Korean Debates on Colonial Modernisation vs. Colonial Plunder

The ‘Peculiarities’ of Modernisation In Korea: Revisiting The Debate on ‘Colonial Modernisation’ vs. ‘Colonial Plunder’” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2021.1953110) is a new article by Hae-Yung Song of the Graduate School of International Studies, Korea University in Seoul.

The abstract for the article states:

This article revisits the “colonial modernisation” thesis and its nationalist critique, the thesis of “colonial plunder” in the context of Korea. The two accounts have long been subject to politically charged disputes: while the former posits a causal link between Japanese colonialism and Korea’s rapid industrialisation, the latter suggests that Korea’s transition to capitalist development was blocked and distorted by Japanese colonialism. This article offers a critique of both accounts at the theoretical and historical levels. For a theoretical critique, it draws on the Marxist discussions of the notion of the “peculiarities” of national capitalism with reference to Britain and Germany. The article argues that both theses, by deriving the presumed ills or virtues of Korean capitalism from Japanese colonialism, assume the existence of a “normal” and “benign” path to capitalism and look at Korean capitalism and Japanese colonialism in isolation from the universal contradictions emanating from their being integral to the capitalist world-system. For a historical critique, this article assesses the dissolution of Chosŭn Korea at the turn of the twentieth century and the formation of the Korean capitalist class and shows that Korea’s transition to capitalism was both an inherently global process and driven by violent class struggles.

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