zum Inhalt springen

Doctoral dissertation project of Sung Un Gang

The Making of Modern Subjects in Korean Theaters: Public Discourse Surrounding Women’s Theatergoing (1902–1937) (working title)

Making of Modern Subjects in Korean Theaters explores the public discourse on female audiences in the early Korean playhouses of Seoul between 1902 and 1937. In this era, Seoul witnessed a growing Korean theater district along the main street, Chong-ro. This period is bookended by two important events in Korean theater history: the opening of the first state-funded playhouse, Soch’undae, and the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Both events radically changed the material and political conditions for Korean women’s theatergoing. While the former created a public space that accommodated people of diverse social status, sex, and age, the latter turned theaters into an organ of wartime propaganda based on Japanese ultra-nationalism.

This study particularly investigates how Korean women in theaters became a target of everyday colonial and nationalist subjectification. This study builds on Kim Baek-yŏng and Todd A. Henry’s studies, which appraise the impacts of colonial urban spaces on Koreans. Adopting a post-colonial feminist perspective, particularly Gayatri Spivak’s works, my study can contribute to a better understanding of colonial subjectification, which drew lines not only between the colonizer and the colonized but also among Koreans.

Analyzing the public discourse of playhouses, I seek to highlight how officially abolished categories of caste were culturally negotiated and continued in the early twentieth century. Additionally, concentrating on colonized women as actors whose voices were often eradicated by their male compatriots, my research aims “to define a limited system of presences” (Foucault 1972: 199) for women, under which female audiences were represented as spectacles instead of articulating their own theater experiences as spectators. By and large, my study investigates how normative expectations of Korean women influenced female spectatorship, particularly the ideas of empathetic compatriots, emotionally assimilated Japanese citizens, able bodies for reproduction, and ‘wise mothers and good wives (hyŏnmoyangchŏ)’.


Short biography

Sung Un Gang is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Theater and Media Culture Studies at the University of Cologne. In his dissertation, tentatively titled “The Making of Modern Subjects in Korean Theaters: Public Discourse Surrounding Women’s Theatergoing (1902–1937)”, he examines the negotiations of women’s roles in colonial Korea coined by the cultural discourse and practice of the theater modernization. He completed his undergraduate studies in the German literature at the University of Bonn M.A. and Seoul National University B.A. with two grants by DAAD. He has been a scholarship holder of a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities Cologne (2015–2018) and a junior fellow at International Center for Korean Studies at Kyujanggak Institute (2018).

Contact: sungun.gang(at)gmail.com


Conference papers

“From the Ugly Duckling to the Golden Goose: Yu Kil-chun’s Rediscovery of Play (Sandaehŭi) as a Profit-Making Business for the State”, June 2019, Korean Intellectuals In Between: Configuring knowledge in periods of transition, Concluding Conference of the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS) Overseas Leading University Project (OLUP) ‘Transcoding as Cultural and Social Practice’, Ruhr University Bochum.

“Cinema Kiss: Challenges of the Western Romantic Films in Colonial Korea,” November 2018, 8th Conference of Vereinigung für Koreaforschung (VfK), Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt am Main.

“Infectious Love: The Public Discourse Surrounding Female Students’ Theatergoing and Their Role in Eugenic Marriage in Colonial Korea”, July 2018, IFTR World Congress Belgrade 2018 Theatre and Migration, New Scholars’ Forum ‘Women in Theatre: Performance and Ideology’, University of Belgrade.

“Making Home and Theatre. The Female Audience and Their Husbands in the Half-World of Colonial Korea (1926–1937)”, September 2017, The 3rd Workshop of the European Forum on Korean-Japanese History “Gender(ed) Histories of Korea and Japan”, University of Tübingen.

“Between Spectator and Spectacle. Transformation of Women’s Spectatorship during the Chosŏn Dynasty (1392–1897)”, September 2017, Cambridge 2017 AHRC DTP Conference “Tradition and Transformation”, University of Cambridge.

“Is the Future Now? On the Status of Women as Spectators in Korea, or A Time Leap”, July 2017, Cluster Lecture “Die Zukunft des Theaters, Das Theater der Zukunft”, Institute for Media Culture and Theater, University of Cologne.

“From an Imperial Tool to Space of Engendered Modernization. Theatres in Colonial Korea”, June 2016, The 4th GRAINES Summer School, University of Cologne.

“The Test of Love. Imagination and Representation of Korea on German Stage in 1930”, February 2016, Colloquium and conference “Writing Global Theatre History”, Jawahalal Nehru University.


Cover photo: The innovative theater group Towŏlhoe after the second performance in Seoul, September 1923 © Hong, Sa-yong // Portrait photo: Patric Fouad