By Stephen Epstein, Director of the Asian Studies Institute and the Asian Studies Programme at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand/Korea Colloquium Series
2007 marked the fifteenth anniversary of diplomatic ties between China and South Korea. The speed with which the two countries have developed a web of ties in multiple spheres has surprised some, while others interpret the depth of connections as a return to a ''natural'' compatibility that experienced rupture as a result of Japan's occupation of Korea and the Cold War years that followed. And yet, centripetal and centrifugal forces coexist: despite multiple affinities and a popular discourse of mutual interest (Korean media reports on, e.g., China's bewitchment by ''The Korean Wave,'' and Korea's preoccupation with and predominance in the study of Chinese), potential for intercultural conflict and competition remains.
This talk analyses images of China in contemporary South Korea, drawing on television news, cyberspace commentary, advertisements, and books aimed at the popular market. While Korean commentators regularly point out that China's size and diversity makes it impossible to generalize about the country, patterns of thought do emerge: China as a living instantiation of Korea's past; China as a site for both Korean opportunity and self-congratulation about its own successes; and China as a country where the ''counterfeit'' reigns supreme. I will consider the extent to which reports on the springtime meteorological phenomenon of the hwangsa, the sands that blow over Korea from the Gobi desert, have come to function as an implicit metaphor for Korean understanding of China: an unstoppable juggernaut on its doorstep that brings pollution and poses a challenge to the livelihood and well-being of the nation.
Dr. Stephen Epstein is Director of the Asian Studies Institute and the Asian Studies Programme at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. He has published widely on contemporary Korean literature and society, and is currently working on a book exploring how globalization is transforming Korean identity and co-editing a volume on China-Korea relations. He has also translated several pieces of Korean and Indonesian fiction, including Yang Gui-ja's Contradictions (Cornell East Asia Series) and was a Translator in Residence with the Korean Literature Translation Institute in Seoul during 2007. The documentary he co-produced with Timothy Tangherlini , Our Nation: A Korean Punk Rock Community, has featured in numerous international festivals.
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