Cross-Currents e-Journal (No. 14)
The ink brushes of the painters Chen Shizeng (1876–1923), Liu Kuiling (1885–1967), and Gao Jianfu (1879–1951) were employed as tools of the nation in early twentieth-century China. Yet the expression of a radical idealism about the new republic in their ink paintings was tempered early on by a tentative and self-conscious exploration of new ways of seeing. By synthesizing a “universal” scientific gaze with their idiosyncratically trained vision as artists, they created pictures that encouraged their viewers to cross the boundaries and binaries that would come to define the discourse about guohua, or “national painting”: East versus West, oil versus ink, modernity versus tradition, painting versus graphic arts, and elite versus folk. This article explores that extended moment of synthesis and experimentation. It argues that it was through the scientific gaze of these brush-and-ink artists that idealism and learning came to cooperate, and through their paintings that possibilities for news ways of seeing the nation emerged.
Keywords: scientific gaze, modern Chinese painting, Chen Shizeng, Gao Jianfu, Liu Kuiling
(De)Memorializing the Korean War: A Critical Intervention
The purpose of this special issue is twofold: first, to engage in a critical intervention into the memorialization of the Korean War among the chief participants—the two Koreas, the United States, and China—to disrupt monolithic understandings of its origins, consequences, and experiences; and second, to do so as a necessary step toward reconciliation by placing divergent public memorials in conversation with one another. The collection of articles presented here pursues a comparative study of Korean War memorials and museums through a variety of interdisciplinary perspectives, from sociology and history to ethnic studies and comparative literature, and brings together scholars in North America and South Korea. Not only does it incorporate the different positionalities from which scholars located across the Pacific think through the memorialization of the Korean War, but the different disciplinary strengths highlight the importance of connecting the macro with the micro, visuality with narrativity, and Asia with America. The collection also deliberately challenges the contained history of the Korean War that limits it to a three-year period between 1950 and 1953 by including the five years leading up to the war and explicitly exploring the way in which the unended war continues today....
After confronting each other as enemies during the Korean War, South Korea and China established diplomatic relations in 1992, forty years after fighting had ended. Around this time, the Chinese city of Dandong near the northern border of the Korean peninsula erected a memorial to observe the fortieth anniversary of the Korean War. In the twenty years since, China has become South Korea’s primary economic partner and its largest market for exports. In effect, the memory of wartime hostility has coexisted with the reality of economic cooperation. This article examines how the Korean War, known in China as the “War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea,” is commemorated by the war memorials in China, with a specific focus on the memorial in Dandong. It also discusses how North and South Korea have responded to the contrasting perspectives on the war embodied by these memorials, and it concludes with some reflections about how the memory of war can be restructured to convey a message of peace for the future.
Keywords: China, Korean War, Memorial Hall of the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea, Dandong, global spectatorship, war memorialization
This article examines the technologies of nationalism that shape how the Korean War is depicted in two museum and memorial sites: The Price of Freedom: Americans at War, a permanent exhibit at the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, and the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul. It shows how the use of traditional historical artifacts in The Price of Freedom and cinematic and digital technologies in the War Memorial generate structures of cultural memory that celebrate both a nationalist militarism and the ethos of neoliberalism.
Keywords: Korean War, cultural memory, memorials, museums, nationalism, neoliberalism, militarism
While North Korea accused South Korea of starting a “civil war” (naeran) during the Korean War, it has now moved away from such depictions to paint the war as an American war of imperialist aggression against Korea that was victoriously thwarted under the leadership of Kim Il Sung. In this regard, it may be more than a coincidence that the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum in Pyongyang was built in the early 1970s, just as the Vietnam War drew to a close with a Vietnamese victory. This article examines the memorialization of the Korean War in North Korea at two pivotal historical points—the end of the Vietnam War in the 1970s and the end of the Cold War in the 1990s—with a particular focus on contemporary exhibitions at the war museum in Pyongyang. Rather than offering a simple comparison of divergent narratives about the war, the article seeks to illustrate that North Korea’s conception of history and its account of the war are staunchly modernist, with tragic consequences.
