In colonial Joseon, there was a term ‘citizen of the state (國民, gukmin),’which referred to a concept of an individual who was essentially a subject ofthe Japanese empire and of its emperor. It had the same meaning as theterm ‘imperial subject’ used to denote state citizens, who were obliged tooffer absolute obedience and to endure unending sacrifice for the emperor. Clearly the term ‘citizens of the state’ as used in this period was a politicalone, coined by the Japanese imperial authorities as part of their oppressiverule of the Joseon people, and it succinctly symbolizes the reality of colonialJoseon. Meanwhile, however, those struggling for Joseon (Korean)liberation also used the very same term but with a different meaning:itreferred to entities who would eventually obtain liberation and freedom for themselves. This appropriation and repurposing of a word which wascentral to the Japanese occupation of Joseon epitomized the Koreanpeople’s resistance against their colonial oppressors. During the same period, there was also a concept ‘public citizen (公民,gongmin),’ which seems to have meant individuals who embodied thequalities of an ordinary citizen while also simultaneously the possessing theidentity of an imperial subject. One might say the nature of such conceptwas half-citizen, half-subject. It was used to refer to individuals in situationswhere they were obligated to embrace colonial values and were notallowed to enjoy the right to constitutional self-determination. Thus, the‘Gongmin’ concept was also inherently colonial. Another relevant termfrom the Joseon society of that time is ‘citizen (市民, shimin),’ which is seenin various phrases such as ‘citizen class,’ ‘citizen community,’ ‘citizenship,’‘citizen mass,’ etc., and even ‘house of citizen representatives.’ The termitself signified participating in something, with an implied alternative ofsomething else. At the time, permanent civilian organizations were ofcourse not permitted, so citizens had to oppose the imperial authoritiesthrough mass organization instead, and such activities thus gave rise to antiandsemi-colonial aspirations, prompted by the situation of colonization. The terms ‘Gukmin (State citizen)’ and ‘Shimin (citizen)’ are the ones mostcommonly used today to refer to political entities, and even social activistsoften use these two terms indiscriminately. Indeed, no clear distinction isusually made nowadays between these two concepts, but during the Japanese occupation period these two words referred to two distinctidentities. In the colonial environment, however, both of these conceptsalso had embedded connotations which encompassed colonial, anticolonialnatures, all at the same time. One could not ask for any betterexamples of concepts which reflect the reality of that period.


Gukmin (State citizens), Shimin (citizens), colonial nature, anti-colonial nature, State citizen education, Public citizen education, Liberation movement, Social actions