Cross-Currents e-Journal (No. 27)

ISSN
2158-9674
Editors' Note

Articles

Recent Research on North and South Korea

Markus Bell, University of Sheffield
View abstract

Although the outward migration of North Korean refugees has received increasing attention in scholarly circles, little research has been done on migration to North Korea. Drawing on ethnographic and archival research, this article considers the changing political identification of migrants from Japan to North Korea, from 1959 to the 1980s, and their relationship to both the ethnic homeland and the former colonizer. The author suggests that the North Korean state’s effort to contain the imagined threat posed by arrivals from Japan was undermined by transnational exchange between divided families. Specifically, women on both sides of the Sea of Japan (East Sea) engaged in kin work that alerted ethnic Korean immigrants to their ambiguous status as both fraternal comrade and outsider in North Korea. This article illustrates how mobility provided opportunities for new identities to emerge, as individuals who considered themselves Korean compatriots developed identifications that translocally connected them to kin and communities in Japan.

Keywords: identity, migration, selfhood, transnational kinship, North Korea, Japan, Zainichi Koreans
 

Read more »

Download PDF
Eun Ah Cho, University of California, Irvine
View abstract

This article examines how North Korean migrants become subjects of their own narratives in South Korean society, with a focus on gender and class divisions as represented on television programs such as Now on My Way to Meet You (Ije mannarŏ gamnida, 2011–present), Moranbong Club (Moranbong k’ŭlŏp, 2015–present), and Unification of Love: Southern Men, Northern Women (Nam-nam-buk-nyŏ, 2014–2017). These shows aim to depict perfectly assimilated migrants who embody the South Korean government’s image of an ideal citizen and thereby introduce an impression of “North Korean-ness” in the absence of input from the North Korea, a closed country. North Korean migrants “become” North Koreans within the programs’ formats, with mixed results. On the one hand, a “double-paned window” perspective, which relies on the North Korean panelists’ testimonies, complicates the programs’ intended narrative of exemplary migrants. On the other hand, North Korean panelists actively fortify the binary gender frame of South Korean society. For example, North Korean male panelists become antagonists when their rough and unsophisticated characteristics appear to confirm South Korean men’s superiority. These South Korean television programs focus on the polar concept of “Southern men and Northern women,” thereby marginalizing North Korean male migrants and South Korean females. Such a stratified gender structure supports South Korean males’ authority and strengthens the heteronormative structure of South Korean society.

Keywords: North Korean migrants, South Korean television, Now on My Way to Meet You, Moranbong Club, Southern Men Northern Women, gender, class, South Korean conservatism
 

Read more »

Download PDF
Soyang Park, Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) University
View abstract

Plastic Paradise (1997), a massive yet precarious-looking vertical installation made of cheap, mass-produced industrial consumer goods found in popular places in Seoul, is one of a series of installations that South Korean artist Choi Jeonghwa (b. 1961) has produced since the mid-1990s. With architectonic metaphors that enact a uniquely self-reflective critique of Korean modern society and its ethos, this excessively vertical installation signifies the utopian hope of the Korean masses toward industrialization. However, its fragile material structure alludes to a counter-utopian reality latent in Korea’s compressed growth (apch’uksŏngjang). This article provides a reading of the visual and tactile elements of Choi’s art, which presents its unique structure as a cue for a nuanced social critique. Presenting samples of mass production as testaments to a modern utopia, Plastic Paradise critiques the pervasive myth within a society of mass consumption that these goods have become the totem of happiness “for all.” Inspired by Choi’s original observation of the dynamic form of the life of the masses, the installation also demonstrates how their seemingly mundane, everyday life is punctuated by the iconoclastic utopianism that they embrace for the future, and their understated creativity that continues to adapt and transform the given environment. In this way, the installation becomes both a monument and an antimonument to the state of development and its pervasive optimism.