Keywords: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), North Korea, Korean War, Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum
This essay analyzes the Sinch’ŏn Massacre and its memorialization at the Sinch’ŏn Museum of American War Atrocities in North Korea by placing the massacre within the context of North Korea’s political history. The museum illustrates Pyongyang’s perspective on the Korean War as a “war of liberation” and the museum’s role in the political education of the North Korean people, not simply as victims of American war atrocities but as “martyrs” and model citizens. Within the geopolitics of confrontation between North Korea and the United States since the Korean War, the Sinch’ŏn Museum has served to foster anti-American nationalism in North Korea. While the museum has served this specific purpose within the North Korean context, it should be compared with other examples of war memorialization that serve the function of identity formation for a sense of national unity.
Keywords: North Korea, Sinch’ŏn Massacre, Sinch’ŏn Museum, war memorials, martyrdom, patriotism, anti-Americanism, nationalism
Tensions abound at the Nogŭnri Peace Park. It is a public memorial, but it originates from one man’s testimonial account. It purports to commemorate and restore honor to the victims of the Nogŭnri Massacre, yet it marginalizes those victims in favor of a “truth” whose validation seemingly rests on the perpetrators. It subverts the hegemonic knowledge of American rescue and friendship, even as it follows a common Korean War-as-6/25 narrative absolving South Korean and American responsibility during the Korean War. Finally, it champions a globalized value of peace that, in turn, risks enabling the consumption of Nogŭnri as commodified culture. By looking at the Nogŭnri Peace Park and the narratives, images, and artifacts exhibited there, this article explores the tensions that complicate constructions of history, community, and nation at the site of memorialization. It examines how the Nogŭnri Massacre is recollected and represented alongside the transitional shift from domestic authoritarianism to global neoliberalism in today’s South Korea. Further, it investigates the limits of the state critique that the Nogŭnri Peace Park performs.
Keywords: commemoration, globalization, Korean War, memorial, neoliberalism, Nogŭnri Massacre, Nogŭnri Peace Park, peace, privatization, state violence, war politics
This article examines two South Korean sites dedicated to the remembrance of Korean War–era civilian massacres, the Cheju 4.3 Peace Park and the Kŏch’ang Incident Memorial Park. Specifically, the article explores the sites’ localized, victim-centric epistemology as one that counters nationalist discourses and narratives that privilege the state. While acknowledging that these sites offer a physical mnemonic space for challenging the hegemonic “June 25” (yugio) narrative, the author suggests that, in their narrow spatial and ideological orientation, these sites cumulatively fall short of offering a cohesive narrative of the politicidal, anti-Communist state-building project of which they are a consequence. Though of tremendous value in restoring victims’ honor, critiquing human rights abuses of the Republic of Korea, and giving a voice to marginalized groups, these spaces fail to provide historical clarity to a distorted era of South Korea’s past. In addressing this problematic, the article examines the role of family bereavement associations, narrative constructions, and the silencing of the National Guidance League Incident at these locations.
Keywords: Korean War, civilian massacres, politicide, politics of memory, anti-Communism, Cheju 4.3 Peace Park, Kŏch’ang Incident Memorial Park
Recently, I had the opportunity to discuss the liberation period and the Korean War with a PBS team that hopes to produce a documentary on this war. When I mentioned the Korean Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its painstaking work in documenting the myriad of massacres that occurred, they asked me, “What about North Korea? What about their massacres? Doesn’t this end up making the North look better than the South?” The implication was that political massacres, like everything else about the two Koreas, had to be molded in the vice of national division—and that if the North didn’t come off worse, as it always does in the American media, trouble might lie ahead. I said that the North did not have the imprimatur of the United Nations, or cardinal membership in the “free world,” or the continuous support of the United States. Someday, what the North has done will see the light of day, and then we can examine its record. Until then, one should not feel responsible for North Korean behavior, which is almost universally taken to be the worst in the world (whether true or not). Whatever blood is on North Korea’s hands is just that, on its hands. But as Americans we bear a deep responsibility for bringing into being and then supporting to the hilt a murderous regime. The easiest thing in the world is to denounce this or that North Korean crime. What is hard is to scrupulously examine a sordid history, with clear eyes and sincerity. In that way, the scholars in this special issue finally pay the occluded memories of thousands of victims and survivors what is simply their due.