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SOAS seminar: The Zainichi Korean Question

SOAS’s second Friday evening seminar of the new year:

The Zainichi Korean Question: Decolonization and the Cold War in U.S.-Occupied Japan and Korea

Dr Deokhyo Choi (Sheffield University)
24 January 2020, 5:15 – 7:00 PM
Alumni Lecture Theatre, Paul Webley Wing (Senate House), SOAS
Online registration required via SOAS website


By the end of World War II, the Japanese empire had a population of over two million Koreans in its metropole (naichi/naeji), the majority of whom were both migrant and wartime conscripted workers. When U.S. (Allied) forces occupied Japan after the war, General Douglas MacArthur and the Japanese government tried to send as many Koreans back to Korea as possible in order to reduce the surplus population in war-torn, demobilized Japan. As the U.S. project of repatriating (re-placing) “displaced persons” of the two million Koreans in Japan led to more than half a million Koreans choosing to remain in postwar Japan, their presence emerged as a “problem” in the U.S. occupations of both Japan and Korea. How did U.S. and Japanese policy makers and Korean leaders respond to this “Korean minority question” in dismantling the “multi-ethnic” Japanese empire?

This talk discusses how the Korean minority question became the primary locus for defining the end of the imperial unity of “naisen ittai” (“naesŏn ilch’e”) through the enactment of a policy of ethnic “unmixing,” legal debates over postcolonial sovereignty, and the demarcation of new national boundaries between Japan and Korea. Moreover, this talks shows how the Korean minority question also developed into a flashpoint for U.S. global Cold War interventionism. As the U.S.-Soviet Cold War rivalry escalated on the Korean peninsula up through 1948, the political activism and diasporic nationalism of the Korean minority became a major locus of U.S. anti-communist containment in occupied Japan, where a regional anti-communist alignment was being fashioned between the United States, Japan, and South Korea. In this talk, I will illuminate the critical intersection of postcolonial and Cold War politics that involved and connected the Korean peninsula and Japan.

Speaker Biography

Dr Deokhyo Choi is an ethnic Korean-born in Japan (third-generation zainichi Korean) and specializes in the history of modern Korea and Japan. Before joining the University of Sheffield in July 2018, he worked as a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Cambridge (2013-2016) and the Research Institute of Korean Studies, Korea University (2017-2018). He also taught at Underwood International College, Yonsei University, from 2016 to 2018.


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