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Comforting an orphaned nation: Representations of international adoption and adopted Koreans in Korean popular culture
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Oriental Languages. koreanska.
2006 (English)Book (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

International adoption from Korea constitutes the background to this study. The forced migration of Korean children has by now continued for over half a century, resulting in a population of 156,000 overseas adopted Koreans dispersed among 15 main host countries on the continents of Europe, North America and Australia. Both the demographic scope, the time span and the geographic spread are absolutely unique from a comparative child migratory perspective, and still over 2,000 children leave Korea annually for international adoption. This massive intercontinental trafficking of Korean children was for many years silently taking place in the shadow of Korea’s rapid transformation from a war-torn and poverty-stricken country to a formidable success story in the postcolonial world. Even if the subject of international adoption and adopted Koreans turned up now and then in the political debate throughout the years, it was not until the end of the 1980s that a comprehensive discussion started. Ever since then the adoption issue has been haunting Korea, from the mid-1950s and up to the mid-1990s the leading global exporter of children and by far the country in the world having sent away the highest number of its own citizens for international adoption in modern history. This is a study of representations of adopted Koreans in Korean popular culture. The study is carried out by examining how adopted Koreans are represented in four feature films and four popular songs. After having given the cultural background to adoption in Korean tradition, the history of international adoption from Korea, an account of the development of the adoption issue in the political discourse and the appearance of adopted Koreans in Korean popular culture, the first reading takes up the gendering of the colonised nation and the maternalisation of roots in Chang Kil-su’s film Susanne Brink’s Arirang (1991) and Sinawe’s song Motherland (1997), drawing on theories of nationalism as a gendered discourse. The second reading examines the issue of hybridity and the relationship between Koreanness and Whiteness in Kim Ki-duk’s film Wild Animals (1997) and Moon Hee Jun’s song Alone (2001), including its album cover, related to the notions of third space, mimicry and passing. Linked to studies of national division, reunification and family separation, the third reading looks at the adopted Koreans as symbols of a fractured and fragmented nation in Park Kwang-su’s film Berlin Report (1991) and Clon’s song Abandoned Child (1999). The fourth and last reading focuses on the emergence of a global Korean community in Lee Jang-soo’s film Love (1999) and Sky’s song Eternity (1999), including its music video, with regards to theories of globalisation, diasporas and transnationalism. At the end, the study argues that the Korean adoption issue can be interpreted as a national trauma threatening to disrupt the unity and homogeneity of the Korean nation and to question the country’s political independence and economic success story that is so valorised in the master narrative of the nation.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Jimoondang Publishing Company, Seoul , 2006. , 263 p.
, Korean Studies Series, 32
Keyword [en]
international adoption, media, popular culture, Korea, nationalism, diaspora
National Category
Specific Languages
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-22364ISBN: 89-8809-595-2OAI: diva2:188891
Available from: 2006-12-11 Created: 2006-12-11Bibliographically approved

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