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Contested EmbraceTransborder Membership Politics in Twentieth-Century Korea$

Jaeeun Kim

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780804797627

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804797627.001.0001

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“Who Owns the Nation?”

“Who Owns the Nation?”

Cold War Competition over Zainichi Koreans in Japan

(p.73) Two “Who Owns the Nation?”
Contested Embrace

Jaeeun Kim

Stanford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter 2 examines the prolonged and vehement competition between North and South Korea over the allegiance of colonial-era Korean migrants who remained in Japan in the context of decolonization and the Cold War. The divergent transborder nation-building strategies that the two postcolonial states employed to make their own docile citizens out of this opaque and recalcitrant population are identified. North Korea launched a successful repatriation campaign and heavily invested in Korean enclaves, presenting itself as a safe haven in which marginalized Koreans could find an escape. South Korea instead fashioned itself as a broker that could facilitate their integration into the Japanese mainstream, and a gatekeeper that could control their engagement with families and home communities in South Korea. The control of the bureaucratic persona of Koreans in Japan, buttressed by the consensual practices of other states, was critical for South Korea’s eventual ascendancy in this competition.

Keywords:   Cold War, postcolonial state, nationalism, ethnic minority, diaspora, Zainichi Koreans, transnationalism, North Korea, South Korea, Japan

The worldwide decolonization after the Second World War newly problematized the question of who should belong to which state. The dissolution of empires entailed not only the collapse of repressive colonial structures but also the eclipse of the modicum of protection and membership rights that had been provided to imperial subjects. Many of those who found themselves in newly nationalizing territories in which they no longer belonged “returned” to their putative homeland. Yet others could not or did not “return.” The existing literature has explored the ways postimperial states responded to the massive influx of colonizers from their settler colonies.1 Researchers have also studied the ways these states have coped with the former colonial subjects who remained in the former metropoles.2 Few studies, however, have examined how newly created postcolonial states dealt with their ethnonational, ethnoreligious kin populations situated outside their newly demarcated territories, including those who had migrated to other parts of the empire. Studies of postcolonial states have instead focused on the development of institutions of territorial governance. They have asked why only a few rulers succeeded in building a strong state and consolidating their heterogeneous populations into a unified nation.3 Scholars have, with too few exceptions, analyzed the legacy of colonial rule by focusing on the arbitrary demarcation of the territorial boundary of colonies and the exacerbation of existing ethnoreligious fissures.4

The territorial bias in the literature on postcolonial states becomes particularly problematic when we consider the Korean case. By the time of the collapse of the Japanese Empire, approximately 15 percent of the (p.74) entire Korean population was living outside the Korean peninsula (D. Kim 1998). Even after the massive ethnic unmixing in the immediate postwar era, 600,000 Koreans remained in Japan and 1.2 million in Manchuria. Meanwhile, the emerging Cold War order complicated questions of national belonging by superimposing geopolitical frontiers onto fledgling national borderlines, shaping repatriation processes in the region, and, most important, yielding two ideologically polarized and mutually antagonistic Korean states. In this chapter and the one that follows, I explore the protracted, contested, and diverging trajectories through which colonial-era migrants situated outside the Korean peninsula came to be folded into the vortex of this dramatically reconfiguring interstate system in Cold War northeast Asia. Their selective and uneven incorporation into the two competing postcolonial states was integral to both the anticommunist, developmental state-building project in the South and the anti-imperialist, socialist state-building project in the North. In this chapter, I focus on the shifting relationships between the two postcolonial Korean states and colonial-era migrants who remained in Japan from the mid-1940s to the mid-1970s. The contrasting Cold War trajectory of colonial-era migrants who remained in what became communist China will be the subject of Chapter Three.

Unlike other postcolonial settings where the question “Who owns the state?” has frequently triggered ethnic conflicts (Wimmer 2002), in the Korean case, it was the question “Who owns the nation?” that generated violent confrontation between the two postcolonial states, both of which claimed the same territory and the same nation as their own. This struggle to monopolize the right to embody and represent a single nation—which culminated in the Korean War and continued throughout the Cold War period—was not limited to those in the Korean peninsula; the struggle extended to approximately 600,000 colonial-era Korean migrants in Japan. Despite the headline-grabbing reports on the volatility of “homeland nationalism” or “diaspora politics,” states do not always actively engage with their transborder populations, let alone aggressively seek their loyalty. Neither China and Taiwan nor East and West Germany, for instance, competed over their coethnics abroad as ferociously as the two Koreas did for the Koreans in Japan.5 The particular antagonism between North and South Korea does not alone explain this competition; the two states did not go to equivalent lengths to claim colonial-era migrants who remained in northeast China or in the Soviet Union, as will be discussed in Chapter (p.75) Three. What, then, brought about this decades-long contest for the allegiance of Koreans in Japan?

Unlike the Chinese and the Soviet governments, the postwar Japanese government sought to rid its shrunken national territory of as many of its ex-colonized people as possible. Further, it was reluctant to grant Japanese citizenship to those who, despite these efforts, chose to remain. This radical departure from the imperial past created a political vacuum for a large number of people who suddenly found themselves essentially adrift in a rapidly reconfiguring regional interstate system. Interestingly, neither Korean state objected to this extreme disenfranchisement of their coethnics stranded in the former metropole. Both rejected any suggestion that these “liberated” Koreans be considered Japanese nationals as a neocolonial affront to their independence. Further, neither Korean state could afford to leave these Koreans under the control of its ideological nemesis. Having just come out of the violent civil war (1950–1953), both states considered securing the allegiance of their coethnics in the former metropole as imperative for their security and legitimacy. To add even more uncertainty to the already volatile situation, Japan did not consistently align with either of the Korean states, as China and the Soviet Union did. Unable to simply take over this transborder population by diplomatic fiat, the two mutually delegitimizing homeland states were forced to solicit Korean allegiance far more aggressively than otherwise.

This distinctive political configuration enables us to recognize the daunting challenge faced by the two inchoate postcolonial states. Situated beyond the territorial reach of the coercive and ideological apparatuses of the two states, Koreans in Japan were shielded to a degree from their nation-making violence, to which those “encaged” (Mann 1986) in the Korean peninsula were defenselessly exposed. The shifting international alignment between Japan and the two Koreas further enabled Koreans in Japan to “choose,” or postpone choosing, which Korean regime to affiliate with—if under varying constraints that I will explore in this chapter. This was an option unavailable to their counterparts in China or in the Soviet Union. The ensuing vehement competition between North and South Korea that spanned more than two decades helps us problematize the facile assumption that the new national order of northeast Asia came into being straightly through the collapse of the empire (1945), the establishment of North and South Korea (1948), the effectuation of the San Francisco Peace Treaty (1952), or the (p.76) cease-fire agreement of the Korean War (1953). We must also examine how this steady chronology is complicated by the long, drawn-out processes on the ground through which the two inchoate postcolonial states produced their own citizens out of the opaque and recalcitrant transborder population, who had long remained ambivalent at best toward the initiatives of the “homeland” states.

I argue that North and South Korea relied on two very different means of transborder nation building vis-à-vis Koreans in Japan. North Korea, through its powerful transborder intermediary organization, constructed a parallel institutional world for the excluded Korean minority, that is, a safe haven in which Koreans could find an escape from the hostile Japanese world. This strategy had the effect of making the nascent homeland state forcibly present and indispensable in the everyday experiences of the transborder population. South Korea instead fashioned itself as a broker that could facilitate the integration of the Korean minority into the Japanese mainstream and as a gatekeeper that could control their transborder engagement with their families and home communities in South Korea. These disparate strategies had different strengths and weaknesses, and their efficacy depended on various external factors, such as the duration of Korean settlement in Japan and changing domestic and international political contexts. By bringing the making, unmaking, and remaking of the “homeland” state and the “transborder nation” into analytical focus, this chapter demonstrates that being a “homeland” state for a transborder population is not a taken-for-granted ethnodemographic fact but is rather an arduous, precarious, and revocable political achievement.

Furthermore, this chapter shows how the complex interactions between the three states involved in the fate of Zainichi Koreans (Japan and North and South Korea), and Zainichi Koreans’ responses to these interactions reconfigured the institutionalized and imagined scope of the Korean nation.6 I chart, for example, how the term Chosŏn, which arose as an uncontroversial ethnonym during the colonial period, became a politicized marker closely associated with North Korea (whether the association was cherished or stigmatized). I also document how the three states employed new bureaucratic techniques (for example, the foreigners’ registration system, the grant of permanent resident status, or the issuance of passports) and created new official categories during this period. In addition to marking the complete expulsion of “Koreans” from the redefined boundary of the “Japanese,” these novel bureaucratic and semantic practices show that (p.77) Chosŏnin/Chōsenjin (朝鮮人‎) as a comprehensive ethnonational (minjok) category had come to lose much of its institutional grounding over time. Instead, colonial-era migrants were increasingly forced to adopt one of the two mutually exclusive legal identities as North or South Korean nationals (kungmin). Notably, South Korea pursued this shift more aggressively than North Korea, recognizing only those who explicitly opted for South Korean citizenship as its transborder members, toward whom it was obliged (by international norms) to act as a custodian and for whom it was obliged to provide proper administrative assistance.

