveness of Taiwanese people. Though some researchers claim that Taiwan under Japanese rule was a ‘model colony’, others suggest that ‘scientific colonialism’ as Japanese policy in Taiwan is idealization. For instance, Hee considers ‘civilizing measures’ of Japan to be less loyal than it is usually portrayed. This researcher claims that Japanese rule was marked with colonial violence that resulted in production of colonial knowledge. Under Japan Empire, Taiwan witnessed implementation of “a civilized legal system…to be a central component”, accompanied by legitimization of the use of violence. In Korea, Japan proved its might and dominance by imposing Japanese legislation and considerably cutting Korean army and by putting Japanese police in Korea. Another particular example of Japanese’ colonialism is assimilation policies. Colonization essentially caused assimilation and migration of Japanese people seeking for economic opportunity in Korea. As Japanese government encouraged emigration due to overcrowding, Korean territory was populated by Japanese people in order to lead agriculture business there. It lead to decrease of Korean ownership of own lands, while Japanese settlers were landowners, who made Korean people pay a great rent, or to make daughters and wives involve in prostitution or heavy labor on factories to pay taxes. For instance, Japan assigned girls and women from colonies to prostitution, which was called ‘comfort women’. In 1931, Chinese and Japanese residents faced a number of anti-Chinse riots, caused by Koreans’ anger against the Korean migrants’ treatment. In both countries, Japan attempted to set its control, using legislature, violence and discrimination.

The Flash of Nationalism in Taiwan and Korea

The history of both countries under Japanese rule is marked with dashes of nationalism as reactions on strict Japanese policies. The second period of colonial Taiwan is marked with rise of nationalism and self-determination during the World War I, which made Japan create the house of the Imperial Diet. It promoted liberalization of national culture, political initiative and governance in Taiwan. Repressive policies, similarly to Taiwanese case, caused resistance to Japanese domination in the form of nationalism. Japan promoted establishment of the Korean History Compilation Committee in 1925, which was aimed to recollect and restore Korean history, literature, and mythology. Similar initiatives regarding national consciousness and determination of Korean people have been embodied.

In Taiwan and Korea Japanese policies favored Japanization of native people as well as formation of Japan identity with purpose to use the sources of Taiwan and Korea. The last period of Taiwanese colonial history embraces Second Sino-Japanese War and the Second World War that led to rise of militarism in both Japan and its colonies. Japanese government wanted to use Taiwanese resources to benefit in war, that is why it was needed to make the Taiwanese assimilate as members of Japanese society. Therefore, according to Huang, Taiwanese society had to be fully Japanized and to bear Japanese identity. The Colonial Government considerably added to this movement by encouraging local Taiwanese people to speak Japanese language, to accept Shintoism, to wear Japanese clothing and to make people take Japanese names. Taiwanese youth was encouraged to apply for Japanese Army and Navy during the Second World War, which led to great losses of human resources, decline in economy after the war ended.

Zhang asserts that under Japanese rule, Taiwanese people had Taiwanese consciousness, which was based on opposition Taiwanese-Japanese. Due to suppressive policies of Japan Empire, Taiwanese people felt themselves as of a second sort: they were educated in accordance with Japanese education system and were governed by Japanese rules. These factors promoted rise of national consciousness across the entire island, which provoked resistance: “Political and social movements arose in the 1920s in pursuit of rights, interests, and status for the Taiwanese. Leftist or rightist, Taiwanese political groups had a common target: “Taiwan is Taiwanese Taiwan.”. Due-to strict imperial policies, some Koreans were made to leave for Japan by the end of the First World War. Such a tight contact resulted in acceptance of Japanese religion, customs, and names. However, attempts to make Koreans and Japanese people similar also resulted in confrontation and greater distance between the two. According to Carpio, “Japanese rhetoric may have preached the merits of assimilation, but Japan’s policy decisions often strengthened the differences that separated Koreans from Japanese“. Carpio also states that discriminative peripheral colonialism, led by Japan, resulted in assimilation at any level, though it provoked protests. In Korea, assimilation policies and attitudes of locals towards them was unique: though more Koreans were speaking Japanese, more Koreans started attending schools, the quantity of Korean-Japanese marriage increased, participation in Japanese policies and programs did not add to greater acceptance of Japanese. The Koreans accepted reforms regarding infrastructure, industry and education, some Koreans even declared their support for Japan in public. There was no consensus among Korean society regarding support or mistrust for Japan: there were both Korean lackeys, and pro-Japanese Koreans, who approved joining Japan to survive in pan-Asian community. Including both protests and approval of Japanese policies, it may be concluded that Japanese envisioned a vertical cultural integration, whereas the Koreans entered horizontal political and economic amalgamation.

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The Role of Rural Youth and Japanese Nation-Building

Due to Japanese strategy to use the colonies with agriculture purposes, both Taiwan and Korea faced rural youth discourse, which emphasized the role of patriotic youth ready to protect motherland from enemy during the wars. According to Chatani, in the last years of colonial rule, Taiwanese youth was the center of attention: the Japanese officials tried to mobilize as many people as possible, paying much attention to their education and ideological upbringing. In Korea, position of youth was different: while Taiwan was considered agriculture country, Korea was considered industrialized colony. Nevertheless, ost of people lived in villages even after numerous investment in heavy industry development by Japanese government. Southern cities of Korea were agriculture-centered, and their task was to produce food to satisfy Empire’s needs. Before agriculture discourse was intensified, rural youth was isolated from intellectual discourse on the rise of youth. Until 1930s, Korean village youth was isolated from any national movements, but after the Rural Revitalization Campaign the policies shifted to village youth groups in Korea as they did in Taiwan, which made village youth the vehicle of nation-building in Japan.

Japan’s strategies in both Taiwan and Korea may be characterized by development and exploitation. The economic contributions of Japan Empire to colonies’ development has already been discussed, that is why social changes should be analyzed. In Korea, the most important social changes happened to schools and to family life. The issue of education establishment in Korea resulted in threat to Japanese authorities, though it was necessary for both parties. The analysis of village youth discourse demonstrates that both colonies participated in nation-building and development of Japan, while Japanese youth did the same in colonial lands. As Japanese policies affected Japanese, Taiwanese and Korean people, events in each country included tight interaction with the representatives of other country. To explore the crucial social, political and economic change in Japanese colonies, it is necessary to analyze the condition of three components of change. Events in Taiwan cannot be properly comprehended without knowledge of Japanese an Korean internal affairs. To provide a holistic vision of imperialism and colonies’ life, it is necessary to recognize that linear approach is not effective, as analysis of discourses demonstrates different aspects of public life at the same time.


Taiwan and Korea under Japanese rule have many differences due to different historical contexts and colonial experiences, though they share similar reactions of Japan policies and are both marked with development and exploitation by Japanese. Academic debates concerning colonial period of Taiwan and Korea vary: some scholars agree with model-colony approach, while others disapprove it due to lack of evidence and argumentation. Though Korean and Taiwanese people witnessed discrimination, suppression, absence of political rights and liberties at the beginning of colonization, the period between 1920-1930 was marked with liberalization of public life. In pre-war period, in both Taiwan and Korea the discourses of rural youth as the course and hope of the entire empire was articulated. In Taiwan and Korea societies there were individuals, who support Japan in terms of political and economic assistance to colonies, and those who were against Japanese annexation. Despite numerous similarities, the crucial difference between colonial Taiwan and Korea was associated with different purposes, imposed on these countries by Japan: Taiwan was focused on agriculture, while Korea was viewed as industrialized colony. Development of Taiwan and Korea during colonial period demands critical analysis of Japanese policies and strategies.


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