Imperialism, Modernization, or Diffusion? Contemporary South Korea and the Transnational Spread of Law

Neil Chisholm, D.Phil., Legal Studies
University of Cambridge

Imperial rule, on the Korean peninsula and elsewhere, brings with it foreign laws and legal norms. The Chosŏn Dynasty embraced premodern Chinese legal ideology, while Japanese rule saw the imposition of Japanese law. Yet South Korea today, although independent, continues to borrow much foreign law. How and why is this happening? This paper, based on data gathered through interviews, first explains how contemporary Korean lawyers, judges, law professors, and law-making civil servants adopt foreign law in their work, as growing American influences in these spheres supplant pre-existing German and Japanese traditions. The paper also situates these processes in the theoretical context of ‘legal transplants,’ a surprisingly ordinary phenomenon in global legal history. Korean exceptionalism, today as historically, seems to lie in its receptiveness as an importer of foreign law. The second half of the paper examines why South Korea is adopting foreign law, and considers three theoretical possibilities: that it is motivated by imperialism, modernization, or diffusion. The imperialism explanation suggests that South Korea is being forced by external powers to accept certain laws and legal concepts. Modernization, on the other hand, implies that social evolution inevitably pressures the legal system to reform in certain ways, resulting in resemblances to ‘developed’ foreign systems as the law goes down a more or less set path. The diffusion rationale suggests that legal actors have a choice in borrowing laws and legal ideas, and that they exercise this choice according to various factors. While support can be found for all of these explanations, the paper argues that the diffusion explanation best fits the empirical evidence presented earlier in the paper – that the diffusion of law into Korea is driven by language capabilities, overseas study patterns, prestige perceptions, and the inherently comparative legal analytical style that judges and law-makers adopt in their work.

Colonial Translations of Liberalism: “Freedom” in Korean Literature from the Late 1910s to the Early 1920s

Jin-Kyung Lee, Associate Professor
University of California: San Diego

Western liberalism and its core concepts such as freedom, equality, rights, and the individual began to dominate and transform the colonial Korean intellectual scene starting in the mid 1910s. These key liberal concepts were necessarily, of course, interconnected with the larger philosophical, ideological and political systems of the era such as imperialism, capitalism, and Social Darwinism. This paper explores the ways in which the Western notion of “freedom” is appropriated and translated in the context of anti-colonial but pro-modern/Western nationalist context. Functioning to negate, critique and “reform” the existing Confucian epistemology, ideas, and customs, the colonial Korean version of “freedom” became something quite different from its Western counterpart. This paper will first briefly examine how this version of “freedom” was related to the notions of voluntarism, interiority, vitalism, biopolitical discipline and modern nationalism in the broader discursive formation process of this period. The main part of the paper will explore the ways in which how the nascent modern literature of the colony contributed to the translations of a political concept, “freedom,” in the period between the late 1910s and the early mid 1920s. I read the works by the pioneers of modern Korean literature, such as Hyŏn Sang-yun, Chŏn Yŏng-t’aek, Na Do-hyang, Hyŏn Jin-gŏn, Kim Dong-in, Yi Kwang-su, and Yŏm Sang-sŏp, paying close attention to the ways in which this colonial modern version of “freedom” was being articulated and reformulated in their works in relation to other major “reformist” ideas and discourses in the larger cultural and social field.

“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.”

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.