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Historicizing the Discourse on Pro-Japanese Collaborators in Contemporary Korean History from the Late 1970s to the Late 2000s

  • Author(s): Song, Yeun-Jee
  • Advisor(s): Duncan, John B.
  • et al.
Abstract

My dissertation aims at historicizing the formation, spread, and institutionalization of the discourse on pro-Japanese collaborators (ch'inilp'a discourse) in contemporary South Korean society from the late 1970s to the late 2000s. The ch'inilp'a discourse is a unique historical narrative that claims to resolve the issue of unpunished pro-Japanese collaborators--who were not punished right after Korea's liberation from Japan--in the present. This discourse attributes all post-1945 political mishaps to the failure to punish collaborators immediately after liberation. Located at the interlocking position of calling for dealing with the unsolved task of decolonization and democratic progress, the ch'inilp'a discourse reflects a victimized postcolonial historical consciousness of Korean progressives and functions as progressives' powerful political rhetoric against political conservatives after the demise of radical socio-political reform movement in the early 1990s.

Closely looking at media coverage and intellectual writings on pro-Japanese collaboration issue, this dissertation examines how specific socio-political culture and events interactively worked together to form, disperse, and popularize this discourse, after bringing this once-taboo subject back into society in the 1980s to the biggest polemical issue in politics and civil society by the 2000s. Furthermore, the rise of the movement for resettling the ch'inilp'a issue (Ch'inilp'a ch'ŏngsan movement), in association with memorial project disputes, drastically reshaped public memory of powerful post-1945 elites as well as 20th century Korean history.

The inarguable political victory of the discourse--successfully transforming itself from a marginalized historical narrative to a state-sanctioned one--was greatly indebted to its reproduction and mobilization of historical trauma from Japanese colonialism and unhealed memory in postcolonial Korea. The birth of the ch'inilp'a discourse is closely tied to the strong postcolonial historical consciousness of progressives, encapsulated with a phrase "liberated, but in fact not," and associated with the absence of a "proper" decolonization process, continuing foreign influence, and frustrated democratization process up until the 1980s. However, the social phenomenon of ch'inilp'a at turn-of-the-21st-century Korea has taken place at the intersection of the rise of a new form of anti-foreign nationalism and desire for further democratic progress among the public after Korea's democratization in 1987.

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