Curative Violence: Rehabilitating Disability, Gender, and Sexuality in Modern Korea

Curative Violence: Rehabilitating Disability, Gender, and Sexuality in Modern Korea

by Eunjung Kim


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822362883
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 01/20/2017
Pages: 312
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Eunjung Kim is Assistant Professor of Women's and Gender Studies and Disability Studies at Syracuse University.

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Curative Violence

Rehabilitating Disability, Gender, and Sexuality in Modern Korea

By Eunjung Kim

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2017 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-7351-3


Unmothering Disability

An engraved illustration appeared in the newspaper Tonga ilbo in 1937 featuring a silhouette profile of a woman in Greek garb sitting on a modern-style chair with crossed legs, holding a mirror in one hand in front of her face and raising her other hand behind her head (see figure 1.1). Above the figure was printed a word, kajong, "a familial household." The headline read, "Let's not choose a spouse under the dominance of temporary emotion. Know that your household will rise or fall based on whether or not you choose your spouse well." Starting from the problem of young men and women thinking about marriage as matters of their emotions and not reason, the article identified marriage as "an issue not of the two individuals, but of the prosperity of the next generation and the improvement of eugenic traits." As the figure of a modern woman could be misleading, the illustration implies, it would be necessary to examine her hereditary makeup. Exercising reason meant understanding marriage from a eugenic perspective: "A eugenically perfect marriage means that the meaningful marriage is finally achieved." "Surely, the question to consider," the article continued, "is how to select one's spouse, which means asking whether there are certain hereditary traits." The article urged readers to avoid any person associated with mental illness, syphilis, kleptomania, and alcoholism, "because these traits will certainly be passed down" to offspring, constructing certainty about the heredity of certain conditions. Although eugenic propaganda equated desirable physical appearance with good hereditary traits and encouraged "free love," this illustration suggests that because a woman's appearance could mask potential problems, further examination of her hereditary history was required, reflecting the anxiety about modern marriage based on love.

What shift in marriage and family motivated this admonition to investigate the heredity of a potential spouse in colonial Choson? The newspaper article illustrates a trend that Jennifer Robertson also observed in Japan: the "rationalization of marriage," which became a key feature of a "eugenic modernity" dictating everyday practices on the basis of scientific information. The rationalization in colonial Choson aimed to counterbalance an emergent "emotionalization" of marriage that emphasized modern family life based on a chosen relationship of love, moving away from arranged marriages based on traditional considerations rooted in class. The newspaper article highlighted the individual sense of control for "success" in building a nuclear family household by choosing a spouse without any undesirable traits. This approach, brought about directly by the spread of eugenic information through the print media and lectures and broadly by the social movement toward the modernized life, seeking both the construction and the regulation of selfhood in the name of family, represented a departure from traditional marriage arranged through class-based negotiations.

Reproduction is an important site where curative intervention has been made. Through efforts to control reproductive outcomes in favor of the able-bodied, a particular version of the future — what Alison Kafer called "a future without disability" emerges. However, the desire for disability's absence is not natural or constant; rather, that desire is constructed and reinforced in cultural representations interacting with the material, social, and colonial conditions. The result is specific kinds of dramas that construct and exploit emotional intensity around the reproduction of disabled persons. These dramas present naturalized suffering and maximized social consequences of reproducing a disabled baby to highlight the desire for nondisabled offspring to avoid social and gendered plights.

