Between 1876 and 1945, thousands of Japanese civilians—merchants, traders, prostitutes, journalists, teachers, and adventurers—left their homeland for a new life on the Korean peninsula. Although most migrants were guided primarily by personal profit and only secondarily by national interest, their mundane lives and the state’s ambitions were inextricably entwined in the rise of imperial Japan. Despite having formed one of the largest colonial communities in the twentieth century, these settlers and their empire-building activities have all but vanished from the public memory of Japan’s presence in Korea.
Drawing on previously unused materials in multi-language archives, Jun Uchida looks behind the official organs of state and military control to focus on the obscured history of these settlers, especially the first generation of “pioneers” between the 1910s and 1930s who actively mediated the colonial management of Korea as its grassroots movers and shakers. By uncovering the downplayed but dynamic role played by settler leaders who operated among multiple parties—between the settler community and the Government-General, between Japanese colonizer and Korean colonized, between colony and metropole—this study examines how these “brokers of empire” advanced their commercial and political interests while contributing to the expansionist project of imperial Japan.
With contemporary Japanese–Korean relations so inextricably entrenched within contentious politics of national identity and divergent expressions of historical consciousness, Jun Uchida’s Brokers of Empire could not be a more welcome addition to the field of modern East Asian history… Richly deserving of the American Historical Association’s John K. Fairbank Prize in 2012, Brokers of Empire stands as one of the finest English-language books to date on the highly complex social and political dynamics of Japanese colonial expansionism in Korea… While Brokers of Empire is ostensibly a book about Japanese colonialism in Korea, no one writing on any geographical region of the Japanese empire can afford to ignore this work. Moreover, scholars of European empire in Asia and Africa also stand to learn much from what Uchida offers here. Brokers of Empire is a remarkable achievement that sets a high standard for future scholarship on the history of modern East Asia and imperialism itself.
This is an impressive and important work that will quickly become required reading for scholars and graduate students in modern Japanese and Korean history; it will also be of great use to historians outside of East Asian studies with an interest in the global phenomenon of settler colonialism… This is doubtless a major achievement that will spark much debate and stimulate new research.
Brokers of Empire is a magisterial work. This is a lavish compliment, but Uchida deserves it. Her book is grand in the sweep of its reinterpretation and in its command of information about a huge cast of actors. Viewing the Korean colonial experience through the lens of the all-but-forgotten settler community, she compels us to rethink the empire-building process.
The Roman deity Janus, he of two faces, is a constant presence in Brokers of Empire, serving as a metaphor for the brokering activities of the Japanese settlers who acted as intermediaries between the colonial state and Korean society or between Korean nationalists and the metropolitan government… But it might equally be applied to Uchida herself, as she artfully turns through multiple sources and historiographical approaches, and as she leads the reader through multiple Janus-like transitions—from the microhistories of Kobayashi to the comparative histories of Japanese settlers and the French colons of north Africa—with elegant turn of phrase and clarity of argument. Brokers of Empire is an outstanding book, one that will be read and referenced for many years to come.
Uchida’s history offers a wide-ranging treatment of the Japanese population that first flocked to the peninsula as part of Korea’s annexation and subsequently put down their roots as a privileged, if precarious, group of colonizing expatriates… [A] path-breaking study… A truly insightful piece of scholarship, one that students of colonialism in East Asia and beyond will no doubt enjoy for years to come.
Brokers of Empire engages a number of larger questions about the functioning and meaning of colonial domination in the modern world. Through an analysis of memoirs, meeting minutes, reports, and punditry generated by Japanese emigrants to Korea, this ambitious study chronicles seven decades of turbulent colonial social history… Uchida’s superbly executed account is likely to become required reading for all serious students of modern Japanese and Korean history.
This well-researched and elegantly written social history of Japanese settlers in colonial Korea fills a critical void. Much has been written on the political history of Japan’s expansion into and annexation of Korea and the Korean experience under Japanese colonial rule, but Japanese settlers hardly feature in the history of Japanese colonialism in Korea. Drawing on Korean and Japanese primary sources, Uchida crafts a bottom-up narrative of Japanese colonialism in Korea, portraying Japanese settlers as both vanguards of and obstacles to Japanese colonial rule. Settlers’ interests did not always align with the colonial state’s interests. According to Uchida, the volatile relationship between settlers and the colonial state partly stems from the group’s social composition. More like French settlers in Algiers than British settlers in Kenya, Japanese settlers in Korea were mostly from lower social classes, and were mostly concerned with improving their own conditions. In spite of their humble social origins, there were several success stories about those who built business empires or established themselves in journalism or politics. The inclusion of these settlers’ biographies highlights individual experiences often lost in the state-centered narratives of colonial expansion.
Brokers of Empire is a triumphant, landmark study. In Uchida’s skillful hands, the Japanese settler population in Korea—comparable in size to the colons in French Algeria—is resuscitated from colonial memories and archives. At once lyrical and analytical in its prose, Brokers of Empire offers—through the lens of settler colonialism—a complete re-examination of Korea under colonial rule and, with it, the role of settlers in shaping the Japanese empire. Unquestionably, the impact of Uchida’s work will be felt not only in the study of Japan, but also in the broader literature on comparative settler colonialism and empire, writ large.
Richly researched and nicely argued, this study brings Asia into the burgeoning literature on colonialism that stresses the co-production of empire by the colonizers and the colonized. Uchida shows how Japanese settlers and Korean elites operated in a tense dynamic with one another, with the colonial state, and with the imperial metropole in a more complex choreography of colonial power than the conventional narrative admits. An important contribution to the history of twentieth-century East Asia.
- 2012, Winner of the John K. Fairbank Prize in East Asian History
- 500 pages
- 6 x 9 inches
- Harvard University Asia Center
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