우물 안 개구리


Thinking about the Japanese woman in Korean-Japanese (内鮮一体) couples

Filed under: — Sayaka Chatani @ 7:39 am Print

When I was preparing for my oral exams last semester, the professors who do not work on East Asia (I had a European historian and a Latin American historian in my committee) were always fascinated by the nature of “inter-racial marriage” in the Japanese empire. Both in the history of childhood and youth and the history of modern empire, the most complex and flexible interpretations of “race” happened on the ground where colonial societies had no choice but face the existence of inter-racial sexuality and mixed children. In the Japanese empire, inter-racial marriage was not problematized in the same way as it was in European empires. For example, in two articles of roundtable discussion on marriage (結婚改善座談会) published in Korean Social Work (朝鮮社会事業 – yes I still love this journal) in May and June 1935, the participants, mostly Japanese bureaucrats and educators in Seoul, never discuss problems of inter-marriage. The central problem was rather an increasing number of old single women in Korea. Their presentation of statistics of the marriage success rate among graduates of the elementary school bears much resemblance to today’s discussion of unemployment rates. They agree this is a problem that “kyoka dantai (moral suasion groups)” should become involved in. Another major issue brought up during this roundtable is, of course, the ways in which people conduct wedding ceremonies. For the participants, excessively luxurious wedding ceremonies often exhaust village economies. The venue of wedding ceremonies was also discussed — e.g. whether it was appropriate to imitate Taisho Emperor and to use the Chōsen Shrine for ordinary people’s wedding.

The lack of discussion on inter-racial marriage by contemporary experts is not the only interesting feature to note. “It is an open secret among Korean scholars,” one professor of modern Korean history said to me the other day, “that there were a significant number of married couples between Korean men and Japanese women but there is so little study on it.” This is another surprise to non-East Asian historians. In other places it is men from the colonizing countries and women from colonized societies that married, and this feminization of colonies is often regarded as an aspect of Orientalism. There were, of course, married couples between Korean women and Japanese men, but as Oguma Eiji has already pointed out, the Government-General in Korea encouraged Japanese women to marry Korean men because, they thought, Japanese mothers were supposed to build the foundations of Japanese culture in the home.

How do you define “coloniality” in this relationship represented by couples of Korean men and Japanese women? To offer my half-baked thought first, we really need to re-think how the ‘Japanese woman’ was interpreted in relation to modernity. I cannot easily connect this to the discussion of coloniality — or assure that it is a useful concept here.

One chapter in Nam Pujin (南富鎭)’s book 文学の植民地主義 (Colonialism in Literature) deals with the issue of colonialism in love and marriage affairs. He introduces a number of Korean writers who wrote stories in which a Korean man dreamed of marrying a Japanese woman, a Korean couple who pretended as if they had been a Korean-Japanese couple, a Japanese woman who marries a Korean man, and mixed children who grew up hating their Korean origins owing to the social discriminations they received, and so on. Nam recognizes some “coloniality” in that it is usually Koreans who have to “confess” their origin, and will come to be “understood” by their Japanese partners even in recent love stories. His discussion of the novels from the 20s and 30s is more thought-provoking. Nam points out that “Naisen kekkon (Korean-Japanese marriage) was consistently the most trendy topic for literature, and despite its political nature, it was the most popular fantasy and hope to overcome obstacles that the state and ethnicity impose on one’s love and marriage” (27). We cannot say that Naisen kekkon was as prevalent among Korean masses as Korean writers and intellectuals experienced, but it seems to me that discussion of such marriages could appear fresh and even rebellious in a way that was not necessarily directed against the Japanese colonial government, but against older generations or elite Korean families.

Nam Pujin also presents a convincing argument that Japanese women represented ‘modernity’ in the eyes of Korean masses. This itself is an interesting and anomalous case from a comparative perspective. But at the same time, the story is not simply a reverse sexual representation of imperial modernity. Japanese women represented much more than that. What caught my attention was Nam’s description of a novel called 処女の倫理 (Ethics of the Virgin) written by a well-known Korean writer Chang Hyakchu 張 赫宙 in 1939. In this novel, an independent-minded Japanese woman fell in love with and married a Korean man, but was betrayed by him because he had an official Korean wife, and was discriminated against within Korean society. According to Nam, “double marriage” was quite common since many Korean intellectuals either abandoned or ignored their official wives whom they were forced to marry at younger age, and had love affairs with Japanese women. However strongly Korean men desired a Japanese woman as if it would symbolize an achievement of modernity, this particular novel depicted very unstable power relationships that could be caused as a consequence of such a phenomenon.

