War Orphans, Capitalist Family, and Postwar North Korea’s State Form as Exchange

Cheehyung Kim, Assistant Professor
University of Missouri

While a war raged on the peninsula, the North Korea began, in November 1951, sending its children and young adults abroad, a portion of them orphans. The first group of went to Hungary, and over the next decade, as many as ten thousand settled throughout Eastern Europe’s state socialist countries. China alone welcomed twenty thousand. Toward the end of the decade, North Korea called them back home. The circulation of North Korea’s children of war evokes some observations. First, their movement was a part of global circulation of a quarter-million children after the Second World War. An intriguing aspect of this circulation was the movement of children from state socialist countries of Europe to the United States, the very socialist countries that accepted North Korean children. Second, the political economy of socialist solidarity reveals the need for surplus production and international loans in the name of industrial growth. The state’s appropriation of the children’s lives and their transport abroad were carried out as enormous amounts of loans arrived from the countries that took these children. In this process, the children, now removed from the traditional family, immediately attained the economic function of potentially productive workers within North Korea’s production regime, if not already as symbols of collateral for the loans. Finally, the circulation of children is North Korea’s moment of critique of the capitalist family form. The state’s appropriation of the children was an attempt to eradicate the first source of exploitation, the liberal family. The subjugation of women and children within the patriarchal bourgeois family form was to be thwarted by the state form. Moreover, the placement of the transported children not with families but at institutions was a rejection of the adoption market, which North Korea saw, particularly in South Korea, as a new system of slavery.

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.

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