- Governmentality in Late Colonial Korea?
In South Korea, more so than in most other postcolonial countries, the issue of sovereignty and the colonial past remains a central feature of politics. Most recently, during a televised presidential debate on December 4, 2012, Lee Jung-hee of the Unified Progressive Party said something that likely had never been said on South Korean television: "Takaki Masao signed an oath of loyalty [to the Emperor of Japan], in his own blood, to become an officer in the Japanese [Imperial] Army. You know who he is. His Korean name is Park Chung Hee." Lee Jung-hee then made the connection between that colonial past and the willingness to sell out the nation's sovereignty in the present. The conservative candidate Park Geun-hye, the daughter of the late President Park Chung Hee who ruled South Korea from 1961 through 1979, and members of Park's Saenuri Party, remain true to their "roots": these "descendants of pro-Japanese collaborators and dictators" (again) sold out South Korea's sovereignty (on November 22, 2011) when they rammed the US-ROK Free Trade Agreement through the National Assembly.
Predictably, those who belong to South Korea's power bloc, and South [End Page 183] Korea's "conservatives" more broadly, respond with outrage when such aspersions are cast in their general direction.1 Anyone who says that most of South Korea's current political, economic, and bureaucratic elite can attribute their (families') power and wealth to complicity with dictatorships, and ultimately to Japanese colonial rule, has to be a communist and/or a North Korean agent. For their part, conservatives stake their claim to historical legitimacy on South Korea's present-day prosperity and freedom, the result, they say, of their unyielding commitment to capitalist development and the struggle against communism. But, as evidenced by the swift and exhilarated reaction to Lee Jung-hee's pointed criticism, it was clear that many who watched Lee Jung-hee felt a cathartic pleasure: South Korea's power bloc remain politically vulnerable because it does not have deep roots in the anti-colonial nationalist movement; it came to power in the South through U.S. intervention and support starting in 1945 and, until the 1980s, it stayed in power through state violence and military coups.2
That is to say, at least two aspects of sovereign power remain central to critical historiography and progressive politics in contemporary South Korea: on the one hand, as an anti-colonial and anti-imperialist project, faithfulness to the struggle for full national sovereignty; on the other hand, as a democratic project, opposition to postcolonial sovereign power that is anchored to an anti-communist raison d'état, as articulated through dictatorships, military coups, and state violence against those deemed internal enemies and through alliances with propertied classes in pursuit of high growth (with big profits for the families that control South Korea's huge conglomerates [chaebŏl]) and strong control over the lower classes, a pattern that originated in the late colonial period.3
Beyond sovereign power, however, Takashi Fujitani's Race for Empire: Koreans as Japanese and Japanese as Americans during World War II introduces a new problematic in critical historiography on colonial Korea, explaining why the terms "pro-Japanese" and "collaborator" are so insufficient for understanding the choices made by colonial-era soldiers like Park Chung Hee. Rather than positioning sovereignty and sovereign power as the primary focus of a critical study of Japanese colonialism, Fujitani points to a governmentality that emerged in the late 1930s; that is, a form of governing that Michel Foucault (2007) drew attention to, a form of power that constructs the normative and establishes those conditions that oblige new forms of life to come into being. [End Page 184]
David Scott referred to this kind of rule as colonial governmentality (1995), offering an analysis of colonial power that goes beyond the question of...