North and South Korea are nations that while filled withcontempt for Japan have used the foundations that Japan laid duringthe colonial period to further industrialization.
Japan’s colonizationof Korea is critical in understanding what enabled Korea toindustrialize in the period since 1961. Japan’s program of colonial industrialization is unique inthe world. Japan was the only colonizer to locate various heavyindustry is in its colonies. By 1945 the industrial plants in Koreaaccounted for about a quarter of Japan’s industrial base.
Japan’scolonization of Korea was therefore much more comparable to therelationship between England and Ireland then that of Europeancolonization of Asia or Africa. Japan’s push to create colonialindustry lead Japan to build a vast network of railroads, ports, and asystem of hydro-electric dams and heavy industrial plants around theYalu River in what is now North Korea. The Japanese to facilitate andmanage the industrialization of a colony also put in place a strongcentral government. Although Japan’s colonial industrialism in Korea was aimed atadvancing Japanese policies and goals and not those of the Koreanpopulace; colonization left Korea with distinct advantages over otherdeveloping countries at the end of World War Two. Korea was left witha base for industrializing, a high level of literacy, experience withmodern commerce, and close ties to Japan. Japan’s colonial heavyindustrial plants were located primarily around the Yalu River inNorth Korea.Order now
Because of this the North had an edge inindustrialization. For many years the North had the fastest growthrates of the communist countries, and its cities were on par withthose of Eastern Europe. It was not until the early 1970’s that theSouth surpassed the North in levels of industrialization. Because mostof the heavy industrial plants were either located in North Korea ordestroyed by the Korean War the groundwork for industrialization thatSouth Korea received from Japanese colonialism consisted mostly ofsocial changes. During colonialism Korea’s populace in increasingnumbers moved to cities and became urbanized these new urbanitesworked in factories and were used to the organization of moderncommerce.
The Japanese also let a small number of Koreans develop intoa semi-elite. Although this group never held powerful positions manyof them were educated in Japanese schools, and became either involvedin the military or worked as businessmen, bureaucrats, lawyers, anddoctors. This elite provided much of the leadership and framework forpost World War Two Korean Government in Korea. They had an intimateknowledge of Japanese companies, language, organizational structure,and government. The Korean elites that emerged after the liberation of 1945and helped steer Korea’s economic policies under Park Chung Hee had anintimate knowledge of Japan.
Some of them like Park had been educatedin Japanese schools, some had worked for the Japanese, and nearly allof them spoke fluent Japanese. It was this closeness to Japan bothgeographically and culturally that made it natural for the Koreans touse the Japanese model of industrialization when Japan’s economyboomed in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The leaders of Korea were ambivalentabout relying on Japan, on one hand they felt a profound respect forJapan and its successes and on the other a deep hatred for what Japanhad done to Korea in the past. But Japan still served as a model forPark Chung Hee who normalized relations with Japan in 1965 and turnedto Japan for technology, equipment, and a model for development.
Some nationalistic Korean scholars say that Japan’scolonialism slowed Korea’s growth by exploiting Korea and disturbingits economy. But these views of Korea ignore the fundamental role thatJapan’s policies of industrial colonialism played in allowing Korea toIndustrialize during the 1960’s. Japan’s colonialism improvedinfrastructure, urbanized the nation, educated much of the populace,gave the pubic experience with modern commerce, and indoctrinatedKorean elites in the Japanese language and culture. It was Koreanelites history and close ties with Japan that made them turn naturallyto Japan to provide a development model. Japan’s legacy of colonialismin Korea is felt not only in the many graves and monuments thatattest to Japanese brutality but also in the modern cities of SouthKorea and the heavy industries along the Yalu River in the North.