Theses Doctoral

Fissured Languages of Empire: Gender, Ethnicity, and Literature in Japan and Korea, 1930s-1950s

Yi, Christina Song Me

This dissertation investigates how Japanese-language literature by Korean writers both emerged out of and stood in opposition to discourses of national language, literature, and identity. The project is twofold in nature. First, I examine the rise of Japanese-language literature by Korean colonial subjects in the late 1930s and early 1940s, reassessing the sociopolitical factors involved in the production and consumption of these texts. Second, I trace how postwar reconstructions of ethnic nationality gave rise to the specific genre of zainichi (lit. "residing in Japan") literature. By situating these two valences together, I attempt to highlight the continuities among the established fields of colonial-period literature, modern Japanese literature, and modern Korean literature. Included in my analyses is a consideration of literature written by Japanese writers in Korea, transnational media and publishing culture in East Asia, the gender politics of national language, and the ways in which kominka (imperialization) policies were neither limited to the colonized alone nor completely erased after 1945.

Rather than view the boundaries between "Japanese" and "Korean" literature as fixed or self-evident, this study examines the historical construction of these categories as generative discourses embedded in specific social, material, and political conditions. I do this through close analytical readings of a wide variety of primary texts written in Japanese by both Korean and Japanese writers, while contextualizing these readings in relation to the materiality of the literary journal. I also include a consideration of the canonization process over time, and the role literary criticism has played in actively shaping national canons.

Chapter 1 centers around the 1940s "Korean boom," a term that refers to the marked rise in Japanese-language works published in the metropole on Korea and its culture, written by Japanese and Korean authors alike. Through broad intertextual analyses of major Japanese literary journals and influential texts by Korean writers produced during the "Korean boom," I examine the role played by the Japanese publishing industry in promoting the inclusion of Koreans in the empire while simultaneously excluding them from the privileged space of the nation. I also deconstruct the myth of a single "Korean" people, and consider how an individual's position within the uneven playing field of colonialism may shift according to gender and class. Chapter 2 deals with the ideologies of kokugo (national language; here, Japanese) and kokumin bungaku (national literature) during the latter years of Japan's imperial rule. The major texts I introduce in this chapter include Obi Juzo's "Tohan" (Ascent, 1944), first printed in the Japanese-language journal Kokumin bungaku based in Keijo (present-day Seoul); a comparison of the kominka essays written by Yi Kwangsu in Korean and Japanese; and the short story "Aikoku kodomo tai" (Patriotic Children's Squad, 1941), written by a Korean schoolgirl named Yi Chongnae. Through these texts, I show how kokumin bungaku depended upon the inclusion of colonial writers but simultaneously denied them an autonomy outside the strictures of the Japanese language, or kokugo. In Chapter 3, I move to Occupation-period Japan and the writings of Kim Talsu, Miyamoto Yuriko, and Nakano Shigeharu. While Koreans celebrated Japan's defeat as a day of independence from colonial rule, the political status of Koreans in Korea and in Japan remained far from independent under Allied policy. I outline the complicated factors that led to the creation of a stateless Korean diaspora in Japan and highlight the responses of Korean and Japanese writers who saw these political conditions as a sign of an imperialist system still insidiously intact. In looking at Kim Talsu's fiction in particular, I am able to examine both the continuities and discontinuities in definitions of national language, literature, and ethnicity that occurred across 1945 and map out the evolving position of Koreans in Japan.

Chapter 4 compares the collaboration debates that occurred in post-1945 Korea with the arguments over war responsibility that occurred in Japan in the same period, focusing on the writings of Chang Hyokchu and Tanaka Hidemitsu. Although the works of both individuals have been neglected in contemporary literary scholarship, I argue that their postwar writings reveal how Korean collaboration (ch'inilp'a) and Japanese war responsibility (senso sekinin) emerged as mutually constitutive discourses that embodied - rather than healed - the traumas of colonialism and empire. Finally, in the epilogue of this dissertation, I introduce the writings of the self-identified zainichi author Yi Yangji in order to consider how all of the historical developments outlined in the previous chapters still exist as lived realities for many zainichi Koreans even today.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Suzuki, Tomi
Hughes, Theodore Q.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 13, 2013