March 28th SFW FW2017

Photos Discussed March 28th


The atmosphere: This was a very polluted week in Seoul, extra smog so thick you can feel it in your lungs after a long day. The trend of wearing face-masks is also a practical decision, for Seoul is a highly polluted city both from its neighbor China and its own coal and manufacturing. Dongdaemun is not Bryant Park: it is historically a place of production, and continues to be not only a place of seeing high fashion in luxury stores, and at the DDP museum and plaza, but also is a functioning industrial clothing manufacturing zone. The verticle business plan of having both industrial clothing making and sale occurring in the same area is what has made Dongdaemun unique, and internationally sought after by tourists. In Japan, my boss Michael told me that the style of Harijuku was only made possible by this fast-fashion oriented Dongdaemun center of the city. Also they potentially are the first fashion group.


Anyways, rant over, I took some photos here of the area, the smog, the gray day, which is actually PERFECT for photography, so we were happy, but the area during the day is at best grim. The government funds Seoul Fashion Week heavily, and Michael said that the food trucks I captured are a new addition to the event to attract more people, and provide more “culture” to the event, although the food trucks sold Tacos, Burritos, American food, and across the street on the way to the metro station I can buy carp-fish pancakes and roasted sweet potatoes from Ajuma for less than 2USD$. They are always there, the same stands, the same Ajuma. I photographed the statue because I was confused as to why it is there, especially for Korean culture having a large naked body that is abstract seems interesting. It also doesn’t necessarily go with the space age building at all (DDP building). Another comment: in such an interesting political time with the president being impeached, the showing of so many Korean flags struck me. Obviously Seoul Fashion Week is an international event, and the point of the government funding the event is that they want to continue to capitalize on Korean culture, to export and make popular “Korean-ness” to be big not only in Asia but all of the world. However, right now, for Koreans, the Korean flag symbolizes sympathies with Park Geun-Hye, and is by the general public, strongly disliked. Radicals wear the flag and are camped outside of the City Hall building, or at least they were before the official announcement of her impeachment three weeks ago.


Not everyone at Seoul Fashion Week is dressed nice! While I haven’t been to any other fashion week, and have nothing to compare, it was FASCINATING to see the divide between those with cameras and those without. Models coming out of shows with their hair done and makeup, posing for a very long time, while photographers literally SWARM them. I saw this happen many times, including with Michael, but after one photographer talks to a model (either professional who just got off the runway, or some person on the street who may not even have gone to a show but is dressed to the 9s) they make small talk, and the photographer starts to take photos. Then, another guy with a more impressive Cannon lens starts to take photos, and even Ajuma and young girls with cell phones and puffy jackets will sneak a photo while the model poses endlessly. It was quite a scene and I tried to gather as much footage of the swarming of the models as possible. It was such a clear divide too, on the right side of the ramp (if you are looking towards the plaza) stood the models posing, which I guess was for the quality of the light. Then on the left people walked, back and forth, in some cases waiting to be asked to be photographed, in other cases to and from shows, some wanna be fashionistas waiting on the left to be photographed. My job for Michael was to notice people walking, notice people in the crowd, and get them to come be photographed with his impressive set up if he approved of their style. Michael wants people who aren’t too flashy, who are regular and young, and who are wearing the styles that are popular but in their own outrageous way. He likes people who are kind of flashy but not seeking attention, shy birds but also peacocks. This is perfect for me because I want to talk to normal people for my ethnography more so than professional professional 1% top of the industry, top of the beauty, top people. And these people are nicer too and more appreciative of being photographed.


Another phenomenon I tried to grasp with a photo: the lining up of the beautiful to be photographed by the crowds. These fashionistas stood one by one while hoards of people photographed them. And anyone can be a celebrity for the day if they are dressed well. Someone even asked to take my photo, another photographer (we both had cameras around our neck) she complimented my blue hair, we talked for a minute and exchanged kakao ID’s but she never sent me the photos.


I saw one guy, he had bright red hair and a full red suit on, with beautiful black loafers, so I got him to come over for Michael. He told Michael in Korean that he had never modeled before and he was nervous to have his photo taken. He looked like a K-Pop star though, comfortable in his outlandish outfit. As he stood waiting to be photographed by Michael, he played on his phone, and I saw people come up while he wasn’t looking to take his photo, as if they had just caught Taylor Swift in the shower. He became a celebrity because we decided he should be on the wall to the right, waiting for a professional photograph from a fancy rig.


