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Myths of Collaboration, Communist Spies, and Red Love: Korean Literature at the Crossroads between Decolonization and the Cold War

Fri, March 27, 8:30 to 10:30am, Chicago Sheraton Hotel & Towers, Floor: Lobby, Level 3, Parlor D


South Korea’s failure to come to terms with its colonial past (collaboration, more specifically) became the great cliché. With the Cold War staged in the Korean peninsula, the anticommunist current quickly overwhelmed the process of due decolonization. Although public media including newspapers, magazines, and film served to propagate anticommunism, literature was rather adrift between popular wishes for decolonization and top-down Cold War order. This paper traces the intertwined postcolonial themes of decolonization and the Cold War in literature during the first years of South Korea, and discusses how the pursuit of decolonization betrayed and distorted anticommunism. The main subjects of the paper are the newspaper serial novels Liberation (1949–50) by Kim Tong-ni and Seoul (1950; suspended by state censorship) by Yi Kwang-su. Both writers are great figures in Korean literary history, yet the novels have never been alluded to in it.
This paper first focuses on Kim’s effort to construct a myth of collaboration (corresponding to the resistance myth) and failure to do so by exposing public reluctance and resistance against the myth. The paper further explores Yi’s nationalism, advocated without speaking about Japan or colonial experience at all, and ambiguous representation of Chinese communists. Although borrowing a popular anticommunist symbol of communist spies, Yi blurred the differences between communism and Americanism with anti-foreign thought and Asianism. Finally, the paper investigates ways in which the writers strengthened a myth of communist sexuality as strategic distance based on fear of communism, which invites readers’ interest rather than criticism.