Resituating Zainichi in History: Three Approaches
Open lecture with Dr Sayaka Chatani, Assistant Professor at the Department of History at the National University of Singapore
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 communities in 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 leftist activism 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.
Sayaka Chatani is Assistant Professor at the Department of History, the National University of Singapore. She specializes in social history of Japanese imperialism and Korean diasporas. She is the author of Nation-Empire: Ideology and Rural Youth Mobilization in Japan and Its Colonies (Cornell University Press, 2018; a recipient of Choice Outstanding Academic Title Award). Her articles on Japanese imperialism and youth as well as zainichi Koreans have appeared in the American Historical Review, the Journal of Asian Studies, and Comparative Studies in Society and History, and Critical Asian Studies, among others. She is currently working on two book projects on the community history of Chongryon zainichi Koreans.
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