Unsettling the City: Queer Assemblages in Authoritarian-Era Seoul by Todd A. Henry

24 November 2020 at 4:30 PM
Via ZOOM https://bit.ly/3l7a2xH

This paper traces the development of Seoul’s queer spaces under capitalist authoritarianism to expand our understanding of this period of South Korean history as well as the Western-centric concepts used to study minority populations. To date, most research on the authoritarian era has focused on the processes that explain the causes and, to a lesser degree, the costs of rapid industrialization as well as the contested development of democracy. Whether as leaders or detractors of these processes, well-educated, heterosexual, and cisgender men typically dominate these stories, often at the expense of women, the proletariat, and other subalterns. Building on studies of feminism and service work, I shift the focus to the understudied livelihood of queer citizens, whose fragmented pasts form the basis of my research. Linking the political limitations of authoritarianism to the restrictive norms of heteropatriarchy, I highlight the place of actors whose non-normative gender and sexuality made it difficult, if not impossible, for them to claim a stable identity and/or public space in promoting their interests. By examining their work as fashion designers, cabaret performers, and streetwalkers, I reveal how queer labor created vibrant but scattered assemblages of queerness in the consumer spaces of Seoul (but did not lead to the development of a “gayborhood”). I also show that such unofficial networks tended to develop at the dynamic nexus of tailor shops, bars, tearooms, and theaters in entertainment zones (Myŏngdong and Ch’ungmuro), red-light districts (Chongno and Miyari), transportation hubs (Seoul Station and Ch’ŏngnyangni), and camp towns (It’aewŏn). After tracing the dispersed nature of the city’s queer assemblages during the 1960s and 1970s, I end my talk with the rise of “gay (transgender) bars,” which, I contend, brought together laboring subcultures of fashion, music, dance, and sexuality in a single space. But, when the AIDS crisis hit in the 1980s, these bars became an intense target of government surveillance, forcing its labor force to disperse once again.

Todd A. Henry is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, San Diego. His first book, Assimilating Seoul (University of California Press, 2014; Korean translation, 2020), won a 2020 Sejong Book Prize in History, Geography, and Tourism. He is the editor of Queer Korea (Duke University Press, 2020; Korean translation 2021), and he is currently working on a project that centers understudied, “queer” dimensions of authoritarian development in Cold War South Korea.

Transpacific Aspiration toward Modern Domesticity in Japanese Colonial-era Korea


 Workshop on Korean Studies
Transpacific Aspiration toward Modern Domesticity in Japanese Colonial-era Korea
Time: 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm
Date: April 13 (Friday)

Venue: Room 4.36 Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus

Professor Hyaeweol Choi
Professor of Korean Studies
School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia & the Pacific, Australian National University

Dr. Elizabeth LaCouture
Assistant Professor
Department of History, The University of Hong Kong

Dr. Paul Cha
Korea Foundation Assistant Professor
Korean Studies Programme, The University of Hong Kong

This talk is part of a larger research project that reexamines the gender history of modern Korea from a transnational perspective. The project focuses on the dynamic flow of the ideas, discourses and people across national boundaries that have triggered new gender norms, reformed domestic practices, fostered a sense of locality and the world and helped women claim new space in the public sphere. In this presentation, I specifically focus on the impact that a transpacific network facilitated by US Protestant missionary societies had on the formation of modern domesticity in Japanese colonial-era Korea (1910-1945). Aiming to go beyond the simple binary framework of the colonizer and the colonized, I illustrate how the transpacific network played a central role in transmitting, interpreting and performing modern domesticity. Taking the idea of “modern home” as a point of convergence for national, colonial and missionary projects, I demonstrate how the intimate private sphere became one of the most dynamic sites for uncovering the interactions between the local, the national and the global.

Hyaeweol Choi is ANU-Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Studies at the Australian National University. Before she joined the faculty at ANU in 2010, she taught at Arizona State University, Smith College and the University of Kansas. Her research interests are in the areas of gender, religion, modernity, colonialism and transnational history. She is the author of Gender and Mission Encounters in Korea: New Women, Old Ways (2009) and New Women in Colonial Korea (2013). She also co-edited the book, Divine Domesticities: Christian Paradoxes in Asia and the Pacific (2014) and co-authored the book, Gender in Modern East Asia (2016), among others. She has been playing a leadership role in the fields of Korean Studies, Asian Studies and gender studies in Korea, the U.S and Australia, serving in a variety of capacities for various professional organizations, including the Association for Asian Studies, the Korean Studies Association of Australasia, the Journal of Asian Studies and the Journal of Korean Religions.

