Space and Identity: Myth and Imagery in the South Korean Patriotic Landscape

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This article explores the relationship between South Korean national identity and the country’s patriotic landscape. It attempts to decipher the images and the codes that museums, memorial halls, and monuments transmit to the local audience in order to establish a sense of spatial and temporal sameness and unity among the members of the nation. The analytic tool which is employed for that purpose is the distinction between “mythology” and “memory,” which makes it possible to avoid the commonly metaphorical use of the latter term. The framework of the analysis is presented in the form of a historical survey of the interaction between governing mythology, i.e. the dominant narrative preferred and advanced by the state, and collective and personal memories in South Korea. This underscores the fact that the present-day natural image of a landscape, which is dominated by images of the colonial past, is actually a late development. Only in the 1980s, when new socio-political conditions allowed for governing mythology and memory to converge and place the colonial past at the forefront of national identity, was this demonstrated by a wave of constructing memorial sites for the colonial past.

In this context, it is possible to analyze which images are transmitted and how, and why specifically those images are important. Both external and internal challenges have influenced the decision to base governing colonial mythology on the role of South Korea as the legitimate son, who is responsible for the commemoration of deceased patriots, by relying on a set of familiar cultural and religious images. A highly passionate patriotic language that echoes early twentieth-century rhetoric, not only assists in strengthening the connection between the post-colonial South and pre-divided Korea, but it also mirrors the ongoing concern for the stability of the country. Also, the patriotic landscape sanctifies the death of the patriots, though death as a value is not sanctified. This demonstrates the way through which the concept of patriotism, which forms the emotional linchpin of nationalism, is tied to the idea of civic consciousness and the fulfillment of daily national obligations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-35
JournalActa Koreana
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2007


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