The Manchukuo Paradox: Kong Chinhang and the Discourse of Ethnic Harmony

Rolf Siverson, PhD Candidate
University of Pennsylvania

Beginning in the late 1930s, Japanese officials in Manchukuo carried out a coordinated policy of expropriating Chinese and Korean farmland for Japanese settlement in the name of “ethnic harmony.” In 1938, Kong Chinhang–a Korean immigrant and agricultural investor–lost his farmland as a result of this policy. However, he successfully extracted equal compensation and did so by utilizing the Japanese discourse of ethnic harmony. By analyzing Kong’s use of the discourse of ethnic harmony, this paper shows that the discourse could be as much a tool of resistance as coercive control. Simultaneously, in order to use the discourse of ethnic harmony to his benefit, Kong had to present himself as an ideal subject–a civilized Korean worthy of the rights of citizenship. In so doing, Kong was also validating the concept of hierarchy that enabled Japanese rule. As such, Kong’s resistance was also a form of domination over his fellow Koreans. The fact that these two modalities could and did operate simultaneously profoundly destabilizes the binary of resistance and collaboration and challenges the clean division between colonizer and colonized, ruler and ruled within the Japanese Empire.

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