Running An Empire, Building A Nation: Korean Bureaucrats And The Manchukuo Legacy, 1931–1961

Rolf Isaac Siverson, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

Between 1931 and 1945 more than 10,000 Koreans served as bureaucrats in Manchukuo–Japan’s imperial client state in northeast China. This dissertation investigates their experience and its impact on state-building in postcolonial South Korea through the 1950s. Within the Japanese imperial system, the Manchukuo bureaucracy was a unique institution, characterized by hyper-militarism, technocratic rationalism, and a belief in the state’s paramount role in socio-economic development. Manchukuo’s Korean bureaucrats internalized and applied these principles, which they brought back to liberated South Korea after 1945. However, financial constraints, American influence, and a lack of political power limited their ability to apply the Manchukuo model directly. In response, they reinterpreted and adapted the model to these conditions in creative and conflicting ways. Based on Japanese, Korean, and American government documents, as well as media publications and memoirs, this study takes a historical and individualized approach to state building. It demonstrates that Manchukuo’s legacy in South Korea was multivalent, both related to and distinctive from the developmental nationalism of the 1960s military regime.