Assimilation through Resistance: Language and Ethnicity in Kim Saryang's "Hikari No Naka Ni"

By Glade, Jonathan | Southeast Review of Asian Studies, Annual 2007 | Go to article overview

Assimilation through Resistance: Language and Ethnicity in Kim Saryang's "Hikari No Naka Ni"


Glade, Jonathan, Southeast Review of Asian Studies


In the short story "Hikari no naka ni" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (In the light, 1939), Kim Saryang (1914-50) critiques the desire of colonized Koreans to participate in the colonial policy of assimilation through such acts as adopting Japanese names. Ironically, this resistance to assimilatory policies ultimately leads to a different path toward assimilation. Similar to Kim's own success in life as an author of works written in the language of his colonizers (Japanese), the resolution his text offers--resistance to assimilation through acceptance of one's Korean ethnicity--results in assimilation through this very act of resistance, suggesting that resistance through the use of the colonizer's tools inevitably produces complicity.

Assimilation through Resistance: Chang Hyok-ju & Kim Saryang

In 1910, Korea was officially annexed by Japan into the burgeoning Japanese Empire, marking a significant shift in Korean efforts to modernize. With the focus of modernization efforts now placed almost entirely on Japan, the debate over which modernization model to follow subsided. This focus on Japan led to a particular form of "colonial modernity," where modern institutions--often imported from the West into Japan--were then relayed to Korea through a Japanese filter. In order to gain access to these modern institutions, many young Korean students made their way to Japan and partook of the "modern" education available there. Because few institutions of higher learning existed on the Korean peninsula, this migration continued until the end of the colonial period in 1945. The education these young scholars received was in the language of their colonizers, Japanese; and, even for those who remained in Korea, the curricula were primarily offered in Japanese. In the field of literature, modern Japanese literature had been firmly established by 1910, and Japanese translations of Western texts from such languages as Russian, French, and German were abundant. Korean students of modern literature during the colonial period, then, engaged with texts that were, for the most part, written in Japanese.

Young Korean writers who had received their formal education in Japanese faced the dilemma of whether to write in Korean, their "native" language, or Japanese, the language of their colonizers. Because Japanese colonial policy centered on the promotion of assimilation, the issue of language became particularly controversial. Slogans such as "same language, same race" (dobun doshu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) emphasized a shared cultural heritage with Japan's East Asian neighbors. As Kazuki Sato points out, this claim to "similarity," however, often served as a justification for Japanese imperial advances into neighboring countries: "dobun doshu had already come to reflect the vision conveyed by a term like the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (Dai-Toa Kyoeiken [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), namely, the expulsion of Western powers from Asia and the establishment of Japanese hegemony." (1)

Chang Hyok-ju [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 1905-98) and Kim Saryang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 1914-50), two representative colonial-period Korean authors, chose to write in Japanese. (2) Although educated in Korea, Chang felt that writing in Japanese provided the best platform to inform the world about Korea: "There are few peoples in the world more unfortunate than Koreans. I somehow want to make an appeal to the world about this situation, but the Korean-language sphere is too small. With this in mind, I felt it was necessary to enter to enter the Japanese literary establishment, as there are many more opportunities for translation." (3) For Chang, at least in theory, the Japanese language represented a means of resistance to Japanese colonialism. Also, writing in Japanese allowed much more leeway in addressing controversial topics, since the censorship policies for Korean-language texts were far stricter than those used for Japanese publications.

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