Japanese Publications on Colonial Bureaucracy

I would like to introduce two recent publications on colonial bureaucrats here. One is Okamoto Makiko, Shokuminchi kanryô no seijishi (岡本真希子『植民地官僚の政治史:朝鮮・台湾総督府と帝国日本』, Politics of Colonial Bureaucrats)Sangensha, 2008, and the other is Ôtomo Masako, Teikoku Nihon no shokuminchi shakai jigyô seisaku kenkyû (大友昌子『帝国日本の植民地社会事業政策研究』, A Study of Colonial Social Work Policies of Imperial Japan)Minerva, 2007. Their works are both impressive in the scope of research and their ability to compare the nitty-gritty of colonial rule in Taiwan and Korea. From research of Sheldon Garon and many others, Japan’s historians all learned that government officials, especially those in the famous Home Ministry played a huge role in promoting social reforms and modernization and that their power permeated many aspects of people’s everyday life. There is no reason to believe that it was very different in the colonies. Despite the reasonable guess about the role of colonial bureaucrats, we did not have a good grasp of basic facts about them until these publications came out.

There is so much information in Okamoto’s thick volume and I would highly recommend that anyone who studies anything about colonial Korea/Taiwan use this as a reference book. Okamoto did an excellent job in departing from the concentration, in previous scholarship, on personal networks (“who knew whom” etc.) and focused instead on the system, laws, and principles that regulated the flows of people. I learned so much about the differences of status between the Government-General in Korea and the Government-General in Taiwan — e.g. By 1919 when the Cultural Policy was implemented, there was a wide consensus among Japanese politicians on the fact that the GGK had already established a semi-independent status unlike the GGT and the other colonies. The GGK and the GGT also diverged in the recruitment of local populations into the colonial bureaucracy. While the number of Korean officials increased, that of Taiwanese officials remained extremely low. Okamoto also elaborates upon how the GGK operated (or at least tried to operate) independently from the Japanese home government in many different ways. Her elaboration on how the quickly changing political climates in Japan influenced the top personnel in the GGK and GGT, changing the relationships between the Japanese government and colonial bureaucracy, is also impressive.  We still have a long way to go in dissecting the work of colonial bureaucracies. But with her work, we can finally refer to the Government-General with more pluristic terms — as a group of people, rather than one monster-like control machine.

Ôtomo’s work on colonial social work probably enjoys a little more limited audience. Her empiricism is striking and it is quite refreshing to read details of social welfare laws and programs without once mentioning Foucauldian governmentality. Her main argument is to show how the colonial officials tried to regulate modernization in the colonies (「抑制された近代化」). That itself is not eye-opening but what interested me was how similar the social work techniques were between the colonies and Japan — the use of “方面委員 (district commissioner)” programs, the emphasis on moral suasion (教化)and local improvement, for example. Ôtomo tries to define “modernization” in a scientifically measurable way (the “levels” of labor policy, poverty, economic security etc), but her work more interestingly demonstrates how colonial officials defined “the direction” of modernization.

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