Holly Stephens, PhD Candidate
University of Pennsylvania
As is well known, Japanese colonial rule introduced ambitious agricultural policies to Korea, aiming to transform the peninsula into a profitable source of raw materials for mainland Japan. Less well known, however, are the methods by which the colonial government attempted to achieve such goals. To increase rice exports, or encourage the production of cotton for industry, for example, required the construction of a complex agricultural support network, including facilities to distribute seeds, capital, and fertilizers, and to inspect, grade, and market agricultural products for export. In each of these activities, it was not enough for the colonial government to merely introduce new targets. Rather, the successful implementation of colonial policy rested upon its social and organizational integration with existing institutions.
This paper will examine the colonial state’s efforts to put its agricultural policies into practice, paying particular attention to the translation of the state’s agenda through village- level farming organizations known as nonggye. After tracing the selective adoption and promotion of nonggye by colonial agencies, this paper will turn to examine nonggye themselves through several case studies and examples drawn from farmers’ diaries. In this way, I analyze nonggye not just as a tool of the colonial government but as a critical juncture between the state’s vision of an ideal rural economy and the realities of colonial agriculture as experienced by farmers. While the colonial state imagined nonggye as a vehicle to introduce scientific agriculture and build market networks with the wider colonial economy, not only were such goals not always achieved but members of the nonggye themselves evaluated the organizations against alternative criteria. At a time of immense agricultural and economic change, a study of nonggye provides a unique perspective on the local-level negotiations among farmers, and with the colonial state, that led to changing agricultural institutions and practices.