Cross-Currents E-Journal (No. 10)

ISSN
2158-9674
Editors' Note
Wen-hsin Yeh, University of California, Berkeley
Sungtaek Cho, Korea University
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March 2014

Dear Cross-Currents readers,

We are pleased to introduce the tenth quarterly issue of the Cross-Currents e-journal.

The three research articles on colonial Korea that appear in this issue all developed out of talks originally presented at the 2013 Cross-Currents Forum in Seoul last summer. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the discussants at the Forum for their critical feedback. Special thanks are due to Jung-Sun Han (Korea University) and Jun Uchida (Stanford University), who helped a number of scholars develop their presentations into full-length research articles.

“Abuse of Modernity: Japanese Biological Determinism and Identity Management in Colonial Korea” by Mark Caprio (Rikkyo University) tells the story of the withdrawal of human anatomy as a scientific tool from the colonial production of ethnic differences between Japanese and Koreans. The article describes the decline and fall of the young and energetic professor Kubo Takeshi, who died in a state of disgrace and derangement for attempting to assert categorical connections between cranial measurements and criminality based on “race.” The Kubo episode tells a story of a failed attempt by a Japanese scientist to introduce a biological argument about Korean moral inferiority to the Japanese. 

“Matters of Fact: Language, Science, and the Status of Truth in Late Colonial Korea” by Christopher P. Hanscom (UCLA) addresses the status of the fact in literary and historical discourses in late colonial Korea, focusing on the elaboration of the relationship between scientific and literary truths primarily in the work of philosopher and critic Sŏ Insik (1906–?). Drawing extensively on literary theory, Hanscom examines Sŏ’s strategy of critical engagement under the condition of Japanese colonialism.

“Stepping into the Newsreel: Melodrama and Mobilization in Colonial Korean Film” by Travis Workman (University of Minnesota) argues that the “fascist aesthetic” in the films he analyzes attempted to obscure all manner of social conflicts and political divisions by aestheticizing the nation-state and culture. Cross-Currents board member Takashi Fujitani (University of Toronto) noted at the 2013 Forum that the aesthetics of military mobilization—replicated or perhaps prefigured in the militarization of school life and aesthetics in prewar Japan, as well as to some extent in Korea—is especially important for Workman. At the same time, Fujitani added, Workman shows how the cinematic conventions carried over from pre-fascist cinema left contradictions in the desire to have what Slavoj Žižek calls “capitalism without capitalism” or “capitalism without excess.”

A highlight of this issue is our English translation of a survey of Japanese scholarship from 2007 to 2012 on the Sino-Japanese War compiled by Duan Ruicong  (Keio University). This essay, featured in the “Readings from Asia” section of the e-journal, includes an extensive bibliography and Duan’s own observations concerning principle trends and achievements in recent Sino-Japanese War research. It is our hope that English-speaking scholars will find this compilation to be a useful research tool.

This issue also includes three review essays. The first, by Fa-ti Fan (Binghamton University), discusses three new books connected by the theme of natural science: Maki Fukuoka’s The Premise of Fidelity: Science, Visuality, and Representing the Real in Nineteenth-Century Japan (Stanford, 2012), William C. Summers’s The Great Manchurian Plague of 1910–1911: The Geopolitics of an Epidemic Disease (Yale, 2012), and Ian Jared Miller’s The Nature of the Beasts: Empire and Exhibition at the Tokyo Imperial Zoo (UC Press, 2013). George Lazopoulos (UC Berkeley) writes about three recent works on Japanese historiography—Jason Ānanda Josephson’s The Invention of Religion in Japan (Chicago, 2012), Hwansoo Ilmee Kim’s Empire of the Dharma: Korean and Japanese Buddhism, 1877–1912 (Harvard, 2012), and Jung-Sun N. Han’s An Imperial Path to Modernity: Yoshino Sakuzō and a New Liberal Order in East Asia, 1905–1937 (Harvard, 2012)—that together “yield a composite portrait of Japan as viewed through the transnational lens that now characterizes historical studies more generally.” Lastly, Geoffrey C. Stewart (Western University) compares Pierre Asselin’s Hanoi’s Road to the Vietnam War, 1954–1965 (UC Press, 2013) and Lien-Hang T. Nguyen’s Hanoi’s War: An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam (UNC Press, 2012), works that focus, respectively, on the events on either side of the Ninth Plenum of the Vietnamese Workers’ Party in 1963.

For this issue’s photo essay—“Unreal Estate and China’s Collective Unconscious”—photographer and China scholar Tong Lam (University of Toronto) selected images of “a diverse range of ruinous spaces to tell an alternative history of contemporary China’s hysterical transformation.” These unfinished or abandoned projects are powerful empirical and figurative signposts of China’s high-speed growth. In his accompanying essay, “Apocalypse, or, the Logic of Late Anthropocene Ruins,” Jason McGrath (University of Minnesota) writes that “the revelation provided by these photos is at least in part that of the rather pathetic hubris of the human species in its fleeting age of planetary dominance, even in the case of China in the midst of head-spinning transformation.”

We hope you enjoy reading this issue. As always, we look forward to receiving your feedback. If you are attending the AAS meetings this year, please stop by the Cross-Currents booth (#317) to say hello. And, as always, be sure to register here on our website in order to leave comments for our contributors and join the conversation.