There is another piece of evidence on the complexity of the issue that I found in the roundtable article mentioned above. Mōri (a commissioner to the Government-General in Korea) says, “Ladies who were raised in Korea face difficulty in finding a marriage partner.” It soon becomes clear that he is referring to Japanese women who grew up in Korea. The first reason he gives is “women who grew up in Korea are too used to luxury and cannot even sew a Kimono. Those who grew up in Japanese (naichi) rural areas are pretty good at this.” According to Mōri, Japanese men preferred naichi women who were not as “modernized” as those who grew up in Korea. It makes sense that Japanese officials and business people who were dispatched to Korea received extra salaries and benefits, and their children regarded themselves as upper-class in comparison to both the average Japanese and Korean families. Does this mean what “the real Japanese woman” represented differed significantly for Korean writers and for Japanese men?

Given the resulting mess, I cannot pin down who colonized whom or even how we could know of it in this issue of Korean-Japanese marriage.


South Korea As Seen from Singapore: The “Korea Boom,” “Korea” Mobilized~

Filed under: — John P. DiMoia @ 1:08 am Print

     I can’t resist adding this, my admittedly very superficial observations based on slightly more than two months of residence in Singapore: South Korea, and “Korea” writ large, are indeed a different place when viewed from the perspective of SE Asia.
     The label “Korea” carries with it / connotes at least three meanings here: (1) a small but growing expatriate community of South Koreans on the island (apparently they still retain ROK citizenship if they attain Singapore PR status), currently numbering in the range of 6,000 to 8,000 residents, with a corresponding cultural and material presence (food, DVD’s, business investment, and a shopping mall which has garnered for itself the designation “Little Seoul”); (2) the ongoing popularity of Korean dramas (esp. Choson and Samguk period pieces); and (3) an exotic travel destination, especially in terms of winter sports.   

Of these three, the latter two interest me the most in terms of prior encounters with “Korea Boom” related goods in Japan.  When I was auditing History classes (at Columbia) in 2004, there was a loose thesis circulating among member of one class concerning the popularity of Korean culture in countries with a large ethnic Chinese population, the appeal of watching a once Sino-centric / Confucian (using these very broadly here, I know, and not very carefully) culture undergo rapid change.  That is, the dramas and popular culture might serve as a model to places desirous of undergoing similar changes of their own (China, HK, Singapore). 

  I didn’t devote much thought to this until moving here, discovering that many Singaporeans hold the ROK in high esteem, seeing it as a successful EA nation comparable to their own.  That is, (1) both Singaporeans who desire change might seek to appropriate the ROK model (whatever that is) for their agenda; and likewise, (2) the Singaporean gov.–as well as others in the region–might mobilize a model of change that implies containment, relatively incremental change.  I leave it to the reader to consider here the permutations possible in terms of mobilizing another nation’s recent history for one’s own purposes.

  And this brings me to the third point, those “Dynamic Korea” (sveral years ago) and ‘Korea Sparkiling” ads that run as travel promotions.  They’re conspicuously present on television here–although I haven’t yet paid close attention to which channels, and when they air most frequently–and have succeeded in giving the ROK appeal as a travel destination, particularly in terms of Winter and Skiing.  Of course, these activities do exist as viable options for Koreans, but I never quite conceived of South Korea in terms of a “snow country” while living in Seoul.  I guess that’s partly a product of living just above the Equator . . .

  I’m off to BAKS (British Association Korean Studies) in early September, and looking forward to it as my only previous encounter with KS  in the UK was a 2007 conference at SOAS.


Colonial Period School Architectural Archive

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 5:46 am Print

Thanks to a posting at The Marmot’s Hole I learned about a project being undertaken by the National Archives to display a variety of information, archival documents, and media about school architecture during the colonial period. The project home page can be found here:

일제시기 학교건축도면 컬렉션

You can also read more about the 3D materials being put up related to Keijo Imperial University (경성제국대학). Whether in movies like “Radio Days,” commercials with people in colonial-period attire, or projects like this, I think there is a healthy trend of starting to reclaim the colonial period as part of Korean history rather than simply a black hole from which it emerged reborn.

On the technical side it was remarkable to discover that the whole site seems to work fine on non-IE browsers and on a Mac. I can only hope this is also a new trend since full operability with non-IE browsers is almost non-existant in Korea. In fact, one can see the Macintosh imprint on the website itself. Someone who has more time on their hands than I might want to send the project an email and let them know their web designers engaged in a little bit of artistic theft as they nabbed three Macintosh OS icons for their buttons:


Here you can see the icons for three Apple applications that come with every new computer: iMovie, iChat, and iPhoto. As Mac users may recognize, the designers decided to make a few changes to the iPhoto icon, perhaps because the palm tree in the background didn’t fit the website’s theme. Compare to the original here:



History ‘faction’

According to the Hankyoreh, historical novels are all the rage at the moment in Korea. This doesn’t really surprise me all that much as historical novels seem to be pretty popular everywhere at the moment, although in Korea there always seems to be something more of an overtly political aspect to the popular fascination with history.

