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Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Rethinking Korean Nationalism and the Issue Collaboration
Organizer: Anne Soon Choi, University of Kansas
Chair: Wayne Patterson, St. Norbert College
Discussant: Vipan Chandra, Wheaton College
Within the historiography of modern Korean history, the issue of collaboration has loomed in a number of guises. In the context of nationalist narratives it has been understood as a zero sum game where the heroes and villains are clearly identifiable. Despite the importance of this historiographical paradigm to understanding the colonial era, too often, this approach has been unmoored from its historical context while simultaneously flattening the complexity of collaboration and its attendant issues. In an attempt to expand the boundaries of "collaboration discourse," this panel seeks to rethink the relationship between Korean nationalism and the issue of collaboration by reassessing and moving beyond prevailing narratives. Importantly, this panel grapples with the question of collaboration during the colonial era by examining its meanings in the diaspora among Korean students in the United States and among Koreans living in Japan; it also explores the dialectical relationship between the rise of Protestant Christianity and collaboration by examining the institutional and ideological dilemmas posed by such an arrangement.
Serving Two Masters: Korean Protestants and the Japanese Colonial State
Chong Bum Kim,
Central Missouri State University
In the late Choson dynasty and the early colonial period, Korean Protestants played a leading role in the nationalist movement. The high point in the alliance between Protestantism and Korean nationalism was the March First Independence Movement of 1919; sixteen of the thirty-three signers of the Declaration of Independence, the document which sparked off the nationwide demonstrations, were Protestants. But following the failure of the movement, most Protestants retreated from nationalist politics, and in the late 1930s and early 1940s, many became outright collaborators and spoke on behalf of the war effort and the Government-General’s policies of assimilation. The nationalist narrative tends to explain the issue of pro-Japanese collaboration in terms of either Japanese coercion or Korean greed. This paper takes a different approach by examining the institutional and ideological aspects of the problem with respect to Protestantism. To begin with, as leaders and representatives of churches, schools, hospitals, and other organizations, the Protestants faced the dilemma of resisting the Japanese and having these institutions shut down, on the one hand, or compromising with the Japanese and allowing the institutions to continue, on the other. Many chose the latter option, preferring to sacrifice personal integrity for the sake of institutional survival. Secondly, the ideology of indigenization, with its conviction that Christianity must shed its Western image and adapt itself to the native cultural context, drew the Korean Protestants into cooperation with their Japanese counterparts as they found common ground in the vision of a pan-Asian Christianity.
Poster Child for Japanese Imperialism: Pak Chun Gum and the Wartime State
Jeffrey P. Bayliss, Trinity College
Pak Chun Gum was the most prominent of a small group of Koreans elected to political office in Japan prior to 1945, and the only Korean to be elected to the House of Representatives of the Imperial Diet. This paper explores the factors that made Pak’s rise from itinerant peddler and day laborer to national politician with personal ties to some of the major figures in the wartime Japanese state possible, and the views of himself, other Koreans, and Japanese imperialism that he came to espouse in the process. Far from simply being a "stooge" of his Japanese patrons, this paper argues that, while Pak embraced views that were in many respects even more hard-line "assimilationist" than those of many colonial policy makers during the late 1930s and onward, his ideas on how to fully incorporate Koreans into the Japanese empire contained a critique of discriminatory inconsistencies in colonial policy, despite the equality of Koreans and Japanese promised within the rhetoric of naisen ittai. Such criticism aside, however, in the eyes of his Japanese supporters and the media of the day, Pak’s involvement in national politics served primarily as a symbol of what a "model" Korean could achieve under the beneficent influence of Japanese colonial rule. As the Japanese government’s prerogatives vis-à-vis Korea and the Korean population in Japan changed with the beginning of full-scale war in China, Pak’s politic career rapidly waned. Ultimately, Pak found himself cut off from full participation in the society of his class peers in the majority by reason of his "Korean" identity, while at the same time having no viable connections with the vast majority of less fortunate Koreans, by dint of his affluence and the high degree of assimilation that accompanied it. As such, his experience and fate are representative of many Koreans who "succeeded" in pre-1945 Japan.
Confronting the Unspoken: Korean-born Students and the Question of Collaboration in the United States during the Colonial Era
Anne Soon Choi, University of Kansas
In the historiography of the Korean independence movement, the United States has figured as an important site of Korean nationalist politics especially given the political career of Syngman Rhee. However, at the same time, until very recently, Korean diasporic and transnational experiences have existed on the margins of modern Korean history. Moreover, in this framework, the issue of collaboration has been largely ignored. To complicate this narrative, this paper focuses on the ways in which Korean-born students in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s grappled with the issue of collaboration, especially since many of these students returned to Korea during the colonial era armed with advanced training in the sciences, agriculture, and education which served the interests of the Japanese colonial government. In particular, how did Korean-born students who explicitly expressed their nationalist sentiments negotiate these beliefs with their relative elite status under Japanese rule? Additionally, I am interested in how Korean-born students---many, who remained in the United States for much of the colonial era, dealt with issues of national loyalty and identity at a time when the United States and other diasporic locations represented an escape from the harsh realities of colonial rule.