As discussions of policies and state actions interact with narratives, cultural texts shape desires and produce affects by representing tradition, modernity, and morality. In this chapter, I closely examine literary texts, political and legal discourses, transnational flow of information, cinema, television documentaries, and independently produced film to explore the ways in which reproduction has been framed against disability in modern Korean culture. I traverse three sites: (1) the "heredity drama" and eugenics movement of the 1930s; (2) heredity as moralized justification for rejecting disability and the resultant legal manifestation of eugenics in the 1970s, reproductive surrogacy, and the abortion debate; and (3) preimplantation genetic screening and marriage disqualification based on reproductive prospects in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

Curbing Love with Reason and the Heredity Drama

Eugenic ideas and methods to "fix" and "improve" the "essence" of race were introduced to colonial Choson through Japanese adoption of British eugenics and by Korean elites who studied in Europe, Japan, and the United States during the colonial era. This transpacific and colonial introduction of eugenic ideology and methods, delivered with the powerful seal of civilization in the litany of Western states, heavily influenced how modernity in everyday life was imagined and made material in the peninsula, while conflicting with the traditional idea of procreation as natural instinct and duty. To promote the "enlightenment" of the Choson people, reformers such as Yi Kap-su and Yun Ch'i-ho seized the opportunity offered by colonial modernity — a modernity in which, as Gi-Wook Shin and Michael Robinson observe, "liberating forces and a raw, transformative power" complexly coexisted with "more nuanced forms of domination and repression in the colony."

The Choson Eugenics Association (Choson Usaeng Hyophoe) was launched in 1933 by more than eighty people: medical doctors, educators, politicians, journalists, and Christian ministers who had studied in Japan, China, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Korea. Yi Myong-hyok, a professor of medicine who studied at Columbia University, declared in the first issue of the association's annual magazine, Usaeng (Eugenics): "Seen from sociological perspective, the security of a nation and the peace of a family do not depend on the population's size but on its character and quality. If society has many deviant elements, such as murder, burglary, fraud, vagrancy, madness, obscenity, disability, they will be not only financially disadvantageous but also pose problems for maintaining public order and for development. ... One of the solutions is the eugenics movement, which is to radically prevent those who are harmful to society, inferior, disabled by hereditary diseases from procreating." The three issues of Usaeng contain information about eugenic practices overseas, including sterilization, translated as tanjongpop (the method of terminating seed), said to have been in place in the United States, Switzerland, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Mexico, Sweden, Norway, and Finland. The magazine also appeased humanitarian concerns by differentiating eugenics from infanticide.

In the three issues, targets of intervention ranged from people with sexually transmitted diseases, leprosy (Hansen's disease), hemophilia, madness, idiocy, alcoholism, and tuberculosis to those who exhibited criminal behaviors. Articles covered the methods of strengthening Choson ethnicity and health, information on blood types, the appropriate age for marriage, sex education, longevity, venereal diseases, Nazi practices, forced sterilization, and total isolation of disabled populations. Yi argued for abolishing the tradition of arranged marriage, claiming that it caused much harm, including psychological pain and unhappiness. Instead he promoted "free marriage" (chayu kyorhon) based on love between equals who are superior specimens while suggesting that "people who are disabled, of poor quality and inferior," must avoid marriage and that, "if necessary, forcible isolation and sterilization need to be used." In the effort to regulate marriages based on love, seen as risky, eugenics and the consideration of reproductive prospects emerged as conditions governing the voluntary selection of spouses. The hereditary characteristics could be discovered through a doctor's exhaustive medical workup; through school records, social status, and evidence of intelligence, judgment, and reasoning; through family pedigree, including the parents' social status, alcoholism, and illness; and finally through appearance, physique, and practices regarding hygiene and safety.

Within eugenic thinking, the health of the entire family was contingent on spousal choice — gendered as the selection of the right wife. This view constructed certain behavioral, physical, and mental characteristics as permanent and hereditary aberrations incompatible with family. The ideas of free love and free marriage became popular in the 1920s; so did the call for a "new morality" that demanded of men sexual monogamy and equal relationships with women. At the same time, the stated purpose of marriage was to fulfill each individual's personhood and to improve the Choson minjok (ethnonation). The notion of modern marriage based on love was therefore tied to the rational considerations of heredity, health status, family genealogy, ethnicity, social class, and intelligence. This emphasis on eugenic rationality and new morality paired with individual autonomy required disability to be extracted from the family. Furthermore, Yi Kap-su's remarks in the inaugural issue of Usaeng are a discourse that blames human degeneration on high morality, framing eugenics as a new form of moral imperative for a higher purpose invoking Darwin: "As the morality of the human species progressed and knowledge was developed, human physiology worsened and regressed over time. It is because the people who would naturally die owing to their weak physiology were able to avoid misfortune owing to medical developments. It also resulted from the fact that people with diseases could reproduce freely because of benevolent human morality. In other words, it was caused by the survival of the unfit instead of the survival of the fittest as in nature."

