Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Colonialism and Contested Membership: Shifting Sense of Belonging and Postcolonial Division in Korea

Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Colonialism and Contested Membership: Shifting Sense of Belonging and Postcolonial Division in Korea

Article excerpt

The WAY INSTITUTIONAL ARRANGEMENTS AND STATE APPARATUSES resemble one another between Korea's colonial and postcolonial periods has received much scholarly attention in explaining postcolonial state formation. One of the essential problems in postcolonial politics, however, is that the state form, which is embedded in a colonial structure, clashes with a community form that is based on the cultural identity of the indigenous population. The history of postcolonial societies suggests that the sources of political disorder in the process of postcolonial state formation stem not merely from political hegemony or economic interest but also from conflicts among various social groups aspiring to different types of political community. We should therefore consider social and cultural changes as well as institu- tional rearrangements in explaining the reconstruction of postcolonial society and state formation.

In this article I focus on the impact of Japanese colonial legacies on Korea in the early years of US occupation and examine the way in which the historical experience of colonial rule reformulated people's perception of collective membership and belonging in the national community, thereby conditioning and shaping postcolonial division. The case of Korea demonstrates the historically shifting nature of collective identity and sense of belonging through colonial rule and its impact on postcolonial changes. With Japan's defeat in World War II and Korea's decolonization, strong popular demands emerged for the abolishment of colonial legacies and the reconstruction of an independent nationstate. Yet foreign rule by the United States and the Soviet Union soon followed the brief liberation phase.

Despite the fact that the divided occupation obstructed immediate national independence, the occupation regime was far from being a target of social criticism or political struggles, even after it became evident that reform projects initiated by the American Military Government (AMG) were not fully compatible with- indeed, were at significant odds with-the changes that Koreans had pursued in the liberation phase. The AMG resurrected the colonial administrative system and rehabilitated former government officials on the one hand and suppressed the activities of political organizations and social associations formed during the liberation phase on the other. Through this process, various forms of internal conflicts that had emerged since the colonial era intensified. Why did the occupation accelerate internal conflicts among Koreans? And how did this continuous intra-Korean struggle under the AMG shape postcolonial division in Korea?

Exploring these questions, I elucidate the historical process in which Japanese colonial legacies were revived under the US occupation in Korea. Of particular importance is that internal boundaries among Koreans, which had been formulated for the Japanese colonial era, became significantly intensified politically, economically, and ideologically through the intervention of the AMG. My historical analysis advances the argument that the significance of colonialism lies not merely in its institutional repro- duction in the postcolonial period but perhaps more importantly in relational changes of the indigenous people and in reconstruction of the political community.

Postcolonial State Building Between the Nation-State and Statelessness1

Stateless and Rightless

The issues of collective membership and belonging in the national political community have been studied widely. Scholars have examined how the expansion of a market economy could be accompanied by the extension of legal status (Barbalet 1988; Marshall 1992). The modern nation-state has also been a central topic as an institutionalized form of political community, especially in terms of collective membership in a particular historical context (Mann 1986b, 1987; Tilly 1990, 1998, 1999). In addition, nationalism has been viewed as critical for the development of a sense of national belonging (Brubaker 1992, 1996). …

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