Under the Black Umbrella: Voices from Colonial Korea, 1910-1945

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Under the Black Umbrella: Voices from Colonial Korea, 1910-1945

By Hildi Kang
Cornell University Press, 2001
166 pp. $25.00

It is often said that Japan's colonial ventures produced two contrasting legacies: bitterness in Korea and positive memories in Taiwan. This book argues that Koreans had in fact more mixed experiences. Kang, married to a Korean, learned from family conversations that life for Koreans under Japanese rule was often quite normal and even joyful. She then interviewed dozens of Koreans around San Francisco and used those talks as the basis for this fascinating work. Although Kang does not claim to offer a representative sample of Koreans' memories, she does illustrate their ambivalence. Under the Japanese policy of assimilation, for example, Koreans went to school with Japanese classmates, competed with them at Japanese universities, and could even have Japanese subordinates in the workplace. Conversely, Korean nationalist rebelliousness could lead to prison and harsh treatment. In short, Koreans experienced the same complex love-hate feelings about their Japanese rulers that characterize most colonial relationships. Although modern Korean nationalism still suppresses positive memories of the colonial era, the more relaxed environment in California has apparently allowed Koreans to revive them.

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