Civilized and Barbarous Are as One: The Guan Yu Cult and Textual Spaces in Nineteenth-Century Chosŏn-Qing Discourses of Tribute and State Legitimacy

Joshua Van Lieu, Assistant Professor
LaGrange College

In the nearly three-hundred years from the time Ming armies imposed it upon the Chosŏn court in the 1590s to the Qing occupation of Seoul in 1880s, the Guan Yu faith in Korea slowly changed from a Chinese and decidedly alien superstition to an enthusiastically supported state cult. In the nineteenth-century, Qing commanders stationed in Seoul were in agreement with the Chosŏn court that the deity Guan Yu was a protector of legitimate and righteous rulers and had thus defended the Chosŏn throne from recent internal uprisings. A comparison of Chosŏn and Qing texts presented and recited within the precincts of Chosŏn temples to Guan Yu, however, reveals different conceptions of state legitimacy, particularly in relation to the then deeply contested Chosŏn-Qing tributary relationship. Through close readings of the texts and spaces of Guan Yu temples in both Qing and Chosŏn, this paper explores Chosŏn state appropriations of Ming and Qing iterations of state Guan Yu cults to illustrate the Chosŏn court’s simultaneous contestation and adoption of the very discourses of empire to which it was then subject.

The Manchukuo Paradox: Kong Chinhang and the Discourse of Ethnic Harmony

Rolf Siverson, PhD Candidate
University of Pennsylvania

Beginning in the late 1930s, Japanese officials in Manchukuo carried out a coordinated policy of expropriating Chinese and Korean farmland for Japanese settlement in the name of “ethnic harmony.” In 1938, Kong Chinhang–a Korean immigrant and agricultural investor–lost his farmland as a result of this policy. However, he successfully extracted equal compensation and did so by utilizing the Japanese discourse of ethnic harmony. By analyzing Kong’s use of the discourse of ethnic harmony, this paper shows that the discourse could be as much a tool of resistance as coercive control. Simultaneously, in order to use the discourse of ethnic harmony to his benefit, Kong had to present himself as an ideal subject–a civilized Korean worthy of the rights of citizenship. In so doing, Kong was also validating the concept of hierarchy that enabled Japanese rule. As such, Kong’s resistance was also a form of domination over his fellow Koreans. The fact that these two modalities could and did operate simultaneously profoundly destabilizes the binary of resistance and collaboration and challenges the clean division between colonizer and colonized, ruler and ruled within the Japanese Empire.

“O! Splendid Shadow, Black Wings”: Mechanism, Misrecognition, and Aerial Warfare in 1950s South Korean Literature

I Jonathan Kief, PhD Candidate
Columbia University

This paper explores a series of literary texts from 1950s South Korea dealing with the bombing and strafing of civilians and friendly ROK forces by US/UN airplanes during the Korean War. It begins by tracing the emergence of such stories in the complex cultural sphere of the wartime era, showing how writers used these tropes of friendly fire and civilian bombing in order to both reject and restructure the “two worlds” binary of the Cold War order. In such visions, the violence perpetrated by US/UN planes produced dual crossings: on the one hand, it demonstrated how the threat from the US-led “free world” paralleled that of its Soviet-led antagonists; and at the same time, it demonstrated how these parallel forces targeted Koreans from both sides of the 38th parallel in ways shared in common. The representation of US/UN warplane violence, this paper thus argues, allowed writers in wartime South Korea to refract Cold War visions of universality in alternative strategic directions as well as to engage in dialogue with a set of contemporary critical debates focused on the problem of what was then called “mechanism” (mek’anijŭm): the parallel forms of technocratic organization and governance said to be found in Soviet-style communism and American-style industrial capitalism. Finally, emphasizing the nuanced and non-binary ways in which Korean writers and intellectuals navigated the terrain of Cold War politics, this paper concludes with a discussion of the continued use and relevance of the civilian bombing and friendly fire trope in postwar 1950s texts, showing how it was repurposed in service of a critique of the domestic “self.”

Sinographic Nationalism: Cho So-ang’s Sino-Korean Writing in Republican China

Songyeol Han, Ph. D. Candidate
Department of East Asian Studies, Princeton University

This paper looks at how the nation was contested and negotiated in Sino-Korean writings on Korean history. I focus on Cho So-ang’s (1887–1958) writings in Chinese in the 1930s to see how Cho negotiated the legitimacy of Korea’s anticolonial struggle.

