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Assimilating Seoul Japanese Rule and the Politics of Public Space in Colonial Korea, 1910–1945

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Chapter 1

Constructing Keijō

The Uneven Spaces of a Colonial Capital

This chapter traces the Government-General's attempts to transform the symbolic and material landscape of Hanyang, royal city of the Chosŏn dynasty, into the colonial capital of Keijō (Kyŏngsŏng). Through an initial period of urban reforms and a later phase of city planning, the colonial state remade the skeletal and aesthetic frames of Keijō even as it neglected considerable parts of the city, especially in the Korean-populated northern village. To borrow a metaphor used by Gyan Prakash in his study of colonial India, the smooth and sanitary circulation envisioned by officials only reached the city's main arteries, rather than penetrating to the capillary level of everyday life.1 The result was a multilayered built environment, characterized by unlikely juxtapositions of old and new, neglect and excess, and chaos and order. Like other modern cities in the metropole to which planners frequently compared it, Keijō developed in highly uneven ways, a phenomenon further exacerbated by ethnic, class, and other divisions produced through Japanese rule. By its very definition, then, "constructing Keijō" remained a contentious project, one that led concerned officials to invest tremendous financial and ideological resources in transforming this historic capital into the peninsula's showcase city. Although certainly less grandiose in their designs, a diverse group of residents also made assertive claims on the city's spaces, where those who were well placed could seize enriching possibilities, but where many more of the less fortunate residents remained vulnerable to its disrepairs.

From Royal Hanyang to Imperial Hwangsŏng, 1394-1910

When Japanese officials annexed the Korean peninsula in 1910, they inherited a city with more than five hundred years of history. Shortly after establishing the Chosŏn dynasty in 1392, the first king, Yi Sŏng-gye (T'aejo), constructed a new royal city at Hanyang to distance himself from Kaegyŏng (present-day Kaesŏng), the main center of power during the Koryŏ dynasty (918-1392).2 Chosen for its geomantic propitiousness, Hanyang developed according to an adaptation of Chinese planning principles, incorporating elements that would legitimate and protect the new dynasty. As figure 1 illustrates, the city followed many continental precedents.3 For example, Chosŏn planners placed the royal family's ancestral shrine (Chongmyo) to the left of the king's main palace (Kyŏngbokgung) and an altar to the state deities (Sajikdan) to the right. Following the Confucian belief in the five elements and their virtues as described in the Book of Changes, the city's five central points, the (1) East, (2) West, (3) South, and (4) North Gates and (5) the Belfry-which corresponded to (1) wood for benevolence, (2) gold for righteousness, (3) fire for propriety, (4) water for wisdom, and (5) earth for trust-were laid out around Kyŏngbok Palace. The main north-south axis (Chujak taero) emanated from the palace, while the city's other main arteries included Chongno, which extended from the West Gate (Sŏdaemun) to the East Gate (Tongdaemun), and another road extending from the Belfry (Posingak) to the South Gate (Namdaemun). Officials had also ensured that the city met the geomantic prescription that it be surrounded by four auspicious mountains, through which the proper amount of energy (ki) could pass. From these nearby mountains flowed a major source of the city's water supply, the Ch'ŏnggye Stream.4 Although departing from Chinese cities with square or rectangular enclosures, Chosŏn officials constructed an oval wall to defend an urban basin naturally surrounded by four major mountain ranges.

During the mid- to late Chosŏn period, the capital city experienced significant changes. In particular, while continuing to function as a political center, Hanyang also grew into a commercial hub. According to Ko Dong-hwan, both the national circulation of metallic currency and the implementation of the Uniform Land Tax Law during the latter half of the seventeenth century spurred the development of an urban economy based on commercial currency. Poor harvests and epidemics during this period drew desperate peasants to the expanding suburban areas just outside the city's walls. These developments led to a metropolitan population that grew from just over eighty thousand in 1657 to nearly two hundred thousand in 1669, a level it retained until the end of the Chosŏn dynasty.5 Within the city's walls, the commoner markets of Ihyŏn and Ch'ilp'ae came to complement the Six Licensed Stores (Yugŭijŏn), a commercial area located along Chongno that provided goods for the royal palaces. As a result, the majority of Hanyang's population was engaged in some form of commercial enterprise by the eighteenth century. Meanwhile, new, nonelite forms of culture and entertainment developed around the middle classes of the so-called chung'in, bureaucratic specialists in foreign languages, law, and medicine.6