However mundane and prosaic they seem, these administrative services—indispensable for Zainichi Koreans’ transactions with Japanese bureaucrats, with family members who remained in Korea, or with other foreign agents in the case of international travel—served as a powerful lure of South Korean identity, which could not be matched by North Korea. North Korea increasingly fell behind South Korea in acquiring favorable recognition from other states or international and supranational bodies. It thus could not provide its transborder members with a reliable or desirable bureaucratic persona, one that could facilitate their unencumbered navigation of a world in which individuals are pervasively sorted and re-sorted by their state membership. This made many of those who subjectively identified themselves as the overseas citizens of North Korea turn to South Korea for passports or certificates of citizenship. In sum, what crippled North Korea’s transborder nation-building project in the long run was not so much a deficit in “empirical statehood” as a deficit in “juridical statehood.”7 This point aligns with a broader theoretical argument of the book, namely, that the symbolic efficacy of a state’s claim to a certain transborder population relies significantly on the willingness and the capacity of other states to cooperate.

North Korea: The Homeland State as Safe Haven

From Colonial Subjects to Foreigners

How was it that, in the first two decades of the competition for the allegiance of Zainichi Koreans, North Korea decisively held the upper hand over South Korea? A longing for home wasn’t the explanation—over 90 percent of Koreans in Japan were originally from the southern regions of the peninsula. Nor was North Korea able to expect Japan’s consistent support given the postwar and the Cold War political landscape of northeast (p.78) Asia. To solve this puzzle we must examine the macroregional processes in the immediate postwar period that shaped both the distinctive profile of the majority of Zainichi Koreans and the basic framework through which they understood the nature of the two Korean regimes.

With a push from the occupying Allies, approximately 70 percent of the 2 million colonial-era migrants had repatriated to the Korean peninsula in the first two years of Japan’s defeat. Yet as early as the beginning of 1946, the border control policies of occupying Allies were focused on prohibiting Koreans from moving in the reverse direction (Caprio and Jia 2009). Repatriation was becoming an increasingly unattractive option for many Koreans. Faced with economic hardship, cultural alienation (in the case of long-term settlers or the second generation; see Lie 2008, 11), political turmoil (including a series of civilian massacres), and the ensuing civil war on the Korean peninsula, many repatriates sought to return to Japan where they had once established their livelihood and might have remaining kinship or village networks on which they could rely. Especially to many Cheju Islanders, who had long maintained a distinctive regional identity and had a long history of circular migration and cross-border family dispersion, Korean enclaves in Osaka offered a better alternative than anywhere on the Korean peninsula, which they simply called yukchi, meaning “mainland” (Kyŏng-h. Cho 2015).8 The “return from the return” of compatriots and their reports on the depressing situation in South Korea led Koreans who had remained in Japan to postpone their homecoming indefinitely.

Koreans, however, were not welcome in the postimperial state. The Japanese government was adamant about excluding the remaining former colonial subjects, not to mention the repatriates who sought to return to Japan, from its reconstituted citizenry. Former colonial subjects (the Taiwanese, Koreans, and, interestingly, Okinawans; see Oguma [1998] 2014) were initially classified as “third country nationals” (daisangokujin), distinguished not only from the “Japanese” (hojin or nihonjin), but also from “foreigners” (gaigokujin), the term exclusively designating citizens of Allied countries (Watt 2009, 94). “Third country nationals” were not eligible for various privileges enjoyed by other “foreigners,” such as greater food rations and extraterritoriality; further, the term had a derogative connotation. Korean activists therefore struggled to acquire the status of full-fledged “foreigners” (Kashiwazaki 2009).

In 1947, the Foreigners’ Registration Act indeed began to legally classify Koreans and Taiwanese as “foreigners,” even before their nationality (p.79) statuses were clarified. This law had the effect of denying these former colonial subjects any special treatment in terms of immigration proceedings and citizenship privileges. Having possessed the right of access, if limited, to the metropole during the colonial period, Koreans were now obliged to establish lawful residence status via proper registration records, renew their records every two to three years, carry registration cards, and produce these cards at any moment at the authorities’ request. The slightest violation of these laws could jeopardize residence status and lead to deportation. In 1952, the San Francisco Peace Treaty finally formalized the expulsion of Koreans from the category of Japanese nationals, collectively stripping them of Japanese nationality regardless of the duration of their stay, their degree of cultural assimilation, or birth in Japan. The colonial-era family registration system continued to serve as the documentary basis for determining which individuals were Koreans and which were Japanese.

Meanwhile, U.S. occupying authorities in both defeated Japan and the southern half of liberated Korea began to prioritize the cause of anticommunism, while sacrificing the principle of national self-determination, the liquidation of imperial legacies, and the promise of democratic reforms (Caprio and Jia 2009). Consequently, the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Japan became hostile to the representative ethnic Korean organization (the League of Resident Koreans in Japan, known as Chōren), which had been established in 1945 and increasingly leaned toward communism. The Japanese and U.S. authorities considered this organization, and, by extension, the remaining Koreans in general, a grave threat to the economic and political stability of Japan and to the geopolitical interests of the United States—in the same way that the occupying U.S. military came to consider numerous leftist nationalist organizations, proliferating in the southern part of the Korean peninsula boiling with revolutionary fervor, a grave security concern (Cumings 1981, 1990). The GHQ, in cooperation with the interim Japanese government, closed the semiprivate Korean-language schools under Chōren’s control in 1948 and banned the organization itself in 1949. The Korean War (1950–1953) further soured the relationship between the GHQ and Chōren, as the United States intervened, Japan became a rear base, and Korean activists in underground left-wing organizations waged an antiwar campaign against the GHQ (Caprio and Jia 2009; Choi 2013). Many Koreans experienced the authorities’ assault on the core institutions and organizations of Korean communities in Japan as a continuation of colonial domination (Inokuchi 2000).

(p.80) North Korea captured such Korean grievances in its vitriolic denunciation of the reactionary neoimperialist coalition forged by the United States, Japan, and the “puppet regime” in the south, which had welcomed the crackdown as a successful anticommunist campaign. Yet the positive reputations of North Korea and its legendary leader General Kim Il-Sung9 were not sufficient to transform colonial-era migrants into self-identifying overseas citizens of North Korea. The 1955 establishment of the Association of Korean Residents in Japan, known as Ch’ongnyŏn in Korean and Sōren in Japanese, provided an essential organizational infrastructure that enabled the North Korean state to exercise its power from afar.

Constructing a National Society on Foreign Soil: Ch’ongnyŏn and the Absentee Homeland State

  • From Hokkaido to Kyūshū, wherever we Koreans live
  • We have built schools from the primary schools to the university
  • Learning our national culture and revolutionary tradition
  • Students are growing, entrusted with the future of our fatherland
  • We heartily follow the lofty guidance of our Great Leader
  • Our pride is inexhaustible

“Uri charang iman chŏman anirao” (Our pride is inexhaustible)(T. Han 1973)10

Ch’ongnyŏn declared itself an overseas organization of North Korea. It claimed to respect the principle of noninterference with regard to Japan’s “internal” affairs and accordingly distanced itself from the Japanese Communist Party. The organization was thereby able to carve out a structural niche in which it could nurture the loyalty of Koreans to North Korea without triggering direct sanctions from the Japanese government (S. Ryang 1992). With the financial support and ideological guidance of North Korea, Ch’ongnyŏn was able to rapidly saturate ethnic enclaves with organizations and institutions under its control. Envisioning itself as an extension of the North Korean state, Ch’ongnyŏn organized the Women’s Union, the Youth League, the Young Pioneers, and the Entrepreneurs’ Union, stretching from central headquarters in Tokyo to local branches in neighborhoods. Several firms were associated with Ch’ongnyŏn, including a credit union, an insurance company, and an import-export firm. In addition, (p.81) Ch’ongnyŏn ran various types of adult schools and many publishing houses, which issued textbooks, more than thirty journals of various types, and several newspapers, including Chosŏn Sinbo, the Korean-language daily (S. Ryang 1998, 583). Most important, Ch’ongnyŏn established a national school system spread across the major Korean ethnic enclaves; at its peak, the system included more than eighty elementary schools, fifty-six junior high schools, twelve senior high schools, and the Chosŏn University in Tokyo and accommodated 46,000 students (S. Ryang 1998).

This national school system was North Korea’s most powerful means of transborder nation building in three respects. First, these schools refused official accreditation and financial subsidies from the Japanese government and, free from its supervision, constructed their own curriculum following the guidance of North Korea. Students received indoctrination in nonalignment third-world socialism, which offered an interpretive framework for attributing the past trauma and present ordeals of Koreans in Japan to colonial domination and continuing neoimperialism. Many study participants recalled their first exposure to this alternative historiography as a moment of enlightenment, redemption, and liberation. Chin-t’ae, for example, told me how the school changed him, a Japanese wannabe with inferiority complex who always wore kimono and geta, almost overnight: “My wife still says that I left home that morning, saying ‘Ittekimasu’ [a Japanese expression, meaning “I am leaving”], and then came home in the afternoon, saying ‘Tanŏ watsŭmnida’ [a Korean expression, meaning “I am back”] instead of ‘Tadaima.’” Kwi-suk, who was smuggled into Japan as a girl after she survived the government-led civilian massacre in Cheju Island in 1948, told me how enlightening and empowering it was to learn through her son, a student of a Ch’ongnyŏn-line school, about the responsibility of Japanese and American imperialism for the killing of her father and brothers and for her daily struggle as a poor unauthorized migrant.

