London Korean Links

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SOAS evening seminars: Spring 2014 series

Here are the talks in the Spring 2014 series of seminars at SOAS, together with their abstracts.

17 January 2014 Buddhism in contemporary South-Korean society
24 January 2014 One Fine Day: Korean Short Film and Media Art in London
7 February 2014 Twelve gasa poetry in the context of Korean literature development: re-thinking the approach (“A Plum-blossom” poem)
21 February 2014 The Good, the Bad, and the Repatriated: Koreans in Transwar Shandong, 1940-1947
28 February 2014 Gangnam Style? Plastic Surgery and Biopolitics in South Korea
7 March 2014 Love, Korean Style! Drama and the Korean Wave
14 March 2014 Iryǒn as a historian

Buddhism in contemporary South-Korean society

Dr Florence Galmiche (Assistant Professor Department of East Asian Studies, Paris-Diderot University)
17 January 2014
5:15 pm — 7:00 pm
Russell Square, College Buildings G50


Until the end of the 1990’s in South Korea, most of the persons who were attending Buddhist temples were not actively labeling themselves as “Buddhists” and the notion of religious membership was not fully relevant to describe their forms of religious participation and activities. However, in competition with powerful Protestant churches that present themselves as symbols of Korean prosperity and modernity and display influential social and political networks, Buddhist institutions have set as a priority the consolidation of their social base of support. Most of the Buddhist leaders are now aiming at strengthening their religious denomination by developing a more “conscious”, “proud” and “collective” affiliation among the believers, with the explicit aim that religiously educated and socialized Buddhists would contribute to represent Buddhism in society and subsequently to its influence. This concern is not only a clerical one but, in contrary, is shared by a large part of the people attending the temples: lay practitioners are also actively taking part in this new affirmation of a Buddhist identity and in the constitution of religious networks vying with the Protestant ones. On the basis of ethnographical and sociological data, this paper addresses the ambivalent relationship of Buddhism with the successful model of the Protestant “megachurches” as well as the contemporary ambition of Buddhists actors and institutions to redefine and affirm their place in South Korean society through new forms of mobilization.

Speaker Biography

Florence Galmiche completed her Ph.D in sociology at the EHESS in 2011 with a research on contemporary Buddhism in South Korea. She did a postdoctorate at the Ruhr University Bochum from 2012 to 2013 and she is now maître de conférence at the University Diderot-Paris 7.

One Fine Day: Korean Short Film and Media Art in London

Ingeun Kim (Director, Royal College of Art) / Sukho Yun (Director of Winter Sonata)
24 January 2014
5:15 pm — 7:00 pm
Russell Square, College Buildings G50

Twelve gasa poetry in the context of Korean literature development: re-thinking the approach (“A Plum-blossom” poem)

Dr Anastasia Guryeva (Senior lecturer at Faculty of Asian and African Studies, Saint Petersburg State University)
7 February 2014
5:15 pm — 7:00 pm
Russell Square, College Buildings G50


What can a traditional literature text tell a contemporary reader? What information can we learn from it about the culture that gave birth to this text and about the readers’ circles where it was once circulating? Using the example of a popular genre, the lecture will aim at tracing some specifics of Late Joseon literary background with its relation to such general aspects of Korean culture and mentality as the problem of ‘taste’, perception of tradition in different periods of time, ritual models transformation and even relations between males and females.

The lecture will deal with one of the representative phenomena of the Late Joseon vernacular poetry – musical gasa poems. This kind of poems serves an example of a new form that originated within a traditional genre framework, illustrating an important feature of the period. Thus, a similar process of a new type of texts formation is characteristic for other poetry and prose genres as well, marking the examined stage of Korean literature development.

The musical gasa poems present a variety of texts containing different poetical genres elements, deeply relate with musical tradition, and show an active reaction to the widening of the readers’ audience in the 18-19 cent., therefore concurring with the general specifics of the literary world at the time. Such issues as the question of authorship, change in imagery system, borrowed elements usage etc. are to be regarded basing on the musical gasa example.

A special emphasis will be made on the text “A Plum-blossom” (Maehwa-ga) of an unknown author. The detailed textual analysis of this “multi-layered” poem will be used to consider the complex combination of the latest elements with elements tracing their roots to the mythological tradition and ancient ritual. A short excurse in the 18-19th century with illustrations of popular texts that will lead us to the general context of Korean literature development – this is the main outline of the lecture.

