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  • Writer's pictureSayaka

A talk at Lund University

I just had an opportunity to give a Zoom talk at the Centre for East and Southeast Asian Studies, Lund University. Thank you for those who invited me and those who attended the talk. It was a great atmosphere with engaged audience. Here' the abstract:


In the past decade or two, zainichi Koreans (long-term Korean residents in Japan) have been gaining great attention from scholars of anthropology, literature, sociology, and history. As a result, zainichi studies is emerging as a new field in anglophone academia. In the Japanese language, scholars have long established an expansive field of zainichi studies, with strong emphasis on empirical investigation. Based on their rich research results, we can explore comparative perspectives and large frameworks. In this talk, I outline three approaches that will resituate zainichi, not necessarily as a minority or ethnic study, but in much larger historical contexts. The first approach is to view zainichi society as a borderland between North and South Koreas. The two Koreas had the most intimate grassroots interactions through their diasporic communitiesin Japan. Zainichi not merely reflected the politics of the Korean peninsula. Rather, zainichi society, as a porous borderland, often impacted policies of governments in North and South. A second approach is to view zainichi leftistactivism as the major venue for Japanese people to pursue self de-imperialization. Although the standard story is that the Japanese forgot about their imperial sins under the US Occupation, many Japanese people actually supported zainichi activism as an expression of postimperial atonement. Finally, zainichi’s homeland-oriented tendency, especially the alignment of leftist zainichi with North Korea, was a crucial factor that paradoxically enabled Japanese postwar politics to take a conservative course. After 1955, leftist zainichi ceased to exercise their enormous power to mobilize huge demonstrations to impact Japanese politics. This led to the noticeable absence of minority issues during Japan’s politically contentious 1960s, hindering a version of the civil rights movement from coalescing. This talk will provide a rough sketch of these potential approaches to start a conversation on how zainichi studies might alter our understanding of Cold War East Asia.

My colleague Jack Chia took the screenshot (haha), thanks, Jack!

My research partner, KumHee Cho, was there too. We discussed the questions and feedback I got (this is one of the biggest benefits of having a research partner, by the way!). I believe it is still important for us to explain things, so audience can understand it, through comparing and juxtaposing zainichi history with other kinds of "minority" groups (Chongryon people do not like the expression "minority") and frankly point at the unique characteristics about zainichi experiences. But it is also difficult to have them tangibly feel how "North Korea" and "the Socialist bloc" sounded to Japanese and zainichi people in the context of the 1950s and 1960s, and how powerful the community ties and their political implication were of Chongryon supporters. In the end, KumHee's conclusion: "You need to write it first."

It is great to get this reality check by trying new ideas in a supportive platform like this. Thank you, Dr. Paulina Kolata!

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