The significance of these schools for North Korea’s transborder nation building was not limited to direct ideological education. A second contribution of the schools was their accommodation of various aspirations from below, which increased the legitimacy of the North Korean regime. These schools provided higher education, moderately respectable careers, support networks, and self-esteem for young Koreans, who were excluded, marginalized, and humiliated in the Japanese educational system. My ethnographic research shows that the lure of these rewards was so strong that (p.82) even some Koreans affiliated with the pro–South Korea organization sent their children to these schools; these parents expected that their second-generation children could learn the Korean language and cultural norms, rid themselves of self-loathing inflicted by the severe discrimination against Koreans, or, more mundanely, find Korean marriage partners. Families lacking proper residence permits benefited from these schools, which, unlike other Japanese public schools, did not require strict documentation. Popular songs such as the one with which I began this section illustrate the significance of these schools in solidifying North Korea’s hegemony within the Ch’ongnyŏn communities. The lyrics of the school songs also nicely illustrate how these schools were considered the greatest gift from the virtuous leader in North Korea and served as a source of pride. Here is the school song of Kanagawa Korean School, for example: “In the sunny Sawadari of Yokohama, Kanagawa/We built our schools from the primary to the senior high school/Stunned, all the world looks at our schools/Impressed by the Chosŏn people’s great sprit/Envious of us living under the care of the Great Leader.”11

Third, these schools facilitated North Korea’s transborder nation building by consolidating the boundary of the Ch’ongnyŏn communities. Brubaker and his coauthors (2006, 269–277) convincingly demonstrate that Hungarian schools in Transylvania, Romania, played a critical role in reproducing Hungarian ethnicity not so much by providing explicitly nationalist education as by nurturing students’ competence in the Hungarian language and providing a matrix for the formation of ethnically bounded friendships and romantic involvement. Likewise, Ch’ongnyŏn schools served as the center of an ethnically bounded social network that lasted long after graduation and provided common reference points (for example, a standardized knowledge of and perspective on Korean history, culture, geography, and politics) among Koreans under Ch’ongnyŏn’s influence. They created symbolic capital that was recognized and rewarded within the Ch’ongnyŏn world, most directly in the form of employment in its various organs. The symbolic capital produced in Ch’ongnyŏn schools, however, was not useful in the Japanese mainstream: they were not recognized as accredited institutions and were treated as nonacademic organizations. This disadvantage hampered the recruitment of upwardly mobile, ambitious young Koreans to Ch’ongnyŏn schools, yet it contributed to the maintenance of the boundary of those who built their educational credentials solely through this educational system.

(p.83) Rituals and symbols featured prominently in North Korea’s transborder nation-building strategies. The North Korean national flag and the pictures of North Korean leaders were displayed in all the organizations and schools under Ch’ongnyŏn’s control and even in private homes of some ardent supporters. The playing of the North Korean anthem and the reading of a congratulatory message from the “fatherland” always accompanied important ceremonies, including school commencement. The Ch’ongnyŏn community collectively celebrated the major national holidays of North Korea, including the birthday of the “Great Leader.” More subtly, Ch’ongnyŏn insisted on using the Western calendar in its official publications instead of Japan’s unique calendar based on the emperor system. The unification and standardization of the sense of time is a crucial element of modern nation-state building (Anderson 1991). In this sense, Ch’ongnyŏn’s refusal to adopt the Japanese calendar system signaled its measured distancing from Japanese society.

The Ch’ongnyŏn schools also sought to reorient their students’ sense of national space with regard to the Korean peninsula, a map of which hung in the classroom and appeared in the textbook with the title “Our Country”; the map of the Japanese archipelago, on the other hand, was simply titled “Map of Japan.”12 Moreover, Ch’ongnyŏn promoted the use of the Pyongyang standard of the Korean language instead of the Seoul standard, while discouraging the use of not only the Japanese language but also Korean regional dialects—mostly southern dialects, given the composition of Koreans in Japan—if with limited success. An article published in Chosŏn Sinbo on December 14, 1970, for instance, reports on a family who successfully replaced “chŏngji” (meaning kitchen in the dialect of Chŏlla Province) with “puŏkkan,” and “chil” (meaning road in the same dialect) with “kil,” and was therefore able to enjoy the radio program broadcasted from the “fatherland” (Chosŏn Sinbo 1970c).13

In summary, the power and legitimacy of Ch’ongnyŏn consisted primarily in its capacity to build a sustainable alternative community for Koreans in Japan. The organization aimed to create a parallel world characterized by a high degree of “institutional completeness” (Breton 1964); in its prime, it succeeded in doing so. The Ch’ongnyŏn world provided Korean-language education, ethnically segregated niche job markets, banking institutions, intraethnic social networks, mutual aid, and assistance in dealing with the Japanese government. Furthermore, it served as a venue in which Koreans felt comfortable in their own skins, developed a Korean national “habitus,” (p.84) and nurtured collective pride in their national origin. Ch’ongnyŏn acted on behalf of the absentee socialist fatherland at the neighborhood level so successfully that it made this distant and nascent homeland state forcibly present, prosaic, and indispensable in the everyday experiences of the transborder population. The organization was consequently able to transform colonial-era migrants into self-identifying “North Koreans,” despite a flimsy legal foundation and weak international support.

Nevertheless, guarding the boundary of this territorially unbounded national society was not an easy task. Ch’ongnyŏn’s indispensability depended on the strict exclusion of Koreans from Japanese mainstream society. For instance, Ch’ongnyŏn’s effort to discourage the transfer of its best and brightest to Japanese schools was made easier by the Japanese government, which required the students in Ch’ongnyŏn schools to take a separate exam to be eligible for such a transfer. A few Ch’ongnyŏn school graduates did make it to Japanese universities, but in these cases Ch’ongnyŏn required them to affiliate with the League for Chosŏn International Students in Japan (Chae Ilbon Chosŏn Ryuhaksaeng Tongmaeng). The word international—which was added in 1955, the year of Ch’ongnyŏn’s establishment—epitomizes Ch’ongnyŏn’s efforts to define these students as “international” in origin, studying in “foreign” institutions, even if they were actually born and raised in Japan.

The story of Chin-su, another study participant, whose father was a high-ranking Ch’ongnyŏn official and whose mother was Japanese, shows that Ch’ongnyŏn also relied on a type of boundary-maintenance mechanism based on informal sanctions and cultural taboos, in this case against interethnic marriage. When his mother showed up on a school field day dressed in her traditional Korean costume, she instantly became a subject of gossip among his classmates and their parents. Such a public display of the Korean identity in the face of severe discrimination was generally considered a courageous and admirable act, but his classmates and their parents did not like a Japanese “acting” as if she were a “genuine” Korean.

One might rightly suspect that this type of transborder nation-building project, predicated on the radical disengagement from the host society, would become increasingly difficult to sustain over time. It is therefore not surprising that the ideology of “eventual return” (Lie 2008, 32–65) emerged as an almost logical corollary to this particular transborder nation-building strategy. The repatriation campaign that swept the Korean community in the late 1950s was the materialization of this ideology. To adequately grasp (p.85) the uproar engendered by this campaign, we need first to examine why cross-strait migration became such a politicized issue throughout the 1950s.

Illegal Migrants, Defectors, or Refugees? Disputes Over Japan’s Deportation Policy

Yi Pyŏng-nam, a Korean detainee in the Ōmura detention center, applied for repatriation to North Korea … but Yi was instead severely assaulted by anticommunist inmates who received orders from the South Korean CIA.14 … Twenty more detainees became the victims of similar assaults, and they subsequently withdrew their applications for repatriation to the North…. Deporting such detainees to South Korea resulted in grave consequences. According to our investigation, about half of the 251 detainees who were deported to South Korea in 1956 were turned over to the South Korean CIA as soon as they arrived in South Korea.

Zainichi Chōsenjin no Jinken o Mamoru kai (1964, B22–B35)15

The relationships among Japan, North Korea, and South Korea did not normalize for decades after the dissolution of the empire. As a result, the parameters that would determine the legality and the legitimacy of border crossings were not settled for an extended period, generating chronic and protracted controversies. How to represent and treat certain migration flows between the Korean peninsula and the Japanese archipelago—as forced migration, human smuggling, refugee movement, repatriation, deportation, or something else—became a highly politicized topic. The outcome of these disputes was crucial not only to the legitimacy of the states involved but also to the destiny of those crossing the borders.

Japan reluctantly agreed to grant a more stable residence status to Koreans who continued to remain in Japan from the colonial period. Yet the government consistently denied the right of residence to those who had repatriated to the Korean peninsula and then returned to Japan clandestinely. These “illegal” migrants were former Japanese nationals who most likely had family ties in Japan. Indeed, to some, Japan was the only home that they had known their entire lives. The application of such a strict cutoff point was thus considered exceptionally arbitrary and cruel by many moderate to progressive Japanese politicians and intellectuals; other European countries, in comparison, generally made an exception in dealing (p.86) with the immigration and citizenship status of former colonial subjects. Moreover, this radical exclusionary policy was difficult to enforce. Many Koreans successfully skirted the postwar border control system, assisted by well-entrenched human smuggling networks. Once they had safely arrived at the shores of the Japanese archipelago, they were able to rely on thick kin and hometown networks for employment and security. To legalize their status, some took advantage of several loopholes in the registration system, especially in the early years of its implementation; others appealed to sympathetic or corrupt low-level Japanese bureaucrats and managed to obtain registrations; and still others purchased the registrations of repatriated or deceased Koreans on the black market.

