Transnational Literature in Occupied Japan & South Korea


A review of Occupied Liberation: Transforming Literary Boundaries in Japan and Southern Korea, 1945-1952, by Jonathan Glade.

Jonathan Glade’s elegantly written dissertation looks at the ways in which the fields of Korean and Japanese language literature were rearticulated in the period from 1945 to 1952 during the periods of US Military Occupation in southern Korea and Japan. Where previous scholarship has studied the literature emerging from either US Occupied Japan or southern Korea, Glade combines the two areas into one geographical unit of analysis in order to explore the collapse of the Japanese empire and the new boundaries of nation, language and race that ultimately emerged in its wake. The strength of Glade’s work lies in the way in which he sets up this unit in terms of intersecting and overlapping subjectivities and histories. He rejects the nation-centric comparative structure of Japan versus Korea in order to reveal a more nuanced picture of boundaries emerging from the mobilizations that characterized not only the late colonial period but also the rapidly polemicizing early Cold War world. What comes into view are Koreans in Japan writing in Japanese or Korean and often translating the works of Koreans in southern Korea, who are themselves on the verge of decisive movements into the northern Soviet Occupied zone, and Japanese writing in an Occupied Japan, having returned from various outposts of empire. These are dynamic and rapidly evolving literary fields, which Glade shows slowly hardening into less negotiable boundaries as the Occupation continues. What emerges in the process are the sometimes surprising ways in which continuity defined the relationships between Koreans and Japanese, whether they were located in Korea or in Japan.

Glade has titled his work “Occupied Liberation” to stress the nature of this continuity and also the difficulty in finding the language and terms with which to write the history of these populations outside of the governing national frameworks. In studies of Korean literature, and unlike studies of Korean history according to Glade, the post-1945 period is referred to as postliberation and the Occupation is downplayed. The disciplinary contrast might be explored more, but nevertheless by invoking the term “occupied liberation” Glade is able not only to question the nation-centric dream of liberation but also to bring Japan and southern Korea into the same conceptual fold as areas occupied by the US and subject to similar regimes of censorship. Those regimes are central to Glade’s analysis of literary texts and enable him to highlight the ways in which certain boundaries are enforced upon both Japanese and Korean language texts, allowing different representations in Japan and southern Korea. Through those representations Glade seeks ultimately to explore what he calls the messy and contradictory reconstructions of national categories of literature and subjectivity in Japan and the southern peninsula. By the end, the term liberation seems more than simply ironic, but both fantastical and ideological.

In the introduction, which constitutes the first chapter of this four-chapter dissertation, Glade sets out his vision of intersecting and overlapping histories, which distinguishes his methodology from a more oppositional comparative approach. He further locates his own work in terms of new historicism in literary studies, in terms of studies of Japanese Occupation period literature, and in terms of censorship studies, which he argues have downplayed the constitutive effect of US censorship on postwar Japanese literature and focused mostly on colonial oppression in the case of Korean studies (with the implicit assumption that liberation indeed meant precisely that). He then elaborates two terms that are central to his work: decolonization and deimperialization. If decolonization has been more frequently used to describe institutional and social transformations in the former colony, Glade wishes here to take the term into the realm of subjectivity to describe attempts to critically examine the colonial past and attempt to build new cultural forms “free of imperial and colonial hierarchies” (p. 14). As Glade rightly points out deimperialization, or similar attempts amongst former colonizers rather than the former colonized, has received far less attention. It is crucial to Glade’s project that the two processes are viewed side by side. Although borrowing these terms from Kuan-Hsing Chen, Glade clarifies his own use into broadly two meanings: that of examining the colonial past and attempting to build new properly postcolonial cultural forms, and as concepts that “enhance understanding of the enduring influences of colonialism and imperialism” (p. 14).

