“Is it PyeongChang or Pyongyang (or maybe Nagano)?”: Post-Cold War Orientalism in narratives of North Korea-South Korea and Japan-South Korea Olympic co- hosting

Meredith Collier-Murayama, Doctoral Student
International Education Policy, University of Maryland—College Park

From Seoul’s selection as host of the 1988 Olympic Games to PyeongChang’s selection for the 2018 Games, narratives of “co-hosting” have constructed South Korea as a fragmentary site for playing out Western geopolitical ideals, rather than as a sovereign nation suitable as host of sporting mega-events like the World Cup and Olympics. Just prior to South Korea’s hosting of the 2002 World Cup and 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, these events’ governing bodies introduced regulations allowing multiple nations to co-host, enabling international and South Korean articulations of specific imagined futures for inter-Korean and Japan-South Korea relations.

These co-hosting narratives perpetuate Orientalist and imperialist assumptions about South Korea’s autonomy as a nation-state, reproducing and legitimating the Western ideology that justified and structured the 20th Century division of Korea from the Japanese Empire and the division of Korea from itself. These narratives attempt to resolve the contradictions produced by those 20th Century divisions—like irreconcilable claims to nationhood or the Liancourt Rocks—without disrupting the dominant narrative that justified those divisions in the first place.

In this paper, I apply a physical cultural studies lens and postcolonial theory to texts invoking Japan-South Korea or North Korea-South Korea Olympic co-hosting. I first show how international co-hosting texts construct South Korea as a symbolic site rather than as a nation-state; I then examine the resistive and normative aspects of South Korea’s engagement with these narratives. Taken together, these analyses map the power relations and historical currents that have produced co-hosting narratives as manifestations of post-Cold War Orientalism, suggesting what has—and has not—changed about South Korea’s place in the global imaginary between the 1988 and 2018 Games.

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