[KS] KSR 2004-17: _Narratives of Nation Building in Korea: A Genealogy of Patriotism_, by Sheila Miyoshi Jager

Stephen Epstein Stephen.Epstein at vuw.ac.nz
Thu Oct 14 04:43:54 EDT 2004

_Narratives of Nation Building in Korea: A Genealogy of Patriotism_, 
by Sheila Miyoshi Jager, 2003. Armonk, New York and London: M.E. 
Sharpe. 185 pages. ISBN 0-7656-1068-X.

reviewed by Seungsook Moon
Vassar College
semoon at vassar.edu

	This book, composed of new and formerly published chapters, 
examines how narratives of nation building in early twentieth century 
Korea produced new forms of masculinity and femininity and how new 
and old gender systems have equally informed nationalist narratives 
throughout the twentieth century. In Part One Jager identifies 
formative nationalist narratives in the writings of Sin Ch'ae-ho 
(1880-1936) and Yi Kwang-su (1892-1950) that constructed, 
respectively, the warrior-hero as the protagonist of the nation, and 
the loyal/enlightened woman as a political sign symbolizing the 
nation's core values and authenticity. The militarized masculinity of 
the warrior-hero is a novel development in juxtaposition with the 
masculinity of the Confucian scholar, and loyal/enlightened 
femininity is new in its conception of woman as an ontological 
category rather than one defined by roles tied to specific activities 
and work embedded in patriarchal kinship. In Parts Two and Three 
Jager discusses significant moments of nationalist discourse produced 
during the colonial period, the 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s that 
reveal the recurring tropes of militarized masculinity, 
loyal/enlightened femininity, and responses to the new conception of 

	What is noteworthy in this nationalist construction of new 
gendered identities, Jager persuasively argues, is the selective 
appropriation of old and new systems of gender that underlie the new 
tales of national suffering, struggle, redemption and triumph 
narrated in the naturalized language of family and kinship. "The 
political unconscious" (in Frederic Jameson's terms) that makes 
nationalism appealing, Jager contends, stems from classic Confucian 
narrative configurations about women, gender, and kinship, 
particularly as seen in such canonical romances as the tale of 
Ch'unhyang and the values of filial piety and fatherly benevolence. 
For example, the discourse of chuch'e itself, by metonymically 
linking romance to patriotism, employs romance tropes to discuss 
national reunification. Dissident student activists of the 1980s 
depicted national unification as the reunion of a separated couple, 
and viewed Korean history in terms of the genealogy of 
trans-generational patriotism and the redemption of manhood. 
According to Jager, the redemption of manhood took an interesting 
turn in the discourse of nation-building articulated by President Kim 
Dae Jung (1998-2002), once a leading dissident persecuted by military 
regimes.  Adopting the Christian notion of forgiveness, Kim 
constructs masculinity/nationhood in sharp opposition to the ideal of 
militarized masculinity celebrated during Park Chung Hee's rule and 
even Kim Young Sam's civilian administration.

	Reflecting the "linguistic turn" in social sciences under the 
influence of postmodernism and poststructuralism, this book focuses 
almost exclusively on the recurring motifs underlying patriotic 
narratives that construct the seamless historical continuity of 
Korean nation. While this discursive approach to patriotism allows 
for rich and insightful readings of various moments of nationalist 
discourse, this book's primary focus on texts raises questions about 
the overall significance of its gender analysis. Treating gender 
exclusively as a symbolic order that structures the public imaginary 
(or the political unconscious), this study does not link its textual 
analysis to the changing social relations of gender in Korean 
society. While such a linkage lies outside Jager's primary aims to 
offer "a kind of literary 'montage' that attempts to decode the 
narrative platforms of Korean nationalism while staying clear of 
their progressive claims" (xi), the author's concern with just such 
progressive claims and allusions to alternative ways to think about 
historical categories like gender and nation begs an important 
question. A critical move away from a teleological approach to 
history does not have to mean the reduction of social reality to 

	What is curiously missing in this otherwise valuable study is 
references to the literature on gender and nationalism in Korea and 
other social contexts, which would strengthen its objective of 
deconstructing "the universal myth of national liberation" (p. 56). 
For instance, as Kumari Jayawardena documented in Nationalism and 
Feminism in the Third World (1989), the "Woman's Question" was a 
strategic theme shared by nationalist discourses and movements in 
many colonized and semi-colonized countries.  As postcolonial and/or 
feminist scholars such as Lata Mani, Tani Barlow, Partha Chatterjee, 
and Anne McClintock have argued, the masculinist politics of 
nationalism in these Third World countries has tended to reduce Woman 
to an abstract political sign symbolizing a nation's spirituality and 
authenticity but devoid of social relations of power.  The fusion of 
"the private" and "the public" in nationalist narratives, which makes 
nationalism persuasive, according to Jager, is also a common 
narrative strategy of nationalisms elsewhere.

	Overall, this book skillfully illuminates the cultural 
politics of nationalist narratives, but raises deeper questions about 
the exclusive focus on discourse in social analysis.

Moon, Seungsook 2004
_Narratives of Nation Building in Korea: A Genealogy of Patriotism_, 
by Sheila Miyoshi Jager,  (2003)
_Korean Studies Review_ 2004, no. 17
Electronic file: http://koreaweb.ws/ks/ksr/ksr04-17.htm
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