The second chapter, “Constructing Boundaries,” looks at literature produced by Koreans remaining in Japan after the end of World War II. Glade organizes his chapter around a reading of the journal Democratic Korea (Minshu Chōsen), published by members of the League of Koreans in Japan between April 1946 and 1950. Glade shows a gradual movement of focus in interest in the pages of the journal from events on the Korean peninsula towards issues affecting Koreans resident in Japan. This he terms the “formation of the zainichi subject,” and by reading articles in the journal alongside their censorship history, he shows how Occupation policies, as well as events on the peninsula itself, helped form this subject. Some of the most striking examples of postcolonial continuity appear in this chapter as we learn that censorship of Democratic Korea was performed by Japanese censors, thus placing the former colonizer in the role of authority over supposedly “liberated” Koreans. Glade also shows how Occupation policies moved to force ethnically Korean schools to teach in Japanese in 1948 in a remarkable repetition of late colonial era education policy in the empire. What results ultimately is the emergence of the “resident Korean” subject, “excluded from the now homogeneous Japanese nation and effectively cut off from the two nation-states established on the Korean Peninsula” (p. 90).

In the third chapter, “Contracting Boundaries,” Glade argues that the conceptions of national literature formed during the Occupation period “profoundly influenced the shape of (South) Korean literature for decades to come” (p. 137). While this is not a new argument, Glade’s elaboration is fascinating and enables him to develop his first example of an overlapping history. The chapter begins by questioning the use of the term “liberation” by literary scholars today, contrasting this with contemporary writers’ repeated attempts to reflect critically upon the colonial past and try to work towards a noncolonial future. In parallel with his second chapter, Glade examines the stories published in the journal Literature (Munhak), edited by the centrist Korean Writers Alliance from 1946 to 1948, and most notably the story “Before and After Liberation” by Yi T’aejun. Most originally, Glade shows how the Democratic Korea editors in Japan introduced work from Literature, including Yi’s story which faced harsher censorship in its Japanese translation, thus showing some of the differing external pressures on literary space across Glade’s geographical unit of analysis. This important interaction between Korean writers in Japan and in southern Korea was soon shut down, however, when Yi and other key members of the Korean Writers Alliance moved to the northern zone. In their absence (both physical and through censorship) the boundaries of what was to become South Korean Literature both contracted and hardened.

In the final chapter, “Traversing Boundaries,” Glade performs a long reading of Hayashi Fumiko’s novel Drifting Clouds (1951), which itself uses a kind of overlapping structure, in order to think through some of the possibilities of deimperialization for Japanese subjects. Hayashi’s novel “juxtaposes a thriving wartime French Indochina with a dismal postwar Japan” (p. 138) and thus acknowledges the imperial past as a shaping force in the present. Given that the previous few years had established relative silence on the imperial past as the status quo under US Occupation, Glade argues that by invoking the Japanese colonial past, even in the mode of personal nostalgia, Hayashi “ever so subtly labels the US Military Occupation as a form of colonial rule” (p. 198). Thus the imaginative appropriation of colonial landscape—Hayashi travelled widely throughout the Japanese empire but probably not to Indochina itself—forms the occasion for an acknowledgement of an imperial past and suggestion of a colonial present.

Through his own practice of juxtaposing overlapping histories Glade’s dissertation provides a model for the reexamination of postcolonial histories, where decolonization and deimperialization, with their different histories of power and violence fully acknowledged, can be productively placed side by side alongside the structure of US Occupation which enabled the reproduction of imperial and colonial hierarchies that Glade details here. It is a profoundly enabling model that will undoubtedly be expanded and built upon for the book that is sure to emerge later.

Janet Poole
Department of East Asian Studies
University of Toronto

Primary Sources

Minshu Chōsen (Democratic Korea)
Munhak (Literature)
George W. Prange Collection of Postwar Japanese Publications
Hayashi Fumiko. Ukigumo (Drifting Clouds). Tokyo: Shinchō, 1953.

Dissertation Information

University of Chicago. 2013. 229 pp. Primary Advisor: Norma Field.

Image: “Seoul Korea September 1945: From Japanese Colonial Rule to US Military Occupation.” Naval History & Heritage Command.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like