YCAR symposium looks at the social and military policies of 1940s Japan

Japanese, Korean and Canadian scholars from several disciplines will discuss Japan’s totalitarian social and military control policies in Korea and their effect on Korean culture during the 1940s at the York Centre for Asian Research’s (YCAR) international symposium, "Behind the Lines: Culture in Late Colonial Korea," this week.

The symposium will look at Japan’s total war mobilization with an emphasis on the culture of colonial Korea on Thursday, Sept. 25, from 10am to 3:30pm, 280 York Lanes, Keele campus.

Korea’s cultural output during the war was largely ignored for years after as a result of domestic and global political circumstances. “Behind the Lines: Culture in Late Colonial Korea” creates an opportunity to learn about the cultural activities of Korean artists and writers as well as the cultural products of the 1940s. Presenters will analyze a wide variety of cinematic, literary and visual texts to achieve a comprehensive perspective on this difficult and complex period in Japanese and Korean history.

Left: Korean scrolls

"The symposium can be seen as an important part of a re-evaluation of wartime colonial culture, a period that has been quite overlooked until recently for a variety of reasons," says York humanities Professor Ted Goossen. "Insofar as five of the six panellists are working in either Korea or Japan, it is also a rare chance for us to see what kinds of ideas and approaches are current in East Asia-based scholarship."

The event’s panellists include drama Professor Jaimyung Lee of Myongji University in Korea, humanities Professor Naoki Watanabe of Musashi University in Japan, literature Professor Ho-Duk Hwang of Sungkyunkwan University in Korea, PhD candidate Young Jae Yi of the University of Tokyo, visiting Professor of Korean language and literature Eung-gyo Kim of Waseda University in Japan and York PhD candidate Jooyeon Rhee of York University.

"The panellists represent a cross-section of the most talented scholars in the field, both in terms of age and experience, and the specific materials that they are focused on," says Goossen. He believes their detailed examination of texts, especially their use of wartime and prewar Korean film, represents a new and promising area of academic inquiry.

Right: Buryeongsa Temple in Korea

Kim will explore the value of Japanese poems written by Koreans in colonial Korea and how in Japanese literature, the study of these poems has been marginalized because they were written by Koreans. However, in Korean literature, these poems were also not considered seriously because they were written in Japanese.

Watanabe will discuss “The Manchuria Discourse and Political Unconsciousness in Colonial Korea: Lim Hwa’s Literary Criticism in the early 1940s” looking at how Lim, as a proletarian literary critic, played a vital role during the colonial period in Korea.

The way in which Korean women were represented in Japanese propaganda films in the early 1940s is what Rhee will discuss, as well as how the use of “local characters” became a focus in cultural productions in Korea, but really served to mark the colonized from the colonizer. Yi will talk about how enormous pressure was imposed on the Korean film industry from the late 1930s onward to reconfigure its production system and cinematic expressions to meet the standards set by the Japanese.

Lee will look at how volunteer members of the National Theatre in colonial Korea, established by the colonial government, launched a theatre movement to produce propaganda plays. Hwang will investigate linguistic sovereignty embedded in imperial literature, how Korean writers use elements of national literature within the framework of Japanese national literature to help create world literature.

The event is organized by Ted Goossen and Jooyeon Rhee and is sponsored by the Toronto office of The Japan Foundation, the Division of Humanities at York and YCAR. For more information, visit the Behind the Lines: Culture in Late Colonial Korea Web site.

Send RSVPs to ycar@yorku.ca.