Another odd example of this: a Thai man dressed like a woman wearing a lace frilly shirt in all white with full contouring makeup, sunglasses, and a white Hermes Birkin bag (roughly a 10-30 THOUSAND dollar bag) with the fur sneakers that are really popular in Korea. Michael asked if Pa was transgender (which I thought was wildly inappropriate, even though Michael said “is it rude to ask” jesus, just ask, What pronouns would you use? Or How can I refer to you in my paper?) Anyway, Pa was a DOCTOR! A PHD doctor, we asked his profession, he said medical doctor. Of the people we photographed, him and the red hair man looked like Idols and neither of them really had anything to do with the fashion industry. The Thai man called Pa said he was in Korea to go to Busan to have his face “designed” and it looked like he had already had at least one nose job by the sharp angel and slight turn to the left of the tip of his nose. He told us the concept for tomorrows look is “sexy”. While Pa said he identified as a man, I really do not know if any one else photographing him understand that Pa was a man: his clothing and makeup were amazingly convincing of being biologically female. I am not sure if there would be a different reaction from the photographers in Seoul if they knew he was a he. Michael wanted to get his photograph specifically because he thought Pa was transgender.


Boy in the yellow striped shirt, seemingly shy but was definitely seeking attention from photographers in a really understated way. His embroidery on his jeans, and the casual look of his outfit stood out from normal casual wear but I think that is what made his look so successful, the simplicity of it. The hat with the rings is incredibly popular in Korea.


The group of three girls wearing Black and Red were studying modeling, Michael told me, and dressed very sexily and posed too sexy for Michael’s taste. They were well coordinated, like a couple outfit but all three of them, incredibly trendy, very young, and very sweet.


I took some photos of the Denim trend, especially light denim and distressed or fraying denim. SUPER popular, must keep tabs on this trend, but I guess denim is always a popular trend.


The Tide jacket girl and her friend: I don’t remember where they were from but their phones were in Japanese. They complimented my blue hair. They had some serious best friend GOALS style going on, I really liked their outfits best of the day.


Somewheres in here, we talked to three guys with visible aggressive tattoos. Necks, faces, hands, COVERED in tattoos. One guy was a model for Pushbutton, I asked what show he wanted to go to and he said “Pushbutton: I’m in it,” But the other friend was also a model, and the one I spoke too most was a fashion designer, an up and coming fashion designer. He said he had only been getting tattooed for four years, but they were all over his neck and face, beautifully intricate color pieces, one was a dog, on his neck, and a sentence in English cursive on his jaw line, and my favorite “if?” on his forehead. His friend had like gray shading (the model for pushbutton) all the way down his fingers. I asked if this was a problem for modeling, and he said absolutely not. He even lifted up his shirt to show me some pieces on his stomach. I didn’t take their photo because I was slightly embarrassed, and they were very cool. In retrospect I definitely should’ve. I will be more forward tomorrow for sure.


Then we met one of Michael’s friends, the last photos in the purple kilt. She had been photographed by Michael for years, and she is a third year student studying fashion. Michael taught me a little bit about the camera to help me photograph her indoors, he wanted me to interview her, but I was worried about her English level. And also his patience. Tomorrow my goal will be to record and conduct three mini-interviews. It doesn’t matter if they are good. And I must photograph Everyone Michael does just to keep track of everyone. This is gonna be great kids.




K-Pop Music Videos and Gender Representation

clip from
clip from “So Hot” music video by The Wonder Girls

Authors Stephen Epstein and James Turnball explore the ability of Korean popular music groups to subvert ideas of female empowerment in the essay “Girls’ Generation? Gender, (Dis)Empowerment, and K-Pop” which appears in The Korean Popular Culture Reader. The authors notice a rise of women in popular music singing of empowerment and feminist ideals, however the character of women in Korean popular music, much like in other cultures, continues to be a sexualized object of desire for a purposed male viewer. In the introduction to the essay, the authors describe how music has transformed into an art that is consumed visually, not just aurally. Because of the innovation of music being shared via the web, the music video has become the medium of sharing music. Epstein and Turnball write, “Korean popular music is driven by the visual, not only via live performance on television but in music videos too” (316). Popular music is inherently concerned with the promotion and sales of the artist, thus the music video and the appearance of a music group becomes incredibly important for promoting music in the era of the music video. The authors take note that “with the collapse of recorded music sales success has come to depend not so much on vocal talent as dancing ability, physical attractiveness, and the projection of image through appearance in…advertisements,” (317). By asserting that appearance rather than music is the selling point of Korean popular music, the authors can make claims about not only the lyrics in Korean popular music but also the representations of women in these videos.

