Rolf I. Siverson

Ph.D. Candidate


M.A., University of Washington, Korean Studies (2013)
B.A., Pacific University, Japanese Studies (2006)

Exam Committee:

Eugene Park (Advisor)
Frederick Dickinson
Vanessa Ogle


Modern Korea, Modern Japan, Transnational Migration

Dissertation Title:

Running an Empire, Building a Nation: Korean Bureaucrats and the Manchurian Legacy, 1931-1961

Dissertation Abstract:

The collapse of the Japanese Empire in 1945 is commonly understood as the beginning of a new Cold War age in East Asia. While drastic changes did take place in post-colonial states across the region, significant continuities also existed from the previous imperial system. In this project, I examine the lives and careers of some 3000 ethnic Koreans who followed imperialist Japanese expansion into Manchukuo (northeast China) to work as colonial bureaucrats and then went on to become influential leaders in post-colonial North and South Korea. I argue that their indoctrination into and active participation in this colonial project, which emphasized industrialization, self-sufficiency, and state centralization, adapted and indigenized into authoritarian state structures on both sides of the divided Korean Peninsula. I approach state-building from the perspective of individuals, rather than institutions, in order tease out the deeper historical origins of institutional forms that often extend beyond geographic and temporal boundaries. Additionally, I approach North and South Korea through a comparative framework in order to foreground profound similarities that these states continue to suppress with Cold War rhetoric. In so doing, I create a framework for broader comparison of post-colonial states in the region and globally.

Research Interests: 

Migration, Collaboration, Imperial Legacies