6/9 Sei-Jin Chang, Cold War and the Cultural Politics of ‘The Pacific’

Art and Politics of East Asia Workshop presents:

Cold War and the Cultural Politics of ‘The Pacific’:
The Transition of Spatial Imagination and Nationalizing the Sea in South Korea in 1945~1950

(click here to read the paper)

Sei Jin Chang
(Visiting scholar, EALC)

With a response offered by
Ji Young Kim
(PhD Student, EALC)

June 9 (Wednesday)
2:00-4:00 PM
Judd 313

With the break up of the old Japanese imperial territory, the issue of space has surfaced in the ‘post-colonial’ era. This being precipitated by the mass migration of people to the Korean peninsula and the demarcation of the 38th parallel through the dynamics of global politics. Foucault’s point that the modern nation state is not completed until it occupies an exclusive national territory: “Space is central to any exercise of power” is worth noting in this regard. During this period, one of the characteristics of spatial discourse produced in South Korea was a ‘rediscovery’ of the sea or ocean which became politically inscribed within a cultural/national narrative, thus being given a new significance.

From a colonial perspective of Korean history, ‘peninsulaness’ is regarded as a central trope delineating its dependence on other countries. In such a construction, Korea is neither island (like Japan) nor imposing land empire (like China). But in this ‘Post- colonial’ period, it has come to be taken as a geographical benefit through which Korea can connect with both land and water. After the establishment of the South Korean government below the 38th parallel, an oceanic affinity has been much emphasized compared to a continental one. This discourse on water – seen by many as a binary between territorial waters and the open sea – became politicized and signified in its totality within the national. This political and conceptual shift evinces the way in which ‘the Pacific’ obtains new meaning in contrast to colonial period. The momentum of new meaning comes from three directions. First, the new discourse of the Pacific subverts the old: Japan and its pan-Asian imaginary, of which the Pacific forms a central discourse, is rendered ineffective in the closing scenes of the second World war. A new Pacific connection is made, that of America as the ‘Democratic’ victor which now occupies the position of the vanquished. Second, the Pacific is settled into the narrative of ‘honorable origin’ as the sacred space where the fight for Nation’s independence has taken place. This ‘glorious’ metaphor exists in relation to another, the Pacific ocean as theatre for national suffering during the war. Thus, it has been located at the centre of a nexus of meaning that has been colored by discourses of the Nation state. Finally, the most dramatic signification of the Pacific begins with the Cold war which accelerated after the communization of China in 1949. The sign of the Pacific –the locus of many poor countries – was transformed into a space to be preserved in competition with the USSR in the terms of bloc theory. The Pacific was regarded as ‘the sea of race’ before and during WWII, but it quickly gains new meaning as ‘the sea of ideology’ in the post-War era and beyond. In a word, the Pacific was the sign connected directly America as a global power which was seen as making the new spatial order of East-Asia after 1945, so-called ‘Postcolonial’ world.

The workshop is sponsored by the Center for East Asian Studies and the Council on Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences.

Persons with a disability who believe they may need assistance, please contact Ji Young Kim (jiyoung22@uchicago.edu) or Ling Zhang (ling1@uchicago.edu)

June 7th, Helen Findley: The Language of Sekkyô: Buddhist Homiletic Performance in Late Meiji Japan

Art and Politics of East Asia Workshop presents

The Language of Sekkyô:

Buddhist Homiletic Performance in Late Meiji Japan

(click here to read the paper)

Helen A. Findley
Ph.D. Candidate
East Asian Languages and Civilizations
University of Chicago

Cameron Penwell, Respondent

(PhD student, History, University of Chicago)

June 7th (Monday)

3:00-5:00 p.m.

Judd Hall 313

5835 South Kimbark Avenue

Chicago, IL 60637


For many Buddhist reformers of the Meiji period (1868-1912), language became the principle object through which to address the interpretative project then underway, namely the discursive creation of a “modern” Japan.  The practice of sekkyô, or preaching, is crucial to this debate, not only as an important medium of social communication but also as an essential form of Buddhist praxis.  Deployed in a variety of physical settings – from train stations, temple grounds, to colonial missions – this mutable, peripatetic practice is ultimately argued to constitute a new understanding of religious space in modern Japanese society, one which by 1912 had expanded to include every place and every time available to the preacher in the course of “expounding the teachings.”

In this chapter, I explore the ways in which Buddhist preaching was reconceptualized in the years following the dissolution of the doctrinal instructor system in 1884. In addition to examining the hermeneutical constraints posed by homiletic terminology, contemporary debates surrounding the development of a standardized written language will be drawn upon as I seek to argue that Buddhist preaching in the form of sekkyô constitutes a “standard language” in its own right, one that is predicated on plain and elegant use of the vernacular as a skilfull means by which to disseminate Buddhist teachings.  The performance of Buddhist preaching events was ultimately argued to constitute a form of bodhisattva practice that required formal training and discipline in refining the entire corpus of communicative tools available to the preacher – from the body, to the spoken word and finally to the written text.  While the individual was transformed through the theorized discipline to become a “speaking bodhisattva,” the audience was expected to also undergo a transformation commensurate with the speaker’s skill, ideally resulting in the production of a Japanese Buddhist citizenry, and hence a Buddhist vision of “modern” Japan.

If you would like to be added to our mailing list and receive workshop updates, please contact jiyoung22@uchicago.edu

Faculty sponsors: Michael Bourdaghs, Paola Iovene

The workshop is sponsored by the Center for East Asian Studies and the Council on Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences. Persons with a disability who believe they may need assistance, please contact Ji Young Kim (jiyoung22@uchicago.edu) or Ling Zhang (ling1@uchicago.edu)