Colonialism and its Reverberations: ‘Comfort Women’ and Historical Revisionism in Korea and Japan
Professor Yonson Ahn (University of Frankfurt), Professor Vladimir Tikhonov (University of Oslo), Professor Chong Yeonghwan (Meiji Gakuin University)
3 February 2018, 1:30 – 5:00 PM
Wolfson Lecture Theatre | Paul Webley Wing (Senate House) | SOAS
“The Contested bodies of Korean comfort women”
Professor Yonson Ahn (Goethe University of Frankfurt)
This work examines the way Korean comfort women’s past have been appropriated to further nationalist projects and narratives in both Japan and Korea. The subject of Korean comfort women has long been contested terrain where Korean nationalists battle for de-colonisation and where Japanese nationalists fight for the revision of their country’s post-war image. Particularly, in the anti-Japanese context of both postwar North and South Korea, their trauma and suffering are politicised, with representations of their suffering by the coloniser becoming central to nation’s identity and past.
The actual bodies of these women have thus become the site of contestation for these competing nationalist discourses, and represent both the colonised subject to be controlled, and Korea’s national suffering and humiliation. In a paradoxical fashion, the Japanese neo-nationalist endeavour to inscribe the women as prostitutes, and the Korean nationalist insistence that women’s bodies are vessels of national purity, in fact mutually reinforce each other.
Yonson Ahn is a professor and chair of Korean Studies at Goethe University of Frankfurt. She received her PhD degree in Women and Gender Studies at the University of Warwick in the UK in 2000. Her research interests include gender-based violence in conflicts; Korean diasporas; gender and migration focusing on transnational nurse migration and transnational marriage migrants; and historical controversies in East Asia. Her recent publications include: “Return visit mobility and identity negotiation of Korean nurse “guest workers” in Germany”. Ewha Sahak Yongu. Vol 53. 2016. pp.1-36; “Together and Apart: Transnational Women’s Activism and Solidarity in the Comfort Women Redress Campaign in South Korea and Japan.” Comparative Korean Studies, Vol. 23 No. 1, 2015. pp. 93-116; “Gender under reconstruction: negotiating gender identities of marriage migrant women from Asia in South.” In After Development Dynamics: South Korea’s Engagement with a Changing Asia. Edited by Anthony P. D’Costa. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2015.
“Old Right in New Clothes? The “New Right” and its Quest for Ideological Hegemony in South Korea”
Professor Vladimir Tikhonov (University of Oslo)
The current presentation is an attempt to look at the post-2000 South Korean “New Right” ideologies from the viewpoint of the general ideological history of South Korean capitalism. I will argue that, on some informal level, there was always a belief in the beneficial effects of the colonial rule among the South Korean ruling classes, which were in many cases directly or indirectly connected to the colonial-era elites. “New Right” ideology represents an attempt to formalise this informal belief and concomitantly relativise the previous official narrative of heroic nationalist resistance, in which pro-Guomindang ultra right-wing nationalists, like Kim Ku, rather than colonial-era elites, used to be the main protagonists. However, I will also argue that this attempt was never successful, in that it failed to convince the public, or at least the majority of the public. Its failure to convince the professional historical community was demonstrated by almost unanimous rejection of the Park Geun-hye government’s (2013-17) move to introduce a single national history textbook – based largely on the “New Right” narrative – on the part of South Korea’s historians. So, the chronic problems with self-legitimation which South Korean ruling classes always had due to the continuities of colonialism in the construction of South Korean polity are still there.
Vladimir Tikhonov (Pak Noja) is a professor of Korean and East Asian studies at the Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, Oslo University. His research focuses on the history of modern ideas in Korea. He recently published Social Darwinism and Nationalism in Korea: the Beginnings (Brill, 2010) as well as Modern Korea and its Others: Perceptions of the Neighbouring Countries and Korean Modernity (Routledge, 2015).He also recently co-edited Buddhist Modernities – Re-inventing Tradition in the Globalizing Modern World (Routledge, 2017) and Military Chaplaincy in an Era of Religious Pluralism (Oxford University Press, 2017).
“Two types of revisionism: historical perceptions and the consciousness of Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery”
Professor Younghwan Chong (Meiji Gakuin University)
In reflecting on historical perceptions in recent Japan, it is not possible to exclude the issue of an historical revisionism that attempts to justify colonization and imperial invasion prior to 1945, especially Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery. However, compared to historical revisionism of the pre-1945 period, criticism in Japan against revisionism of post-1945 history is far less pronounced. This is partly because the Japanese population that is against the Abe administration shares a similarly complacent historical perception of post-war history, without a full awareness of Japan’s post-war structure. In other words, despite opposing the discourse of Abe, liberal critics are somewhat complicit in the revisionism. Consequently, examining the ‘Two types of historical revisionism’ will provide an important key to more properly understanding contemporary Japanese history.
I have been associate professor in the Center for Liberal Arts at Meijigakuin University since 2010. My main area of interest is the modern/ contemporary history of Korea and Japan, including the history of Koreans in Japan. I completed my doctoral studies and received a Ph.D in Social Science from Hitotsubashi University in 2010. My Ph.D thesis focused on the social history of Koreans in Japan after the liberation of Korea and was published in 2013 as The Precipitous Road to Independence: Five Years of History of Koreans in Japan After the Colonial Liberation (Hosei University Press: Tokyo). My current research interests include the politics of historical reconciliation. In 2016, I published a book on the redress of Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery: Reconciliation for Whom: Comfort Women of the Empire as Invented History (Seori Shobō: Yokohama, P’urŭn Yŏksa: Seoul).