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UCLA Pacific Basin Law Journal

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Rebuilding Lost Identity: Rethinking Korean Reunification as an Imagined Community of Shared National Identity


In 2018, North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un expressed his desire to write a new history of Korean reunification. South Korean President Moon Jae-in reciprocated Kim’s desire in August 2019 when Moon set the ambitious deadline of the year 2045 for a peaceful reunification of the Koreas. The rhetoric of the two Koreas placed a renewed spotlight on the reunification of the Korean Peninsula. While contemporary literature on Korean reunification primarily focuses on the differences between the two Koreas, little attention has been paid to how a unified Korean identity can play a crucial rule in sustaining the reunification effort. This article seeks to bridge that gap by arguing that a unified Korea should be understood as a reimagined community of two distinct nations joined by a shared identity. To support this argument, this article looks first to the theoretical framework of Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism and applies the framework to the history of Korea’s shared identity. Second, the article analyzes the evolution of the national identities of both South Korea and North Korea since 1945, when the Koreas were divided along the thirty-eighth parallel. Third, the obstacles to reunification are examined. Finally, suggestions on how reunification of the two Koreas could be sustained through shared national identities are explored.

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