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Covering things Korean in London and beyond since 2006

SOAS Seminar: Korean Cannibalism

SOAS kicks off its Spring term of evening seminars with an unusual subject:

Korean Cannibalism: Production of Transgression in a Climate of Social Ills

Dr Se-Woong Koo (Center for Korean Studies) École des Hautes Études

Date: 18 January 2013
Time: 5:15 – 7:00 PM
Venue: Russell Square, College Buildings, Room G50


The Chosǒn Dynasty was an important moment in the history of Korean cannibalism. Sources speak of children cutting off their fingers to feed ailing parents, and of murderers roaming the country while looking to harvest human organs as medicine. Using narratives of healing power latent in human parts, this presentation will discuss the problem of cannibalism in premodern Korea as one that required both suppression and encouragement by the state.

The remarkable tales of cannibalism in Korea of the 15th and 16th centuries find their parallel in contemporary Korean society, which for the last two years has seen a resurgence in discussions of cannibalism as a serious social issue. Much of the blame is placed on migrant workers whose presence in Korea has been a source of anger and frustration among certain segments of the Korean population, though known consumption of human parts can be more concretely attributed to Korean citizens themselves.

I offer a cross-temporal exploration of Korean cannibalism, comparing the events of five centuries ago with what is happening today in South Korea, in order to present cannibalism as an enduring fascination and phenomenon that requires further analysis. A taboo is an invitation for transgression, and ultimately normalization. The process of converting an aberration into a productive pursuit is observable in the approaches of both Chosǒn and the current Republic of Korea to the unspeakable.

Speaker Biography

Se-Woong Koo is a Korea Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Korean Studies (CKS) of the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris, France. He received his PhD from Stanford University in the Department of Religious Studies in 2011. Prior to his current position he spent 18 months as a lecturer in Asian religion and philosophy at Asian University for Women (AUW) in Chittagong, Bangladesh. Dr. Koo specializes in Korean religions with an emphasis on the development of modern and contemporary Korean national identity.

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