One of my research participants, Han-ik, for instance, was able to obtain the foreigner’s registration document of his old friend even before he was smuggled into Japan at the dawn of the Korean War. His friend had lived in Fukuoka from 1937 on and obtained his foreigner’s registration document in 1947. But he subsequently returned to Korea without reporting his departure to the Japanese authorities, which enabled Han-ik to reuse his document. Unlike others in a similar situation, Han-ik was even able to change the name on the document to his real name by taking advantage of a special ordinance that allowed document holders to change the registered name if Japanized names had been used for initial registration. Han-ik’s experience is especially interesting for its irony: the fact that many Koreans possessed both their original Korean name and a Japanized name—in large part as a result of colonial assimilation policies and postcolonial discrimination against Koreans—undermined the state’s capacity to pin down their identity while enabling them to avoid state surveillance.

Despite these success stories, the deportation and removal records of the Japanese government attest to the existence of a large number of Koreans who failed to establish lawful residence in Japan one way or the other. These were the people who filled the Ōmura and Hamamatsu detention centers throughout the 1950s. The Japanese government classified these detainees into two groups: first, colonial-era migrants who had not repatriated to Korea in the immediate postwar era, yet had lost lawful residence status in Japan due to their serious violations of the Foreigners’ Registration Act; and second, post-1945 “illegal” migrants from South Korea who were arrested during or after their clandestine entry. Throughout the 1950s, the deportation of these two groups of detainees did not proceed smoothly. After (p.87) all, the nationality status of these detainees was still in dispute, leaving the question of where to deport them unresolved.

South Korea claimed that both groups of detainees were South Korean citizens, but it adamantly refused to admit the first group, who were seen as indigent and ideologically suspect. South Korea argued that the precise residence status of these former colonial subjects should be determined not by the unilateral imposition of the draconian Foreigners’ Registration Act but by the upcoming bilateral treaty between Japan and South Korea. As former Japanese nationals, South Korea argued, these Koreans deserved more protection from deportation than did other foreigners.

Ch’ongnyŏn and its allies denounced Japan’s deportation policy for a different reason. By planning to deport all Korean detainees to South Korea without exception, they argued, the Japanese government stripped the detainees of the right to be “repatriated” to North Korea. They developed two lines of critiques applicable respectively to each group of detainees. First, they criticized the Japanese government for ignoring that most colonialera migrants in Japan had already chosen socialist North Korea as their homeland, as evidenced by their maintenance of the Chōsen designation in their foreigner’s registry (the meaning of which will be discussed in detail later in this chapter) or by a stated preference during their detention, as was the case for Yi Pyŏng-nam, cited at the beginning of this section. If these detainees needed to be deported, they ought to be sent to North rather than to South Korea. Second, those who entered Japan after 1945 could not be simply classified as “illegal migrants.” They were “refugees” who escaped starvation, compulsory military service, anticommunist persecution, and political massacres in South Korea—not an unfounded claim given the extreme poverty and state terror rampant in South Korea in the 1950s. Sending them back to South Korea, therefore, would not be a legitimate exercise of state sovereignty but a grave violation of the emerging international norms on refugee protection. In a similar vein, Ch’ongnyŏn and its allies in Japan accused South Korea of various human rights abuses in the latter half of the 1950s, including masterminding the frequent assaults on detainees who had expressed their wishes to be deported to North Korea. The report cited at the beginning of this section provides one such example. As if to corroborate this denunciation, ninety-four detainees in the Ōmura detention center went on a hunger strike in 1958 to protest their scheduled deportation to South Korea (Morris-Suzuki 2007). As was the case in the (p.88) POW camp in South Korea during the Korean War (Monica Kim 2011), the Ōmura detention center became a battleground on which leftist and rightist inmates, the latter often instigated and supported by the Japanese and South Korean authorities, violently collided over the question of where they should be repatriated.

The alarmed South Korean government warned Japan that, if it sent these detainees to North Korea, South Korea would, in retaliation, refuse to repatriate the roughly 900 Japanese fishermen who had been detained for their alleged intrusion into South Korea’s territorial waters. The South Korean state vilified the detainees who pled for deportation to the North as “criminals, drug smugglers, draft dodgers, and communist sympathizers” who did not deserve the protection of the Japanese government or international law (Oemubu 1956). The trials of arrested stowaways highlight how the climate of the day instantly politicized the flow of cross-strait migration, much of which was driven by motives more personal than political. One of my research participants, Su-yŏng, for instance, explained that “the desire to eat enough boiled white rice and send [his] poor mother fancy clothes made in Japan” was behind his decision to be smuggled into Japan. Yet during his trial in the port of Pusan, the South Korean prosecutor accused him of being “a traitor to the fatherland,” whereas the court-appointed attorney asked for forgiveness, defending Su-yŏng’s unauthorized departure as an effort “to earn foreign currency for the development of the fatherland.” Given the heated political rhetoric to which Su-yŏng’s seemingly innocuous migration decision was immediately subjected, it would not be difficult to imagine the outcry engendered by North Korea’s petition for the massive repatriation of Koreans in Japan in the following years.

Return, Banishment, or Exodus? Disputes Over North Korea’s Repatriation Campaign

Han-ik fled to Japan at the eve of the Korean War to escape the draft. With the help of his old friend and uncle who had lived in Japan since the colonial period, he managed to legalize his status, graduate from the Korean senior high school, marry a second-generation Korean, and become a high-ranking Ch’ongnyŏn activist. His father in Korea, however, was very disappointed to learn that Han-ik, his first son, would not come back to his hometown. In 1960, determined to bring back Han-ik, his father paid to smuggle himself into Japan, only to be arrested and sent to the Ōmura (p.89) detention center. While visiting his father, Han-ik persuaded him to apply for repatriation to North Korea; he was afraid that, if his father were to be deported to South Korea, the South Korean intelligence agency would charge his father with spying due to Han-ik’s involvement in Ch’ongnyŏn. Although his mother and other siblings were still in South Korea, reunification seemed imminent: after twelve years of dictatorship, the Rhee administration in South Korea had just been overthrown in April 1960 by protesters shouting the slogan, “Let’s march up to the North! Please come down to the South!” Han-ik had no inkling that his father would never be able to reunite with his family in South Korea before his death in North Korea thirty years later.

In the mid-1950s, North Korea and Ch’ongnyŏn began to petition for the massive repatriation of Koreans in Japan, not just a small number of detainees. Securing the support of the Japanese government, the International Red Cross, and many Koreans in Japan, the Repatriation Campaign moved more than 80,000 Koreans from Japan to North Korea, including some who applied for “repatriation” to North Korea while awaiting deportation at the detention center, as was the case for Han-ik’s father. The stunning success and the quick decline of this campaign demonstrate both the appeal and the limits of North Korea’s transborder nation-building project.

The success of this campaign was an outcome of the confluence of heterogeneous and mutually contradictory interests (Morris-Suzuki 2007). Japan’s conservative ruling party had long sought to rid Japan of its economically destitute and politically recalcitrant Korean minority. It was also trying to minimize opposition to the controversial Japan–U.S. security treaty in the offing; cooperating with North Korea’s repatriation campaign was one way of wooing leftist politicians and intellectuals, who had long criticized the administration for favoring South over North Korea. In addition, throughout the 1950s, the Japanese government had sought to repatriate Japanese who had been trapped in communist countries (China, the Soviet Union, and North Korea) after the collapse of the empire; its cooperation with North Korea therefore could be justified as a shrewd diplomatic move to bring back its own nationals.16

The nationalist leadership of North Korea and the newly formed Ch’ongnyŏn (both solidifying their hegemony through the purge of an internationalist faction), for their part, became increasingly convinced that the “repatriation” of Koreans would serve their interests, the potential (p.90) economic burden of subsidized repatriation and settlement notwithstanding. The repatriates were expected to help relieve the post–civil war labor shortage in North Korea.17 Moreover, repatriation could be the first step toward normalizing diplomatic relations with Japan, which was considered an increasingly desirable goal given the weakening communist alliance among North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union (Morris-Suzuki 2007). Repatriation was also expected to strengthen the hegemony of Ch’ongnyŏn—and by extension, North Korea—by offering an exit option to many impoverished Koreans, especially the younger generation who were coming of age faced with grim prospects in Japan—even more so if they could not legalize their undocumented status. Most important, the spectacle of Koreans in Japan voluntarily repatriating to North Korea would stand in stark contrast to their forcible deportation to South Korea; it would be an exercise in national self-determination by ordinary Koreans, who had managed to overcome the obstruction imposed by the neoimperialist coalition.

