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The orphaned nation: Korea imagined as an overseas adopted child in Clon’s Abandoned Child and Park Kwang-su’s Berlin Report
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Oriental Languages, Division of Korean Studies.
2005 (English)In: Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Vol. 6, no 2, 227-244 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
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 diaspora of more than 150,000 adopted Koreans dispersed among 15 main host countries on the continents of Europe, North America and Oceania. Both the demographic scope, the time span and the geographic spread are absolutely unique in a comparative historical child migratory perspective, and still over 2,000 children leave Korea annually. This massive intercontinental displacement and dispersal of Korean children was, for many years, silently taking place in the shadow of Korea’s transformation from a war-torn and poverty-stricken country to a formidable economic 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, the adoption issue ibyang munjê) has been haunting Korea as a recurrent subject in Korean media and popular culture. This paper is a reading of the pop group Clon’s song Abandoned Child from 1999 and the world-famous Korean director Park Kwang-su’s film Berlin Report from 1991 where adopted Koreans are seen as symbols of a divided and dispersed nation. With the background of Korean nationalism with its notion of the nation as family and its strong emphasis on homogeneity and continuity, the point of departure is the very existence of the adopted Koreans as a delicate threat to nationalist ideology, causing anxieties of disrupting a supposedly fixed and unified national identity, and calling into question what it means to be Korean and who belongs to the Korean nation. The reading is grounded on the fact that the subject of separated families is considered to be one of the most important aspects of the Korean reunification discourse, and has become a powerful metaphor of the Korean nation itself. Abandoned Child is the most typical of Korean adoption songs in representing the fate of Korea’s 150,000 lost children, and the adoptee of the song is easily transformed into a powerful symbol of one of Korea’s numerous separated families. In Berlin Report, the divided and dispersed Korean nation is represented by two separated adopted Koreans longing and searching for each other as the adoption issue is set upon the reunification issue, and their individual traumas become the national trauma of all Koreans.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group , 2005. Vol. 6, no 2, 227-244 p.
Keyword [en]
Korea, nationalism, reunification, separated families, international adoption, adopted children
National Category
Specific Languages
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-1329OAI: diva2:189895
Available from: 2006-10-27 Created: 2006-10-27 Last updated: 2011-01-12Bibliographically approved

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