Korean Studies, vol. 35 (2011)

Rethinking Korean Identity in Music

Guest Editor: Eun-Young Jung

Rethinking Korean Identity in Music: Editor’s Introduction
Eun-Young Jung, 1

‘‘Fusion’’ and Questions of Korean Cultural Identity in Music
R. Anderson Sutton, 4

The notion of cultural purity is demonstrably a myth, as historical analysis of any cultural expression can reveal multiple origins and hybridities that inevitably result from human contact. Yet in Korea, as elsewhere, some cultural forms are recognized as ‘‘pure’’ and ‘‘authentic,’’ celebrated as invaluable assets, to be preserved from foreign mixture. Korean fusion music, a broad category of musical practices, mixing unambiguously Korean elements with foreign elements, is an important response to the unsettled cultural terrain of contemporary Korea. This article explores aspects of contemporary Korean cultural identity and its discourses in music, arguing that fusion music is an important site in the creative struggle for the future of ‘‘Korean music.’’

Reclaiming Korea from ‘‘Korean Performance Tradition’’: A Critique of the Contemporization of Kugak
Chan E. Park, 25

Korean music tradition (kugak) is in a precarious position, due not merely to the Korean public’s infatuation with Western musical sounds, but also to the binary thinking that pits ‘‘traditional’’ against ‘‘modern.’’ The domestic-foreign hierarchy along the line of tradition as antithesis of modern is shared by the broader Korean population. In the recent nationalistic drive for global recognition—and global recognition appears to be the primary raison d’être—Korean music is further conceptualized for global palatability. Could Korean music be simply Korean even in contemporary form? Rather than prioritizing international tastes, should we not also probe what makes Korean music Korean? What role could traditional Korean music pedagogy play in contemporizing it? How could we achieve balance between preservation and modernization and between artistic perpetuation and popularization? What is missing in the field is the originary material and cultural contexts. Critiquing the current problematic trends of contemporization of Korean traditional music, I diverge from both the politics of preservation and that of fusion to identify the continuing flows of p’ungnyu, ‘‘wind and stream,’’ the core inspiration of Korean music tradition. Recalling the Confucian teaching, ‘‘Find new ways by learning old ways,’’ I propose that the contemporization of Korean music occur with an understanding of the ecology that produced Korean music tradition. Realigning contemporization with understanding the ethos of ‘‘wind and stream’’ should help negotiate between our contemporary reality and traditional musical semantics.

Korea’s Unique Kŏmun’go Zither and Its Roles in Korean Music: Challenging the Dichotomies of ‘‘Traditional’’ Kugak and ‘‘Creative’’ Ch’angjak Kugak
In-pyong Chun, 44

The kŏmun’go (six-string long zither) is unique among Korean instruments in sound and playing technique, with no comparable instrument in Asia or elsewhere. As such it is especially effective in offering a strong Korean ‘‘feel,’’ even in ch’angjak kugak (‘‘creative’’ Korean music) pieces that use many nontraditional techniques. This article provides background on the social function of the kŏmun’go and its essential performance techniques—nonghyŏn and sigimsae. It then compares the older (‘‘traditional’’) styles and repertory and recent compositions with respect to modal systems, tonal organization, and changdan (rhythmic patterns), with analysis of three newly composed pieces featuring kŏmun’go by Chun In-pyong, Yi Hae-sik, and Ahn Hyun-jung, identifying traditional elements and newly added creative aspects, showing different ways that this conservative Korean instrument fits in ch’angjak kugak. The essay argues for a dynamic understanding of Koreanness in conceptualizing and evaluating contemporary pieces.

The Place of Sentimental Song in Contemporary Korean Musical Life
Eun-Young Jung, 71

Scholarly and official discourses on Korean music have focused almost exclusively on the range of genres that fall under the broad rubric of ‘‘kugak.’’ Yet it is well known to Koreans and foreign observers alike that kugak is little known and underappreciated by the majority of Koreans today. While many Koreans study Western classical music and hold it in high regard, the music that is most widely consumed, and can be said to be the most popular and meaningful in the lives of contemporary Koreans, is Korean popular music (taejung kayo), and particularly the genre of sentimental love songs known as palladŭ. Although the Korean government has expressed pride in the international spread of Korean popular culture (the ‘‘Korean Wave’’), cultural policy mostly sanctions kugak and denigrates popular music. I challenge the notion that Korean popular music should merely be viewed as an economic commodity, somehow not truly representative of Korean culture, lacking ‘‘Koreanness.’’ Focusing on musical style, language, emotion, and visual imagery, I discuss representative palladŭ songs and their recent history, considering the elements that are widely felt to be ‘‘Korean.’’


Between Confucianism and Marxism-Leninism: Juche and the Case of Chŏng Tasan
Alzo David-West, 93

This article examines the Confucian component of the North Korean juche ideology, appraising the national-Stalinist doctrine in view of its relation to the Reformed Confucianism of Chŏng Tasan. A representative of the indigenous sirhak (practical learning) school in the late Chosŏn era, Tasan merits attention because he was politically endorsed in Kim Il Sung’s 1955 juche speech and was popular in the 1960s. Studying the rise, fall, and revival of Tasan; Kim Jong Il’s statements on behalf of the North Korean state bureaucracy; and the juche and Tasanist conceptions of ‘‘man,’’ the author concludes that Tasan’s Neo-Confucianism was assimilated into juche and that the sirhak scholar is being ideologically re-appreciated for regime legitimacy in North Korea today.

The Mystery of Emperor Kojong’s Sudden Death in 1919: Were the Highest Japanese Officials Responsible?
Yŏng-ho Ch’oe and Tae-jin Yi, 122

Emperor Kojong died suddenly in January 1919. Immediately, rumors circulated widely that he had been poisoned by the Japanese, and wall posters to that effect appeared throughout Seoul. The people who gathered to mourn Kojong’s death engaged in peaceful demonstrations, which served as the impetus of the March First Movement in Korea. The Japanese authorities never investigated the cause of Kojong’s sudden death, which has remained a mystery to this date. There is strong evidence that he was poisoned. Moreover, Princess Masako, a daughter-in-law of Kojong, testifies in her autobiography that Japanese government officials gave a secret instruction to poison him. Consistent with her testimony, there is an allegation in Kuratomi Yūzaburō’s diary that Terauchi Masatake and Hasegawa Yoshimichi may have been behind the crime. Our review of the evidence strongly supports the allegation that the highest Japanese officials were behind the poisoning of Emperor Kojong.


E. Taylor Atkins, Primitive Selves: Koreana in the Japanese Colonial Gaze, 1910–1945
reviewed by Todd Henry, 152

Kelly Y. Jeong, Crisis of Gender and the Nation in Korean Literature and Cinema: Modernity Arrives Again
reviewed by Sang Yee Cheon, 157

Victor D. Cha, Beyond the Final Score: The Politics of Sport in Asia
reviewed by Kevin D. Kim, 160

Chris Springer, North Korea Caught in Time: Images of War and Reconstruction
reviewed by Daniel C. Kane, 162

Contributors, 166