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Anarchism and Culture in Colonial Korea: "Minjung" Revolution, Mutual Aid, and the Appeal of Nature

  • Author(s): Park, Sunyoung
  • et al.

The anarchist movement in colonial Korea (1910–1945) has long been remembered either as a radical and violent chapter of national resistance or as a minor, utopian strand of the broader socialist movement. Both views have some grounding in historical reality, but they also invite neglect of the tremendous cultural influence that anarchist doctrines exerted over a rapidly modernizing colonial nation. Building on recent revisionary studies of anarchism in East Asia, this article traces the ways in which anarchist ideas—particularly Piotr Kropotkin’s theory of anarcho-communism—entered Korean culture via the transnational routes of Japan, China, and Russia and through a painstaking process of adaptation by local writers, poets, and other cultural operators. From Hŏ Munil’s utopian peasant novel, Hwang Sŏgu’s ecopoetry, and Sin Ch’aeho’s revolutionary fantasy fiction, to Yu Ch’ijin’s theory of people’s theater, anarchism had a far more profound and diverse influence on modern Korean culture than has been previously recognized. A defining process in the politics of the 1920s was the ascendance of the term minjung, referring to the ethnonational Korean people. This article identifies popular revolt, mutual aid, and ethical naturalism as the three major themes of colonial anarchism that left an enduring legacy. Keywords: anarchism, anarcho-communism, colonial Korea, Darwinism, ecopoetry, minjung, mutual aid, naturalism, Piotr Kropotkin, proletarian literature, socialism

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