[KS] Announcement of Ph.D. dissertation on Korean adoption/adoptees

tobias at orient.su.se tobias at orient.su.se
Fri Oct 28 03:29:02 EDT 2005

On December 2, 2005, Tobias Hübinette will defend 
his Ph.D. dissertation in Korean Studies 
Comforting an Orphaned Nation: Representations of 
International Adoption and Adopted Koreans in 
Korean Popular Culture at the Department of 
Oriental Languages, Stockholm University, Sweden

Supervisors: Professor Staffan Rosén, Department 
of Oriental Languages, Stockholm University, and 
Dr. Lars Lindström, Department of Political 
Science, Stockholm University
External examiner: Dr. Koen De Ceuster, Centre 
for Korean Studies, Leiden University
Examining committee members: Professor Raoul 
Granqvist, Department of Modern Languages, Umeå 
University, Professor Tiina Rosenberg, Center for 
Gender Studies, Stockholm University, and 
Professor Johanna Schiratzki, Department of Law, 
Stockholm University

The dissertation can be read and downloaded at 
the Swedish Digital Scientific Archive:

The dissertation has also been accepted for 
publication by the Korean Jimoondang Publishing 
Company (http://www.jimoon.co.kr/) as monograph 
No. 7 in the Korean Studies Dissertation Series.

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.

Keywords: Korean studies, international adoption, 
adopted Koreans, postcolonial studies, cultural 
studies, nationalism, diaspora, representation, 
popular culture, reconciliation


Tobias Hübinette a.k.a. Lee Sam-dol

Ph.D. candidate in Korean Studies
Department of Oriental Languages
Stockholm University
SE-106 91 Stockholm

Tel: 46-8-16 15 88
Fax: 46-8-15 54 64
E-mail: tobias at orient.su.se

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