Keywords: South Korea, modernity, compressed development, Choi Jeonghwa, utopianism, dystopia, kitsch, plastic, readymade, street market, pop art, minjung art, democratization, mass consumption, mass production, imperfect utopia, popular creativity, city, spectacle, Miracle on the Han River, contemporary art
 

Read more »

Download PDF
Joshua Van Lieu, LaGrange College
View abstract

In 1864, a fire destroyed the Chosŏn-Qing frontier market for Qing merchants at Kyŏngwŏn on the Tumen River. Unable to supply timbers himself, the Kyŏngwŏn magistrate asked his Qing counterpart across the river in Hunchun, for permission to fell timbers in Qing territory. This request was to evolve into a series of violations of frontier protocol that eventually necessitated a Chosŏn diplomatic mission to Beijing to restore frontier order. Read uncritically, the tributary discourses that facilitated these interactions between Qing and Chosŏn suggest a timeless relationship borne of the forces of the cosmos itself. Taken as empirical accounts, the discourses reveal little of how the two states interacted along their border. Employing close readings of Qing and Chosŏn intergovernmental communications, this article argues that the most important question is not what these texts are about but rather what they do. Emerging scholarship in international relations and other fields employing models of a Chinese tributary system must be careful in using tributary discourse naïvely to reconstruct the policy and ideological commitments of its participants. To do so is to mistake the performative for the descriptive.

Keywords: tribute, discourse, Chosŏn Korea, Qing China, Kyŏngwŏn, frontier, borderlands, performative
 

Read more »

Download PDF
Benjamin R. Young, George Washington University
View abstract

This article looks at North Korea’s relationship with Grenada, a small Caribbean spice island, from 1979 to 1983 as a case study of Pyongyang’s socialist internationalism during the Cold War era. Compared to capitalist globalization’s emphasis on profits, markets, and competition, socialist internationalism gave priority to sacrifice, comradeship, and solidarity. As a postcolonial Eastern-bloc nation with one foot in the socialist Second World and the other foot in the anticolonial Third World, North Korea sent advisors, military specialists, equipment, and supplies to recently decolonized nations in Africa, southern Asia, and Latin America as a way to export its peculiar brand of anti-imperialism and spread its image abroad as the legitimate Korean government. The North Korean leadership viewed the socialist Grenadian government as brave revolutionaries fighting U.S. imperialism in the Caribbean. Thus, the North Koreans offered large amounts of free assistance to the Grenadian government. However, in October 1983, U.S. armed forces invaded Grenada and removed the socialist leadership from power. North Korea’s support of the distant Grenadian Revolution demonstrates the extent to which the regime in Pyongyang committed itself financially, politically, and ideologically to the tenets of socialist internationalism.

Keywords: North Korea, Pyongyang, Caribbean, Cold War, foreign relations
 

Read more »

Download PDF

Review Essays, Notes & Bibliographies

Tessa Morris-Suzuki, The Australian National University
Ivan Franceschini, The Australian National University
Nicholas Loubere, Lund University
Preview

This is an edited and updated transcript of a November 2016 interview that was part of the Tianxia Podcast Series (http://www.chinoiresie.info/tessa-morris-suzuki-podcast-diamond-mountains/). The conversation transcribed here focuses on a discussion of Tessa Morris-Suzuki’s To the Diamond Mountains: A Hundred-Year Journey through China and Korea (2010), a travelogue based on a trip she took in 2009 to Northeast China, North Korea, and South Korea with the purpose of retracing the 1910 journey of the English adventurer and artist Emily Georgiana Kemp. We discuss the book in relation to the momentous transformations that have occurred over the long twentieth century in the areas visited by Kemp, and to the ways in which grassroots movements and new forms of survival politics are remaking Northeast Asia today.

