Identifying and Mapping Issues, Theories, & Research in Asian/American Rhetoric(s): An Annotated Bibliography

Embodiment of American modernity in colonial Korea

Posted in Uncategorized by Jennifer Sano-Franchini on May 7, 2009

Yoo, Sun Young. “Embodiment of American modernity in colonial Korea.” Francis Lee Dae Hoon trans. The Inter-Asia Cultural Studies Reader. Chen, Kuan-Hsing and Chua Beng Huat, ed. London: Routledge, 2007.

Yoo Sun-Young provides an account of the conditions that allowed for a Korean embrace of American modernity, focusing on the body as a marker of modernity. Of vital impact was the Japanese Occupation of South Korean (hereafter Korea) from 1910 to 1945. Yoo explains that at this time, Korea saw the United States as an ideal representation of modernity, and in the “imaginary/fantastic dimension, America was conceived as the richest nation in the world as well as a gentleman-like brotherly nation that had no intention to occupy, but rather help weak countries to achieve independence, as the most powerful nation in the capitalist world, as the birthplace of Modernism, and as a benefactor to Chosun” (230). “[T]he missionary work by American churches recorded an unprecedented success in colonial Korea, which further promoted the image of America as a benefactor and contributor of Korea’s modernization” (230). At this time, American modernity was inscribed on Korea’s colonial body: “The individual modernization under colonial circumstance was confined to, and carried on, the body level” (225) though heterosexual relationships, individual speech manners, and walking style and bodily movements. In the context of the modernization of the school system in Korea, students “were required to have short hair, formerly a strong taboo in Korea, as well as to replace traditional clothing and footwear with western-style uniforms, hats and shoes. In this context, bodily changes either preceded or concurred with changes in consciousness, rather than the other way around” (227).