Yongusil 40: ASCJ Tokyo, Sophia University Roundup

By | June 25, 2014 | No Comments

Of the various conferences hosted or founded by the Association of Asian Studies, the Asian Studies Conference Japan is perhaps the least known. Held annually at different universities across Japan, the event serves as destination for locally derived and focused research and scholarship produced by the mainland Japanese academy and its transnational affiliates. Freed a little from the influence of North American and European intellectual hegemonies, it allows scholars occasional space to assert and define their interests according to a different set of conceptual tunes.

While on the face of it, this location–ascant and askew to the Asian mainland, the institutional and intellectual ‘ground zero’ of the still divisive, unresolved colonial metropol and memory–may not seem at face value the most relevant to the interests of Sino-NK, such is not the case. After all, we endeavor to be a group of scholars who are not simply interested in the face value of our subject area, but also the around, behind or forgotten spaces and edges that both shape and inform the field of North Korean and Sino-Korean borderlands studies. So naturally Sino-NK was there at Sophia University, Yotsuya on the third weekend in June 2014.

Perhaps ultimately former colonial metropoles are the places to examine the forgotten (both deliberately and accidental) spaces of coloniality. Yuting Dong of Harvard University, for example, examined the encounter of colonial urban Manchukuo at Shinkyo’s (Hsinking) Daido Hairoba with modernist traditions of city planning and spatial reconstruction/relation derived from the American “City Beautiful Movement” (as first manifest at the Chicago World Fair in 1893). Dong navigated the colonial lines of flight in which urban space became participant in the transformation of individual agency to unified mass and city/townscapes become political spaces or spaces for politics, doing so almost entirely in contradiction to colonial policy. Dong subsequently investigates the disconnect between urban and politicized populations of Manchukuo’s acceptance of urban coloniality/modernity and their rejection of Japanese conceptions of apparent scenic beauty.

Similar disconnections and connections were traced by Benoit Berthelier in his reconceptualization of the origins and structures of Korean Minyoshi poetry (folk song poetry) during the colonial period. Berthelier is a PhD student at Yonsei University, Seoul and Paris’ Institute Nationale des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, and has also contributed fruitfully to Sino-NK. In his paper at Sophia, Berthelier asserted that poets such as Kim Ok and Kim Tonghwan utilised Minyoshi’s colonial, Japanese 7.5 rhythmic form and genre status deliberately for its ideological and popular utility, rather than ceding poetry to the realm of the historic and the relic (eventually adopting the novel form). Such form and utility was ultimate of use to leftist and democratic poets that would form the counter to post-colonial political hegemonies in the space becoming the Republic of Korea.

Pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial cultural forms and their political interactions were also recounted by Seio Nakajima of Waseda University, Samuel Perry of Brown University and Quillon Arkenstone of the University of Hawai’i Manoa. Arkenstone and Nakajima tracked cases of mid-colonial exception, and Arkenstone examined transformations of colonial literary self in the journey of Nakanishi Inosuke/Chingso Ijijo from internationalist to nationalist subjectivity through the action of the Korean Proletarian Arts League (KAPF). Nakajima, on the other hand, located lost dreams of colonial cosmopolitanism in the once potentially post-national institutional space of Manchukuo in the filmic output of the Manchurian Motion Picture Corporation. In particular, Nakajima encounters the extraordinary film “My Nightingale”, set in Harbin and starring Li Xianglan (who upon moving to Hollywood would become known in the 1950s as Shirley Yamaguchi), recounting entirely in Russian the exploits of a cosmopolitan community attempting a performance of Goethe’s operatic Faust.

While still focusing on cultural space and formulation, Samuel Perry moved the analytic lens to a post colonial period in his unpacking of Sata Ineko’s novel White and Purple. Perry encounters Japan’s “colonial unconscious” and the ghosts of colonialism in the guise of Ineko’s office colleagues (one Korean and one Japanese), using Franz Fanon’s psychological lens in which colonialism’s impacts are investigated on both colonizer and colonized. Perry therefore delved into the general public’s complicity in the wider colonial project–including Ineko’s own complicity, having been an author of considerable “homefront literature” during the imperial and war periods.

While the post-colonial locale may of course not be the easiest or most comfortable space to encounter the practical implications of colonial inheritance and post-colonial deconstruction and reckoning (cultural output perhaps being less contestable than political outcomes), such elements were not neglected. In particular Matthew Augustine of Kyushu University reviewed the issues and machinations surrounding the post-Liberation restitution of wages and assets to both conscripted and conventionally resident Koreans on the Japanese mainland after their return to the Korean peninsula. Augustine traced carefully the interplay between post-colonial justice and political reality and utility, as both SCAP and Japanese/ROK institutions sought to negotiate the shifting realities post 1945 and 1952.

Bringing the audience finally much closer to the contemporary era, Ellie Bae, a PhD student at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, examined the differing conceptions of Helen Kim. Kim, the first Korean woman to gain a doctorate (from Columbia in 1931), and the virtual progenitor of Ewha Womens University, has journeyed in the popular South Korean mind from revered educationalist and post-colonial cultural figure to pro-Japanese collaborator and national traitor. Kim’s posthumous ability to gather controversy can be seen in the debate over her commemorative statue at Ewha, which was subject to calls for its removal/destruction; such was its offensiveness to post-colonial Korean nationalism. Stepping aside from this overt nationalist dialectic, Bae considered an alternative reading of Kim’s engagement with Japanese coloniality, in which the modernity and relational development it brought was vital in the context of Korean patriarchy, to the extent that wider concepts and structures of “minjok” could and should be sacrificed in order to achieve the liberation of women from the forces of pre-colonial oppression.

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