With the onset of imperialist aggression during the late nineteenth century, protecting the economic and political autonomy of the dynasty became a growing concern for Chosŏn's leaders, some of whom sought to refashion the royal city of Hanyang into the imperial capital of Hwangsŏng. After the Sino-Japanese rivalry over the peninsula (1894-95), the assassination of Queen Min by the Japanese military (1895), and King Kojong's flight to the Russian Legation (1896), concerned officials of the newly established Great Han Empire-a novel political, economic, and cultural system aimed at promoting national independence by reasserting the power of the throne-launched the Kwangmu Reforms (1897-1904) under the slogan of "old foundation, new participation" (kubon sinch'am).7 An effort to use Western technology to buttress monarchical authority and develop a modern infrastructure, these reforms aimed to make the city capable of representing and defending the fledgling Korean nation-state at a dangerous time of imperialist intrusions. According to Yi T'ae-jin, the campaign included several important changes, including (1) the destruction of temporary commercial stalls jutting from the city's two main commercial thoroughfares, thus restoring these boulevards to their original width and facilitating smoother conveyance; (2) the creation of roads centered on Emperor Kojong's new court/residence at Kyŏng'un (later Tŏksu) Palace, thereby establishing a radial system of streets linking the new imperial capital to its suburbs; and (3) the erection of buildings and other structures asserting Korea's autonomy under the Korean monarch, such as the Independence Gate, Pagoda Park (built on Wŏn'gak Temple grounds in Chongno where Chosŏn kings accepted petitions from their subjects), and a memorial monument commemorating the fortieth anniversary of Kojong's coronation in 1863 (also a popular site of gatherings). (See figure 2.) 

Most Korean historians have understood these changes as part of a program of "internal development" (naejaejŏk paljŏn) and gradual modernization. Yi T'ae-jin, for example, has argued that the Kwangmu Reforms, advanced in large part by Korean diplomats with experience living in Washington, DC, likely adopted the American capital as a conceptual model, an exemplary embodiment of the empire's commitment to "old foundation, new participation."8 In truth, the leaders of the Great Han Empire were engaged in a globalized process of nation-state building, the native and nonnative elements of which cannot be easily disaggregated because of the city's (and the nation's) position in an overlapping network of semicolonial structures. On the one hand, some elites sought to establish greater political autonomy by downplaying China's historical influence and thereby promoting Korea's cultural primacy. The symbolic valence of this project was concretely manifested in the construction of the Western-style Independence Gate, overwriting the ritual site where Qing envoys had been regularly received by the Chosŏn court (Yŏng'ŭn Gate). However, as Andre Schmid has shown, other purifying tactics of official nationalism ironically relied on the hoary symbols of the Middle Kingdom, undercutting efforts to displace the Sino-centric world of Chosŏn's recent past. Such difficulties took concrete shape in the Ring Hall Altar (Hwan'gudan or Wŏn'gudan), a new national structure built for Kojong's elevation in 1897 from king to emperor on the very site of Qing envoys' former residence (Nambyŏl Palace), but which uncannily resembled Beijing's Altar of Heaven.9

On the other hand, these projects to create an imperial capital that exuded self-confidence in official nationalism vis-à-vis a declining China were carried out with and against imperial powers after the Sino-Japanese War, particularly Russia and Japan, but also the United States. Indeed, the very spaces of Hwangsŏng came to reflect the precarious geopolitical position in which the Great Han Empire found itself during this period. It was not by coincidence, then, that the center of the new imperial capital, Kyŏng'un Palace, was constructed in close proximity to the city's foreign legations. In his pioneering work on the Great Han Empire's urban planning projects, Kim Kwang-u uncovered that a secret passageway and bridge were built to link the Russian Legation (where Kojong briefly resided after the Sino-Japanese War) to the new imperial palace complex.10 Other modernizing projects were similarly tied to the semicolonial politics of concessions during this period.11 For example, the Great Han Empire employed two American entrepreneurs, Henry Collbran and H. R. Bostwick, to introduce new technology and to finance the construction of a streetcar system, power lines, street lamps, water pipes, and telephone lines.12 Among the streetcar lines, one was laid symbolically from Kyŏng'un Palace, across the main thoroughfare of Chongno, to Hongnŭng, the site of Queen Min's tomb on the city's eastern fringe. Meanwhile, these monarch-centered projects led to a series of popular riots among local Korean residents, who viewed this foreign technology, managed by American engineers and operated by Japanese conductors, as both a geomantic intrusion into their communal living space and a public threat to property-holding patterns.13