Speaker’s Biography

In 2002 graduated from the Faculty of Asian and African Studies, Saint Petersburg State University, Since 2003 is a lecturer at the same Faculty. In 2012 defended Ph.D. dissertation on traditional Korean poetry. In 2001-2008 – a researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies (Saint-Petersburg branch, Russian Academy of Sciences). Member of Asian studies academic societies in Russia, Europe and the Republic of Korea.

The Good, the Bad, and the Repatriated: Koreans in Transwar Shandong, 1940-1947

Konrad Lawson (University of St. Andrews)
21 February 2014
5:15 pm — 7:00 pm
Russell Square, College Buildings G50


Koreans in Japanese-occupied China had a status that could make them dangerously vulnerable, temporarily powerful or, in some cases, fortuitously excluded from the worst that might face them in a violent and chaotic environment. Focusing on the Shandong peninsula and primarily making use of Chinese Communist and Republican sources, this talk explores the diverse and evolving way that Koreans—whether they were soldiers in the Imperial Japanese Army, guerrillas fighting against the Japanese, or civilians of various stripes—were handled by Chinese resistance forces and by the competing regimes in the civil war that followed Japanese surrender. Koreans were seen as a troublesome category but Shandong authorities on all sides developed ways of dividing them between “good” (善良 shanliang) Koreans who could play a useful military and political role, Korean war criminals and “running dogs” to be punished, and the many others who were filed together with Okinawans and Japanese at the port of Qingdao as one more category of unwelcome residents to be expelled from China.

Speaker Biography

Konrad M. Lawson is a lecturer in modern history at the University of St. Andrews. He is now working on a book manuscript which explores the relationship between war crimes and treason in the aftermath of Japanese empire in Korea, China, and Southeast Asia.

Gangnam Style? Plastic Surgery and Biopolitics in South Korea

Dr So Yeon Leem (Sociology, LSE)
28 February 2014
5:15 – 7:00 PM
Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room G50


South Korea is a plastic surgery nation, where the biopolitics of plastic surgery has been more powerful than any other parts of the world. The locus of plastic surgery in South Korea is the district called “Gangnam,” which is located in the southern area of South Korea’s capital, Seoul. Gangnam is where the magical aesthetic enhancement of Korean women as well as the miraculous economic development of modern South Korea have taken place since the late 20th century. Koreans’ love for plastic surgery attracted international attention long before Korean pop singer Psy’s song “Gangnam Style” was a huge hit around the world in 2012. This study thus focuses on how the biopolitics of plastic surgery works in South Korea but in different ways from what most of previous studies have done. Intensive and long-term participant observations at a plastic surgery clinic at Gangnam were carried out for this study from October 2008 to September 2011. Specifically, preoperative consultation processes between a plastic surgeon and lay patients, in which digital photographs are extensively mobilized, are drawn here to show what kind of ‘science’ works at the heart of a plastic surgery nation. By looking at what actually happens inside a plastic surgery clinic, this study attempts to materialize how plastic surgery has been proliferated in South Korea.

Speaker’s Biography

Dr. So Yeon Leem earned her doctoral degree in science and technology studies (STS) from Seoul National University (SNU), South Korea, in 2012. Her dissertation, “A Network of Things, Bodies, and Knowledges in Plastic Surgery Practices,” was based on the intensive ethnographic fieldwork at a plastic surgery clinic for thirty five months, including her own experience of plastic surgery. She also has published articles (in Korean) about feminist STS, ethnographic methodologies, and public understanding of science. She previously taught at a number of universities in South Korea, worked for Science Culture Research Center, the Institute for Basic Science at SNU, and now joined the Department of Sociology at London School of Economics as a visiting research associate in January 2014. During her stay at LSE, she will be preparing manuscripts for publication based on her auto/ethnographic study of plastic surgery in South Korea.