Popular magazines and newspapers in the 1930s made references to sex education and genetic principles, and they emphasized the daily practices of health and hygiene. Sinyosong (New Woman) described the archetypal modern woman as having "a healthy body with strong warrior-like sentiment." Another magazine featured an article titled "Birth Control Office" that linked birth control to eugenics: its purpose was to produce a child with superior quality (uryang adong), to protect mothers with illness, and to ensure a healthy family life. The article detailed methods of birth control and answered questions from women who were "suffering from the hardships of multiple births." It also disputed concerns about a population decrease by emphasizing quality over quantity and postulating the existence of a class of unproductive human beings with little value — such as those who are "mentally unfit" and "physically diseased," "whose increase in number is the increase in the burden of society." "Quality human beings" and "healthy women" emerged as the ideal colonial and modern citizens.

The description of the Choson people as a homogeneous entity that needed reformulation (kaejo) and revival (chaesaeng) revealed the imbricated features of a eugenic colonial modernity. The need for reformation justifies colonial intervention and Choson elites' internalized colonial desire for improvement, rather than refusing the dictates of assumed inferiority. Eugenics was translated as usaenghak, "the science of superior birth," and injong kaesonhak, "the science of race betterment." These terms appeared as early as 1920 in the print media. Eugenics in colonial Choson was not simply transplanted whole: it was influenced by traditional values. The effort to revise eugenics was initiated by Hyon Sangyun, who criticized that Western eugenics focuses only on physical bodies; he advocated "the science of superior mind," usimhak, arguing that it is important to reform spiritual and mental qualities to improve the human species. In 1926, the Tonga ilbo published a column by Ch'oe Hyon-bae that ran sixty-five installments portraying Choson as a debilitating nation in need of rehabilitation. The first installment stated, "Dear Choson minjok, do you really have life's freedom and development and do you have the sublime dignity of your existence? It is unfortunate! You only have debility and pain, ruin and grief."

The transpacific importation of European, North American, and Japanese eugenics into Choson evidences a scope beyond the "Eugenic Atlantic" conceptualized by Sharon Snyder and David Mitchell — a construct that focuses on the nation-states of Western Europe and North America and their international collaborations. Snyder and Mitchell point out that a modern state concerned itself with "rid[ding] disabilities from a country's national spaces." Coloniality marks the major difference in the eugenics movements between colonial Choson and the Eugenic Atlantic, because colonial conditions prohibited sovereign nationhood from being the foundation and explicit goal of the eugenics project. In the absence of sovereignty, the efforts to improve the ethnonational constituents were uneasily juxtaposed with the colonial imagery of Choson's inferiority, viewed as undeserving of self-governance and incapable of self-improvement. Within the colonized space, the discursive restraints seem to have led Choson eugenic agents to claim the need to construct desirable traits through education and enlightenment in terms of cosmopolitan world citizenry. In claiming the need for Choson people's rehabilitation, Ch'oe Hyon-bae argued, "We are people of Choson. ... At the same time, however, ... I am not a person of Choson, or of Japan, of yellow race, of white race, but of the world." Yun Ch'i-ho also introduced the definition of eugenics as improving hereditary traits of future generations through education and urged Choson to follow the trend of the world: "People in the world select the seeds for livestock and plants that are useful to them, but rarely engage in a movement to improve the physical and mental welfare of human beings based on eugenics, because it is believed to be beyond human power. ... It is deplorable that Choson society lacks such idea let alone the movement."

