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Assimilating Seoul

Japanese Rule and the Politics of Public Space in Colonial Korea, 1910–1945

Todd A. Henry

Publication Year: 2014

Assimilating Seoul, the first book-length study in English of Seoul during the colonial period, challenges conventional nationalist paradigms by revealing the intersection of Korean and Japanese history in this important capital. Through microhistories of Shinto festivals, industrial expositions, and sanitation campaigns, Todd A. Henry offers a transnational account that treats the city’s public spaces as "contact zones," showing how residents negotiated pressures to become loyal, industrious, and hygienic subjects of the Japanese empire. Unlike previous, top-down analyses, this ethnographic history investigates modalities of Japanese rule as experienced from below. Although the colonial state set ambitious goals for the integration of Koreans, Japanese settler elites and lower-class expatriates shaped the speed and direction of assimilation by bending government initiatives to their own interests and identities. Meanwhile, Korean men and women of different classes and generations rearticulated the terms and degree of their incorporation into a multiethnic polity. Assimilating Seoul captures these fascinating responses to an empire that used the lure of empowerment to disguise the reality of alienation.

Published by: University of California Press


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Title Page, Series Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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Note on Place Names

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pp. ix-xii

If one accepts my argument that the public spaces of the Korean peninsula have been the object of considerable attention and a source of perennial contestation, then it should come as little surprise that the nomenclature of these spaces has witnessed a similarly turbulent history...

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xiii-xviii

In the process of writing this book, I have realized anew that some, if not all, history is autobiographical. This preface is thus a way for me both to acknowledge that truism and to thank the many individuals whom I have met along the arduous but rewarding path of producing a...

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Introduction. Assimilation and Space: Toward an Ethnography of Japanese Rule

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pp. 1-21

In the fall of 1925, after nearly fi fteen years of planning and over fi ve years of construction, the Government-General, the colonial state that had ruled over Korea since its annexation by Japan in 1910, unveiled an imposing Shintō shrine atop Namsan (literally, South Mountain...

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1. Constructing Keijō: The Uneven Spaces of a Colonial Capital

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pp. 22-61

This chapter traces the Government-General’s attempts to transform the symbolic and material landscape of Hanyang, royal city of the Chosŏn dynasty, into the colonial capital of Keijō (Kyŏngsŏng). Through an initial period of urban reforms and a later phase of city...

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2. Spiritual Assimilation: Namsan’s Shintō Shrines and Their Festival Celebrations

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pp. 62-91

Like the development of Keijsō public infrastructure examined in chapter 1, specific city sites, interconnected parts of the larger urban fabric, played important roles in the contested process of colonial subject formation. This chapter focuses on the spiritual dimensions of that project...

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3. Material Assimilation: Colonial Expositions on the Kyŏngbok Palace Grounds

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pp. 92-129

Alongside its efforts at assimilating Koreans spiritually, the Government- General also embarked on using public space to make spectacular displays of modernization that aimed to convince the colonized population that Japanese rule could enrich their lives. With these expositions, rather...

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4. Civic Assimilation: Sanitary Life in Neighborhood Keijō

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pp. 130-167

As the previous chapter showed, the Government-General used expositions and other mass media to inculcate industriousness, which, organizers hoped, would serve as the basis for continuing to subordinate the peninsula’s economy to metropolitan interests. Although officials succeeded...

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5. Imperial Subjectification: The Collapsing Spaces of a Wartime City

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pp. 168-203

With the onset of the Asia-Pacific War, the spaces of Keijō and their relationship to late colonial Korea and Japan’s expanding empire changed in dramatic and unprecedented ways. As scholars of urban planning have showed, the decision to incorporate suburban areas into...

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Epilogue. After Empire’s Demise: The Postcolonial Remaking of Seoul’s Public Spaces

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pp. 204-218

In previous chapters, I have shown how the spectacular modifications of public space by the colonial state and their contestations by local residents played a crucial role in the development of society and culture in Keijō and, by extension, other areas of colonial Korea affected by the...


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pp. 219-268

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 269-288


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pp. 289-299

E-ISBN-13: 9780520958418
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520276550

Page Count: 316
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 868609516
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Assimilating Seoul

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Seoul (Korea) -- History -- 20th century.
  • Seoul (Korea) -- Ethnic relations -- History -- 20th century.
  • Public spaces -- Social aspects -- Korea -- Seoul -- History -- 20th century.
  • Koreans -- Cultural assimilation -- Korea -- Seoul -- History -- 20th century.
  • Japanese -- Korea -- Seoul -- History -- 20th century.
  • Korea -- History -- Japanese occupation, 1910-1945.
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