The Japanese government and the International Red Cross, which aided the repatriation process, distanced themselves from this triumphalist rhetoric. Facing fierce protests from South Korea, which condemned their cooperation as a “grave infringement on the sovereignty of South Korea,” both the Japanese government and the Red Cross asserted that their decision was not based on any legal judgment about the nationality of the repatriates but on the humanitarian principle that obliged the international community to facilitate the resettlement of “displaced persons” in the country of their choosing, so long as that country admitted them (Oemubu 1956). Nevertheless, this seemingly innocuous representation was anything but apolitical: as the use of the term displaced persons implies, this representation reinforced and naturalized the notion that Korean residents did not belong in Japan. The repatriation procedure itself was a rite of passage that produced the truth of the “displacement” of Koreans. For instance, the foreigner’s registration cards of the repatriates were stamped with “Re-Exit” (Saishukkoku, 再出國‎), even if many of them had been born in Japan and had never left the country (Morris-Suzuki 2007, 226). This particular representation effectively invalidated South Korea’s claim that the “repatriation” involved neither voting with one’s feet nor an innocuous resettlement of displaced persons but rather the banishment of South Korean citizens whose permanent resident status should have been guaranteed by Japan. The term used by each party reveals the ongoing competition over how (p.91) to define the disputed population movement. While North Korea used the term kwiguk (歸國‎), meaning “returning to the home country,” South Korea consistently used the term puksong (北送‎), meaning “sending/deportation to the North.” Japan used kikoku (歸國‎, returning to the home country) or hikiage (引揚‎), roughly translated as repatriation, the same term used for the postwar repatriation of Japanese (Watt 2009). The International Red Cross interchangeably used repatriation, resettlement, and, in correspondences addressed to the South Korean government, emigration (Oemubu 1956).

In terms of sheer numbers, the Korean community responded with a resounding welcome to North Korea’s initiative.18 Between 1959 and 1967, more than 80,000 Koreans (approximately 15 percent of the total Korean population in Japan), most of whom were from the southern region and had lived in Japan for decades, chose to take a one-way trip to a destination where they had no preexisting ties. It is extremely difficult to obtain a first-person account from the returnees, who have been locked in North Korea ever since—except for a very few who later defected from North Korea. Nonetheless, data on their socioeconomic status at the point of repatriation and interviews with their families and friends who remained in Japan suggest that this startling record was the result of three factors: Japan’s exclusionary stance toward its former colonial population, the incompetence and tyranny of the South Korean regime, and the Ch’ongnyŏn version of transborder nationalism focusing on homeland politics rather than the reform of Japan’s minority policies.

Fifteen years after the collapse of the empire, Zainichi Koreans were deeply impoverished and could expect little help from the Japanese government. Sonia Ryang (1997, 13), for instance, cites a 1963 report on the socioeconomic status of the “repatriates” showing that 4,200 of 6,000 who had jobs were day laborers, while 7,800 were unemployed. Most of the recorded jobs were peddling, waste paper collecting, factory work, and dealing in secondhand goods. Morris-Suzuki (2007, 119–121) draws our attention to the contemporaneous change in Japan’s welfare system. In February 1956, the Ministry of Health and Welfare, in cooperation with the police department, launched an aggressive large-scale investigation of the Livelihood Protection Payment program, the only welfare benefit for which Koreans, as foreign residents, were eligible. The campaign reportedly discovered massive abuse of the system by unqualified Koreans; the government­ (p.92) consequently cut the number of Korean beneficiaries from 130,000 to around 50,000 in just two years. As foreigners, they were excluded from the national pension system enacted in 1959.

My interview data additionally reveal the ways in which these structural factors were intertwined with cultural expectations and intrafamily dynamics, which ended up dispersing family members in unexpected ways. Hyŏn-dong, for instance, planned to go to North Korea with his younger brother, hoping to contribute to the building of “the socialist fatherland.” Hyŏn-dong’s parents did not oppose his brother’s repatriation plan: given the pervasive discrimination against Koreans, his brother, a high school dropout, would likely wind up in the Korean-dominated pachinko business at best, if he stayed in Japan.19 But they pressed Hyŏn-dong to postpone his departure: they at least wanted to marry off their first son before he left. As a college graduate, Hyŏn-dong’s career prospects in Japan also seemed much brighter than his brother’s. Hyŏn-dong acceded, but several years later, after his marriage, the vehement opposition of his wife’s family prevented him from following through on his original plan to join his brother. In Suk-cha’s case, the family pressure worked the other way. Her mother-in-law wished to spend the rest of her life in the “bosom of the socialist fatherland.” Although her four sons were not particularly enthusiastic, they saw it as a grave breach of their filial duty to let her leave alone. Although Suk-cha, a widow, was the first daughter-in-law, who was supposed to take care of her parents-in-law according to the traditional cultural norm, she resisted the pressure of her in-laws to join their repatriation. She feared that repatriation to North Korea might make it permanently impossible for her to reunite with her natal family in South Korea.

The South Korean regime, for its part, was an accomplice to its own humiliation. Apart from a disappointing economic performance that lagged behind its competitor to the north, the Rhee administration, stubbornly bent on its anticommunist agenda, even helped increase the number of “repatriates” by pushing some unauthorized migrants awaiting deportation to choose “repatriation” to the North for fear of being persecuted as communists back in South Korea. Han-ik’s father’s predicament, introduced at the beginning of this section, is a case in point. Su-yŏng, another postwar illegal migrant, described to me the impasse at which detainees like Han-ik’s father found themselves:

Once you were deported back to South Korea, the police would harass you, asking whether or not you’d met Ch’ongnyŏn relatives, whether or not you’d (p.93) seen the photos of Kim Il-sung, whether or not you’d read communist pamphlets. And guess what? Seventy percent of my neighbors were Ch’ongnyŏn [affiliates] back then, and the photos and pamphlets were all over. They hung right on the wall of my cousin’s house! How would it even be possible not to see these photos and pamphlets unless you were blind? Still, if you say yes [to the police interrogator], you’re busted. If you say no, they beat you like hell, yelling that you’re lying. Anticipating all this, anybody with brain would naturally think, “No, I won’t go through that. I’ll just take the chance. I’ll go to North Korea.” As many as twenty people from my own village, who came to Japan in the 1950s just to make money, because they were so poor, eventually chose to go to North Korea for these reasons. How would they have known that they would never be able to come back, that South and North Korea would remain divided for more than sixty years, and that they’d end up starving in the country advertised as “the heaven on earth” [chisang nagwŏn]?20

Regardless of the long-term cost that these returnees had to pay, in the short term, the success of the repatriation campaign strengthened Ch’ongnyŏn’s power just as its organizational strength had contributed to the campaign’s success. During the repatriation campaign, Ch’ongnyŏn worked as a de facto consular office of North Korea as well as a mouthpiece for Koreans in Japan. The number of students in Ch’ongnyŏn-run schools increased sharply in the early 1960s as many students who were culturally Japanese transferred from the Japanese schools to prepare themselves for repatriation (S. Kwŏn 1960). Some repatriates entrusted their assets to Ch’ongnyŏn before departure, which substantially increased the organization’s financial resources (Morris-Suzuki 2007, 159).

Yet this exodus-cum-homecoming remained a viable prospect for Zainichi Koreans for only a brief period. Although the repatriation program officially ended in 1989, the number of participants peaked in 1960 (49,036) and 1961 (22,801) and then dropped sharply to several thousand per year through the rest of the 1960s, several hundred per year in the 1970s, and single digits per year in the mid-1980s (S. Yu 1993, 95). By the mid-1960s, the news of disappointing realities in North Korea had already spread. The 1961 military coup in South Korea overturned the short-lived reform government established after the April Revolution a year prior, stifling Zainichi Koreans’ hopes for imminent reunification and undermining the dream of eventual return to their hometown in the southern region of reunited Korea. Furthermore, what had been envisioned as a temporary sojourn in Japan was becoming long-term settlement as the number (p.94) of second- and third-generation Koreans continued to grow. Meanwhile, urban gentrification was destroying the historic Korean ghetto, which had been the Ch’ongnyŏn stronghold. The momentum now swung back to South Korea.

South Korea: The Homeland State as Broker and Gatekeeper

Controlling the Interface: Mindan and the Bureaucratic Persona of Zainichi Koreans

Although North Korea rapidly saturated ethnic Korean enclaves with organizations and institutions under its guidance, the battleground preferred by South Korea was the “nationality” designation in Japan’s Foreigners’ Registry. In other words, South Korea targeted not subjective but objective identification, not the soul of the people but their bureaucratic persona.

When the Japanese government enacted the Foreigners’ Registration Act in 1947, neither of the two Korean states had been established. The nationality of Koreans was recorded in the registry uniformly as Chōsen, the name of the long-time dynasty and the former colony. Referring to the now expired colonial classificatory system discussed in the previous chapter, the designation signified, and indeed produced, the radical exclusion of the former colonial subjects from Japan’s redrawn national citizenry, yet not their inclusion into the citizenry of the newly emerging independent postcolonial Korean state. The Japanese authorities explained that Chōsen was merely a provisional designation, indicating individuals’ colonial origins but not their official nationality, and that the designation would be used only temporarily until the question of nationality of Koreans in Japan was clarified.

Once the two Korean states were established in 1948, South Korea found Chōsen problematic in a dual sense: it was associated not only with a humiliating colonial memory but also with North Korea, because North Korea had retained Chosŏn/Chōsen for its official name whereas South Korea had not.21 Hence, beginning in 1949, the South Korean government urged Koreans in Japan to register explicitly as “nationals abroad” (chaeoe kungmin, 在外國民‎) of the Republic of Korea and requested that the Japanese government collectively change their nationality designation in the Foreigners’ Registry from 朝鮮‎ (Chōsen) to 韓国‎ (Kankoku), a Japanese transliteration of the new name for South Korea.