Historians largely view Choson eugenicists who were committed to public health and to reducing populations with disease and disability as conformists who did not directly resist colonial domination. However, the eugenic project does not seem to have entailed active collaboration with Japanese colonial authorities but might have been viewed as threatening to colonial governance. Continuing the trend between 1910 and 1922, observed by Jin-Kyung Lee, "the anti-colonial positioning of the nationalist bio-political reforms," the Choson scholars' efforts in the early 1930s to initiate practices to move the Choson ethno-nation toward the modern, healthy, and hygienic body may have been thwarted by the Japanese colonial authorities, making the Choson Eugenics Association inactive in the late 1930s. Yi Kap-su stated that he was arrested by Japanese police while providing marriage counseling intended to improve Choson ethnicity. In 1946, after independence, the Choson Eugenics Association changed its name to the Korean Minjok Eugenics Association (Han'guk Minjok Usaeng Hyophoe) and resumed its activities, opening a National Marriage Counseling Center in the Hwashin Department Store. The tension between Choson elites and the colonial government regarding the promotion of eugenics illustrates the colonial interest in holding the rhetorical power of eugenics in justifying colonial domination that was intended for the international community.

The Public Health Office (Husaengsong), established by the Choson Government General in 1938, came to lead the movement toward increasing the physical strength of colonial citizens and justifying the sterilization of people considered inferior and diseased. Kim Ye-rim argues the Choson Eugenics Association's cessation of reporting on the activities was not a sign that eugenic discourses weakened or disappeared. The eugenics ideology and movement continued to be discussed in other popular magazines and newspapers, and their ideas percolated into popular culture and everyday life through the images of healthy bodies in sports, leisure, and entertainment, which constructed what Kim Ye-rim calls "cultural eugenics." The inaugural preface of the magazine Pogon undong (Public health movement) declared, "For an individual, health and the absence of diseases are the origin of momentum for all businesses and the light for survival. In the same way, for minjok, its flourishing future, energy, and outlook depend on the blood rushing in its vessels, the fast reflexes of its nerves, its strength like a swift horse and the flashing light of the whole health. ... In our womb, we can see only a diseased, anemic populace." In this preface, health appears as an ultimate goal and the tool of Choson's "repair," metaphorized as the light to shine over "a diseased, anemic populace" whose collective blood is the Choson ethnic body politic. Therefore, "scientific research and social practices" of "mass public-health eugenics" were proposed as the cure of the "lethargy" and diseases of the populace.


Excerpted from Curative Violence by Eunjung Kim. Copyright © 2017 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments  vii
Introduction. Folded Time and the Presence of Disability  1
1. Unmothering Disability  42
2. Cure by Proxy  81
3. Violence as a Way of Loving  122
4. Uninhabiting Family  166
5. Curing Virginity  197
Conclusion. How to Inhabit the Time Machine with Disability  323
Notes  235
Bibliography  269
Index  285

What People are Saying About This

Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect - Mel Y. Chen

"From its opening pages, Eunjung Kim's book is both striking and demanding. Ambitious in its analytical breadth and topical scope, it impressively delivers on its elaboration of curative violence. Kim's examination of South Korean biopolitical conditions in relation to cure sets an excellent example for transnational disability studies at large, and has lessons for an impressively broad range of readers."

Assimilating Seoul: Japanese Rule and the Politics of Public Space in Colonial Korea, 1910–1945 - Todd A. Henry

"Eunjung Kim helps us imagine a future that embraces disability not simply as something to fix, but as an intrinsic and even beautiful part of humanity—a critical approach encouraging Koreans and others around the world to reorient our inherited notions of 'health' and 'well-being.' With theoretical vigor and clarity, Curative Violence makes a bold, unique, and well-articulated intervention into disability studies, Korean studies, gender and sexuality studies, and beyond."

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