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  • Feminists Navigating the Shoals of Nationalism and Collaboration:The Post-Colonial Korean Debate over How to Remember Kim Hwallan
  • Insook Kwon (bio)

Collective memory refers to the many versions of recollecting a particular critical time in a nation's past.1 Carol Gluck describes such collective memories as the products of recollecting gathered by "historians, officials, schools, mass media, filmmakers, writers, museums and monuments, public ceremonies, personal recollection, and the like."2 Each narrative provides a different interpretation of the past that reflects the teller's own interests and viewpoint. Collective memory, therefore, is never monolithic. It is always the product of continuous negotiation, conversation, and struggle over which interpretation will achieve cultural and political hegemony. Whichever interpretation of the nation's past holds sway at any given moment is potent in the present, because it reflects previous struggles and negotiations over meaning. It simultaneously shapes the society's current value system and its political relationships. This present-day effect is indeed what makes the ongoing struggle seem so worthwhile, and what can keep collective memory basically unstable.

Thus memory itself is political. John R. Gills states that "memories help us make sense of the world we live in; and 'memory work' is, like any other kind of physical or mental labor, embedded in complex class, gender, and power relations that determine what is remembered (forgotten), by whom, and for what end."3 Korean historian Im Chihyŏn claims that "histories monopolized by specific memories imply more than memories in the past. It is the politics of memories that lead lives and desires, practices and thinkings of people to a certain direction."4 In the power dynamics of collective memory, national war involvement or a colonial experience can become topics of collective memory that nationalist intellectuals, activists, and state officials become convinced they have the greatest need to mold. Therefore, it is in the struggle to craft citizens' collective memories of wars and colonial experience where any subaltern group's members are most likely to be silenced, their interpretations deemed [End Page 39] awkward or even dangerous. The playing field on which collective memory is crafted is far from level.5

In this context, remembering Kim Hwallan, considered a pioneer in Korean women's high education while at the same time labeled a notorious pro-Japanese intellectual, is informative. Several Koreans of the recent past have lately been resurrected for harsh nationalistic critique, but the debate swirling around Kim Hwallan is particularly important. Remembering Kim Hwallan illustrates how collective memory of a colonial era uses gender for a nationalistic construction in a way that silences feminists and interrupts their participation in it. Also, it demonstrates that in colonial politics or, later, in the tense, drawn-out, multigenerational politics of shaping and reshaping the collective memory of colonial rule, the complexity of the dynamic between "women" and "the nation" is too easily erased in people's memory by a brand of nationalist discourse that sweeps colonized women's realities under the rug. In so doing, those who would control the discourse suppress feminists' distinct voices and interpretations.

Also, the current controversy about Kim Hwallan suggests analytical limitations of the two streams of international feminist research that concern the relationship between nationalism and women in the third world. One stream has focused on how nationalism is gendered, interrogating when and how nationalism conserves or reinforces indigenous patriarchy, especially by positioning "women as the guardian of . . . continuity and immutability."6 This valuable stream of feminist exploration into nationalism has revealed that most nationalist formulations have built on an implicit gendered ideology, one that has privileged and idealized masculinity and legitimated the subordination of women and existing gendered role models as natural or traditional. Feminist researchers charting this stream have shown how the bodies and moral values of colonized women have been symbolized by imperialists, making violations of colonized women the spark to ignite collective anger—and collective resistance—among the colonized.7 Merging women with the nation, these feminists have contended, does not empower colonized women, but rather it results in the denial of women's multiple subjectivities and roles while it stymies colonized women when they seek to articulate gendered public issues...


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