(p.95) North Korea, on the other hand, sought to take advantage of the ambiguity of the Chōsen designation, claiming that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (which translates Korea into Chosŏn) was the sole legitimate custodian of the historic Chosŏn minjok. From the perspective of the North Korean state, Kankoku was a coarse fabrication of the puppet South Korean regime. The term revealed South Korea’s negation of the long history of the unified state and its hidden desire to perpetuate the “unnatural” division of the nation (minjok). This interpretation had a broad appeal for Koreans in Japan. Chōsen had become an unchallengeable ethnonym and an uncontroversial designator of the ancestral homeland during the colonial period, its pejorative usage in the colonial context notwithstanding. North Korea also benefited from the default status of the Chōsen designation: many ordinary Koreans, especially those illiterate in the Japanese language and unfamiliar with the language of registration practices, could not afford to care about a designation whose consequences remained obscure. As a result, although more than 94 percent of Koreans originally came from the southern regions of the Korean peninsula, about 92 percent of those identified in the Foreigners Registry of 1950 remained identified as Chōsen (S. Ryang 1997). This enabled North Korea to allege that the maintenance of this designation showed the individual’s conscious choice of North Korea as his or her fatherland.

To change this status quo, South Korea sought to capitalize on its geopolitical advantage. The bilateral negotiations between South Korea and Japan that began in the winter of 1951 were expected to secure the recognition of South Korea as the sole legitimate nation-state in the peninsula entitled to represent the Korean population in Japan. Although negotiations remained unresolved throughout the 1950s, postponing the normalization of diplomatic relations for another decade, the [South] Korean Liaison Mission (an interim body that served the role of a consular office before 1965) managed to secure the cooperation, if not the staunch support, of the conservative Japanese government.

Beginning in 1950, the Japanese government allowed Koreans individually, though not collectively, to change their designations from Chōsen to Kankoku or to the Republic of Korea. The change in the reverse direction, that is, from Kankoku to Chōsen or to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, was not allowed in principle. The rationale was that Kankoku was more or less a nationality, whereas Chōsen was only a provisional placeholder.22 Moreover, some staff in immigration and municipal (p.96) offices persuaded, or sometimes coerced, Koreans to change their designations from Chōsen to Kankoku when they visited the offices to deal with ordinary administrative affairs; in some reported cases, the staff members changed the designation at their own discretion without even informing those concerned, who were often illiterate in the Japanese language.

The Japanese government aided South Korea in indirect ways as well.23 In processing various administrative transactions, such as a transfer of inherited assets, release for parole, or a provision of insurance for bereaved families, the Japanese government required Koreans to submit official documents issued by the Korean Liaison Mission or the pro–South Korea organization Mindan (short for the Korean Residents Union in Japan, acting on behalf of the Korean Liaison Mission), while refusing to accept equivalent documentation issued by Ch’ongnyŏn. In 1954, the Ministry of Justice instructed local administrations to apply South Korean civil laws to all Koreans in Japan regardless of the nationality designations in their foreigners’ registrations.24 This policy would make Koreans in Japan more dependent on the South Korean government in administrative matters and thereby more vulnerable to its pressure. The rationale for this policy, offered by the Japanese government, merits a separate discussion: (1) Japanese bureaucrats are not able to distinguish between “Chōsenjin” (people of Chōsen) and “Kankokujin” (people of Kankoku); (2) the majority of Koreans in Japan came from the southern Korean peninsula; and (3) a bilateral treaty with South Korea is in the offing.25 The first point reveals that the legal basis for determining the nationality of Koreans was not yet established at the time; neither the designation in the foreigner’s registry nor self-report was considered a credible basis on which to make legally binding decisions. The second point is more interesting than it may initially appear; the idea that regional origin as documented in the family registry determined the legal domicile of an individual was a colonial legacy rooted in the distinctive nested membership structure of the Japanese Empire (Chapter One). Finally, the third point plainly shows South Korea’s advantage over North Korea in the realm of diplomacy.

The discussion so far reveals that, although South Korea did not have the upper hand in the competition for the hearts and minds of its transborder “kin,” it did have a decisive advantage in the contact zones between the Korean community in Japan and the outside world. South Korea could perform more effectively in this interface not only because Japan lent its (p.97) support but also because the ancestral hometowns and kinship ties of more than 90 percent of Zainichi Koreans were located in the southern regions of the peninsula. As mentioned in Chapter One, during the colonial period, Korean migrants in Japan had to obtain a reentry permit from the Japanese police office to travel to their hometowns and then return to Japan; after the end of colonial rule, these migrants had to obtain not only reentry permits from the Japanese government but also passports from the South Korean state, which required the change of the nationality designation as a prerequisite for the issuance of such documents. In addition, family registration documents necessary for various bureaucratic transactions in Japan were preserved in the local administrative offices of their ancestral hometowns in the South and processed through the Korean Liaison Mission. Because the South Korean government delegated this administrative work to Mindan (T’ae-g. Kim 2000), those who applied for family registration documents, certificates of South Korean citizenship, or South Korean passports had to seek Mindan’s assistance.

Nevertheless, until the mid-1960s, the South Korean government’s influence within the Korean communities of Japan had been limited to sporadic instances, although activists and various organizations under North Korean control occupied the everyday landscape of the ethnic enclaves. The benefit of changing one’s nationality designation from Chōsen to Kankoku was not yet clear. My ethnographic data suggest that the aforementioned policies of the Japanese government were not applied consistently and rigorously on the ground, which gave a great deal of leeway to local bureaucrats and Ch’ongnyŏn supporters. The absence of diplomatic relations between South Korea and Japan and the absolute poverty of most Koreans made it extremely difficult for Koreans to visit their hometowns in any event, limiting Mindan’s influence to those who were exceptionally successful and resourceful.26 Most important, as shown by the disputes over Japan’s deportation policies and North Korea’s Repatriation Campaign, the violent anticommunist nation-building process in the South—crystallized in a series of civilian massacres and the civil war—made identification with the South Korean state and subjection to its jurisdictional claim an unattractive prospect for many Koreans. In short, South Korea and Mindan established only fragmentary domination over Koreans in Japan—a “weak state” perched over a “strong society,” to evoke Joel Migdal’s characterization of many postcolonial states in the developing world (Migdal 1988). With the (p.98) ratification of the Japan–South Korea treaty in the mid-1960s, however, the situation began to change.

Predator or Protector? Disputes Over South korea’s Application Campaign For Permanent Residence by Treaty

The 1965 Japan–South Korea bilateral treaty granted “South Korean nationals” who had continued to reside in Japan since their colonial-era migration (as well as their children) the right to apply for a special permanent residence status, called Permanent Residence by Treaty. The South Korean government initially expected that this new legal arrangement would provide Koreans in Japan with a clear incentive to identify themselves as South Koreans. Before 1965, the resident status of Koreans, whether identified as Chōsen or Kankoku, had been almost identical, although identically insecure; now only those who belonged to the Kankoku category became eligible for a permanent resident status of any sort, which entailed various subsidiary benefits (B. Kim 2006).

Nevertheless, to the dismay of the South Korean state, only 20,000 of over 600,000 Koreans applied for permanent resident status in 1965, the first year of the five-year application period. Many remained hesitant, suspecting a hidden agenda on the part of the Japanese and South Korean states. On the one hand, the application process required the applicant to expose his or her life, past and present, to a thorough examination by the Japanese authorities. For example, the applicant had to submit documentation in the Foreigners’ Registry to establish his or her uninterrupted residence. This was not always easy, given the chaotic situation in the immediate aftermath of the war when back-and-forth movement across the strait was common. Some Koreans were afraid that the investigation might reveal their previous or current violations of immigration laws, such as the purchase of other people’s registries. Even those who met the eligibility criteria were likely to lack proper registration records: many did not register in the Foreigners’ Registry, especially in 1947, for fear of deportation or simply because they were unaware of the new registration requirement; in addition, records were not always consistent across time due to mistakes made by those registering or by Japanese bureaucrats. The illiteracy of many Koreans in Japanese and their use of multiple names (Korean and Japanized names) contributed to inconsistent records in the early years of registration (Mindan 1976). These deficiencies in documentation could be remedied by other means—for example, by submitting affidavits of reliable sponsors. Yet (p.99) this type of screening left much room for discretion among frontline immigration officers, whom Koreans had long distrusted as unsympathetic and hostile. The South Korean state had not enjoyed a high level of trust among Koreans, either, as detailed in the previous section. Traumatic encounters with the violence of the colonial and postcolonial states had taught ordinary Koreans that they had better remain at a safe distance from both the Japanese and South Korean bureaucracies.

Ch’ongnyŏn’s opposition campaign further kindled this existing mistrust and anxiety. Ch’ongnyŏn argued that the promise of so-called permanent resident status was a shrewd gimmick of the Japanese government to invent an excuse to deport Koreans for whatever trivial violations might be found during the screening process. The treaty included several clauses that specified the conditions, processes, and the destination of lawful deportation to South Korea, which further fueled Ch’ongnyŏn propaganda. The consequence of the treaty, Ch’ongnyŏn argued, was not to guarantee Koreans a permanent resident status but to infringe on their previous resident status, which was already precarious.

