April 28, 2015/ 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM

Presentation Room, Charles E. Young Research Library UCLA CA

UCLA Event: A False Martyr's Wager

Yi Kwangsu and Collaboration

Professor Serk-Bae Suh (UCI)

The paper examines Yi Kwansu’s writings on martyrdom in relation to his collaboration with Japanese colonial rule. After the end of Japanese colonial rule, Yi notoriously invoked the image of martyrdom to defend his collaborationist activities during the colonial period. He argued that he had believed collaboration with the Japanese state was the only way for Koreans not only to survive in the age of harsh competition and total war between nations but also to flourish as a member nation of the Japanese empire on a par with Japanese. He implicitly portrayed himself as a martyr, who suffered on behalf of the Korean nation by willingly sacrificing his moral and political reputation and integrity as the nation’s spiritual leader. Yi’s invocation of martyrdom is often dismissed as either a shameless excuse or a feeble justification for his traitorous collaboration with colonial domination, yet his idea of martyrdom significantly featured in his earlier literary work as well. Yi wrote three major literary texts about martyrdom, a play on 19th century Korean Catholic martyrs under Regent Hŭngsŏn’s rule (1920), a novel about the same subject (1924), and a novel about the 6th century martyrdom of a Buddhist court official in the Kingdom of Silla (1935-36). He even identified Koreans as the nation of martyrs in his commentary on the literary works. By focusing on Yi’s figuration of his collaborationist activities as self-sacrifice in his book My Confession, the paper aims to explore how Yi’s idea of martyrdom can help us better understand his active collaboration during the last decade of Japanese rule. 

Photo: Yi Kwansu; cropped. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Cost : Free and open to the public


Sponsor(s): Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies, UCLA Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA East Asian Library