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Empire Versus Empire

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American Critiques of Japan’s Colonial Rule in Korea in the 1920s and 1930s

image of Journal of American-East Asian Relations

Many studies on U.S.-Korea relations describe the bilateral interactions to 1905 and the restored diplomatic relations after Korea’s liberation in 1945. This study focuses instead on the interwar years proceeding from the premise that American understandings of colonial Korea are important to grasp U.S. wartime planning for Korea’s future. It explores unofficial levels of interactions, representations, and perceptions of Japan and the United States regarding colonial Korea. On one hand, American writers and professionals portrayed Korea as a developing country needing critical help from Japanese colonizers that coincided with imperial imperatives. On the other hand, professional scholars and U.S. government officials began to look at Japan’s rule in Korea from a more critical perspective, observing problems with Japanese rule in Korea in economic, political, and social affairs. U.S. officials posted in Korea, in particular, saw how Koreans were suffering from Japan’s discrimination and harsh rule. This repressive colonial rule was creating appeal for communism among the Korean people. U.S. officials began to doubt the feasibility of Japan’s pan-Asian doctrine, questioning if it could be a successful ruler. These varied American views of colonial Korea became the basis of U.S. policy toward post-colonial Korea after 1945.

Affiliations: 1: Queensborough Community College,


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