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Monuments, Memory, and Identity

Constructing the Colonial Past in South Korea


Guy Podoler

Between 1910 and 1945 Korea was subjected to Japanese colonial rule. Monuments, Memory, and Identity investigates ways how postcolonial South Korea commemorated this difficult past in light of changing political and social conditions, and against the background of the divided nation. By analyzing museums, memorial halls, parks and monuments, the author deciphers and maps the South Korean commemorative landscape. He analyzes the layouts of the country’s well-known «sites of memory» and explores the on-site plaques, exhibits, and photos as well as the booklets and publications. This book underpins the shifts and trends in recollecting this important historical period by addressing the following questions: How has postcolonial South Korea been constructing and reconstructing its colonial past? Why were certain narratives and images chosen at different times? What debates, controversies, and challenges were involved in this dynamic process? Furthermore, the author discusses the South Korean case within the broader context of the postcolonial discourse.


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Chapter 3: The Struggle 129


129 Chapter 3: The Struggle In the early 1980s, Bruce Cumings wrote that “when asked, [South] Koreans will say the Japanese were terrible, made Koreans speak their language, took away their names. But one does not hear much about a resistance movement.” He also emphasized the symbolic existence of the Government-General Building in Seoul as one manifestation of a remaining colonial legacy (1984, 478). However, in the decades that passed since this observation was made, South Korea’s tangible history has markedly changed. For example, the Government-General Building, as we saw in the previous chapter, was erased from the landscape. Moreover, much emphasis has been given to the theme of struggle. This chapter revolves around the March First Independence Movement and its outcomes. The effects of this movement, as they are commonly mentioned in related historiography, include the following. First, it was the first time the Korean people rose as a nation to demand independence. It thus inspired Koreans worldwide. Second, the move- ment had influenced the creation of active movements inside the colony and the activities of armed resistance abroad. Third, it drew international attention to Korea, and Japan was compelled to change its colonial policy. This shift opened opportunities for the rise of “moderate” nationalism in the colony. Fourth, the movement led to the establishment of the Korean Provisional Government in China. South Korea’s national history highlights these offshoots and presents them as admirable reactions to the dark period, a period the conditions of which were the subject of...

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