895B.16/10–2850: Telegram

The Chargé in Korea (Drumright) to the Secretary of State


307. Deptel 249, October 27 on subject land reform.1

1. Detailed investigation status farmland redistribution program in South Korea under way and special efforts will be made to ascertain facts situation North Korea during reconnaissance that area early November in connection with war damage survey.

2. Findings in Republic of Korea to date confirm soundness Republic of Korea decision to proceed implementation its land reform program south of 38th parallel. Republic of Korea program, in process implementation at time Communist occupation, provided for transfer farm ownership to tenants tilling individual farms except in special or unusual circumstances. Therefore tenant farmers who planted rice crop in spring 1950 were in process becoming owners land they planted. They had been assured they could make first of [Page 1012] 5 annual installment payments of 30 percent of production from 1950 crop.

3. Republic of Korea areas occupied by Communists included: 60 percent farmers who already held title to their land; 40 percent tenant farmers almost all of whom were in the process of becoming owner-operators. Therefore despite Communist propaganda claims there is no evidence the Communist land reform program greeted with any enthusiasm by most of farmers in South Korea. Basic reasons Communist program was not popular as follows:

Communist program in effect made former farm owner-operators (about 60 percent of total) tenants of the state, with only utilization rights their land. State in turn was to collect production tax in kind of 27 percent “paddy” field output or 23 percent output from upland fields. Since assessment tax percentages were arbitrary and often higher than provided by law, and since frequent additional assessments for special purpose were made, farm owner-operators opposed so-called “land reform.” Same situation found [North] Korea, and reported as early as middle 1947 after visit Pyongyang area of American delegation joint commission.
Basic aspiration of tenant farmers is for security of tenure in situation where more farm families than farms promotes insecurity and promotes strong desire of farmers for titles to lands they farm. Utilization rights given by Communists dependent on continued favor ruling clique toward individual farmers. Security land tenure desired by farmers not provided by Communist program.

4. Preliminary evidence indicates Communists did not undertake wholesale dispossession of farm owner-operator or tenant farmers. Most of Communist-directed farm redistribution apparently politically motivated and involved dispossession strong Republic of Korea supporters in favor Communist sympathizers. Farmers dispossessed were usually independent owner-operators, who were relatively well-to-do and who frequently held positions of influence in their localities under Republic of Korea. Return of farms to these pre-invasion owners, who planted 1950 crop prior to dispossession, appears to be elemental justice. In case of tenant farmer under Republic of Korea who was dispossessed by Communists of farm he was in process of buying, fact that he planted 1950 crop appears to give him better claim than operator put on land by Communists during July and August. Usually these Communist sympathizers who were given farm land by Communist regime fled with retreat of Communist forces into mountains.

5. Reference Republic of Korea thinking on land program for North Korea. Following is part of statement (in translation) issued by President Rhee on October 23 through Office of Public Information: “The farmers must busy themselves in harvesting their autumn crops, of which they shall pay 20 to 30 percent to the government as land tax in accordance with the law now in force in South Korea (sic) and [Page 1013] the remainder, they shall be permitted to possess for their free disposal. After the harvest, the land reform law shall be implemented: The farmers must return farm-lands to their former owners, who, in turn shall sell them to the government at a reasonable price. The government, in accordance with the law, will distribute the farm-lands to the farmers, who, after complete payment of their officially fixed prices for the lands thus distributed, will become the legal possessors of the farm-lands. On the other hand, the land owners shall, as prices for their farm-lands, receive from the government some national bonds, with which they will be able to run a factory or other business. However, it seems to be too late to carry out that reform this year. It will be carried out next year. As to the financial, commercial and industrial matters, and the matters concerning the vested properties, the government will apply the same policies that have been carried out in South Korea. It is hoped that any government plan or change to be made on these matters will be well observed.”

6. Most Republic of Korea officials desire to extend into North Korea their program for transfer of title farm land owned by absentee landlords to tillers of soil. Some former North Korea landlords now in Republic of Korea area of course, hope to repossess lands north of 38th parallel. However, prevailing Republic of Korea sentiment does not consider this possible or desirable, but does consider proposed payments to former landlords whose lands were confiscated without payment by Communists to be fair and just.

7. Embassy feels Republic of Korea land reform program which developed after several years of widespread discussion of the subject reflects basic aspirations Korean farmers. On other hand North Korea farm redistribution program, which was announced and fully implemented within 25 days in March 1946, not highly regarded by farmers in either North or South Korea. Main criticism of farm population in Republic of Korea areas regarding Republic of Korea program is slowness in implementation laws already promulgated.

Repeated info ECA Washington unnumbered, Tokyo unnumbered.

  1. The reference to telegram 249 is incorrect; it should be to telegram 245, October 25, 6 p. m., to Seoul, p. 996.