Desiring Denmark: Danish Living in the Social Imagination of Koreans during Colonial Korea

Seminar with Albert Park, Clermont McKenna College, California

Albert L. Park is an associate professor of history at Claremont McKenna College (Claremont, CA) and is the Co-Principal Investigator of EnviroLab Asia at the Claremont Colleges. He is the coeditor of Encountering Modernity: Christianity in East Asia and Asian America and the author of Building a Heaven on Earth: Religion, Activism and Protest in Japanese Occupied Korea.

Pushed by Japanese colonial authorities and prominent Korean intellectuals, popular imaginations of modernity stressed urbanization with industrialization as the means for unleashing the full potential of Koreans and insuring a vibrant future for the country. Motivated by utopian desires, religious-based agrarian movements by groups such as the YMCA, Presbyterian Church, and the Ch’ŏndogyo Church vigorously contested these established visions of Korea’s future. They carried out elaborate drives to reorder the countryside for the birth of a rural modernity that would feature an agricultural-based moral economy and forms of identity and consciousness rooted in the present. A desire for Korea to become like Denmark was at the center of their drives to reconstruct Korea.

This paper focuses on why these religious movements turned to Denmark for guidance on how to build an agrarian paradise. It explores their adoption of Danish-style cooperatives and Folk Schools for laying the foundation of a rural modernism that would counter two opposing forces: modernists who desired an electric urban future and traditionalists who longed for a pristine rural past. The paper traces how Denmark became a symbol of desire, hope and protest in 1920s and 1930s Japanese-Occupied Korea.

This paper explains the rationale behind and efforts of these agrarian movements to build a “New Denmark” in Korea through the theory of reclamation—a concept from landscape architecture that stresses a temporal and spatial framework for modernity that is centered on the present and sensitive to place. It shows how these transnational processes between Korea and Denmark laid down the groundwork for an alternative path of modern life. It was ultimately a path that subverted the standard meaning of modernity that had ironically tied together the norms of Korean modernism and of Japanese colonialism. 

Free entry, all welcome.

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