This paper explores the relations between gendered sexual violence, rape of women in particular, and the evolution of the idea of “horizontality” of the modern Korean ethnos and the related notions of human universality, ethnoracial homogeneity, and political and socio-economic equality, as imagined in colonial Korean literature. It analyzes several key literary works from the late 1910s to the mid-1930s that contributed to imagining a modern collective, the Korean ethnos (or minjok), whose fundamental premise was some version of “horizontality” in Benedict Anderson’s term. My reading illustrates that the ideological deployment of lowborn men’s sexual acts and desires as commensurate with their inalienable human rights, lays the groundwork for the androcentric ethnos and a future postcolonial nation-state, while lowborn women’s sexual acts and desires are re-affirmed as alienable, commodifiable, and morally unacceptable. In thinking about these gendered narrative strategies that came to constitute the foundation of modern Korean ethnos, I am invested in teasing out how the representations of sexual violence against women took on changing symbolic values and performed different ideological labor in colonial Korea and in post-colonial South Korea. I would like to end the talk by discussing a set of literary works where women’s resistance is equally powerfully articulated, thus disrupting the masculinist ethnonational equality.
Jin-kyung Lee is Associate Professor of Korean and Comparative Literature at UC, San Diego. She is the author of Service Economies: Militarism, Sex Work and Migrant Labor in South Korea (University of Minnesota Press, 2010) as well as a co-editor of Rat Fire: Korean Stories from the Japanese Empire (Cornell East Asia Series, 2013). She is currently working on a book manuscript on colonial Korean literature.