For many years, Koreans emigrated to Manchuria in large numbers. Much of this movement was voluntary, the emigrants wishing to escape from Japanese rule and hoping to find greater freedom and prosperity. After the beginning of World War II the movement took on a largely compulsory character, since the Japanese than controlled Manchuria and felt the need for an increased supply of labor there. In 1938 the number of Koreans in Manchuria was believed to exceed one million; their chief occupation was farming. Some of them were undesirables; after a time the Chinese came to prevent their presence and mistreated them.
There was also some migration of Koreans to Siberia, where many of them worked on collective farms and took an active part in political and social life. The Koreans in China fell into two main classes, those who had come in the wake of the Japanese armies as traders or camp followers, and those who had gone to join the Chinese forces. The number of Koreans in Siberia was estimated to be 200,000 in 1938, and of those in China 50,000. A total of about 7,000 made their way to Hawaii and America.
The most significant movement of all was the migration of Koreans to Japan. It was stated in 1944 that "There are now more Koreans in Japan than Japanese in Korea." The extent of this movement, which was not publicized by the Japanese, is difficult to determine; figures range from more than one million to five million. A more probable figure is 3,800,000. The migration was relatively a recent phenomenon; the Japanese considered it a measure in the total war effort. In spite of the contribution which the Koreans thus made, they were on the whole badly treated by the Japanese population. The Koreans performed agricultural labor, worked in mines, and did other unskilled labor. 120,000 of them worked as coal mines in Kyushu and Hokkaido.
In 1944 it was said that "At least 10 percent of the Korean population is now earning its bread abroad." In general their lot was not happy; they "hold no official positions, enjoy no subsidies or grants, and very often would be more happy if Japanese ’protection' overlooked them."
Like many other conquered countries, Korea had a government in exile, which claimed to be the oldest, institution of that type in the world. It was organized in Shanghai after the suppression of the independence movement of 1919. In 1980 Rhee, Sung Man was elected its first president; as a young man, he had come under Western influences, become a Christian, and had taken a leading part in an independence movement in 1894. His liberal sympathies brought down on his head the wrath of the Korean king, and he had to leave the country in 1895. From then until 1909 he studied at Yale and Princeton Universities in the United States and became acquainted with Woodrow Wilson, who was then President of Princeton. A brief stay in Korea from 1909 to 1911 convinced him that his ideals were incompatible with Japanese methods, and he returned to America.
Dr. Rhee’s two closest associates were Kim, Kyu Sik and Kim, Koo. The Provisional Government was informally recognized by Chiang Kai Shek, who lent financial support. Its chief demand was for the complete independence of Korea. It made use of communistic as well as nationalistic elements, but Dr. Rhee rejected several overtures from Lenin and gained a large measure of unpopularity with both the Korean communists and Russia. After the beginning of the China Incident the Provisional Government retreated to Chungking, where it set up headquarters; from there it kept a force in the field against the Japanese. While he himself led an exile government, General Charles De Gaulle extended de facto recognition to the Provisional Government; none of the other powers did so. While it was in exile the Provisional Government was a sort of Mecca for patriotic Koreans: nevertheless, its importance set in motion a process of slow dissolution, some of the members going to Nanking, some to Manchuria, some to the United States, and a few to Russia. In spite of its practical weakness and with no formal standing in international diplomacy, the Provisional Government continued to enjoy in the minds of many Koreans the status of the rightful government of their country. Dr. Rhee was widely known as the "Sun Yat Son of Korea." Nevertheless, as the men who had been connected with the independence movement of 1919 died one by one, some persons in Korea came to feel that the Provisional Government had lost contact with reality and had ceased to be truly representative of the people.
The Provisional Government was the best known and most important of the organizations formed by Koreans abroad; of such persons in general, "One may say that before 1942 the Koreans in exile showed a marked inclination to divide and subdivide into small factions and to disagree perpetually among themselves. However, this is inevitable under conditions of exile and harsh oppression at home." The full extent of the Korean tendency toward disunity will appear later in these pages. A number of revolutionary groups were formed during the period when Japan ruled Korea; in about 1936 nine of them formed the Korean National Revolutionary Party, and a call went out for Koreans to go to China and receive military training.
The military activities of exiled Koreans were not confined to organizing resistance; they also joined existing forces. Some Koreans served as officers in the Red Army. A sizeable contingent of Koreans, perhaps a full division, fought with the Chinese Communists. One guerrilla leader, General Kim, Il Sawng, fought against the Japanese in Manchuria during World War II and is said to have been decorated by Marshal Josef Stalin.
Rhee, Sung Man founded a political organization about the year 1910; it was called the Society of Like-Minded People, and had its headquarters in Honolulu. It was led by men from southern Korea, and its goal was independence. At about the same time, Mr. Ahn, Chang Ho founded a nonpolitical society (its Korean name was Heung Sa Tan) with headquarters in Los Angeles; its purpose was to train young Koreans for positions of leadership, and it had members in the Hawaiian Islands, Manchuria, China, and Korea itself, as well as in the United States. Its leaders came chiefly from northern Korea. Mr. Ahn died in a Korean prison in 1938.
Under the terms of the treaty of annexation in 1910, the Korean royal family were granted titles and monetary grants. They remained for a time in Seoul in even greater idleness than before. The old emperor Yi, Hiung, who had abdicated in 1907, died in 1919, and his funeral was the occasion for the beginning of the independence movement of that year, already described. His son Yi, Chok, who had been the last of the Yi emperors, died in 1928. Thereupon his brother, Yi, Kun, who had been educated in Japan and had married a Japanese princess, became head of the family. Although a Japanese source states that the royal couple made frequent visits to Korea, Prince Yi was said to be living in Japan in 1945 with no desire to return to Korea. At the same time a small royalist party was working in his native land on his behalf, and the Empress Dowager who had been Yi, Yiung's last wife, was living in the royal palace in Seoul.