Was Japanese Colonialism the Engine of Later Prosperity for Korea and Taiwan? Probably Not
Mainstream historians attribute the postwar economic success of South Korea and Taiwan to the legacy of Japanese colonialism. The Japanese are credited with providing new technologies, critical infrastructure, and an efficient state that enabled industrial progress in South Korea and Taiwan. Both Taiwan and Korea benefitted from the successful adoption of Japanese technologies and recorded industrial growth under imperial rule.
Moreover, during 1913–38, Taiwan and South Korea experienced rapid per capita gross domestic product growth accompanied by broad social transformations. Scholars describe Japan’s state-building project in ex-colonies as having the features of a developmental state. Unlike Western colonialism, the legacies of Japanese rule are earnestly portrayed as progressive and positive. Japanese colonialism did result in some favorable outcomes for Taiwan and South Korea, but reassessments of the literature have shown that these laudable effects have been exaggerated.
Starting with anthropometric data, researchers show that the average height of Taiwan’s ethnic Chinese rose under colonialism, but this pattern was never sustained because height and other indicators of welfare stagnated in the 1930s. Additionally, a review of the colonial period in South Korea avers that per capita caloric intake failed to increase continuously, and other measures such as real unskilled wage decreased in the 1920s and 1930s. Closer inspections of Japanese rule reveal perceived achievements to be quite fleeting.
The Japanese are even lauded for cultivating an entrepreneurial class in her colonies that was supported by Japanese expertise and capital. However, the historical record paints a different picture. Infrastructural projects aided the growth of indigenous capital, but Japanese firms obtained special privileges at the expense of local businesses that were too small to compete or unconnected to the government bureaucracy. Japan’s economic policy benefitted som
Article from Mises Wire