Read more »

Download PDF
Paul Y. Chang, Harvard University
Preview

Charles R. Kim’s Youth for Nation: Culture and Protest in Cold War South Korea and Sun-Chul Kim’s Democratization and Social Movements in South Korea: Defiant Institutionalization help us understand the unique attributes of Korean protest culture today. Each book offers a brilliant read on its own, but when read together they reveal the long trajectory that set the stage for the contemporary movement culture in Korea. First, although Youth for Nation is much more than a study of the April 19 student movement in 1960 (hereafter, 4.19), it highlights this consequential event in the broader context of reconstruction following the Korean War (1950–1953). Democratization and Social Movements in South Korea, on the other hand, scrutinizes the dynamics of the 1987 democratic transition. These studies thus conveniently bookend the decades-long democracy movement, from 4.19, arguably the seminal Korean protest event, to the June 1987 protests that marked the end of institutionalized authoritarianism. Second, in regard to the analytic questions they raise and the research designs they employ, the two books fundamentally “do” different things. In Youth for Nation, C. Kim explicates the “narrative patterns” (26) and cultural themes salient in the postwar period in order to explain the emergence and contours of the 4.19 student movement. Contrarily, SC Kim’s central purpose in Democratization and Social Movements in South Korea is to track the aftermath of the June 1987 protests and the democratic transition. In short, C. Kim’s book is a study of the origins of protest,  whereas SC Kim’s book is an exposition of the consequences of dissent. Again, reading these books together, we come to learn about the distinct sociopolitical contexts from which Korea’s protest culture emerged and evolved, and we gain a better appreciation of not only why the recent candlelight protests “made sense” but also how they were able to succeed....

Read more »

Download PDF
Marta Hanson, Johns Hopkins University
Preview

The past ten years have seen the publication of more than seventy English-language monographs, edited books, translations, dictionaries, and even a three-volume catalogue, related to the history of medicine in China. Such substantive, varied, and often ground-breaking scholarship is finally starting to do justice to the complexity of the subject and the richness of the sources vis-à-vis the better known, and thus more widely taught, history of European and Anglo-American medicine from antiquity to the modern world. Collectively bringing the field of the history of medicine in China to a new level of synthesis, these works not only demonstrate how integral the history of medicine and public health is to Chinese history but also should help facilitate the integration of East Asian medical history into more broadly conceived global histories of medicine and public health. This major boon in publications on the medical history of China over the past decade also reveals the wide-ranging methods and diverse approaches scholars have chosen to frame, and thereby exert heuristic control over, what arguably has become newly visible as the contours of a vast, complex, and essential subject of not just Chinese but human history....

Read more »

Download PDF
Youngju Ryu, University of Michigan
Preview

This is a great time to be a scholar of modern Korean literature in North America. Over the last five years, a number of fine monographs have been published, including English-language studies by Hanscom (2013), Suh (2013), Hughes (2014), Poole (2014), Park (2015), Kwon (2015), and Lee (2015). Because of them, we now have an excellent understanding of the emergence of modern Korean literature during the first half of the twentieth century as an institution created within a charged force field shaped as intensely by nationalism as colonialism, by capitalism as socialism, and by tradition as revolution. More specifically, these studies have shed light on critical issues relevant to the domain of literary production, such as language ideologies and reform, practices and theories of translation, and material conditions of publishing and censorship, as well as questions of genre and medium. They have also helped us to situate the formation of modern Korean literature within global flows and comparative horizons, whether of the proletarian wave or global modernism. The two books under consideration in this essay expand on such scholarship by taking a more specialized approach, focusing on two bodies of texts that had previously received only fleeting attention: Russian literature in the case of Heekyoung Cho’s Translation’s Forgotten History: Russian Literature, Japanese Mediation, and the Formation of Modern Korean Literature, and Korean children’s literature in the case of Dafna Zur’s Figuring Korean Futures: Children’s Literature in Modern Korea. Whereas scholars have long appreciated the vital importance of each of these genres for understanding the formation of modern Korean literature, neither had yet merited a book-length study in English. Thus, in addition to providing valuable scholarship, these books may be viewed as exciting signs of the growth and maturation of the field....

Read more »

Download PDF