The Korean nationalist movement faced new challenges in the 1930s. In addition to the nationalists’ ideological struggle against socialism, Japan’s expansion in Manchuria and the establishment of Manchukuo seriously questioned the political position of Korean residents in China as well as Korean nationalism. Confronted with the crisis of Korean nationalism, Cho So-ang transformed textual authenticity to textual legitimacy in his book Korean Literary World (hanguo wenyuan, 1932). As diplomat of the Korean exile government and ideologue of the Korean independence party, Cho relied on the authenticity of Korea’s past distilled through the evidential studies in the 18th century in order to find evidence of Korea’s true national identity to reclaim Korea’s rightful place in the modern colonizing world. While the textual criticism enabled Cho to create an anthology of Korea’s genuine voice from the past, the Sino-centric worldview embedded in the source troubled 20th-century nationalists.

The third part examines Cho’s Sino-Korean nationalism in the book and Chinese reception to it. By excavating and refining the genealogy of Sino-Korean relations, Cho constructed a history of Sino-Korean alliance and converted it into political legitimacy of anti-imperialistic struggle on the eve of the second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). A Chinese local newspaper resonated Cho’s effort to transform Korean history with an anti-colonial war. Arranging the review with the Korean anthology alongside memorial poems of the recent Hongkew Bombing Incident by Korean patriot Yun Pong-gil, Dagong bao, echoed Cho’s historico-political writing.

Biocultural imperialism among Korea’s diasporic social bodies

Amelia Schubert, PhD Candidate
University of Colorado at Boulder

In the nineteenth and early twentieth century’s world of empires, Korea was the shrimp between whales.  But since the 1960s, South Korea has emerged into the new world of nation-states as a member in good standing.  The ROK is ostensibly the shining example of 21st century liberal democracy in East Asia, unlike autocratic China, mafia-esque North Korea, or stagnant Japan.  Yet as South Korea’s star has risen, its relationship with diasporic Koreans now show patterns of imperial mimicry.  In particular, the ROK has adeptly deployed biopolitical techniques of cultural and economic imperialism to further its interests abroad.  In this paper, I offer a theoretical argument about South Korea’s attempts to enforce a normative relationship with its diasporic social bodies.  I illustrate this with a case study of how South Korea’s ambitious reach into China since the 1990s has displayed imperialist tendencies, setting up South Koreans as idealized global citizens in contrast to the ethnic Korean minority in northeast China.

This paper explores three channels through which South Korea deploys biopolitical discourse among diasporic Koreans in China.  First, through emphasizing biological descent and race-based conceptions of loyalty, South Korea claims the status of ethnic homeland for the global Korean diaspora.  Second, South Korea defines and regulates ‘correctly’ gendered bodily practices through state-subsidized and internationally-promoted popular media, like television dramas, K-pop singers, and spin-off products like plastic surgery and health foods. Third, by expropriating discourse on public health and disease (like MERS, anthrax, and hwa-byung) the South Korean government defines bodily normality and abnormality.  By examining specific instances when these discourses were encountered by diasporic Koreans in China, drawn from fieldwork between 2012 and 2015 in Yanbian Prefecture, I demonstrate how these three thematic interventions work to delineate normative conceptual, institutional, and social performances required for membership in the Korean nation.

Keywords: Biopower, diaspora, Korean Chinese

Integrating agriculture into empire: nonggye in policy and practice, 1910-1945

Holly Stephens, PhD Candidate
University of Pennsylvania

As is well known, Japanese colonial rule introduced ambitious agricultural policies to Korea, aiming to transform the peninsula into a profitable source of raw materials for mainland Japan. Less well known, however, are the methods by which the colonial government attempted to achieve such goals. To increase rice exports, or encourage the production of cotton for industry, for example, required the construction of a complex agricultural support network, including facilities to distribute seeds, capital, and fertilizers, and to inspect, grade, and market agricultural products for export. In each of these activities, it was not enough for the colonial government to merely introduce new targets. Rather, the successful implementation of colonial policy rested upon its social and organizational integration with existing institutions.

This paper will examine the colonial state’s efforts to put its agricultural policies into practice, paying particular attention to the translation of the state’s agenda through village- level farming organizations known as nonggye. After tracing the selective adoption and promotion of nonggye by colonial agencies, this paper will turn to examine nonggye themselves through several case studies and examples drawn from farmers’ diaries. In this way, I analyze nonggye not just as a tool of the colonial government but as a critical juncture between the state’s vision of an ideal rural economy and the realities of colonial agriculture as experienced by farmers. While the colonial state imagined nonggye as a vehicle to introduce scientific agriculture and build market networks with the wider colonial economy, not only were such goals not always achieved but members of the nonggye themselves evaluated the organizations against alternative criteria. At a time of immense agricultural and economic change, a study of nonggye provides a unique perspective on the local-level negotiations among farmers, and with the colonial state, that led to changing agricultural institutions and practices.