The authors find that Korean music videos “reinforce a dichotomization of male and female” by either appealing to young women or attracting men through lyrics and music videos (318). In this way sexualization continues to be one sided, the authors write, “While girl group singers often express desire openly, the viewer in such videos is regularly constructed as male, and the potential assertion of subjectivity is accompanied by a coy passivity that returns initiative to men” (318). The authors observe that music videos continue to purport a false dichotomy of sexuality where in the female body is expressive of sexual desire but in a passive manner and the “actor” in the situation with agency is always constructed as male. Women in Korean pop music are almost exclusively occupying a liminal category of sexuality: both an object of sexual desire, full of aggression, while also remaining innocent and inherently passive in positionality (323). While Korean pop music has been acting in a trend toward female empowerment, the authors still find the heteronormative idea of sexuality and patriarchal ideas of sexual power present in the music.

The most prominent example of women representing themselves as being between a virgin and a sexual object occurs in a discrepancy between the timid lyrics and the erotic dance moves of Korean music videos. The singer may say with her words that she is inexperienced sexually, but if the music video features revealing clothing and highly erotic dance moves, this changes the meaning of the song. The authors write, “There coexist fantasy fueling projections of both virginal demeanor and eager collective anticipation of defloration. This tension is pervasive in this category of girl group videos, serving as a quasi-master trope,” (320). The authors observations of the incongruity between aural and visual experience of the song allows women to be portrayed as two extremes of sexuality: timid and commandeering.

Music videos allow for scholars and viewers to have many oppositional interpretations of the same material due to the qualities of the medium itself. The authors note, “The medium’s succession of fragmented, spectacular images set to musical accompaniment allows individuals enormous range in construction of meaning,” (317). This medium is limited by a non-linear and fragmented form in communicating a singular thematic meaning, which is why the authors do not try to prescribe a singular reading of the music videos they discuss, instead structuring this essay as an exploration of prevalent themes. The authors do have a purpose however, they are interested in understanding whether these music videos continue to sexualize women for the benefit of a patriarchal capitalism or if they can be seen as an authentic empowerment for women. When women claim empowerment by sexualizing themselves, especially in context of the music industry which commodifies women’s bodies, it is hard to see this form of expressing sexuality as being genuinely for women, by women. In describing the music video “So Hot” by The Wonder Girls, the authors take note of this discrepancy of meaning. While the women claim that their dancing like a “bad girl” is their “pure self expression…one cannot escape the fact that the video is a product designed as a spectacle to arrest attention,” specifically the attention of a male subject (326). In this way, the artists described by the authors are participating in a form of self-commodification for a patriarchal capitalism. Although in the context of “So Hot” confidence in one’s sexuality is used by the artists to show their empowerment and liberation, the authors read the music video as being a continuation of women’s objectification and an example of sexual expression for male pleasure.

The authors point to the wage gap inequality in Seoul being extraordinarily high for a developed country. In 2014, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranked Korea the least equitable in pay between men and women. South Korea’s pay inequality gap is 36.6% compared to the 17.91% of the United States. Women are primarily kept from positions with the ability for advancement, keeping them in low paying labor. The authors also site a law that allows for pictures to be requested on resumes, which points to a potential bias based on the attractiveness of workers. The authors tie this to women’s appearances in music videos, for they claim the society of Korea as it pertains to gender inequality makes reading the music video empowerment as more nuanced because of the lack of tangible power in Korea for women. Women’s bodies are commodities in both music and in the workforce where attractiveness can be used for hiring.

After doing some background research on Stephen Epstein, I found a documentary he co-directed called “Our Nation: A Korean Punk Rock Community” which follows the bands and fans of Drug, a punk music club, in 1999. They call punk rock music made in South Korea Choson Punk, much like popular music from Korea is called K-pop, identifying that this music is distinct from its Western predecessor. From what I gathered from the interviews in the documentary, the bands and performers use the label Choson Punk to acknowledge that their interpretation of the music form is distinct from the original, it is altered to fit the lifestyle of the Korean people making the music. One interviewee said, “We’re just singing about things that are going on around us, and there’s no need to just play three-chord songs” (6:45-50). Epstien also covers an all-female punk band called Supermarket. The drummer and leader of the band, talks about being inspired to play punk based off of other bands in Drug, not western punk but Choson Punk like the band Crying Nut. Then, near the end, the documentary changes pace, briefly featuring the drummer of Supermarket doing laundry by hand (23:25). First she is interviewed and discusses, without much context prior, how much she enjoys laundry, cooking, and making kimchi. For over a minute, the camera follows the drummer as she goes about buying laundry soap and washing her socks. It hard to understand what motivated the directors to include a staged scene of domesticity of the only featured female punk artist in the film. It feels incredibly demeaning to this woman, and to the women in the punk scene as a whole. While the film came out in 2002 and the article I read by Stephen Epstien came out in 2014, this made me reconsider how I read this seemingly feminist pro-woman reading of K-pop music videos. Epstein and Turnball ask the question: “One might reasonably wonder in whose interests a discourse of empowerment is being disseminated,” ending the text with this question (333). By this quote, it seems clear that the authors do not see a value in the empowerment trope expressed by women in K-pop. While the female artists may be seen as reinforcing female submission through sexualized music videos, she is also actively relaying a message of empowerment through the music for the listeners. Seeing the trend of K-pop as a whole, instead of on a personal level of the artist and the music industry, may allow for a more nuanced reading of the empowerment trope popular in K-pop girl groups. The trend could be viewed as a way of fitting feminism into a patriarchal Korean society.