Sponsored by:
Korean Studies Programme
Committee on Gender Equality and Diversity
Department of History

South Korea’s Democratic Transition: A Social Movement Perspective


Dr. Sun-Chul Kim
Emory University
Location: CPD-LG.08, Centennial Campus, HKU
Date: 3 November 2016 (Thu)
Time: 4:30-5:30 pm

South Korea’s 1987 democratic transition triggered by a mass protest movement represents one of the most dramatic and successful cases of political change. Yet political processes in post-transition South Korea were not without problems and disruptive protests continue to plague the otherwise vibrant democracy to this day. This talk revisits South Korea’s contentious political transition and unpacks the complicated relationship between social protest and political change.

Sun-Chul Kim (Ph.D Sociology, Columbia) is Assistant Professor at the department of Russian and East Asian Languages and Cultures, Emory University. His primary research focuses on how popular contention evolves over time, with special interest in the relationship between popular contention and institutionalized politics. He is the author of Democratization and Social Movements in South Korea, 1984-2002: Defiant Institutionalization in which he investigates the complex processes through which social movements had become a powerful political force in post-transition South Korea. His current research focuses on extreme protest repertoires in South Korea, such as self-immolation, “high-altitude protest,” and years-long tent-ins.

Sponsored by: 
School of Modern Languages and Cultures
School of Humanities
Department of Sociology


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Exhibition: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: Glimpses and Insight

Exhibition: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: Glimpses and Insights

Date: 29 Sep – 7 Oct 2016
School of Modern Languages and Cultures HKU has the pleasure of inviting you to the Photo Exhibition:
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea:  Glimpses and Insights
Despite the tensions between the DPRK and the international community over the recent nuclear and missile tests, North Koreans live their lives in a remarkably ordinary and resilient manner. Foreign visitors to the country are heavily monitored, but on occasion, one might be lucky enough to capture a unique moment in the everyday lives of North Koreans on film. The DPRK Observatory, in partnership with the Pyongyang Project, aims to take you on a visual journey through the DPRK. This exhibition includes recent photos taken by HKU colleagues, students and our partners, and provides commentary on the society and culture of contemporary North Korea.  The images provide glimpses of and insights into familiar places as well as remote parts of the DPRK that are left off the usual tourist itineraries. Collectively, the collection offers an interesting contrast to the meticulously curated pictures that are released by the state media. The images also capture North Koreans in unguarded moments. Through these portraits, we hope to convey the sense that, like us, ordinary North Koreans are often caught up in extraordinary circumstances. Drawn from over thirty trips spanning a decade, we hope that these pictures will provide a bridge to a greater understanding and further inform our ongoing discussions of the DPRK.
Foyer, G/F, Chi Wah Learning Commons, Centennial Campus, HKU
29th Sep to 7th Oct 2016

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The president of Korea Foundation, Dr. Hyun-seok Yu visited the Faculty of Arts on January 18th, 2015. The Korea Foundation contributed to the recent establishment of Assistant Professor position in Korean Studies Programme, and offers library support for HKU.

Welcome, Dr Yu!

A Photo Exhibition: Everyday Life in North Korea

A Photo Exhibition: Everyday Life in North Korea (click for poster)
2nd – 10th December 2015
Foyer, G/F, Chi Wah Learning Commons,
Centennial Campus, HKU
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is one of the most mysterious and unique countries in the world. Our ignorance of what goes on there not only stems from its self-imposed isolation, but also results from the partial and, at times, conflicting accounts of what is happening within the country coming from often unreliable sources. For most people, it is difficult to get a realistic picture of what life is like in the DPRK. This knowledge exchange exhibition is a collaborative effort put together by students and staff members drawn from different faculties of the University who have either traveled to the DPRK, or who have concentrated on the DPRK as part of their studies and research. By bringing together their individual snapshots and reflections, this exhibition hopes to showcase aspects of everyday life in the DPRK. In doing so, the project encourages the public to understand that in so many ways, the North Koreans are quite similar to us. Hopefully this realization will in turn stimulate more conversations about the way we are engaging with North Korea today.
For enquiries, please contact Dr. Victor Teo at victorteo@hku.hk