Unfortunately the article doesn’t really provide any convincing answers to the question of why historical fiction is particularly popular the moment:

…few deny that historical novels have their own special appeal. Lee Myeong-won, a book critic, said the unusual popularity of historical fiction can be ascribed to the easiness with which novelists find things to write about, compared to the difficulty authors face when trying to grapple with what is transpiring now in current society. In addition, authors are able to ride on the interest surrounding historical events in which people tend to hold fascination.

I’ve brought up this subject before here, so I obviously have quite an interest in the relationship between academic history and popular history/historical consciousness in the form of books, TV series and films. Is the popular depiction of historical events and characters all about entertainment, or is it really about a subtle (and not so subtle) type of ideology formation? Or perhaps people’s desire to read and write about history (outside of the academic paradigm) plays a deeper, more constructive role in society?


Unity is Almost Always a Myth

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:53 pm Print

In an otherwise interesting discussion of North Korean defector readjustment and North-South relations in the Washington Post, Samuel Songhoon Lee drops this

In South Korea, a country that withstood centuries of invasions from its Chinese and Japanese neighbors, unity defines survival. And without ethnic diversity or a history of immigration, unity means conformity. When something becomes fashionable here, it can have significant consequences. For example, South Korea has the world’s highest ratio of cosmetic surgeons to citizens, catering to the legions of girls who receive eyelid surgery as a present for their 16th birthday. … The lack of diversity at school makes the young defectors instant standouts — subject to 15 minutes of fame and adulation, then an enduring period of isolation. When their peers ask about their accent — noticeably different from what’s common in Seoul — most students say they’re from Gangwon Province, in the northeastern part of the country.

My second reaction was to note the self-contradictory nature of the paragraph: if conformity is so ubiquitous and nationalized, how can strong regional accents survive? In fact, this is something which I’ve noted with regard to Japan as well: to a large extent, parochialism and immobility (geographic and class) mask diversity because most people don’t experience it within their own society. There’s another factor which is similar between Japan and South Korea: the domination of the media by media created within a single mega-urban community, which tends to assume its own experience and views as “normal.”

But it’s the historical early section which piqued my interest in the first place, of course. Maybe it’s just a word choice thing, but I’d be much more comfortable with the idea that Korea “endured” invasions than “withstood”: the latter implies that they successfully resisted. They didn’t repel the Mongols: they waited until that empire had collapsed elsewhere before rising in revolt. They didn’t repel the Japanese in the 1590s without considerable assistance from China. They were in no condition to repel the Qing, thanks to the Japanese, though they retained their independence. They didn’t repel the Japanese in the modern period at all, though they enlisted the aid of their largest, most powerful neighbors. In one sense — the continued existence of an entity which eventually became the modern Korean states — the term “withstood” is tolerable, but it still implies that Korea was largely unchanged by the experiences, and that wasn’t really true, either.

Then there’s the “unity defines survival” question: for most of Korea’s history there was a pretty sharp divide between aristocratic and commoner, as well as pretty significant unfree populations. I suppose you could argue that it was the unity of Korean elites which defined the cultural survival of Korea, but that still requires believing in some essential element persisting and also that Korean elites were actually unified, which seems quite questionable, especially in periods like the Koryo.

Finally, there’s “unity means conformity” which just makes my skin crawl. I’ll freely admit that it’s an American bias, but it also seems a long way to me from fashion conformity (which is fleeting and faddish) to national unity (which ought to be enduring and based on some kind of fundamental principles). The concept of the nation as sharing culture usually refers to an historical tradition; the idea of the nation as people who share fads is a significant degradation of an already questionable concept.

Addendum: The author of the Post article contact me, as he has everyone who’s blogged about his article, to alert us to a problem, namely that he’d neglected to use pseudonyms and alter identifying information for his students. This raises safety issues for their family members who are still in North Korea, and consequently he is asking that anyone who blogs about the article be careful to avoid identifying his students.


If you thought the Chosŏn dynasty was over, think again

Filed under: — Owen @ 4:58 pm Print

Actually, strictly speaking, 88-year-old Yi Hae-won was crowned queen (or should that be empress?) of the Great Han Empire (大韓帝國) last week, rather than the Chosŏn kingdom. The accession of Korea’s new monarch has apparently been greeted with some sarcasm from the public (off with their heads!) and some have even accused the royal descendants of just copying this whole idea from a popular current TV drama about an imaginary Korea with a constitutional monarchy (life imitating art? – never!).

