Organized Panel Session
After 1945, one of the key questions facing the newly liberated community of Korean scientists was their relationship to the state. Historians of science have argued that Japanese-trained scientists in both North and South Korea emphasized the principles of academic autonomy and science for science’s sake despite the Cold War division of the peninsula and political demands for state-directed mobilization on both sides. However, this conclusion is largely premised the experience of Koreans working in the Japanese metropole.
This paper presents a counter narrative through an exploration of the careers of two Korean scientists, Yi Minchae (1917-1991) and To Sangrok (1903-1990), and the impact of their time as official researchers in Manchukuo. The uniquely statist culture of Manchukuo’s scientific community molded scientists into technocrats with a moral imperative to use their expertise to defend and empower the state. After liberation, Yi and To became leaders in the scientific communities of South and North Korea, respectively. Drawing on their experience in Manchukuo, both advocated for scientific centralization and integration, and partnered with government officials to create policies and institutions to mobilize scientists for the state.
Yi and To’s case demonstrates that the state/science relationship in post-colonial Korea was far more complex than binary opposition both within and between states. Moreover, in drawing attention to Korean scientists in Manchukuo, it foregrounds how the diversity of colonial experience can reveal new connections linking Japanese colonial ideology with Cold War institutions in both North and South Korea.