Representing the Invisible: The American Perceptions of Colonial Korea, 1910-1945

Jimin Kim

Representing the Invisible: The American Perceptions of Colonial Korea, 1910-1945
Kim, Jimin
Thesis Advisor(s):
Armstrong, Charles K.
Ph.D., Columbia University
East Asian Languages and Cultures
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This study argues that American views of Korea during the period of Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945) shaped U.S. policy toward Korea in the colonial period and after, setting the stage for direct U.S. involvement in Korea's post-liberation years after 1945. Korean nationalists perceived the U.S. as a special ally and a model country, and expected it to play a positive role in resolving Korea's colonial status. In fact, American views of Korea in the early twentieth century were mixed, and depended greatly on the respective observers' relationship to Korea--whether as missionary, as scholar, or as diplomat. At the same time, Japan played a crucial role in mediating American views, reflecting the Asia colonizer's interest in winning international approval for its imperialist project. When Korean-American diplomatic relations began in the late nineteenth century, Americans observers typically regarded Korea as an uncivilized but distinct Asian country. This perception of backwardness persisted into the early twentieth century, even as Korea lost its status as a nation-state with the Japanese annexation of 1910. Awareness of Japanese subjugation of Korea would expand significantly in the period 1919-1922, as journalists and missionaries conveyed news of the March First Movement to the American public and Korean nationalists countered Japanese government efforts to influence international opinion. Nationalist efforts to influence U.S. policymaking in the 1920s and 1930s were persistent but never fully successful, in part because of Korean factional rivalries, changing Japanese strategies of colonial control, and American diplomats' desire to protect U.S. colonial interests in the Philippines. Although Korean nationalists failed to accomplish their ultimate goal of participating directly in the U.S. government's wartime discussions on Korea in the early 1940s, they nevertheless succeeded in making the American public aware that Korea was a cultural and racial entity distinct from Japan. This awareness would lay a foundation for American direct intervention in Korean political, social, and military problems after 1945.
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Suggested Citation:
Jimin Kim, , Representing the Invisible: The American Perceptions of Colonial Korea, 1910-1945, Columbia University Academic Commons, .

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