A hellish islet and world heritageThe Industrial Revolution began from Atahualpa’s gold. Atahualpa was the last emperor of the Inca Empire before the Spanish conquest. When he was captured by Pizarro, he offered to fill the room with gold for his freedom. While he kept the promise, Pizarro did not. Atahulapa was executed in the end, and the gold was brought to Europe, serving as the basis for the Industrial Revolution. The Western capitalism that blossomed from the industrial revolution was a castle built from the colonial exploitation of imperialism. Karl Marx wrote, “The discovery of gold and silver in America … signaled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation.”
Japan quickly imitated the Western method and applied it in Asia. Through the Meiji Restoration, Japan prepared the foundation for industrialization and started imperialistic aggressions, such as the Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War, to accumulate capital. Once it gained confidence, Japan, as a late starter in imperialism, started the Pacific War against the Western power that did not acknowledge Japan’s Asian hegemony. Japan’s colonial exploitation became extreme and reckless, and it also employed desperate yet original methods such as sexually enslaving women for the military and drafting forced laborers.
Here comes a strange part. Japan had accomplished development by imitating capitalist growth based on imperialist exploitation from the West. It is eager to boast what it has copied from the West but wants to hide their original ideas, including the modern industrial facilities that it hopes to register on the Unesco World Heritage list.
Externally, they are great cultural heritage sites indeed. The seven controversial sites among the 23 are parts of cultural history. Yahata Steel Works marks the beginning of Japan’s industrial history and is the first comprehensive steel mill in Asia. Mitsubishi Crane is a rare site in the shipbuilding industry, an advanced technology at the time. The Hashima coal complex occupies an entire island.
But as Japan promotes these assets, it is making excuses rather than being proud. Japan seems to be too cowardly to admit the shameful parts of its proud history. In fact, when Japan applied for registration on the list, the period was limited to 1850 to 1910, when operation continued on and peaked during the Pacific War. The only reason for the condition is to hide the history of mobilizing 85,000 Koreans as forced labor at seven of these sites.
In the last days of Japanese colonial rule, 5,300 minors and workers lived on Hashima Island, making it the most densely populated place in Japan at the time. In 1916, the first reinforced concrete building was built to house the workers.
Korea has no reason to oppose these sites being included in the World Cultural Heritage list. But we want to remind the world that the forced laborers worked more than 12 hours a day in the narrow mine pits against their will in the sites that made Japan an economic power.
*The author is the editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, May 9, Page 30
by LEE HOON-BEOM