Monday, May 07, 2007

Thoughts on Korean Nationalism

Hi class,

I'm posting some thoughts on the readings and on the topic of Korean nationalism more generally here to contribute to class discussion in my absence.

Influences on the form of Korean nationalism
In an attempt to tie all the reading together, there seemed to be a few key influences on the formation of nationalism generally that applied to the case of Korea: colonialism, imperialism, war, external security threats, economic development and globalization. Specifically in the case of Korea, colonization by Japan, imperialism by the US, the Korean war (with its civil and international components and its ambiguous "ending"), developmentalism under the Park era in the ROK, juche in the DPRK and globalization. Although Tan'Gun and Hangul are unique symbols of Korea that have been appropriated in the creation of Korea's national identity, unique symbols of all countries are used to unify individuals under a political definition of "nation."

Demographic and geographic factors also contributed to the formulation of Korean nationalism. The territory of the Korean peninsula and ethnic homogeneity enabled a strong sense of cultural “Koreaness” to develop before the introduction of the concept of Korea as a nation. I don’t particularly agree with the conception of Korea as primordial nation, however, I do think these demographic and geographic factors made it very easy for the constructed idea of the Korean nation that emerged during the Choson dynasty to take root (especially because key unifying symbols and concepts existed).

Of all the authors, Moon is the most critical of convergence of these forces, particularly the role of developmentalism, in the conception of Korean national identity:
“Nationalism as a way to legitimize repressions and exploitation of the populace throughout the process. Industrialization as a national project gained priority in the postwar period of economic development. The reality of the Cold War has also shaped nationalist rhetoric, which touts “the building of a prosperous and strong Korean nation.” Specifically, the issue of national defense has become crucial to state nationalism in Korea, due to the unique experience of the Korean War and the continuing military confrontation between North and South. The effectiveness of state nationalism depends upon the collective memory of Japanese colonization and the Korean war, as well as on popular recognition of neo-colonial aspects of the American military and strategic dominance in Korea and Korean’s technological and economic dependence upon the United States and Japan” (34).

Ethnic nationalism: "dangerous, discursive & destructive," a potential force for reunification, or counter to colonialism?
The KBS survey Shin (and Larsen) cites, indicating that 68.2% of Koreans view "blood" as the most important criteria of the Korean nation, ties in well with Schmid's discussion of the role of Koreans abroad in maintaining a sense of Korean identity under Japanese colonial rule. It is easy to see that under a colonial power, one key differentiating factor (that fits within the cultural emphasis on lineage) was Korean ethnicity.

While watching the DPRK documentary, Professor Larsen commented on the appearance of clearly Korean and completely alien aspects. Despite the divergent courses of national identity development (juche and developmentalism), salient features of "Koreaness" exist. Given the completely different political or civil conceptions of national identity and citizenship in the ROK and DPRK, ethnic nationalism could be the only feasible integrative option in the case of reunification. Moreover, I find the current political or civil conception of nationalism in the US(since the US deals with ethnic diversity, I would argue the form of national identity must be constructed of civil values) problematic and ultimately "destructive" and "dangerous."

One key function of nationalism is its ability to unite individuals under a political identity. In the case of the US, a national myth of accepting diversity exists (i.e. "melting pot"). As South Korea is increasingly affected by globalization (and particularly immigration) it will be interesting to see how the conception of Korean identity develops - if it will adopt more of a civic or political tone or if ethnic nationalism will become stronger. Although ethnic nationalism, combined with developmentalism, was a profound mobilizing force and would be easy continue unifying and motivating Koreans for generations, I can see the use of Korea's accomplishment of democratization and emergence of civil society as a way to change the conception to a more civic tone. For example, civic groups in Kwangju (that have emerged as Korean civil society has developed in the last twenty years) focus on the city's image as a "Mecca for democracy."

Mechanisms of transmitting and inculcating nationalism
What particularly interested me in the Jager piece was how she linked the abstract notion of Korean nationalism with various mechanisms that "make" Korean citizens. Although I didn't see Foucault mentioned in any of the chapters we read, the discussion of Saemul Undong particularly reminded me of Foucault's discussions of the "technologies of the self" in Discipline and Punish: the Birth of Prison. Jager describes the socialization process through which farmers are transformed away from the influence of sadaejuui and into independent, productive and patriotic modern citizens and workers through a regimen that combined rigid schedules and exercise with patriotic rituals. This ideal of the patriotic farmer/worker was further incentivized through the Saemaul Prize, which connected national heroism to work.

Military conscription is a another process, referenced as a significant contributing factor but not as thoroughly described by Moon, through which Korean citizenship is inculcated through directly connecting physical activities, schedules, regimens, and signals with a highly developed national purpose. As Moon argues that this participation reinforces a militarized Korean national identity that further asserts patriarchy; men are active participants and women are relegated to the domestic sphere by lack of this opportunity to participate.

Jager's symbolic analysis of the War Memorial provides insight into another mechanism socializing visitors towards a particular conception of Korean national identity. Like our discussion of textbooks earlier in the semester, although the are no measurements of pre-War Memorial visit thoughts on Korean nationalism and post-War Memorial feelings of patriotism and it is hard to say that the particular conception of Korean nationalism presented resonates similarly with all visitors, it is a valuable indicator of one state sanctioned conception of national identity with socializing capabilities. It is the active participatory aspect of visiting, seeing, pledging and interacting with state sanctioned symbols that, I think, inculcates a sense of pride in the Korean military and the Korean nation and further asserts the state's construction of national identity. This is especially evident in Jager's discussion of visitors being able to touch weapons and the exhibition manual that explicates how visitors are to connect their visit with actions to patriotism: “The aim of the War Memorial is to become a place where people can go to pledge themselves to the dream of realizing national unification by learning form our heroes and from their pride and love of country” (125). Moreover, the War Memorial simultaneously sanctifies and makes the ideal of sacrifice for Korea accessible through the "One Hero per Month" exhibit which seeks to forge a "homogeneous and continuous national subject who is both unique and yet ordinary, distinct yet indistinguishable” (123).

Gender, Agency, Participation and National Identity
As Moon offers hope for Korean women to emerge from self and socially-ascribed relegation to the domestic sphere, Jager’s conclusion of the new idea of Korean masculinity based on Kim Dae Jung’s example of endurance and forgiveness as legitimate and powerful offers an alternative to the previous militarized option of masculinity. Hopefully the new model of masculinity identified by Kim, with the emerging sense of agency for Korean women, will extend a sense of agency for individuals to construct their own identity as Korean citizens – male and female.

On a final note, I can't help but think my view of Morocco is somehow seen through the lens of Korean nationalism. Which, has actually made for some interesting comparisons, particularly regarding (colonial & post-colonial) language policy and the impact of the colonial power on the education system (the French and Spanish really did not build schools in Morocco, let alone impose a blueprint for an education system, which is making me reconsider the validity of Carter Eckert's suggestion of the Japanese contributions to Korea's development.)

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