As these riots suggest, Hwangsŏng's perilous position within the transnational politics of East Asian imperialism necessitated internal political changes that were also reflected in city spaces. In spite of Confucian rhetoric calling for a popularly oriented nation, the kind of Korean people envisioned by the elite architects of the Great Han Empire was closer to dutiful subjects rather than citizens endowed with individual rights. Therefore, where once virtually the entire city consisted of royal spaces, government officials now created stronger connections between the symbolic center of the monarchy and groups of socially stratified Koreans. The new streetcar line linking the imperial palace complex with the commercial district along Chongno was one particularly symbolic manifestation of this important transformation. Indeed, the new imperial city witnessed a noticeable increase in the number of contact zones between the sovereign and his subjects, including the area in front of the Taehan Gate (the entrance to Kyŏng'un Palace), where Hwangsŏng's residents gathered for new national events, such as Kojong's elevation in 1897 from king to emperor.14 That these changes reflected new strictures on personal freedoms is supported by the fate of the short-lived Independence Club (1896-98), a group closely associated with the urban reforms of this period.15 In fact, when some members pushed for a more participatory constitutional system, the Korean court quickly disbanded the club and centralized state authority under the newly elevated emperor, Kojong.

With Japan's victory against Russia in 1905 and the subsequent establishment of a semicolonial protectorate government, the monarch-centered project to transform Hwangsŏng into a national center became nearly impossible, especially after Kojong's forced abdication in 1907. When Japan annexed the peninsula in 1910, early colonial officials hijacked these reforms and began to institute their own improvements, remaking the city's spaces into a showcase of Japanese modernity. However, the modern project of physically and symbolically transforming the capital initiated by the leaders of the Great Han Empire continued after 1910. The major change was, of course, that thereafter a colonial state now attempted to use spatial reorganization to incorporate Koreans as subjects of the Japanese emperor.

The Limits of "Urban Reforms," 1910-1925

With the promulgation of the Annexation Treaty on August 29, 1910, Japanese authorities moved to gain full control over the symbolic topography not just of Seoul, but of the entire peninsula. To this end, they changed the name of the colony back to Chōsen (Chosŏn) from its previous designation, the Great Han Empire, a name associated with a nationalizing state under Emperor Kojong. In addition to "Great Han," the name "Hwangsŏng" as a designation for the capital of this former empire was prohibited.16 Instead, officials symbolically "renamed" the city Keijō, invoking the Chinese character for capital. As the political center of Japan's empire on the peninsula, this symbolic change mirrored the recent history of Edo, the seat of shogunal authority during the Tokugawa period (1600-1868), which had been renamed Tokyo (literally, eastern capital) in 1868, replacing the ancient city of Kyoto (literally, capital city from 794 until 1868) as the new imperial capital.17 In the case of Japan, Tokyo did not emerge as the nation's symbolic center until 1889 due to the historical weight of Kyoto and the emperor's peregrinations outside of the new capital-practices recently reenacted by protectorate officials who had dispatched Sunjong (the last Korean emperor; r. 1907-10) on nationwide processions to promote Japan's control over the peninsula.18 Although the Korean capital was itself never relocated like Kyoto/Tokyo, the transformation of Hanyang/Hwangsŏng into Keijō was neither immediate nor uncontested, and it required spatial interventions that spanned the first fifteen years of Japanese rule (1910-25).19