In other royalty-related news, it seems that the main gate of Kyŏngbokkung Palace, Kwanghwamun, will soon be dismantled so that it can be moved 14.5 metres south of its current position. Maybe it’s just me but it seems as though the whole thing of restoring Kyŏngbokkung to exactly how it was 100 years ago is going a bit over the top. And I rather like it the way it is now, with ivy growing over the walls.


Finding historical riches

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 9:17 pm Print

A few items from the news, blogs, etc.


Koguryŏ on the box

Filed under: — Owen @ 6:02 pm Print

I know I’m way behind the times on this subject as it was already brought up at the Marmot’s Hole weeks ago, but I’d like to put out a call for people’s thoughts on the recent flurry of new historical dramas in South Korea on the Koguryŏ kingdom. I’d be fascinated to know what any of our readers and contributors who are currently in Korea make of MBC’s ‘Jumong‘ and SBS’s ‘Yeongaesomun‘ from either a historical or dramatic point of view.

In case there is anyone else who, like me, is not in Korea and wants some more background, there was an article on the popularity of the new dramas in the Korea Herald a couple of weeks back, which I’ve saved from the oblivion of the KH website here. No doubt whatever their historical problems or the nationalist motivations behind them, these dramas will make spectacular watching as in my experience Korean sagŭk pull out all the stops (although sometimes I wish they’d spend a bit more on the artificial facial hair).

By the way, just so as not to be left out, KBS will be broadcasting its historical drama on the Parhae (Balhae/발해) kingdom, beginning in September.


The Korean Folk Village

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 6:59 am Print

A few days ago I visited the Korean Folk Village near Suwŏn. You can learn all about the village from the English version of its propaganda video, complete with the standard blonde white foreigner and his beautiful Korean guide.

The folk village was much larger than I expected it to be and does a wonderful job of providing entertainment for visitors of all ages. The various artistic performances, pottery village, and other craft displays are all very impressive, and considerably less cheesy than the kind of cultural showcases I have seen elsewhere. To take one recent example of what I mean by cheesiness, I knew things would get bad when I was greeted at by ninja-clad parking attendants during a trip to Ueno city in Mie prefecture, Japan in 2004. That turned out to be only the beginning. By contrast, the folk village at Suwŏn has a wonderful feel about it, and it was smart enough to separate out the restaurants, souvenir shops, and amusement park from the central area and placed them all on each of the edges of the village.

The folk village at Suwŏn was put together a few decades ago and features a large collection of reproductions of buildings from all over Korea. It includes the houses of farmers as well as those of yangban, magistrates, and more prominent nobles. Depending on which description of the folk village you are reading, these houses are either described as “a late Chosŏn village” or “traditional” houses, or as displaying the “architectural wisdom of the Korean ancients.”

I am not qualified to evaluate much of what is on display, and since my knowledge of pre-modern Korean history is quite limited, I have little more than the average tourist’s intuitions to offer. But offer them I will, because there are a number of curious things about the folk village that I think it would be interesting to bring up for discussion here.


Hankyoreh on the return of cultural artifacts

Filed under: — Owen @ 11:30 am Print

Korea Times reports on another long-running dispute over the return of historical documents taken from Korea – in this case those taken from the Oe-Kyujanggak (Outer Royal Library) by the French in 1866. Apparently Korean scholars are unhappy about the fact that the South Korean PM has agreed with her French counterpart that the stolen documents can be exhibited in Seoul regularly as this may imply a weakening of the resolve to get them back permanently.

Original post
The English edition of the Hankyoreh newspaper has an editorial today praising the recent return of 47 volumes of an edition of the Veritable Records of the Chosŏn Dynasty (朝鮮王朝實錄) to Korea from Tokyo University. The edition was originally taken to Japan by the first governor-general of colonial Korea, Terauchi Masatake, but most of the 1,000 volumes were burnt in the fire that followed the Kanto Earthquake of 1923. It has been returned as the result of a civil society based campaign rather than government action.

A couple of interesting facts emerge from the editorial that I didn’t know before. One is that the Korea-Japan Treaty of 1964, negotiated by Park Chung-hee, specifically promised not to pursue the return of cultural items taken by Japan. This seems particularly ironic considering Park’s later very strong turn to a policy of cultural nationalism.

The other is the concrete figures it provides for Korean cultural artifacts overseas: 74,434 (confirmed items) of which 46 percent are in Japan. This got me to thinking about what this might mean in comparative terms. Is Korea significantly worse off than other countries around the world in terms of how much of its ‘national heritage’ has leaked out? Is it worse off than other developing countries or other former colonies? Are there more Indian, Greek, Nigerian or Iraqi cultural artifacts overseas? And what about Japan? As you can probably tell, I don’t know the answers to any of these questions.

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