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-6-42-08-pmscreen-shot-2016-11-28-at-6-40-31-pm screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-6-41-49-pm


Questions for further exploration:

What is sexuality in Korea? How is sexuality expressed in Korea?



Epstein, Stephen and Turnball, James. “Girls’ Generation? Gender, (Dis)Empowerment and K-Pop” (with James Turnbull),The Korean Popular Culture Reader ed. by Kyung-Hyun Kim and Young-Min Choe, Duke University Press: Durham NC, 2014, pp. 314-336.

Our Nation: A Korean Punk Rock Community. Dir. Stephen Epstein and Timothy Tangherlini. 2002. Film.


Hanbok and the Korean Fashion Industry

To begin understanding the intersection of fashion and gender in South Korea, I read an essay from the book Re-Orienting Fashion about modern women wearing Korean traditional clothing. The article was an ethnography written by Rebecca Ruhlen studying the feminist movement in Korea and the relationship of Korean feminists to hanbok, a centuries old traditional Korean outfit. Ruhlen studied a group of women working to support survivors of sexual violence between 1998 and 1999. Traditional hanbok are made of silk and other luxury fabrics. The ch’ima, the long skirt of a hanbok, reaches from the chest, where it is gathered and tightly wrapped, to the floor, where the large amount of volume pools, creating an exaggerated silhouette. The jeogori is a short jacket that crosses in the front, falling to the bottom of the breasts. These two parts of the hanbok are usually in bright, contrasting colors. Unlike the traditional hanbok that are only appropriate for formal occasions, Ruhlen’s informants wear “lifestyle” hanbok, garments inspired by the traditional Korean dress but with a design to fit modernity. “Lifestyle” hanbok are usually in subdued, earthy colors, are made out of cotton or wool fabrics, and have longer jackets and shorter, less full skirts for the active lives of modern women. These “lifestyle” hanbok first become popular around the 1990s when they are mass-produced (119). During the economic crisis of 1997, Korea saw an upsurge of nationalism as the country tried to rebuild itself. Citizens during this time were encouraged to support domestic industry, including the production of hanbok. “Lifestyle” hanbok became more popular in this time for everyday use, as wearing it became a sign of nationalistic pride as well as unity amongst the Korean people and their struggle.

Ruhlen argues that hanbok is used to contest the spread of Western ideals, separating Korean modernity from the West. Ruhlen argues that Korean Feminist groups wear hanbok in public situations to try and connect with the minjung, the masses of Korean citizens, for “feminism in Korea, though—unlike democracy or labor movement—is widely considered to be a badly Western-derived ideology and not something indigenous or easily adapted to Korea,” (122). By wearing hanbok, the feminist groups can align their doctrine with the symbolic masses of Korean people, bridging the gap between a dissent of Western changes and the Korean ideology that is influenced by Confucianism, which values the obedience and submission of women. Ruhlen cites that female activists “deploy hanbok essentially as costumes in a public performance of political identity” solidifying these activists with nationalism (118). To further show how hanbok is seen as a way of resisting Western culture, Ruhlen features an image of a poster propagating the “proper Korean woman” in hanbok dress contrasted against the Westernized, overly sexual and indecent woman (128). The Westernized woman wears a form fitting dress with heavy makeup and has an upright, confident posture, while the woman in hanbok has a “natural beauty” and is bowing her head slightly with a “demure” posture (129). Sexuality and confidence is demonized along with Western beauty standards in this poster. While the feminist supporters in Korea wear hanbok, Ruhlen writes that sexuality and sexual freedom, even in a group supporting sexual violence survivors, is a highly contested topic that divides the group, especially between older and younger generations. Sexuality is also seen as an undesirable Western attribute, and the hanbok is associated in some ways with the “proper” submission of women. Ruhlen writes that Korean people often refer to sex workers and women who marry Western men as “Yankee whores” (129). Hanbok is a symbol that is used by the feminist women but can also be used as a way of continuing the oppression of women into gender specified roles.