Ch’ongnyŏn further argued that the hidden agenda of the South Korean “puppet regime” was to expropriate the property and financial resources of Koreans in Japan. This predatory regime, it claimed, was interested only in squeezing the most out of its people; having starved 30 million brethren on the peninsula, South Korea had now turned its sights on Koreans in Japan. Not only money but the lives of their children were at stake, Ch’ongnyŏn warned. This warmonger regime, which had enforced a repressive universal conscription system and wasted its people in Vietnam as the “bullet bait” of American imperialism, was now targeting Koreans in Japan, who would be dragged to battlefields as soon as their nationality status was clarified. According to Ch’ongnyŏn’s propaganda, application for permanent resident status (“yŏngjugwŏn sinch’ŏng”) equaled application for permanent death (“yŏng chugŭl sinch’ŏng”) (Chosŏn Sinbo 1970b).

These disparaging claims were not entirely groundless. The Park administration, which had seized power after a military coup in 1961, hurried to establish the bilateral treaty precisely because it considered the influx of Japanese capital, including that of Zainichi Koreans, to be essential for the growth of the South Korean economy. Furthermore, the South Korean state had been interested in drafting Koreans in Japan since 1953 (Chaeoe Kyominkwa 1953).27 Some of the post-1945 illegal migrants to Japan (like Han-ik and Su-yŏng, introduced in previous sections) were indeed draft (p.100) dodgers who would have been punished severely if they had been deported back to South Korea.28 The revised military service law in 1962 permitted South Korean citizens residing abroad to postpone or to be exempted from conscription, a revision made in anticipation of the bilateral treaty with Japan. Nevertheless, the photos of a few draft notices mistakenly sent to those who had applied for permanent resident status were broadly circulated in the Ch’ongnyŏn daily newspaper Chosŏn Sinbo, in an attempt to reveal the danger awaiting the clueless converts.

In response to the disappointingly low application rate, South Korea launched a systematic and aggressive campaign. The government negotiated with the Japanese government to minimize procedural obstacles and increase the number of individuals who passed the required screening.29 South Korea mobilized all the Mindan activists as well as consular and other government officials for household visitations, lecturing tours, public speeches, and assistant services to help with documentation (Mindan 1976). The South Korean government accused Ch’ongnyŏn of harboring a hidden agenda of its own, namely hindering Koreans from establishing a more stable resident status in Japan so as to make them more susceptible to its propaganda, specifically its repatriation scheme. Precisely because Koreans in Japan were unconvinced by the South Korean claims, and because Ch’ongnyŏn’s countercampaign was powerful, Mindan was able to effectively lobby for the South Korean government to augment the benefit package: the government accorded those who registered as “South Korean Nationals Abroad” in the consular office the right to invite family members in Korea to Japan, granted them tax privileges on investments in Korea, ensured their exemption from mandatory military service, and offered other benefits as well.30

It might still have been much more difficult for the South Korean state to overcome Ch’ongnyŏn’s opposition if the Japanese conservative government had not backed South Korea. Soon after the treaty was signed, the Japanese Ministry of Justice announced that Kankoku was a nationality, while Chōsen became an obsolete category. This announcement formalized the unequal status of the Chōsen and Kankoku designations, which had only implicitly guided bureaucratic transactions before 1965. This now formalized asymmetry dealt a heavy blow to Ch’ongnyŏn’s countercampaign urging Koreans to change their identification from Kankoku to Chōsen: the Ministry of Justice issued an official instruction to limit the change in this direction to very exceptional cases,31 and the ministry also prohibited (p.101) local municipal offices from enacting the change of designation at their discretion, an arrangement that sought to incapacitate reformist mayors sympathetic to Ch’ongnyŏn and North Korea. Although Ch’ongnyŏn was able to mobilize more than 20,000 Koreans to demand the change from Kankoku to Chōsen between 1965 and 1970, only 415 people succeeded in obtaining local government approval; of these, 230 approval decisions were retroactively overturned by the central government.32 By January 1971 (the application deadline), more than 350,000 Koreans had applied for permanent resident status by identifying their nationality as South Korean. The southbound movement of Koreans on paper continued in the following years.

Channeling “Transnationalism from Below”: The Homeland State as Gatekeeper

Suk-cha had been unable to meet her natal family since they had repatriated to Korea just before the end of the Pacific War. She had remained in Japan with her family-in-law, who later became ardent Ch’ongnyŏn supporters. This effectively made it virtually impossible for her to visit her hometown in South Korea for decades. On her sixtieth birthday, Suk-cha decided to finally participate in Mindan’s Homecoming Group Tour:

I thought that it would be okay now. I had fulfilled my obligations to my mother-in-law and my husband. I had raised my children and married off all of them. I heard that my own mother in her eighties was still alive in South Korea. Then, shouldn’t I go see her before she passes away? Although my children were working for Ch’ongnyŏn, they understood. Still, I didn’t tell any of my neighbors. I didn’t want to strain my relationship with them or embarrass my children.

Despite her excitement, Suk-cha was hurt when she finally reunited with her sister after forty years. With tears in her eyes and distress in her voice, her sister told Suk-cha not to come again; she was afraid that her connection with a “Ch’ongnyŏn person” (that is, Suk-cha) might jeopardize her husband’s career as a professor. Yet two years after the first visit, Suk-cha changed her identification to Kankoku to take another trip to South Korea: “I just thought that there was not much time left for me.”

The transborder nation-building projects of North and South Korea presented contrasting visions for the future of colonial-era migrants stranded (p.102) in Japan: repatriation to the homeland versus permanent settlement in the former metropole. According to mainstream Ch’ongnyŏn discourse, permanent resident status and the ban on discrimination in admission to Japanese schools, both of which were guaranteed by the Japan–South Korea treaty, were not improvements in the lives of Koreans; rather, they were pathways to assimilation. Ch’ongnyŏn’s ambitious effort to build an autonomous national society on foreign soil, however, risked isolation and exclusion from the state of residence. The majority of Koreans came to find this vision increasingly unviable and unattractive.

It was not simply the desire to take root in Japan that nudged Koreans in Japan toward embracing South Korea’s contrasting vision. The desire to reconnect with their home communities was another important motivation. The South Korean state seeking to control Koreans in Japan by regulating their access to their home communities was not a new phenomenon. Nonetheless, the normalization of diplomatic relations and the general improvement of economic conditions from the mid-1960s onward made various exchanges with their home communities possible and affordable to an increasing number of Koreans. Some wanted to send remittances to their impoverished families; others wanted to invite their families to Japan for family reunions; still others wanted to visit their ancestral hometowns to meet their long-separated families, attend important family events such as funerals, or visit the graves of their deceased parents.

Unlike its predecessor regime in the 1950s, which had sealed off its borders in fear of communist infiltration from abroad, the developmental state in the 1960s and 1970s sought to actively discipline, utilize, and nurture this “transnationalism from below” (M. Smith and Guarnizo 1998).33 The state facilitated, hindered, or channeled cross-border flows of goods and people to serve its own economic and political agendas. The new regime actively urged Korean entrepreneurs and hometown associations to invest in or donate to national developmental projects and the improvement of their hometowns. This practice was vilified by Ch’ongnyŏn as the same old mercenary and predatory behavior. Some Koreans in Japan indeed accused not only the South Korean government but also their own families and villagers of being demanding, manipulative, and ungrateful. They resentfully lamented that they were seen not as “tongp’o” (coethnics) but as “tonp’o” (“ton” meaning “money” in Korean).34 Many nonetheless found it empowering and rewarding to actively respond to these new government initiatives. They took pride in and gained recognition for aiding their family (p.103) members, their community of origin, and, by extension, their “homeland” in need. Those from Cheju Island, for instance, still like to boast that tangerines, the major cash crop of the island, were first introduced to Cheju in the mid-1950s, when some Zainichi Koreans smuggled in the seedlings for their indigent families. Regardless of the validity and verifiability of this broadly shared belief, it is true that Koreans in Japan brought water pipes, electricity, and cement bridges, if not tangerines, to the island that had long been one of the poorest regions of South Korea.35 Mindan served as a conduit for channeling this “transnationalism from below” into the developmental projects of the homeland state.

In contrast to these thickening cross-border exchanges, those who kept the Chōsen designation could hardly maintain even basic contact with their families in South Korea. Labeled as communist sympathizers, they were not allowed to enter South Korea unless they changed their identification to Kankoku. Moreover, South Korean citizens known to be related to “Ch’ongnyŏn people” faced constant surveillance by local police, promotion restrictions in public sector careers (for example, civil or military service), ostracism from local communities, and, in extreme cases, prosecution for espionage activity. Distressed family members in South Korea often pressed their Ch’ongnyŏn relatives to change their affiliation or disowned them out of desperation. It was not uncommon for South Korean family members to remove the name of the relatives who “repatriated” to North Korea from their family registry by falsely reporting to the authorities that they were dead or missing.36 Some families, assisted by other relatives or villagers affiliated with Mindan, managed to circumvent the punitive South Korean state and maintain cross-border family ties. For instance, South Korean relations of Chin-t’ae (introduced at the beginning of the book) told me how thankful they were for Chin-t’ae’s remittances, although, they confessed, they always burned his letters immediately. In general, however, tensions, estrangement, guilt, and resentment damaged many cross-border family relations throughout the Cold War period.

