Friday, October 20, 2006

Is colonialism always bad? (The case of Japan in Korea)

Though it does not raise the broader question (above), and though it is not going to be liked by Korean nationalists, a new book documents the positive impact of Japanese colonialism on Korea (Young-Iob Chung, Korea Under Siege, 1876-1945: Capital Formation and Economic Transformation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. xv + 390 pp. $74 (cloth), ISBN: 0-19-517830-0).

Being Indian, I usually think of the question of colonialism in terms of British colonialism in India.

This book provides a useful comparative perspective. I have followed the development of Japan for some time, though my interest has been in Japan post-WWII, and this book significantly extends my knowledge into an earlier period.

It is politically unfashionable to defend colonialism, and I am not sure that there is any moral justification for it.

However, colonialism is "natural": more vigorous and able societies have always colonised less vigorous and able societies in human history - and will probably always do so.

Positively, this enables an inferior culture to learn rapidly and deeply from a superior culture in ways that the colonised culture is usually unable to do because of institutional barriers to learning.

Beyond that generalisation, I guess it is right to assess each colonial legacy in terms of how much it deliberately destroyed versus what it positively tried to contribute.

So British colonialism was better than French or German or Russian or Chinese colonialism in the twentieth century, because the British did not deliberately destroy anything except what they needed to in terms of their economic interests, and they put a certain proportion of money and effort back into the history, archaeology, economic development, infrastructure, education and culture of their colonies. By learning as much as they taught, they left behind new colonial-style institutions that became fundamental to the self-definition of their ex-colonies in almost every case. Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

Pierre Schlomo Presley said...

Interesting question. Though, it begs another question: how should a Christian think about international relations? Can we honestly divorce individual morality from raison d'etat?

Do you have any books or references on the topic?

- Fellow IPC'er