Lee Young Hee fashion designer of hanbok in Korea is known as the “first Korean designer to have her work showcased in a major international fashion show, the 1993 Paris Pret-a-Porter Collection,” and her work is heavily influenced by traditional Korean hanbok (Ruhlen, 126). I’ve included the Lee Young Hee video, from 2015, to show that the traditional hanbok is still relevant in high fashion in Korea, and the video cites that Lee has been in the industry for over 40 years. Alongside of Lee’s reinventing of the traditional shapes and textiles of the hanbok are designers creating entirely new shapes for the hanbok to fit a modern “lifestyle.” An article from this month in Korea Times reviews the exhibit “Jeogori, and Stories about Materials,” which opens this year in the headquarters of the Arumjigi cultural foundation. The exhibit features newly adapted hanbok by the designers Jung Mi-sun of Nohke and Im Seon-oc of PartspARTs that are intended for modern day Korean people but are shown in a gallery like works of art. The modern as well as the traditional hanbok are viewed as artistic statements that promote pride in Korean culture.

The capital city Seoul has a long tradition of clothing manufacturing, the most famous Dongdaemun Market has been a clothing marketplace since 1905 and is cited as inventing the “fast fashion” industry. Dongdaemun is a unique market because the workshops and stores are located in the same valley. Dongdaemun is referred to as “fashion valley” and has over 35,000 stores with 20,000 workshops supplying these stores, the fashion industry in the valley employs over 150,000 people. Dongdaemun is known for cheap fashion and also has a history of underpaid factory workers. To compete with Namdaemun, which offered higher quality, expensive clothing, Dongdaemun opened for extended hours offering shopping options in almost every hour of the day, stores sometimes being open through the night. The fast turn over of fashions allows designers to experiment and have lots of freedom; over 10,000 fashion designers work in Dongdaemun. However now factory workers are aging out of the industry and there is an excess of fashion designers, because the countries rapid advancement has stifled the supply of low-cost labor in Seoul. This labor issues has made the prospects of keeping Dongdaemun a closed economic system very complicated. The market has reacted by both creating online markets to support exports of clothing as well as encouraging a tourist industry to support Dongdaemun, however the area still has “caverns of unoccupied space,” (Jin-joo, 2012).







“Dongdaemun Market, the Mecca of ‘Fast Fashion’” from Koreana Winter 2012, Lee Jin-joo reporter


Ruhlen, Rebecca N. Re-Orienting Fashion: The Globalization of Asian Dress. “Korean Alterations: Nationalism, Social Consciousness, and “Traditional” Clothing” published New York: 2003



Suh-young, Yun. “A fashionable twist on ‘jeogori’” October 9, 2016. Link:


The Korean War

In reaction to North Korea’s fifth nuclear bomb test in early September, which was the second test in 2016, the United States and South Korea proposed the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, THAAD, as a defense strategy for the South against the Northern threat of nuclear missiles. This has harmed both the US and ROK’s relationship with China, which sees the projected creation of THAAD in the upcoming year as possibly a threat to China’s security as well as threatening to destabilize the Kim regime (, 2016). In light of my focus this week on the Korean war and the divide of North and South Korea, this news story seems relevant in highlighting how the peninsula is still split between foreign powers. The tension caused by nuclear threat and the THAAD program illustrate how the cold war tensions between Communism and Capitalism are still present in the Korea’s.

After Japan surrenders rule of Korea in August 15th 1945, the power void left by the authoritarian rule allowed for four main groups to seek the control of Korea. The Korea Independence Party, lead by Kim Ku and supported by Chinese Nationalists, was a staunchly anti-communist right group as opposed to the Korean Communist Party which was led by Kim Il Sung, and extreme leftist group that eventually aids the development of Northern Korea. Yo Unhyong was a moderate leader who prepared for the fall of the Japanese rule before it happened, creating the Committee for the Preparation for Korean Independence which helped develop the South. Another grassroots moderate leader, Cho Mansik, had a following of supporters as well. Because Japan had disbanded all nationalistic groups from the country, the Korean independence movement was heavily divided between groups with conflicting political agendas. With the liberation of Korea, many Koreans repatriated the homeland, bringing back their nationalistic ideas with them, for many worked on the movement in other countries. The many disparate opinions about what should be the ideals of a Korean nation were now forced into conversation without a clear singular voice.

However, within weeks of Japan’s surrender, Korea is divided between Soviet and United States control, so while these four leaders had ideas for their country, in the end a new foreign power’s ideology was placed on to the Koreans. During WWII, the US was concerned about attacking the mainland of Japan because the amount of casualties they had ben acquiring on the smaller islands, and so the US combined forces with the USSR to prepare for this kind of attack. In the agreement, the US agrees to acknowledge the USSR’s property over the Korean peninsula, but after the atomic bombs and Japan’s surrender, the US and USSR agree to divide ruling of Korea on the 38th parallel, the USSR gaining the North and the US occupying the South. The original goal of this plan was for the US and USSR to assist the two halves of Korea in setting up provisional government systems, after the power vacuum created by Japan’s surrender, and eventually combine forces into one government for the country, which was known as the Joint Commission. However, with the beginning of the Cold War in 1947 between the USSR and the USA, it became clear that this was no longer possible and that the peninsula would remain divided.

