The Enemy’s Property

Theodore Hughes
- | Cohen Hall 402
249 S. 36th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Please join us for the next lecture in the EALC Speakers' Colloquium. 

The end of Japanese colonial rule in Korea gave rise to a pressing question: Who would assume ownership of Japanese assets (state-owned and private), estimated to comprise 80-85% of the former colony’s wealth? Questions (and court cases) surrounding the distribution and possession of what became popularly known as chǒksan (enemy property) would, in fact, last for decades. This talk follows the property trail in South Korean literature published from the mid-1940s through the mid-1950s. Focusing on work by Im Ogin and Ch’oe Chǒnghŭi, I show how chŏksan enters into implicit conversation with two other terms central to post-1945 property transfer, kongsan (communal property) and yŏksan (the property of communist sympathizers). A politics of suspicion enters the dispensation of enemy property, as colonial rule gives way to military occupation, national division, and war. For Im and Ch’oe, the question of colonial remains and their repurposing exceeds monetary value, involving a gendered ethics of postcolonial belonging that looks askance at the entrance of the peninsula into first- and second-world bifurcations.  


Theodore Hughes is Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Studies in the Humanities at Columbia University. He is the author of Literature and Film in Cold War South Korea: Freedom’s Frontier (Columbia University Press, 2012; Korean translation, Somyong Press, 2014), which was awarded the Association for Asian Studies James B. Palais Book Prize. He is the co-editor of Intermedial Aesthetics: Korean Literature, Film, and Art (special issue of the Journal of Korean Studies, 2015) and Rat Fire: Korean Stories from the Japanese Empire (Cornell East Asia Series, 2013), the latter a finalist for the Daesan Literary Prize for Translation. He is the former Director of the Center for Korean Research at Columbia and former Editor of the Journal of Korean Studies. His book The Limitless War: Death and Dying in Korea is under contract (Columbia University Press).