The Western powers attempted to wrest Korea from Chinese influence, but it was Japan, following its victories in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), that finally annexed Korea and subjected it to colonial rule from 1905 to 1945. To suppress Korean resistance, the Japanese purged nationalists, controlled the land system, and imposed rigid rules. The oppression led to the March First Movement of 1919, in which millions of Koreans demonstrated for independence. The Japanese crushed the revolt, and introduced drastic measures such as banning Korean language and even family names to erase their national identity (see Richard E. Kim’s Lost Names: Scenes from a Korean Boyhood, 1970). After Japan was defeated in World War II, Korea split into South Korea and North Korea.
The first hundred Koreans arrived at Hawaiian plantations in 1903, and about eight thousand more departed before Japan took over Korea and stopped Korean emigration in 1905. Thereafter only limited numbers of students, political refugees, and picture brides managed to leave for the United States, where discriminatory practices also applied to Korean immigrants. As a result of their small numbers, the first phase (1903-1945) of the Korean American experience is characterized by the sense of uprootedness and invisibility. The small body of Korean American literature written in this period deals mainly with life in Korea. Examples are New Il-Han’s...
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