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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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Conclusion: Tangible History in South Korea – Its Features and Politics 235


235 Conclusion: Tangible History in South Korea – Its Features and Politics The main concern of the present study was to analyze South Korea’s tangible history in order to trace shifts in the way the country has offi- cially chosen to remember its colonial past. In this study, tangible history has been perceived as a narrative told by a selection of popular memorial sites, the combination of which forms a significant part of the country’s commemorative landscape. The South Korean commemorative landscape is built on the blend of concepts and forms that originated in the West, with particular local historical and cultural elements. The modern ideas concerning what a “nation” is, and why and how this “nation” should and can be tangibly expressed, are all manifested in the existence of such landscape. Also, this landscape employs artistic and stylistic designs that are conspicuously influenced by, and adopted from, the memorial halls, cemeteries, statues, and monuments that are to be found in Europe and America and that have their roots going back to the nineteenth century. Into this cast, native Korean elements have been poured, while also adding unique stylistic designs, in a process that has been determined by the interests of various political and social agents under changing socio- political conditions. At a rough estimate, a total of five million people a year visit the sites explored here, hence the public has been highly exposed to its national history. Furthermore, with languages other than Korean still relatively scarce in most of...

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