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Open Access Publications from the University of California


Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review is a peer-reviewed, quarterly online journal that offers its readers up-to-date research findings, emerging trends, and cutting-edge perspectives concerning East Asian history and culture from scholars in both English-speaking and Asian language-speaking academic communities.


Language and Family Dispersion: North Korean Linguist Kim Su-gyŏng and the Korean War

This article analyzes the unpublished memoir of Kim Su-gyŏng (1918–2000), a linguist who was active in North Korea from the mid-1940s until the late 1960s, and situates his account of his experience of the Korean War within the context of his linguistic essays and correspondence. In doing so, the article considers the role that the personal and the social play in language, utilizing Saussure’s theoretical framework, with which Kim himself was well versed. Kim wrote his memoirs in the 1990s to his family, from whom he had become separated during the Korean War and who now lived in Toronto. In this text, he writes in “personal” language that reveals his uncertainty and his feelings for his family, but then immediately negates these feelings through the use of “social” language, which resonates with his interpretation of the linguistic thesis that Josef Stalin developed during the Korean War on language and national identity. For Kim, the relationship between language and nation was not at all self-evident, but something that he idealized in response to the dispersal of his family. By offering a reflexive reading of a memoir written by a North Korean linguist, this article makes a breakthrough in the investigation of North Korean wartime academic history, which has not risen above the level of analyzing articles in the field of linguistics that were published at the time. Keywords: North Korea, linguistics, family dispersion, Korean War, Kim Su-gyŏng, Ferdinand de Saussure, Josef Stalin

Migrant Labor and Massacres: A Comparison of the 1923 Massacre of Koreans and Chinese during the Great Kanto Earthquake and the 1931 Anti-Chinese Riots and Massacre of Chinese in Colonial Korea

This article compares two historical massacres that resulted from ethnic antagonism during the Japanese colonial period: the massacre of Koreans and Chinese by the Japanese during the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 and a series of anti-Chinese riots and the massacre of Chinese that erupted in colonial Korea in 1931. A similar trajectory led up to both massacres: most of the assailants and victims were lower-class male workers, and both incidents occurred during economic depressions when competition between indigenous workers and immigrants had intensified due to a massive influx of migrant labor. The fact that the majority of the assailants were from the lower class suggests that their own resentment, long condensed from years of experiencing discrimination in their home society, combined with nationalism and anti-foreignism to explode in the form of massacres. In addition, the reality that all assailants were male workers implies that their value system, their mode of life, and the consciousness of a patriarchal hierarchy, which dominated the everyday lives of the male workers of the lower class, were transformed into violence under exceptional circumstances. Lastly, the fact that the victims of the two massacres were migrant workers means that, from the outset, the trigger for the massacres can be understood from a transnational perspective on migrant labor and cannot be confined to the boundary of a single nation. Keywords: Japanese empire, colonial Korea, massacres, riots, Great Kanto Earthquake, scaremongering, ethnic prejudice, migrant labor, masculinity, East Asian migration history

War Remembered, Revolution Forgotten: Recasting the Sino-North Korean Alliance in China’s Post-Socialist Media State

From October 1950 to July 1953, the nascent Chinese state entered into a strategic alliance with North Korea; hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers shed blood on the Korean peninsula in defense of the socialist homeland and advancing Communist internationalism. But since the end of the Korean War, China has moved from revolutionary idealism and political radicalism in Mao’s era to the current post-socialist pragmatism and materialism. As the ideological winds shift, China’s contemporary propaganda apparatus must redefine the Korean War in order to reconcile the complexity of the war and wartime alliance with contemporary political concerns and popular views. By focusing on a documentary film, The Unforgettable Victory, produced by China’s leading state-run film studio in 2013, this article explores the ways in which the official media of the post-socialist era presents the past revolutionary war. The new film celebrates the splendid valor of Chinese soldiers, civilians’ heroic sacrifices, and the war’s nationalist legacy; however, it purposefully forgets the revolutionary fervor and internationalist sentiments that once forged the Sino–North Korean alliance and empowered wartime mobilization. This article examines the process of remembering and forgetting, and reveals government propaganda’s latest efforts to demobilize contemporary viewers while infusing the past revolutionary war with ideological clarity and political certainty in post-socialist China. Keywords: Korean War, China, documentary film, post-socialism, media marketplace, propaganda, war memorialization

Nakanishi Inosuke and Chungsŏ Ijijo: Realism and Authenticity in Early Proletarian Literature