This project of respatialization was, like the annexation itself, launched on the path of extinguishing and then desacralizing the Korean royal house. It thus began in symbolic fashion with the strategic reconstruction of the city's palaces, whose private grounds Japanese officials converted into civic parks and other public monuments. Made accessible for the first time, these once sacred sites were used to interpolate the Korean masses as subordinated members of the new imperial community. Before annexation, Japanese commentators-drawing on recent experiences of converting domanial complexes from the Tokugawa period into parks, schools, and other public spaces-commonly referred to Kyŏng'un Palace, Kojong's residence, as the "kingdom's castle" (J: ōjō; wangsŏng) or the "imperial castle" (J: kōjō; hwangsŏng). Already by 1907, protectorate officials had begun to downplay the symbolic importance of Kyŏng'un Palace, when they forced Kojong to abdicate in favor of his young son, Sunjong, Korea's last (puppet) emperor, whose residence was then relocated to Ch'angdŏk Palace. Between 1908 and 1911, Japanese officials, following the Meiji model of "modernizing" Ueno Park under imperial auspices, transformed the adjacent Ch'anggyŏng Palace into another public site, outfitted with a royal museum, zoo, and garden.20 Meanwhile, authorities quickly moved to destroy or sell buildings related to Kyŏnghŭi Palace, which had functioned as part of the ruling palace complex during the Great Han Empire.21 Parts of Kyŏng'un Palace, symbolically renamed Tŏksu Palace after Kojong's 1907 abdication, remained, although it was stripped of its modernizing emperor and the powerful symbols he wielded. In 1910, officials built a Western-style art museum on the grounds of this palace and, in 1914, replaced the Ring Hall Altar with another modern facility, the railway-operated Chōsen Hotel.22 A similar fate awaited Kyŏngbok Palace, the "oldcastle" (J: kyū-ōjō; ku-wangsŏng), the king's main residence until its destruction by Hideyoshi's invasions of 1590s. Although partially rebuilt during the reign of Kojong's regent father, the Hŭngsŏn Taewŏn'gun (1863-73), this "old castle" had remained in disuse until its symbolic opening to public viewing in 1908.23 During the colonial period, this desacralized site became home to the new Government-General building (est. 1926) and the stage for several spectacular expositions. In this this way, Kyŏngbok Palace grounds aimed to display Japan's authority over the peninsula's ineluctable "progress" and Koreans' subordinated participation in colonial modernization.

In addition to the symbolic deconstruction and reconstruction of Hanyang/Hwangsŏng's palace grounds, Japanese officials also sought to rearrange roads and neighborhoods in order to advance both colonial authority and capitalist accumulation. First carried out in late-nineteenth-century Tokyo, these "urban reforms" (J: shiku kaisei; sigu kaejŏng; literally, "re-forming city districts") included widening and straightening extant roads, expanding waterways for sewage and, as mentioned above, refashioning domanial and religious spaces into civic parks and plazas.24 Together, they aimed at a partial upgrade of the existing city rather than the systematic transformation of space that would characterize the planning movement of the 1920s and 1930s. In early Keijō, planners, borrowing the German term for urban regulations (Regulierung der Städte), focused their efforts on sanitizing, widening, and straightening the city's main arteries and constructing new ones in order to establish a more rationalized system of roads.25 Over these roads, officials hoped to lay a series of radials connected to three symbolic rotaries in the creation of what bureaucrats liked to call a "civilized city," a term downplaying similar modernizing techniques recently used by the Great Han Empire.

This ambitious plan, modeled on the one first implemented in colonial Taipei, had failed in Tokyo, where entrenched landowners prevented its implementation.26 To be sure, the protectorate and early colonial governments, backed by a coercive military force, had far greater leverage to impose urban reforms in Korea than officials in the metropole. However, even in Keijō, these efforts did not go uncontested, particularly by Japanese settlers who, as residents of the peninsula since the early 1880s, sought to influence the city according to their own interests. The Residency-General and its successor, the Government-General, were themselves far from monolithic or coherent, either in their motives or in the exercise of their authority. Even the most ambitious planners soon realized that the city's existing structure and perennial finance problems would severely limit what they could accomplish. As a result, (semi)colonial officials, drawing on modernizing tactics developed in Meiji Japan and its fledgling empire, succeeded in implementing only a limited program of urban reforms.

