Agriculture and Development in an Age of Empire: Institutions, Associations, and Market Networks in Korea, 1876-1945

Holly Stephens, University of Pennsylvania


From the late nineteenth century, successive periods of domestic reform (1860s–1910) and Japanese colonial rule (1910–1945) fundamentally altered the relationship between the Korean state, the population, and the economy. Through a focus on agriculture—the largest industry at the time—this dissertation examines multiple efforts to reorient agricultural production to meet new expectations of the rural economy. In particular, this dissertation focuses on the expansion of the state through a series of semi-governmental organizations—known as associations (Ko. chohap; Ja. kumiai)—which mediated interaction between farmers, government officials, and local and international markets. In the process, the associations not only introduced new agricultural technologies and reordered trading relationships but also influenced the ways in which farmers produced for the market, be it through the enforcement of quality standards on farmers’ crops or the issuing of loans against future production. This dissertation uses a wide range of primary sources written in Korean, Japanese, and Classical Chinese—from official government publications to local organizational records and previously unexamined farmers diaries—to detail the varied ways in which government officials and rural residents alike projected onto the work of the new associations their own visions of what constituted development within the rural economy. Chapter One examines the changing significance of the economy to the Korean government in the late nineteenth century. Chapter Two uses the diary of a single farmer to explore in-depth his economic worldview and the factors he considered important in his everyday life. Chapter Three traces colonial agricultural policies toward rice and cotton, and the government’s reliance upon semi-governmental organizations to implement its major policies. Chapter Four examines the activities of the new associations in the context of existing agricultural organizations, and Chapter Five questions the ideas of development that underpinned both Korean and colonial efforts to reform the rural economy. Overall, this dissertation places the semi-governmental organizations at the heart of a new rural economic order. Though established under colonial rule, the activities of the associations fit within a broader history of rural economic organization which shaped farmers’ interactions with the associations beyond their immediate political objectives.

Subject Area

Asian History|Economic history|History

Recommended Citation

Stephens, Holly, "Agriculture and Development in an Age of Empire: Institutions, Associations, and Market Networks in Korea, 1876-1945" (2017). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI10602644.