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The Korean Studies Seminar is an interdisciplinary forum that brings together scholars, artists, and professionals working on Korea-related subjects from a wide variety of disciplines: history, literature, art history, visual and media studies, architecture, religion, sociology, anthropology, music, and performance studies. The seminar discusses current research and issues in the study of Korea drawn from the dynamic intellectual community in and around New York City.

Professor Ksenia Chizhova

Professor Jae Won Chung

Professor Theodore Hughes

Professor Jenny Wang Medina

Stella Kim

Meeting Schedule

09/24/2021 Online Meeting
4:00 PM

Ji-hoon Kim, Chung-ang University (South Korea) and Columbia University

11/05/2021 Online Meeting
4:00 PM
North Korean Calligraphy: Gender, Intimacy, and Political Incorporation, 1980s-2010s
Ksenia Chizhova, Princeton University


A ubiquitous part of everyday life, North Korean calligraphy is an easily overlooked and yet integral element of the country's mass mobilization art. Under the curation of Kim Jong Il (1941-2011), calligraphy was mobilized as a mechanism for the articulation or organistic national unity centered on the ruling Kim family and captured through the idea of the "social and political living body" (sahoe chŏngch'i chŏk saengmyŏngch'e), which mediated the familial transition of power. Cultivating penmanship identical to that of his father and expanding the hagiographic project around the revolutionary calligraphy of his parents, Kim Il Sung (1912-1994) and Kim Jong Suk (1917-1949), Kim Jong Il worked out an image of charismatic familial embodiment by means of the script. In addition, calligraphy constitutes a disciplinary apparatus that coordinates performances of political intimacy, bodily training, and political interpretation within the space of everyday life. Drawing on the North Korean calligraphy textbooks, art periodicals, and visual archive, this article contextualizes the dichotomy of the idiosyncratic style of the male leaders and the feminized, ubiquitous Ch'ŏngbong style, connected with the figure of Kim Jong Suk. Special attention will be given to the body symbolism and somatic discipline of North Korean calligraphy, which underlie its political efficacy as inscriptional and hermeneutic practice.

12/03/2021 Online Meeting
4:00 PM
Discourse of Loss and Rewriting in Han'gŭl: Modern Korean Translation of the Recent Past
Yoon Jeong Oh, New York University


Literary works from early twentieth-century Korea typically remain incomprehensible to most Korean readers in the twenty-first century. Due to the textual hybridity that mixes early modern Korean, Chinese characters (hanja), and Japanese, it is quite common that Korean literature from even less than a hundred years ago is republished in modern Korean, that is exclusively in han’gŭl. The problematic is that the republished versions are often significantly revised, rewritten, adapted, or even abridged. Archaic expressions are replaced by contemporary language, and all foreign languages translated into modern Korean. Since hanja was still commonly used in the mixed form until the 1990s in South Korea, and due to the intensely phonocentric orientation of han’gŭl writing, modern translation of the recent past continues to the present day. Original texts are considered only accessible for scholars and researchers, and general/non-academic readers receive the contemporary han’gŭl versions as the originals although they hardly appear the same. Hence, postcolonial Korea demands repetitive rewritings while washing away its hybrid origins along with colonial remnants. By addressing this question of translation in these multiplications of the original, in this talk I examine how the discourse of loss is constructed as the status of han’gŭl shifts from the mother tongue to modern national language dating from the ŏnmun ilchi movement during the colonial period through the urimal toro ch’atki (repossessing our language) movement in postcolonial Korea.

02/03/2022 Online Meeting
6:00 PM
Interpreting Modernism in Korean Art: Fluidity and Fragmentation
Kyunghee Pyun, Fashion Institute of Technology, SUNY

Jung-Ah Woo, Pohang Institute of Technology

03/18/2022 Online Meeting
6:00 PM
Pacification as Culture War from Taegu to Vietnam, 1946-1973
Thomas Ryan, Columbia University

04/22/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University
6:00 PM
Serving the People Spirit: The Rise and Resilience of DPRK Propaganda-Pop Music (1966-1991)
Peter Moody, Columbia University


Traditional accounts in Cold War Studies have tended to highlight the antagonism between the proliferation of global popular music genres and the cultivation of indigenous forms of music by state socialist regimes for ideological purposes. Recent scholarship, however, has gone beyond this lens of cultural imperialism to account for the mixture of global music appropriation and local innovation that has characterized late socialist and/or post-socialist societies as they develop internally and adapt to a more integrated world economy. This presentation adopts a temporal scope of roughly 25 years to contextualize the forms and practices of North Korean sonic culture that derive from an internationalist and/or capitalist context (as opposed to a national and/or traditional context) yet have become uri sik or “our style” music. It begins with the mid-1960s when a perceived lack of security commitment from the USSR led DPRK leaders to turn towards defense investment, which involved putting resources into music with revolutionary themes largely centered around the anti-Japanese guerilla experiences of Kim Il-sung and his partisan warriors. At the same time this “revolutionary identity politics” became the state’s raison d'être, the DPRK cultural sector took steps to make the evolving party line palatable to local populations, namely by adopting the strophic or stanzaic form of song structure; incorporating kyŏng ŭmak (light music), akdan (band or ensemble music), and eventually chŏnja umak (electronic music) practices in composition and orchestration; and overall creating more songs people would enjoy listening to and singing. The result of this process was what I term “propaganda-pop,” i.e., music with a shared set of ideological and entertainment objectives that in the DPRK context represented a shift in the application of socialist realism away from maximizing production and love of labor to relationships and identification between citizen and leader (or party) and occasionally between the socialist consumer and a particular product or item that embodied the [North] Korean national community. The “revolutionary identity politics” made possible by propaganda-pop music formed the basis of social solidarity in the DPRK as party allegiance and communist ideology eroded across Eastern Europe.