This article discusses the reception in Japan and Korea of the works of Nakanishi Inosuke, a leftist writer in the 1920s whose experiences in Korea formed the basis for much of his work. Two novels in particular, Sprouts from Red Earth and Behind You, were widely praised for their realistic representation of life on the peninsula, especially their depiction of Japanese imperialist activities and the anti-colonial pushback from Koreans. How exactly these novels were to be interpreted varied according to audience, however, giving rise to competing images of Nakanishi. Some critics considered him to be an advocate of a newly emerging international proletarian consciousness while other readers, including many Koreans, looked on Nakanishi (whom they called Chungsŏ Ijijo, the Korean reading of his name) as a supporter of colonial nationalism. Still others contested his claim to authenticity altogether. In tracing the development of these interpretations of Nakanishi from these early works up until his participation in the founding of the Korean Artist Proletarian Federation (KAPF) in August 1925 and after, the article argues that his works’ ability to successfully navigate the period of a dawning proletarian cultural movement through to its collapse lay (and continues to lie) in their ambiguity, an ambiguity that has facilitated a continual reinterpretation of him from the 1920s to the present day. Keywords: Nakanishi Inosuke, Japan, Korea, proletarian literature, KAPF

Predicated on the People: Legitimating Politics and Parties in Early Republican China

Chinese political culture during the May Fourth period featured hundreds of small societies and associations, as well as several parliamentary factions, but by the mid-1920s politics were conducted mainly by large political parties that courted mass support. This article examines what prompted this change. Whereas many studies have focused on the conflict between the Nationalist and Communist Parties, this article explores how the very form of mass political parties emerged and argues that the turn to mass politics involved two complementary processes in the way in which politics were conceived. In one, intellectuals reflecting on politics and on the social order legitimized and promoted the involvement of the masses in politics. In the second, they pointed to politics—specifically to political institutions and most notably to political parties—as a legitimate arena for action. This was innovative because, at the time, politics and politicians were deemed irreparably corrupt. Intellectuals therefore considered various forms of social and political organization that might solve China’s problems, and turned from organizing in small societies to advocating larger organizations that would recruit and mobilize the masses. These processes laid the foundations for a new political culture characterized by mass mobilization guided by political parties. Keywords: China, politics, intellectuals, mass politics, Nationalist Party, Communist Party, May Fourth Movement, Sun Yat-sen, Chen Duxiu, Li Dazhao, Mao Zedong

“Sacred, the Laborers”: Writing Chinese in the First World War

This article focuses on the Chinese laborers in World War I France and their writing activities there. As the story of these laborers has been systematically overlooked in the history of World War I and the subsequent May Fourth Movement, this article endeavors to write the laborers back into the historical narrative that connects China, World War I, and May Fourth. It zooms in on how writing became crucial to the laborers and to the very program under which they were recruited. Between the laborers and a group of volunteers sent by the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), there emerged the first modern Chinese mass literacy program. Writing became, on the one hand, a technology that supported the Allied war effort; on the other, it afforded a medium through which the laborers performed a test run of the new modern Chinese language that ushered in Chinese linguistic and literary modernity. An invaluable piece of writing produced by one of the laborers demonstrates how the “sacred laborers,” not unlike their intellectual counterparts, drove home the critique of the Great War and a particular version of the Chinese Enlightenment. Keywords: World War I, May Fourth, James Yen, Chinese laborers, literacy, YMCA

Review Essays, Notes & Bibliographies

Won-Buddhism and a Great Turning in Civilization

Addressing the theme of a great turning in civilization, this essay focuses on the Korean religion Won-Buddhism with its founding motto, “With this Great Opening of matter, let there be a Great Opening of spirit.” Both its doctrine and practice arguably possess great potential. Unlike the traditional Buddhist view of enlightenment, Won-Buddhism’s “Great Opening of spirit” starts from a specific diagnosis of the current time as an age of “Great Opening of matter” and proposes a double project of at once adapting to and overcoming modernity. In this way, it carries on the tradition of Korea’s indigenous religious movements since the mid-nineteenth century, but by combining that strain with Buddhism as its core doctrine, it achieves a fuller global significance than its predecessors. The essay examines Roberto Unger’s The Religion of the Future for both parallels and divergences, sympathizing with Unger’s emphasis on a religious revolution, but finding his thought essentially confined within the limits of Western metaphysics. Martin Heidegger is brought in to elucidate this point, as is Karl Marx, for comparison and contrast with Won-Buddhism’s diagnosis of and response to modernity. In closing, the essay takes up two Won-Buddhist agendas that are also of global concern: gender equality and the “church and state” relation. Keywords: Won-Buddhism, Buddhism, indigenous Korean religions, Roberto Unger, Martin Heidegger, Karl Marx, Raimon Pannikar, Pak Chungbin, Song Kyu, double project of modernity, gender equality, church and state relations, Great Opening