[lg policy] Korea: The empire that strove to silence a nation

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Mar 18 13:50:21 UTC 2010

The empire that strove to silence a nation

[그때 오늘] “일본어만 쓰고 말하라”… 일제의 한국어 말살정책 본격화
March 18, 2010

Japanese became the official language for schooling in Korea shortly
after the annexation of the short-lived Korean Empire in 1910. The
Japanese imperial government mandated the use of Japanese reading
books and science textbooks in primary schools here in Korea. The
newspaper of the Korean Empire, the Daehan Maeil Sinbo, wrote, “The
hidden intention behind making Korean youths study in Japanese is to
drill a hole in the students’ brains and inject the so-called Japanese
nationalist spirit there.” Education in imperial Japan was aimed at
providing basic knowledge and nurturing pro-Japanese sentiment and
Japanese language acquisition. In 1911, in accordance with the new
education law, textbooks of all subjects other than Korean language
were published in Japanese, and administrative and legal documents
were required to be written in Japanese, too.

Subsequently, Korean was degraded to a language for daily conversation
only. It was deprived of its status as an official language. Until
1938, when the third revision of the education law was enacted,
however, Korean continued to be taught as a subject in school.On March
15 the same year, imperial Japan changed its language policy from the
joint use of Korean and Japanese to Japanese only. The purpose of the
policy was to turn Koreans from colonial subjects into imperial
subjects, or “complete Japanese,” by depriving them of their language
and writing.

The Japanese authorities cried out that “Japan and Korea are one
nation!” and they made Japanese language and history required subjects
in Korean schools. They also dropped the Korean language from the list
of mandatory subjects. When imperial Japan expanded its war of
invasion, declared ostensibly to create a “Greater East Asia
Co-Prosperity Sphere,” they took colonial subjects to the front line
as conscripts. For the practical purposes of battle, it was necessary
for these conscripts to speak and understand Japanese. This necessity
was one pressing reason why imperial Japan required all its subjects
to learn Japanese. The government’s policies meant that Japanese not
only became the language of education, but also of daily conversation.

Violent incidents of suppression, such as the closure of Korean
language newspapers in 1940 and the mass imprisonment of the members
of the Korean Language Academy in 1942, were committed by the Japanese
imperialists. Thanks to the efforts of such patriotic scholars as Lee
Yun-jae, Choi Hyeon-bae and Lee Hi-seung, who were imprisoned for
compiling a Korean dictionary in opposition to the Japanese attempt to
obliterate the Korean language, we Koreans were able to save our
language and writing, in which live the spirit and the soul of the
Korean people. The imperial government charged these men with the
supposed crime of “cherishing the Korean national spirit.”

*The writer is the dean of the school of liberal arts at Kyung Hee University.

By Huh Dong-hyun


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