The Afterlives of Korean An Chunggŭn in Republican China: From Sinocentric Appropriation to a Rupture in Nationalism

Inhye Han, Ewha Womans University
Chŏng Kitak (r) and Mrs. Chŏng Yilsong, 1928. Source: Xin yingxing [New Movie Star].
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Abstract

This article examines Sino-Korean cultural relations in the 1920s and 1930s, focusing on representations of Korean anticolonial activist An Chunggŭn’s assassination of Japanese prime minister Itō Hirobumi (1909). Two different junctures in particular are considered: the release of the film Patriotic Spirit by Chŏng Kitak in 1928 and the Wanbaoshan Incident in 1931. Patriotic Spirit, a transnational dramatization of An’s story, was the first Chinese film directed by a Korean; the Wanbaoshan Incident was a violent conflict between Chinese and Koreans caused by the unofficial “discord-provoking policy” of the Japanese empire. The article tracks changes in Chinese responses to An’s story before and after these two junctures, showing that Patriotic Spirit subtly communicated transnationalism while also catering to the Sinocentric taste of Chinese audiences. It also examines how Chinese print media in 1928 appropriated Patriotic Spirit for nationalist ends. Following the Wanbaoshan Incident, An’s story resurfaced in China. Despite heightened anti-Korean sentiment in China at this time, An avoided Chinese condemnation because the Chinese unwittingly categorized him as Korean yet not Korean. Hence, while An’s story became integrated into Chinese discourse, this study reveals, the sign of An Chunggŭn caused a rupture in the Han/non-Han divide embedded in Republican-era Chinese nationalism.

Keywords: An Chunggŭn, Chŏng Kitak, Patriotic Spirit, Wanbaoshan Incident, Republican Chinese film, nationalism, Sinocentrism, colonial transnationalism, Sino-Korean cultural relations