Love, Korean Style! Drama and the Korean Wave

Director Yun Seokho (Winter Sonata & SOAS Visiting Scholar)
Date: 7 March 2014, 5:15 – 7:00 PM
Venue: Russell Square, College Buildings Room G50

Part 1: Korean Wave

1. Development of Korean Wave

The term Hallyu or Korean Wave, was coined by the Chinese media in 1999 when Korean popular culture such as TV dramas and pop music that were exported to China from 1997 became popular. Later when the Korean drama ‘Autumn in My Heart’ was shown to much acclaim in Taiwan and throughout Southeast Asian in 2001, the Korean Wave became a new trend in Asia’s popular culture. The Korean Wave grew further after ‘Winter Sonata’ was broadcasted in Japan 2003. More recently, together with dramas and pop music, as other elements of Korean popular culture such as food, fashion, books, and tourism became popular in Asia, Korean Wave has also been gradually gaining ground in South America and Europe as well.

In this presentation, along with the historical background of the Korean Wave and the phenomena of the Korean Wave in various countries, the development of the Korean Wave will also be considered.

2. Korean Wave and TV Dramas

Why did Korean dramas become popular in Asia?

We will consider cultural proximities and cultural discount rate and try to understand them by looking at scenes from dramas.

Why did for instance, Taiwanese media describe ‘Autumn in My Heart’ as a Western jam easily spread with East Asian values?

When ‘Iris’ was broadcast in Uzbekistan, why were many love scenes deleted?

Part 2: Love, Korean Style

1. Characteristics of Korean Love Story Dramas

Among Korean dramas, love story dramas in particular are the most popular in Asia. What could be their characteristics?

  • Heavy in romanticism and fantasies, including many stories of fateful and everlasting love
  • Good in portraying attractive male images.
  • Good in using media aesthetics and music to allow viewers to become emotionally sink into dramas.

2. My Love Story

  • Provide an emotional catharsis to viewers by effectively using a fantastic image to describe a pure, beautiful, and warm love story.
  • Romance, a love emotion that would be difficult to describe in English, an emotion different from a Western love.

“Korean-style love story is like a love kept in one’s heart rather than showing it.”

Iryǒn as a historian

Miriam Löwensteinová Miriam Löwensteinová (Associate Professor, Charles University Prague, Institute of EA Studies, Czech Republic)
14 March 2014
5:15 pm — 7:00 pm
Russell Square, College Buildings G50


The broad concept of historical literature opens various questions. Generally, this kind of literature people perceive as a genre of strong objectivity, genre significant as the quality of information concerns; and “reliable“ in the categorization of the theory of literature. However, we cannot consider “historical literature” as a whole alike we cannot simply speak about “fiction” in this way. Definitely, “histories” offer relatively stable inventory usually accepted as “historical”. This influenced not only this kind of literature, but entered the structure of the fiction whose purpose is not cultivation but entertainment. Classical East Asian history possessed many functions, among others religious and didactic. History was highly esteemed, dedicated to “following generations” not only due to the preservation of national tradition, but as illustrative and multipurpose source. Parts of official histories were discussed, quoted, paraphrased etc and entered other genres.

Though constituted and accepted as mediator of objective and truthful information, every historian in his point of view calculated with the audience (past, contemporary and future) and communicated with it, whether consciously or unconsciously. And this aspect of writing history we will try to discuss demonstrating the author´s intervention in the text of Samguk Yusa (三國遺事), Korean medieval chronicle. To be normative, Samguk Yusa presents itself as a historical text, i.e. it contains and preserves many features of the then mun, it uses all the available materials concerning the era of Samguk and T´ongil Silla. Nevertheless, the aim of the chronicle was not telling the only official part of Korean history, but recording – through various stories – the Buddhist tradition of the history of Korea, the history of Buddhist missionaries, eminent monks, miracles, places and relicts etc. Thus, the text is far from official histories in its genre characteristics, it alternates historical and fictitious features and, it is purposeful in many aspects. The talk will also try to explain Samguk Yusa from the author´s point of view, speculate about his original intention and discuss the mains and ways of its fulfilment.

Speaker Biography

Miriam Löwensteinová, associate professor, Ph.D., Charles University in Prague. Graduated from Charles University in Prague, Korean and Russian Studies, worked at Oriental Institute, Czech Academy of Sciences (1982 – 1993), teacher of Korean Literature and Korea History since 1993, responsible for Czech Korean Studies since 2004. Her main interest is Classical Korean Literature, especially medieval chronicles, p´aesǒl and kodae sosǒl genres.

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