The 1940 Tokyo Olympic Games and Colonial Korea

Seok Lee, PhD Candidate
University of Pennsylvania

This paper examines how colonial Korea reacted to the 1940 Olympic Games, which were awarded to Tokyo by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1936, and subsequently given up by the Japanese in 1938. The Japanese Empire hoped to host the games to deflect international criticism of its bellicosity caused by the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) and also to celebrate the 2,600th anniversary of the legendary founding of the Japanese Empire by Emperor Jimmu (kigen) in 660 BCE, thereby enhancing nationalism. As a part of the Japanese Empire, colonial Korea was closely monitoring the Japanese Olympic bidding from beginning to end. Tokyo’s Olympic bid began as early as 1930, when Tokyo held a “Reconstruction Festival” to celebrate its recovery from the Kantō Earthquake of 1923. From then on, Korean mass media kept close watch on the news surrounding the 1940 Olympic bid. As soon as Tokyo won the bid, colonial Korea was quick to make the best use of the Olympics for its own sake. The Olympics were not only about sports, but also affected a variety of social concerns in colonial Korea: transportation, national security, tourism, and sports facilities, among others. The colonial government and Japanese leadership took the initiative in designing a master plan for welcoming international visitors to propagate a positive image of its colony. At the same time, Koreans were not just passive spectators but also aggressive supporters of the Games for many reasons, including expectations of income and economic development, participation in the Games as athletes and tourists, and basic curiosity.

“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.

Refusing the Empire of Bases: Gangjeong Village’s Culture of Peace and Life Movement

Nan Kim, Associate Professor
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

On South Korea’s Jeju Island, the recent completion of a contested naval base’s construction has marked a time of transition for the anti-base movement there, whose members have come to identify more pro-actively as the “Culture of Peace and Life Movement” (pyeonghwa saengmyeong munhwa undong). Rather than pursuing strictly an anti-base campaign, these activists have sought to broaden their opposition to the rationale behind the naval base by diversifying their challenge to the logic of global militarism itself. Through activism and network-building that have made the village a vital node among transnational peace movements, Gangjeong activists have become known for the range and prodigiousness of their creative production as an alternative community of conscience, collectively refusing the culture of war. Identifying Gangjeong’s peace movement as one of creative refusal draws upon anthropologist and Native American Studies scholar Audra Simpson’s observation that “resistance” already gives too much legitimacy to the actions of wrongful dispossession by a dominant power. Indeed, “refusal” more accurately describes the dynamic whereby Gangjeong activists have framed their dissent – in political, intellectual, artistic, and spiritual expressions – through universalizing claims of authority. That is, proponents of the Culture of Peace and Life Movement have staked claims chiefly based on three modes of discourse and practice: (1) unfailing repetition of rituals of conscience, notably the 100-bows meditation at dawn and a midday Catholic Mass, as daily solemn protests defending Jeju’s official designation as an “Island of World Peace”; (2) invocations of Jeju’s status as an exceptional case among UNESCO World Natural Heritage sites; and (3) contemporary integrative holistic philosophies that are Korean in origin but universal in scope, including the “Peace and Life” teachings originally formulated by Jeju-born Buddhist monk Dobeob Seunim, and the “seed idea” (ssialsasang) developed by pacifist Quaker religious leader and democracy activist Ham Seok-Heon.

Made in (South) Korea: How Preserving Tradition Led to K-Lit

Jenny Wang Medina, Ph.D.
Columbia University

The construction of “global” Korean literature and culture in the late 20th and early 21st centuries sought to transcend the geographic boundaries of South Korea while simultaneously attempting to reformulate an historical ethnonational identity across the divided peninsula. Millennial South Korea was a period during which state, institutional, and individual actors intervened and clashed over the production and transmission of this geographically unbounded “national” literature and culture. Extending my previous research on the tensions involved in defining a national Korean literature that aspired to recognition as a dominant “World Literature,” this paper examines the shift from extra-national organizations such as UNESCO to national organizations like the Daesan Foundation and the Korean Literature Translation Institute (KLTI) in shaping the parameters of Korean culture writ large in the Republic of Korea. The hierarchies established in the idea of “World Literature” are imbricated in the developmental and racial hierarchies of the post-WWII World Order, and South Korea’s involvement with UNESCO cultural projects as the country moved from an impoverished post-colonial nation to a model of rapid economic development in the latter half of the twentieth century exposes productive fissures in the tiered conception of global culture that emerged in that period. By focusing on the efforts made to preserve, and later promote Korean literature and literary scholarship, I explore the concerns over hyper-development, cultural parity, and new modes of inclusion and exclusion in the (re-)construction of culture as an instrument of neo-colonial participation in the Cold War era and sub-imperial yearnings in the 21st century.