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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Modern Woman, Loving Marriage, and the Promises of Advancement

  • Author(s): Yamamoto, Miyabi Modry
  • Advisor(s): O'Neill, Daniel C.
  • et al.

This study analyzes the literary construct of modern womanhood in Japan and Korea in the early twentieth century. The texts examined include prose fiction, religious prose, and poetry written in both Japanese and Korean during the decade immediately after Japan's colonization of Korea in 1910. They are taken from magazines produced for an educated female audience: Seito (Bluestockings; 1911-1916), Yoja gyae (Women's world; 1917-1921), and Sin yoja (New Women; 1920).

The discourse on womanhood was intimately tied to that of marriage, which in turn connected to family (typically represented as the microcosm of a nation). Within this scheme, the idea of love as the instigator of marriage became of paramount importance, for a nation could be “modern” only if its citizens engaged in an appropriately "modern" marriage leading to a “modern” lifestyle (including a modern way of childrearing). Many of the texts I examine show a female protagonist struggling with the idea and realities of marriage and family. The chapters trace modern woman figures who appear as the authoritative narrators of stories of the “traditional” woman, as the modern schoolgirl figure, and as the modern woman figure.

The focus on women's literature in early imperial Japan and colonial Korea highlights the importance of the then new phenomenon of women's education--a subject closely related to modernity, gender, and nationalism. Education was an important part of the national project for both Korea and Japan in order to foster native-born “civilized” citizens. It was through teaching women the ideology of modern womanhood and instructing them in methodologies of modernizing that women learned how to be “modern” in terms recognizable by Westerners. However, the way in which education functioned in each context differed: the Korean modern woman came to embody the hope for the postcolonial future, whereas the Japanese modern woman was depicted as disappointed in the empty promises made to her by modern men about new interpersonal relationships. Looking at the significance of the educational site for Japanese and Korean women figures, we begin to understand the heavy stake that women had in becoming “modern” in order to join the collective and national march toward “advancement.”

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