After the divide, the North of Korea is under the control of the USSR, but the Committee for the Preparation for Korean Independence, a group led by the moderate leader Yo Unhyong was already operating in the North. This allowed the USSR to have a central control over the North but allow this group, with assistance and input from the Korean Communist group, to dictate reforms in the post-liberation period. They mandated a massive land reform, seizing property from Japanese landowners and over 5,000 wealthy Korean landowners and redistributing it to Korean farmers. The new regime also established a minimum wage, controlled the length of the workday, and banned child labor. Koreans in the North were pleased with these actions as they benefitted and protected the common people. The North eventually builds ties with Chinese communist groups and participates in the Chinese civil war, giving the North a strong ally, that remains one its only allies to this day, and also trains the military of the North, giving them a strong advantage in the Korean war.

In opposition, the citizens in the South did not appreciate the United States occupation at all. General John Hodge was sent to Korea without any preparation to try and keep the USSR from occupying the whole peninsula and allowing communism to spread. Because of his hasty appointment, and his lack of planning, he created the United States Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK), which reappoints the Japanese and Korean military and government officials from before liberation, infuriating the citizens. Unlike the North, which distributed land almost immediately, the South took two years to redistribute land and then it was only from the Japanese landowners, which was not effective enough to erase inequalities created by the Japanese colonialism. After the start of the Cold War, when tensions between the US and USSR are at a rise, on August 15, 1948 the Republic of Korea (ROK) has its first election, electing Syngman Rhee to be the first president and a National Assembly. The North responds by also renaming their state the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). However, with the divide of the elections between North and South, signifying the split of the country, the citizens of South Korea respond with protests, as they are still unhappy with their government. They were upset because reforms were happening too slowly, and because Rhee had too much power that was unchecked. This unrest led to the terribly bloody conflict of the Jeju Rebellion in the small island of Jeju off the southern coast, where over 27,000 citizens of the island were killed by the National Police force under Rhee’s rule.

The Korean War has an uncertain history of its origin, but regardless of whether or not it was provoked, the fighting began with North Korea, using war supplies from Russia and an army trained from the Chinese Civil War attacks, attacking from the 38th parallel into South Korea on June 25th 1950. The Southern army was entirely unprepared and the Northern army moved quickly to occupy Seoul, the capital city, within two days. The first fifty days of the war, the North dominated and occupied much of the South and even enacted communist changes similar to those of the North in the occupied land in war, including significant land reformations. Because this was during the Cold War, the US is especially interested in keeping the DRPK from expanding and so they sent troops in a hurry to assist the South. Led by General Macarthur, the UN and US military support helped the ROK troops reclaim Korea to the 38th parallel, but after when the ROK moved north past the division, in an attempt to gain the whole peninsula, the DRPK aided by large amounts of Chinese troops again made headway and seized Seoul. Eventually, the DRPK is pushed above the 38th parallel again, and the war continued over the original line of demarcation for another two years. To encourage the North to surrender, the US bombed the major cities, railway system, factories, and civilian housing, devastating the North. In the end, the DRPK and the ROK are divided in almost the same exact line as before the war, and the North’s industry and infrastructure as well as the capital city Seoul in the South are decimated.





Robinson, Michael E. Korea’s Twentieth-Century Odyssey. University of Hawai’i Press: 2007.

Japan’s Colonialization Korea 1910-1945


During the Japanese colonization between 1910 and 1945, the colonial ruler oppressed the Korean people’s freedom of speech, culture, and economic autonomy, while also acting as a catalyst for Korea entering modernity. In fact, Seth writes, “In few former colonies has there been such lingering hatred” toward the ex-colonizer, talking about the modern sentiment in Korea (79). This is because Japan ruled with a firm authority, combining control of the government, appointing even village officials, military and police. Japan had over a quarter of a million people working and living in Korea, whose population was only 20 million. The high number of Japanese official working in Korea was partly due to the availability of government jobs in Korea, where they could make a decent wage, as well as the significant role Korea played in the expansion of Japanese territory from 1930’s until 1945.

While I have mentioned that the Japanese power trickled into every part of Korean government, the government was also centralized and efficient, power centralized in the hands of the Governor-General who “possessed an enormously broad authority, including the rights to issue laws, ordinances, and regulations and to appoint various officials” including the military (Seth, 43). Directly in front of the Kyongbok Palace, the palace of Korean royalty, the Governor-General’s large headquarters overshadows tradition with its impressive Western design.

