Kang Kyŏng-ae, Manchuria and the Worlding of North Korean Literature


Thursday, April 18, 2019, 4:30pm to 6:30pm


Thomas Chan-Soo Kang Room (S050), CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Korea Colloquium
4/18 KC

Ruth Barraclough
Associate Professor, Department of Pacific and Asian History, Australian National University

Professor Ruth Barraclough teaches in the Department of Pacific and Asian History at the Australian National University. She researches contemporary Korean history, gender studies and literature, and is a translator of Korean literary fiction. Ruth’s second book Factory Girl Literature: Sexuality, Violence and Representation in Industrializing Korea was about the factory girls who generated Korea’s industrial revolution while at the same time cherished ambitions to be writers, novelists and poets. It was translated into Korean in 2017 and spent 20 weeks on the history bestseller list, receiving numerous recommendations: nominated for the President's summer reading list by South Korea's leading book and newspaper editors and named one of the top ten books of 2017 by Kyunghyang Shinmun.

Professor Barraclough has studied and worked in South Korea, Australia and the United States. Her new project is a book, co-authored with Professor Jiseung Roh, on North Korea’s glamorous early communist women. She grew up in Queensland and first visited South Korea in 1989 on a student exchange program

Chaired by Si Nae Park, Assistant Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University

In 1935 Kang Kyŏng-ae, a Korean resident of Manchuria, published a short story about a young woman who heads into the mountains looking for the communist guerrillas. Carrying a baby on her back, mother and child walk into an oncoming snowstorm. These mountains on the border of Manchuria and the northern reaches of Korea are the same fabled mountains that sheltered Kim Il-Sung’s band of guerrilla fighters. Like the communist partisans whose story she told, Kang’s fiction survived to thrive in communist North Korea. In early issues of North Korean magazines Chosŏn Nyŏsŏng and Ch’ŏllima, Kang’s classic factory girl novel was featured alongside articles that promoted her work as the grist for a new communist subjectivity. But it represented more than a solely North Korean ideal. The translation and circulation of Kang Kyŏng-ae’s fiction around the post-War communist bloc is a rare example of the ‘worlding’ of North Korean literature during the Cold War. This paper examines the unique circumstances by which Kang’s literature in North Korea provided a cultural archive for the traumatic Manchurian experience while in the communist bloc her works translated into German, Spanish, Russian and Chinese contributed to an international socialist culture.

Generously supported by the Sunshik Min Endowment for the Advancement of Korean Literature at the Korea Institute, Harvard University.