Japan's Colonization of Korea: Discourse and Power
232pp. June 2006
Japan's Colonization of Korea: Discourse and Power
Author: Dudden, Alexis;
A Choice Outstanding Academic Title

From its creation in the early twentieth century, policymakers used the discourse of international law to legitimate Japan’s empire. Although the Japanese state aggrandizers’ reliance on this discourse did not create the imperial nation Japan would become, their fluent use of its terms inscribed Japan’s claims as legal practice within Japan and abroad. Focusing on Japan’s annexation of Korea in 1910, Alexis Dudden gives long-needed attention to the intellectual history of the empire and brings to light presumptions of the twentieth century’s so-called international system by describing its most powerful—and most often overlooked—member’s engagement with that system.

Early chapters describe the global atmosphere that declared Japan the legal ruler of Korea and frame the significance of the discourse of early twentieth-century international law and how its terms became Japanese. Dudden then brings together these discussions in her analysis of how Meiji leaders embedded this discourse into legal precedent for Japan, particularly in its relations with Korea. Remaining chapters explore the limits of these ‘universal’ ideas and consider how the international arena measured Japan’s use of its terms. Dudden squares her examination of the legality of Japan’s imperialist designs by discussing the place of colonial policy studies in Japan at the time, demonstrating how this new discipline further created a common sense that Japan’s empire accorded to knowledgeable practice.

This landmark study greatly enhances our understanding of the intellectual underpinnings of Japan’s imperial aspirations. In this carefully researched and cogently argued work, Dudden makes clear that, even before Japan annexed Korea, it had embarked on a legal and often legislating mission to make its colonization legitimate in the eyes of the world.

9 illus.

Studies of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute
"Excellent" —Korean Quarterly, Spring 2005

"A skillful narrative" —Japan Times, 15 May 2005

"Students of Japan’s history, domestic politics, and international relations will find this text extremely valuable, as will readers of theorists such as Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, and Gayatri Spivak.... Essential. All levels/libraries." —Choice, July 2005

"A welcome and important addition ... It casts the entire imperialist enterprise—with Japan as an integral part of that enterprise—in a fresh light" —American Historical Review, October 2005

"This will take its place as a major book in Japanese and Korean history, prompting a reexamination of Japan’s controversial annexation of Korea. Dudden’s fascinating analysis rests on the sort of transnational research that scholars often talk about, but rarely undertake. Japan’s rise as an imperialist power should not be seen as exceptional, she argues, but rather was embedded in the global discourses of the time. She tells the remarkable and unsettling story of how Japanese leaders quickly mastered Western international law in the late nineteenth century, and how they used the new legal norms to legitimize themselves and their colonial project in the eyes of the Western powers." —Sheldon Garon, Princeton University

"In Japan’s Colonization of Korea, Alexis Dudden gives us a very compelling look at how Itô Hirobumi and other Japanese leaders viewed geo-political relationships at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth. In particular, she shows that Euro-American concepts of international law both provided a motive for imperialism in general and supplied an intellectual framework to legitimate Japan’s imposition of hegemony over its continental neighbor. Drawing on Korean, Japanese, and Western-language sources, Dudden adds enormously to our understanding of the intellectual foundations of Japanese imperialism, and her work surely will be compared favorably with other landmark studies on Japanese colonialism by Hilroy Conroy, Mark Peattie, and Peter Duus." —James L. McClain, Brown University

"Japan’s Colonization of Korea makes a powerful case that every step Japan took to erase Korea’s sovereignty was ‘legal’ in the prevailing terms of international conduct at the start of the twentieth century—and that taking Korea as a protectorate was a strategic step in Japan’s own efforts to achieve diplomatic parity with the Great Powers of the West. Alexis Dudden deftly dissects colonial rhetoric and practice from Sapporo to Seoul, interweaving biographical with textual analysis and showing a keen attentiveness throughout to Korean as well as Japanese voices. Drawing on legal history, colonial studies, and translation theory, the book is impressive in both heft and range. A compelling addition to the growing field of comparative imperial history." —Karen Wigen, Stanford University

Author: Dudden, Alexis;
Alexis Dudden is Sue and Eugene Mercy Assistant Professor of History at Connecticut College.
Read the introduction (PDF).

1 Illegal Korea
2 International Terms of Engagement
3 The Vocabulary of Power
4 Voices of Dissent
5 Mission Législatrice

Coda: A Knowledgeable Empire