In the beginning of Japanese rule, known as the “dark period”, Korean life was highly censored by Japanese officials who banned political organization and restricted the press. In reaction, leaders across religious affiliations organized a resistance movement with the goal of getting international attention as they presented a Declaration of Independence to Japan. On March 1, 1919 at the funeral of the emperor, Kojong, who many believed was poisoned by the Japanese government a large protest occurred, known as the March First Movement. This singular event lead to over six hundred concurrent protests in the months to come, leading to massive clashes between Japanese police and Korean nationalists, with over seven thousand deaths and tens of thousands of arrests. The movement aimed to bring international pressure to Japan to end their colonial rule, and while this did not occur, the movement did get attention as well as strengthening nationalism of Koreans. March 1st is still a celebrated holiday in both North and South Korea (

This revolt did cause significant change in Korea as well, for in reaction Japan lifts some censorship on Korean publications and lifts tariffs that were stifling Korean trade. Japan also allows for Koreans to work in their government for equal pay as Japanese representatives. With the lifting of censorship laws, this period between 1919 and 1931 allows for relative artistic freedoms. With the freedoms, Cho Man-sik, a Presbyterian leader known as the “Ghandi of Korea”, starts the Korean Production Movement. Much like Ghandi’s work in India, this movement supported ideas of Korean nationalism, encouraging people to support Korean products and business. The movement was nationally successful, with a headquarters in each province and a monthly publication.

When Japan begins expanding their territories in 1931, the regime again tightens down on Korean citizens. When Japan invades Manchuria, a Chinese territory on the northern border of Korea, Korea became a central territory in the Japanese empire, a link between Japan and China. Japan further industrializes Korea, adding a vast railway network for transporting troops and building factories in the North to supply troops and life in Manchuria. The industrialization of agricultural production in Korea made the territory the primary supplier of rice for Japan. This economic growth and shifting role of Korea caused a mobilization of the Korean people, many going to Japan for higher education and factory jobs, or moving to the north of the country seeking industrial jobs.

Modernization leads to a heightened consciousness of women’s rights during this time, and women rights advocates begin discussing women’s right to divorce, sexuality, and to refuse the life of being a housewife. In this time as well, Japan was forcing young Korean women to work as prostitutes for the war effort in Burma. The Japanese called this project “comfort women”, and promised young women jobs in restaurants with enough money to support their families. These young women did not realize they would be trapped in Burma servicing military men for money, and once they were in this unfamiliar territory they were trapped.

While Japan attempts to expand its territory, they attempt to assimilate Korea into Japanese culture. With the larger territory, Japan aims to strengthen their nation by erasing Korean culture. They do this by forcing Koreans to change their names to Japanese ones, erasing the history of family names in Korea, banning the Korean language from schools, and banning Korean language newspapers.

In contextualizing this historical study, I read an article titled, “When the Korean Wave Meets Resident Koreans in Japan” by Koichi Iwabuchi. Iwabuchi writes about the admiration for Korean TV dramas in Japan. Since the late 1990’s, Japanese viewers have rapidly consumed Korean media, and have helped build the industry of culture production as a major source of income for Korea. Japan’s love of Korean TV goes as far as airing Korean shows on public television. Iwabuchi’s article straddles a position between arguing that the dramas soothe tensions between Japan and Korea, especially Korean residents in Japan, and appositionally arguing that the dramas remove the Korean experience from the painful history and that Korean residents of Japan are still oppressed. What I took most importantly from Iwabuchi’s article is this shift in relations between Korea and Japan, as Japan the ex-colonizer consumes Korean culture and becomes a supporter of the Korean economy by popular demand. Iwabuchi argues that Japan has felt superior and outside of Asia through history, but events like the Seoul Olympics of 1988 as well as the FIFA world cup of 2002 which was co-sponsored by Japan and Korea has, in Iwabuchi’s opinion, made Japan see Korea as a country of equal power and significance. The recent media sharing between the two countries perhaps can shed light on a redemptive relationship between the countries.

I am currently enrolled in an architecture class, and hope to use this as an opportunity to do some more research about the Japanese colonial architecture in Korea. I found the Japanese architecture, especially its placement, as an interesting form of control. How much of this architecture still remains in Korea? What is the relationship of modern Koreans to this historical architecture? I am also still curious about the feminist movements Seth discusses in this time period. How did the feminist movement evolve in post-colonial Korea? How is the Korean wave important in in understanding the relationship between modern Japan and Korea?