Sincerely,

Wen-hsin Yeh & Sungtaek Cho

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Articles

2013 Cross-Currents Forum

Mark Caprio, Rikkyo University
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Medical researcher Kubo Takeshi’s contributions to professional publications, such as Chōsen igakkai zasshi (The Korean medical journal), and more popular magazines, such as Chōsen oyobi Manshū (Korea and Manchuria), reflected many of the prejudicial attitudes that Japanese held toward Koreans during the first decade of colonial rule. His scholarship was based on biological determinist thinking, an approach developed by eighteenth-century European medical researchers to establish race, class, and gender hierarchies. For Kubo this approach provided a means for exploiting scientific inquiry to establish and manage Japanese superiority over Korean subjects in a more stable manner than one based on more malleable cultural differences. A people could adjust its customs or mannerisms to amalgamate with a suzerain culture but could not do so with hereditarily determined features, such as blood type or cranium size, shape, or weight. Practitioners, however, often linked the physical with the cultural by arguing that a people’s physical structure was a product of its cultural heritage. The subjectivity injected into this seemingly objective research methodology abused the lay community’s blind trust in modern science in two ways. First, it employed this inquiry to verify biased observations, rather than to uncover new truths; second, it altered the approach, rather than the conclusions, when this inquiry demonstrated the desired truths to be inaccurate. Biological determinism proved useful in substantiating a Japanese-Korean colonial relationship that acknowledged historically similar origins while arguing for the historically different evolutions of the two peoples.

Keywords: biological determinism, Chōsen igakkai zasshi, Kubo Takeshi, craniology, racial identity, Keijō Medical College, colonial history, Kubo Incident

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Christopher P. Hanscom, University of California, Los Angeles
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This article addresses the status of the fact in literary and historical discourses in late colonial Korea, focusing on the elaboration of the relationship between scientific and literary truths primarily in the work of philosopher and critic Sŏ Insik (1906–?). It points to a growing tendency in late 1930s and early 1940s Korea to question the veracity of the fact (or of empiricism more broadly) in an environment where the enunciation of the colonial subject had been rendered problematic and objective statements had arguably lost their connection with social reality. In a period when the relationship between signifier and referent had come into question, how did this major critic understand the relationship between science and literature, or between truth and subjectivity? Sŏ warns against a simplistic apprehension of the notion of truth as unilaterally equivalent with what he calls “scientific truth” (kwahakchŏk chilli)—a nomological truth based on objective observation and confirmation by universal principles—and argues that a necessary complement to apparently objective truth is “literary truth” (munhakchŏk chinsil). Against the fixed, conceptual form of scientific thought, literary truth presents itself as an experiential truth that returns to the sensory world of the sociolinguistic subject (chuch’e) as a source of credibility.

Keywords: literary history, colonial discourse, colonial modernity, factuality, science, scientific truth, Sŏ Insik, late colonial Korea

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Travis Workman, University of Minnesota
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As part of a project on melodrama in Korean film, this article examines the ways that films from the late colonial period (1937–1945) blurred the traditional boundaries between newsreel documentary and fictional features in an attempt to suture the film spectator into the cinematic representation of what André Bazin called, in relation to the newsreel, “total history.” Drawing on theoretical discussions of sentimentality and melodrama, the article compares the earlier fictional film Sweet Dream (1936) to the wartime film Straits of Chosŏn (1943) in order to trace how melodrama was transformed through its incorporation into political propaganda. It discusses how narrative cinematic techniques such as point of view, shot/reverse shot, and crosscutting allowed Straits of Chosŏn to draw the viewer into spectacles of mobilization that were formerly represented through the more anonymous mass medium of the newsreel documentary. The remainder of the article touches on the films Volunteer (1941) and Spring of Korean Peninsula (1941), discussing how the interpretive excess enabled by melodrama remained visible after the hybridization of fictional film and newsreel, primarily through the disjuncture between the films’ melodrama narratives and their spectacles of mobilization. In conclusion, the article suggests that the gradual elimination of any narrative excess in 1940s films reflects an apprehension about the multiple codings, identifications, and interpretations enabled through the combination of melodrama narrative with political propaganda.

Keywords: Korea, Japan, film, documentary, melodrama, mobilization, total war, newsreels, colonialism, point of view, shot/reverse shot, spectacle, propaganda

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Review Essays, Notes & Bibliographies

Fa-ti Fan, Binghamton University
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Environmental history, history of science, and animal studies are emerging trends in the historiography of modern East Asia, for good reason. Environmental concerns are prominent in the region today, and environmental factors are important to understanding its history. Science (together with technology) has been held up as the benchmark of modernity in East Asia for more than a century and has been fundamental to visions of the modern nation (consider, for example, Mr. Science in China’s May Fourth Movement). Animal studies is the newest of these trends. This field has gained notice only in recent years, yet there are signs that it is becoming a popular topic...

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George Lazopoulos, University of California, Berkeley
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The three recent works on Japanese history discussed in this essay are connected only tenuously in terms of their subject matter: the construction of the category of “religion,” Buddhism in colonial Korea, and the evolution of liberalism in prewar Japan, respectively. What unites these studies is, rather, their approach. Highlighting the vital links between their subjects and other areas of the world, these studies yield a composite portrait of Japan as viewed through the transnational lens that now characterizes historical studies more generally...

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Geoffrey C. Stewart, Western University
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On November 22, 1963, an emergency session of the Central Committee of the Vietnam Workers’ Party (VWP) opened in Hanoi. The session, known as the Ninth Plenum, was held, in part, to determine the best route forward for the party following the coup that had toppled Ngo Dinh Diem’s South Vietnamese government three weeks before. Over the ensuing weeks, the committee members addressed domestic and international concerns of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), particularly the evolving political situation in the South and the status of the world revolutionary struggle. At the heart of the matter were divisions within the party over the best means to achieve the reunification of Vietnam and the ramifications that the widening Sino-Soviet split might have on this goal. From what can be gleaned from the spotty historical record, the debates were quite contentious...

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