Nakanishi Inosuke and Chungsŏ Ijijo: Realism and Authenticity in Early Proletarian Literature

Quillon Arkenstone, University of Hawai'i at Manoa
Founding the Korean Artist Proletarian Federation (KAPF), Seoul, August 17, 1925. Photo © Yomiuri shinbun.
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Abstract


This article discusses the reception in Japan and Korea of the works of Nakanishi Inosuke, a leftist writer in the 1920s whose experiences in Korea formed the basis for much of his work. Two novels in particular, Sprouts from Red Earth and Behind You, were widely praised for their realistic representation of life on the peninsula, especially their depiction of Japanese imperialist activities and the anti-colonial pushback from Koreans. How exactly these novels were to be interpreted varied according to audience, however, giving rise to competing images of Nakanishi. Some critics considered him to be an advocate of a newly emerging international proletarian consciousness while other readers, including many Koreans, looked on Nakanishi (whom they called Chungsŏ Ijijo, the Korean reading of his name) as a supporter of colonial nationalism. Still others contested his claim to authenticity altogether. In tracing the development of these interpretations of Nakanishi from these early works up until his participation in the founding of the Korean Artist Proletarian Federation (KAPF) in August 1925 and after, the article argues that his works’ ability to successfully navigate the period of a dawning proletarian cultural movement through to its collapse lay (and continues to lie) in their ambiguity, an ambiguity that has facilitated a continual reinterpretation of him from the 1920s to the present day.

Keywords: Nakanishi Inosuke, Japan, Korea, proletarian literature, KAPF