The March 1, 1919, mobilization for Korean independence was the single largest threat to Japan's imperial rule in its half century of existence. Referred to reverently as the Sam'il Undong, the protest was initially centered in Seoul but quickly spread into towns and villages. Japanese colonial elites were stunned by the large-scale protests. After gathering themselves and violently repressing the movement, the colonists reacted to the demonstrations in the standard fashion of consolidating the imperial binaries (civilized/savage, rational/irrational) they had deployed earlier in Taiwan and Korea to dismiss the protests as “barbaric” (yaban) and “blind recklessness.” However, these binaries also point to desires for connection and solidarity with Koreans. Using psychoanalytic postcolonial theory, I try to show some of the latent desires on the part of Japanese elites as they reacted to the March 1 movement.

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