For their part, Japanese settlers played an important, if distracting, role in the development of early Keijō. During the protectorate period, for example, expatriate leaders petitioned the Residency-General to make road improvements around Honmachi, the historic center of their community. In 1907, settler elites submitted a proposal to widen this narrow but important street.27 Concerned primarily with their own living space, local leaders envisioned a city that would promote their commercial interests at the expense of the northern village. Later, in 1911, an 824,000-yen plan submitted to the Government-General included an expansion of Honmachi in the direction of the South Gate and the Kwanghŭi Gate. To fortify their presence in the southern village, settler leaders also hoped to upgrade an auxiliary road south of Honmachi Street to divert heavy traffic, a proposal that bore fruit only in the late 1920s.28 Mirroring a project recently advanced by the Great Han Empire, the final component of this expatriate initiative aimed to connect the nearby boomtown of Yongsan-the new home to the Japanese military, railroad facilities, and a growing settler population-to the burgeoning commercial area of Map'o along the Han River.29

Although Japanese settlers sought considerable government support to finance this Honmachi-centered plan, it did not coincide with the state's own vision of transforming a wider portion of the city into a showcase for Japanese modernity. That plan began to take shape in May 1912, when officials announced that a new Government-General building, to be erected on the grounds of Kyŏngbok Palace, would replace the smaller Residency-General building, which sat in the heart of the settler community. In addition to creating a new political center in the northern village, officials also decided to build a major Shintō complex, eventually located in close proximity to the settler-managed Seoul Shrine. At a joint cost of three hundred thousand yen, the new Government-General building and Korea Shrine would form the political and sacerdotal termini of the city's main thoroughfare, Taihei Boulevard, linking the train station in the south to Kyŏngbok Palace in the north.30

Having heard rumors as early as 1911 that the Government-General building would eventually move away from Honmachi, some members of the Japanese settler association reacted to this plan with disbelief. Fearing that the heart of the city would ultimately shift northward to the Korean neighborhoods of Chongno, some insular expatriates even called for excluding the colonized population from a new system of urban administration, which, in 1914, put the two ethnic communities together.31 Seeking to retain a voice in Keijō's development, Fuchigami Tadasuke, director of the settler community's road widening committee, reiterated the interests of Japanese expatriates by demanding that the Government-General expand Honmachi Street.32 At a cost four times more than repairs planned for Taihei Boulevard, colonial officials rejected this grandiose plea. Even some settlers considered the project a fiscal fantasy, while others lambasted it as hidebound for only including a corner of the southern half of the city rather than embracing the entire city.33

In June 1912, Mochiji Rokusaburō (1867-1923), a veteran bureaucrat who had served in early colonial Taiwan and was now appointed to head the Civil Engineering Bureau, identified both the practical and symbolic import of Keijō, placing the city within the global contexts of modern imperialism and urban planning.34 As he wrote, "A great colonial city in the [Japanese] empire and in the grand logic of the world, [Keijō] has come to stand in a position deserving notable attention as Korea's railway connection to Asia." In addition to being a transportation hub, the new colonial capital also served as a gauge for what Mochiji called the "country's level of civilization" and its "barometer of culture." Judging Keijō by these universal standards, he concluded that Korea was the most undeveloped country. To transform the capital into the most advanced and civilized city, Mochiji recommended that officials straighten and widen Keijō's irregular and winding streets. In particular, he recommended the new city-style of London recently adopted in Dairen, a reference to the system of rotaries designed by Russian city planners before Japan gained control over this Manchurian port city in 1905.35

The globally circulating ideas of city planning invoked by Mochiji are clearly seen in the first urban reform plan for Keijō (1913-17), which was issued in June 1912 and which was to have an astounding cost of three million yen (see figure 3).36 Building on reforms made during the Great Han Empire, this ambitious plan aimed to superimpose a radial and grid system of roads onto the city's existing street formation. While north-south and east-west roads would create the grid, the diagonal roads would form three rotaries, each converging on an important power center in the early colonial city. Officials located one such plaza in front of Kyŏngbok Palace where Taihei Boulevard met Chongno, the main east-west axis during the Chosŏn dynasty. This plaza aimed to displace Tŏksu (formerly Kyŏng'un) Palace, the center of power during the Great Han Empire. As figure 3 shows, constructing a plaza in front of Kyŏngbok Palace (the planned site of the Government-General building) would require three new radial roads emanating in northwesterly, northeasterly, and southeasterly directions.

