Discussions of “America”—as both a physical and imagined site—flourished in the Korean press during the 1920s and 1930s. What was perhaps most intriguing about these discussions was that they were greatly contradictory. On the one hand, America was upheld as the model for new skills, industries, technological advancements, and overall material developments. On the other hand, the Korean press harshly criticized America for these same material developments, and America embodied much of Koreans’ critique and anxiety. Moreover, these conflicting discussions did not always line up with differences in ideological leanings. This article takes this contradictory tendency within the discourse on America as the jump-off point from which to explore why America was embroiled in such discussions at this specific time, and to argue that “America” was a significant discursive site in which Koreans grappled with capitalist modernity. This study highlights the temporal simultaneity and remarkable similarities in language and form among the various discussions of America around the world at this time to explore their linkage with capitalism and capitalist modernity. The article then studies the specific ways in which Koreans’ discussions of America reflected the doubling and contradictory effects of capitalism in which the articulation of opposing categories—such as the universal and particular— are interrelated and simultaneous, to reveal “America” as a significant site of grappling with capitalist modernity. The article also uses a global framework to rethink the narrative of Japanese mediation as the lens by which to examine Korea’s modern experience within Korean historiography.
“America” in Colonial Korea: A Vantage Point for Capitalist Modernity
Hanmee Na Kim is assistant professor of history at Wheaton College. She received her PhD in modern Korean history from the University of California, Los Angeles. Before heading to Wheaton, she was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Southern California Korean Studies Institute. Her research interests include Korea- US diplomatic/cultural/intellectual interactions (1866 – 1945) and Korean students in the United States (1884 – 1960).
Hanmee Na Kim; “America” in Colonial Korea: A Vantage Point for Capitalist Modernity. positions 1 November 2018; 26 (4): 647–685. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-7050517
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