Iwabuchi, Koichi. “When the Korean Wave Meets Resident Koreans in Japan: Intersections of the Transnational, the Postcolonial, and the Multicultural” from the book East Asian Pop Culture: Analysing the Korean Wave, published in 2008 from the Hong Kong University Press



Seth, Michael J. A Concise History of Modern Korea: From the Late Nineteenth Century to the Present. 2010. Pgs 43-80.





Korea 1876-1910

In Chapter 1 of A Concise History of Modern Korea: From the Late Nineteenth Century to the Present by Michael J. Seth, the author describes the history of Korea becoming a modernized and globalized country. Due to the geographical location of Korea being an isolated peninsula, for twelve centuries the country was ethnically, culturally, and linguistically distinct from the rest of the world. There were no notable minority groups within Korea and no populations of Korean peoples outside of the country. Korea politically was an independent nation, but was heavily influenced by China, which was seen as the central power of Asia. Korea occupied both an independent status as its own ethnic group from China, but also acted in some ways as a territory of China’s until the Treaty of Kanghwa was signed in 1876. Signed with the newly reformed Meiji Governemnt of Japan, this treaty opened three Korean ports to Japanese trade and also established permanently Korea as an independent nation from China. This act marks the beginning of the modern Korean state, as prior to the treaty Korea had no foreign trade policy.

In this time period, 1876-1910, multiple countries attempted to take ownership over Korea, primarily Russia, China, and Japan. Because of Korea’s geographical position as a peninsula in the center of Asia, Korean ports are strategically crucial to power in Asia and therefore were highly coveted by these nations. With the opening of the borders to foreign trade came an unequal distribution of wealth, creating disdain between Korean peasants and the foreign merchants of China and Japan entering the country. This brought about multiple uprisings from the peasant class. The Tonghak Uprising of 1894 most notably sparked the Sino-Japanese War of 1894. The Tonghak was a religious minority that combined Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, an omnipotent deity inspired by Christianity, as well as Korean folk religion. The religion was started by Ch’oe Che-u, who was seen as a threat to the Korean government because of the religion’s call for egalitarianism. Today the religion is called Ch’ondogyo, after multiple changes in leaders and years of persecution, but the religion is still present in Korea as a minority. From the UN’s 2007 data, we see that 22.8% of the population is now Buddhist, 10.9% is Catholic, 18.31% is Christian, and only .09% of the population is Ch’ondogyo, and an overwhelming 46.4% claims no religion. Christianity was first introduced in the 1860’s during the time of the Opium Wars in China, when Catholic missionaries entered Korea. Before colonization however, the country’s religion was heavily influenced by Confucius, and so I am confused as to how these shifts of practicing religions have happened so rapidly. I am interested in continuing studying how religion has affected Korea, especially after learning that the largest peasant revolution was based in a religion unique to Korea.

This chapter ends with a brief description of Japan’s colonization of Korea in 1910. Seth writes that this is “viewed by most Koreans as one of the two great tragedies of their modern history; the other being the division of the country” (35-6). Japan continued its occupation of the country until 1945. In this period however, Korea is industrialized by the Japanese colonization. Japan brought increased construction of railways, electricity to the capital city Seoul, and a Western style of buildings into the cities. In the present, South Korea claimed the highest overall score in the 2015 Bloomberg Innovation Index, which calculates ranking dependent on six categories, Korea notably receiving first place in both the Research and Development and High-Tech Companies categories. Maybe the history of Japan’s assistance to the modernization of Korea is intrinsically important to the country’s highly innovative reputation today.

In other recent news, North Korea on September 9th completed a fifth nuclear test, getting disdain from South Korea and from the rest of the world who continues to try and force the North to disarm their nuclear weapons ( Earlier this month there was a serious flood in North Korea, and while the people of South Korea are sympathetic to their neighbors, the South Korean government has stated that even if requested, they will not provide aid to North Korea due to the nuclear test this month. In the article, “South Korea Says It’s Unlikely to Help North Recover From Flood” Choe Sang-Hun writes, “The suffering of ordinary citizens elicits sympathy in the South. The South’s Constitution includes North Korea in its territory and calls for “national unity” through “humanitarianism and brotherly love.”” ( From my readings on the history of Korea, this connection between the nations is likely due to the centuries of history in which Korea was an isolated, ethnically homogenous independent nation. Even while the South is not in support of the nuclear testing in the North, in the Constitution and in the public opinion in the South the whole continent is seen as being home of the united Korean people.

For next week, I hope to begin bridging the gap between Japan’s colonization of Korea in 1910 and the modern conflict between the two countries, either by examining in further detail the Korean war and the separation of the continent into two countries, or a more deep analysis of how Japan’s colonization of the continent brought industry into the country.



On Nuclear Testing in North Korea:

Religion Statistics:


Innovation Index Information: