Before the fight for independence, there was complacency from the elites, who were reluctant to give up the power they amassed at the hands of colonizers. Different classes have different experiences and relations with/in an empire. Class was ingrained in Joseon culture; there were various ranks of class in Joseon society, this was all but destroyed after Japanese victory over China which “Coincided with the official ending of the Joseon social structure based on yangban, jungin, sangmin, and cheonmin classes.” (Tudor 19), Yangban the highest social class those who were of this class were awarded land and titles, Jungin the middles social class of those who carried professions like doctors, Sangmin called the “ordinary workers” mostly farmers and Cheonmin the lowest class of peasants and slaves. There were those who held power and those who did not. There was “a process of brutal colonization culminated in the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1910”, (Tudor 19) but the Japanese did not do it alone.
“Korean collaborators, who ranged from ex-Joseon officials and landowners in the governor-general’s pay to people from lower classes who took work in the police or as informers.” (Tudor 19) While not only were the elites of Korea reaping benefits by helping the Japanese, those of lower classes also practiced in an act called social control. All the while Korean women were taken as sex slaves, Korean men were forced to work as laborers under harsh conditions, Korean born people were given Japanese names and forced to learn and speak Japanese it and worship the Japanese religion. (Tudor) it was an attempt at erasure of culture.
“The collaborators at the top — the high-ranking Korean officials who forced the emperor to hand over Korea’s sovereignty to Imperial Japan — actively sold out their country for their personal gain, condemning Koreans to 36 years of mass murder of independence activists, forced labor in war efforts leading to millions dead and injured, systemic rape of hundreds of thousands of women and live human experiments of biological and chemical weapons. The collaborators at the bottom — the low-level Korean officers for Imperial Japan — acted as the eyes, hands and feet of Imperial Japan that brutally oppressed their fellow Koreans, again for their own personal gain.” (Ask a Korean)
Ex-Joseon officials had power and wealth before and after Japanese colonization; these Ex-Joseon officials were ministers. Landowners, consul to the monarchy, they had wealth and power, while many may have lost their land and wealth there were those who remained with it due to aligning themselves with Japanese control. “After the loss of national sovereignty, as the collaborators lived as parasites of imperial Japan while oppressing and manipulating their own countrymen.” (Chung)
While “Many Koreans quite naturally took the path of least resistance” (Large 227) one that would offer them comfort and shelter from the brutal colonization of their nation. Many Koreans who did not have the standing to collaborate or would not collaborate with the Japanese felt the effects of the of the colonization of Korea. As those who side themselves with the colonizers reap benefits while those who resist are often discredited, reputation tarnish and more than often jailed and killed. Korean collaboration seemed to fuel Korean resistance, “the public animosity toward them move beyond mere sentiment and developed into action. “(Chung)
Like many other countries who have been invaded and colonized, Peru and the Spanish colonizers, India and the British colonizers, and Korea and Japanese colonizers as it has been shown before, the elites of each country collaborate and assimilate with their colonizers often for their own self-interest and comfort. While those who resist are people who do not benefit from colonization, those who are harmed by colonization and want a sovereign nation that is not exploited. It is often that the lower classes, commoners are the ones to resist and elites are reluctant to follow as commoners have little to lose and a lot to gain in resistance.
Chung, Youn-Tae. “Refracted modernity and the issue of pro-Japanese collaborators in Korea.” Korea Journal 42.3 (2002): 18-18.
“The Korean on Pro-Japanese Collaborators.” Ask a Korean!, 11 Apr. 2012, askakorean.blogspot.com/2012/04/korean-on-pro-japanese-collaborators.html.
Large, Stephen S. Showa Japan: Political, Economic and Social History, 1926-1989. Routledge, 1998.
Tudor, Daniel. Korea: The Impossible Country. Tuttle Publishing, 2012.