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Monday, January 26, 2004

Two recent books on Korea

A note on two recent books on Korea, which I have lately been reading with great interest. Modôn ppoi Kyôngsôngûl kônilda ("Modern guy loitering in Seoul") (Hyônsilmunhwayôn'gu, 2003) is a study on the so-called manmunmanhwa (漫文漫畵) "text cartoon" during the 1920s and 1930, published mainly in Chosun Ilbo and written and illustrated mainly by An Sôk-chu. It gives wonderful glimpses to the life in colonial Seoul (or Kyôngsông/Gyeongseong as it was officially called), how the influences of modernization arrived in Korea. Manmunmanhwa was a combination of cartoon and text, with both elements adding to the mostly ironical or satirizing content. They were published under the Japanese censorship, so the overt political and critical tone is not there, but the ch'oraham (cannot figure out right now what that was in English) of Koreans in the colonial and international order is often evident. In the book cover linked below is the image of a "modern boy" (modôn ppoi) and a "modern girl" (modôn kkôl), following the Western-Japanese fashion trends in clothing and daily life, and no doubt (haven't read that closely yet) making some of their own. What interests me are the depictions of newly forming social distinctions, like the exchange between a delivery boy and a "fine lady" (kwipuin). (The artist adds in the text that also kisaeng and mistresses [ch'ôp] go for a "fine lady" if they are fine enough. The fine lady sees a delivery boy driving a bicycle and carrying a heavy tray with only one hand, and wonders aloud that it must be very heavy. "It cannot be heavier than your hairpin and all the rings in your fingers" answers the delivery boy. "How can you talk like that, who even cannot afford to buy a copper ring to your woman." Then there's also some nice commentary about shop signboards which are higher than the shop itself.

Perhaps I'll scan some of the pictures later and post them here.

Here are two nicked from the net:
People showing off their wristwatches in a tramModern boys
(the both are titled as kasang sogyông [街上所見], street impressions)

Abelmann: Melodrama of MobilitySin Myeong-jik: Modôn ppoi Kyôngsôngûl kônilda

Nancy Abelmann: Melodrama of Mobility; Women, Talk and Class in Contemporary South Korea (Hawaii UP 2003) is a highly sophisticated study of making sense of what is happening in South Korea through the talk of eight women, interviewed and hanged out with over a long period. I've just started reading it, so I'll refrain making extensive comments yet, only that it seems to be as insightful as I expected. Only that the prose is not the easiest to read, with the excessive dashes and parentheses. Perhaps I'll post some tokhugam later.

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