Rolf I. Siverson


Ph.D. Candidate

My dissertation explores postcolonial state-building in North and South Korea as a conditional process of decolonization. Building on recent trends in the study of empire and its collapse, I argue that Koreans transformed their colonial experience in ways that converged, diverged, and crossed between the two Korean Cold War states. I examine a group of Korean men who began their careers as bureaucrats in the Japanese client state of Manchukuo and later became prominent officials and intellectuals in North and South Korea.

Highlighting these individual agents helps challenge the teleological narrative tying Japanese imperialism to Cold War developmentalism. My research demonstrates that, similar to their Japanese counterparts, Korean bureaucrats’ intense experience with empire-building cultivated an appreciation for state-led social transformation. But these men were not the “missing link” between Manchukuo and the 1960s developmental state. Instead, they wove Manchukuo’s legacy into the fabric of Korea in multiple, competing ways. In adapting to postcolonial politics, some utilized elements of their experience for radical developmental reform alongside the South Korean Army. Others translated the same experience into advocacy for grass-roots agrarian democracy. Still others chose to work for the North Korean regime, where the Manchukuo experience supported an unlikely alliance with Kim Il Sung. At the same time, their shared identity as Manchukuo bureaucrats spurred collaboration and friendship across political, geographic, and social divisions.


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


Frederick Dickinson
Eiichiro Azuma
Yumi Moon (Stanford)

Dissertation Title:

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

Research Interests

Modern Korean and Japanese history, colonialism, decolonization, state administration, migration, the global Cold War, biography

Selected Publications

Siverson, Rolf I. (2020) “From Chimera’s Womb: The Manchukuo Bureaucracy and its Legacy in East Asia,” International Journal of Asian Studies 17(1) 39–55.