Urban reformers planned a second plaza in Kōgane-machi where Kōganemachi Avenue (present-day Ŭljiro), an east-west thoroughfare, bisected the southern half of the city.37 This proposal aimed to placate the commercial interests of the expatriate community, which repeatedly petitioned the Government-General to include Honmachi Street in its urban reforms.38 Although these efforts fell upon deaf ears, officials did plan to make most street improvements in the southern village, including repairs actually completed on Kōganemachi Avenue, one of four major arteries that converged on the plaza. Another radial emanating northwesterly from Kōgane-machi would have connected this Japanese-dominated area to a third plaza in the heart of the northern village. The Taean-dong Plaza would have also linked Kyŏngbok Palace and Pagoda Park, the only civic space of its kind in the northern village.

The significance of these urban reforms becomes clear in the context of the colonial state's desire to promote "assimilation," a term officials often used to describe the city's respatialization.39 From the start, these efforts focused on amalgamating the city's Korean and Japanese populations through a unified administrative system. To this end, officials promulgated a law in 1914 that disbanded the legal authority of the Japanese community and other foreign settlements still retaining extraterritorial privileges. Two years later, the Government-General passed another ordinance that placed both Koreans and Japanese under the official supervision of neighborhood representatives. The north-south road projects completed during the first phase of urban reforms embodied attempts to connect the Korean neighborhoods of the northern village to the settler community of the southern village.40 The most important of these north-south roads continued to be Taihei Boulevard, a central axis officials hoped to extend (along with train and telephone connections) southward to connect the central city to the boomtown of Yongsan.41 In the fall of 1917, 150,000 residents gathered to celebrate the unveiling of a bridge built across the Han River just south of Yongsan. The new bridge, which linked the historic core in the northern village to the booming parts of southern Keijō, symbolized one important shift in the city's development.42 Featuring both Japanese geisha and Korean kisaeng in another popular symbol of assimilation, the festive unveiling ceremony marked the end of the first phase of urban reforms and inaugurated the second phase (1919-24).

As figure 4 shows, the Government-General's second urban reform plan not only included the southward extension of Taihei Boulevard in the direction of Yongsan, but also highlighted the northern terminus of this thoroughfare. While the new plan was significantly scaled back from its predecessor from 1913 and made almost no reference to the ambitious project of superimposing radial and grid roads onto the precolonial configuration of streets, it still showcased the growing authority of the Government-General at the expense of the disenfranchised settler community. In particular, the plan jettisoned the aforementioned proposal for an interlocking system of centers, including the Kōganemachi Plaza, leaving the future site of the Government-General building as the only plaza.43 Officials had already used this site to stage the Industrial Exhibition in 1915, the first major spectacle of its kind in colonial Korea. Now urban reformers continued to highlight the former grounds of Kyŏngbok Palace by relocating the one remaining plaza from the plan from 1913 to the area in front of the palace's main gate, Kwanghwamun. During the second phase of urban reforms, this plaza, enlarged more than two times the width of the broadest city thoroughfare, worked to spotlight the new Government-General building at the expense of the expatriate community.

Even as colonial officials subordinated the insular initiatives of settler elites, their plan from 1919 continued to favor the southern village, although ultimately producing only a rudimentary system of gridded roads. Largely a result of financial limitations, planners completed only fifteen of forty-two roads (35.7 percent) designated for reconstruction during the first decade of colonial rule.44 Of the street improvements successfully completed, many also underwent considerable revisions in their final implementation. Such modifications not only tempered the respatialization of early Keijō but also privileged the living spaces of Japanese settlers. A good example of such ethnic discrimination is evidenced by a north-south avenue planned to connect eastern Honmachi and Pagoda Park. As Gotō Yasushi has shown, officials completed only half of this artery. Faced with fiduciary restrictions, they abandoned their original plan to pave a new street, straightening and widening a nearby road instead.45 More important, this upgraded road extended only from Honmachi to Kōgane