The annual homecoming event for those who had not obtained South Korean citizenship provides the most glaring example of how the South Korean state actively capitalized on cross-border family ties to press conversion. Reflecting the increasing confidence of the South Korean state vis-à-vis its competitor,37 Mindan began to organize a homecoming tour for Ch’ongnyŏn Koreans during the mid-1970s. Participants were issued one-time travel permits, visited their ancestral hometowns, and met their (p.104) families under the surveillance of South Korean security agents. Mindan organized a group tour around the developing cities, thriving industrial zones, and refurbished historical sites to impress the participants with South Korea’s rapid economic growth and propagate the ruling military regime’s nationalist credentials (S. Park 2010). These tours were exhaustively covered by the South Korean media and Mindan’s official gazette. The participants reportedly denounced Ch’ongnyŏn for disseminating false propaganda and leading them to betray not only their immediate families but also their fatherland and brethren in the national family writ large.

This official representation by no means accurately captured the conflicted experiences of those on the homecoming trip, as illustrated by Suk-cha’s fraught reunion with her long-separated sister. Ch’ongnyŏn, for its part, developed a counternarrative, representing Koreans in Japan as individuals whose “ancestral hometown” (kohyang) had been lost in the South, yet whose “fatherland” (choguk) was undisputedly the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the North. Only the eventual reunification of the fatherland, not individual family reunions, could remedy the suffering stemming from this divergence of kohyang and choguk, Ch’ongnyŏn asserted. However, the success of Mindan’s Homecoming Campaign reveals that Ch’ongnyŏn failed to resolve the tension inherent in these dual belongings. The South Korean state effectively appealed to Zainichi Koreans’ attachment and sense of obligation to their hometown and family in the South in order to urge them to abandon their “ideological” allegiance to the North. The majority of participants in the tour, including Suk-cha, indeed switched their identification: some understandably felt that they had long been cheated by Ch’ongnyŏn, whereas others simply could not give up the chance of another family reunion in the future.

In any event, under such highly politicized circumstances, the participants’ reputations in the Ch’ongnyŏn community could be irrevocably smeared; many had no choice but to quit the organization. This explains Suk-cha’s constant concern that her trip might compromise her children’s status in Ch’ongnyŏn. Pok-sun, an eighty-four-year-old woman I got to know in Osaka, indeed suffered such repercussions. When her mother-in-law in South Korea passed away in the early 1980s, Pok-sun was torn between two conflicting obligations, one to Ch’ongnyŏn as a long-time activist, the other to her extended family as the first daughter-in-law. Although she ultimately attended the funeral with a newly issued South Korean passport in hand, her in-laws still griped about the belated fulfillment of her (p.105) filial duty. When she returned to Japan, she was hurt again by some of her long-time friends and neighbors, who denounced her as a traitor. Pok-sun eventually had to resign from her position in Ch’ongnyŏn.

The family registration practice provided the South Korean regime with another means of converting Ch’ongnyŏn Koreans into South Korean citizens. Although the South Korean state had used this registration practice to press Zainichi Koreans to change their nationality designations from Chōsen to Kankoku before 1965, normalized diplomatic relations and increasing cross-border exchanges made proper and timely registration not only much easier but also more imperative. The South Korean civil laws recognized only the kinship relations documented in this historic family registry as genuine and effective. Various bureaucratic transactions or court proceedings in Japan often required the submission of one’s family registry as the most authoritative supporting document. Therefore, it was important for Koreans in Japan to have an accurate registration with respect to birth, death, marriage, divorce, and adoption, in case cross-border intrafamily disputes arose over such matters as inheritance. Such disputes were common in the Korean community in part because the cross-border dispersion of family members and their long-term separation made their family relations unusually complex.

Given these circumstances, it is not surprising that the South Korean government, intent on every chance to convert Ch’ongnyŏn Koreans, banned those who maintained the Chōsen designation from registering in the family registry. This ban considerably compromised the practical interests of those who maintained the Chōsen designation. A brochure published by a Ch’ongnyŏn-run legal counseling organization includes descriptions of a variety of real-life cases in which the lack of proper registration in the family registry became problematic. For example, to a person asking how he could prevent his uncle in South Korea from selling off his deceased father’s land without his consent, the counselor answered that it would be difficult for the unregistered son like the questioner to override his uncle’s claim to his father’s property without documentary proof showing his relation to his deceased father.38 Although, in the early years, a few Ch’ongnyŏn people managed to register by taking advantage of loopholes in the complex registration procedures, these loopholes were quickly closed by the South Korean state. The government simplified registration procedures, reinforced the gatekeeper role of the consular office and Mindan, and required the local administrative offices in South Korea to check the (p.106) nationality designation as a prerequisite for registration in the family registry (Oemubu 1978).

Many first-generation Zainichi Koreans found it not only practically necessary but also emotionally reassuring to complete the family registration. The distinctive organizational principle of the family registry, homologous to a certain degree with that of the traditional family genealogy book (chokpo), resonated with the long-held cultural belief of Koreans in their primordial belonging to the patrilineage and the home community, or to the husband’s patrilineage and home community in the case of a married woman. Despite the patriarchal, patrilocal, and patrilineal nature of the family registry, which embodied the nature of the Korean kinship system (Janelli and Yim 1982), many female interviewees showed as much emotional attachment to their registry as their male counterparts: if nothing else, proper registration in their husbands’ family registries could grant their marriages proper legal status and themselves a degree of status, voice, and respect among their kin, especially if their husbands were involved in bigamous relationships. In other words, the family registry was not only an instrument of the state, but also a cultural artifact through which some transborder Koreans envisioned, confirmed, and asserted their legitimate belonging to the ancestral lineage and “homeland” on multiple levels.

Although they were conveniently branded as communists, Ch’ongnyŏn Koreans were no exception to this cultural value system. In fact, given the strong nationalist credentials of North Korea and the powerful role of Ch’ongnyŏn in preventing the assimilation of Koreans into the Japanese mainstream, Ch’ongnyŏn Koreans had ample reason to take pride in the belief that they, not “the puppet South Korean regime,” were the guardians of authentic Korean identity. They had strictly observed the principle of exogamy structured by the peculiar surname institution of Korea and carefully preserved traditional ancestor worship practices, a linchpin of the Korean patrilineal kinship system (Janelli and Yim 1982).39 This ritual additionally offered an opportunity for first-generation Ch’ongnyŏn Koreans to deliver to younger generations their family history—a story that was often inextricably intertwined with the atrocities perpetrated by the violent South Korean regime and expunged from the official history of South Korea (H. Kwon 2010). The ancestor worship practice contributed to solidifying ethnic boundaries by adding one more reason to avoid marriage with Japanese, especially Japanese women, who were seen as inappropriate (p.107) and incompetent at performing these rituals for their husbands’ ancestors (A. Yang 2001).

The critical role of the Ch’ongnyŏn-run schools in teaching their students this “national culture” (minjok munhwa) is unmistakable. These schools, for example, had effectively instilled in the minds of the second- and third-generation Zainichi Koreans that their fathers’ or grandfathers’ “places of origin” in the family registry (honseki in Japanese and ponjŏk in Korean; see Chapter One) were their “ancestral hometowns” (kohyang), which became all the more romanticized for their inaccessibility. For instance, the lower-level elementary school students were often asked to match their own names and photos with their grandfather’s or great-grandfather’s places of origin and then to identify these places on the pictorial map of the Korean peninsula.40 Apparently, this particular way of imagining one’s belonging to the national “geo-body” (Winichakul 1994) was not unrelated to the organizational principle of the family registry (see Chapter One). South Korea’s ban on family registration not only compromised the practical interests of those who maintained the Chōsen designation but also deepened their sense of loss and uprootedness.

Serving as a de facto consular office and the primary gatekeeper, Mindan reaped both handsome profits and political power from the increasing cross-border exchanges. Initially, the delegation of the consular work to Mindan reflected a lack of administrative resources of the inchoate South Korean state. This originally provisional arrangement lasted until 1994, when protests against the exorbitant fees Mindan charged for the issuance of various documents finally pressured the South Korean government into halting this decades-old outsourcing. Such complaints were nothing new, though. An editorial in a Korean newspaper published on July 31, 1968, was already criticizing Mindan for charging as much as ¥10,000 to ¥30,000 to issue a passport, comparing this with the practices of other governments: Japan was charging merely ¥1,000, the United States ¥3,600, and Taiwan ¥900. The editorial expressed concerns that many Koreans in Japan considered Mindan no more than a passport seller.41 A passing statement in the Handbook for Consuls published in 1978 by the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs is equally informative (Oemubu 1978). The handbook emphasized that it was illegal to impose extra demands on South Korean citizens who applied for official certificates of various types. This warning seems to confirm the assertion of many interviewees that some (p.108) consular officers or Mindan activists used the issuance of these official certificates to increase their own influence or to line their own pockets. Regardless of its increasing power, Mindan never achieved the same level of legitimacy as Ch’ongnyŏn. Rather, Mindan was often compared to the colonial-era government-sponsored Korean organization in Japan called Sōaikai, whose leaders were often accused of enriching themselves by exercising their influence on the issuance of reentry permits (Kawashima 2009, 130–168). The discourse of anticommunist nationalism Mindan endorsed was sometimes seen, even by those who consciously distanced themselves from Ch’ongnyŏn, merely as a façade masking the organization’s pursuit of worldly goods, that is, its rent-seeking behavior.

Belated Imposition of National Division and the Changing Meaning of Chosŏn

“The 38th Parallel on the Dinner Table”

Hwa-ji was a teacher in a Ch’ongnyŏn-run senior high school in Osaka when South Korea’s Application Campaign for Permanent Residence by Treaty swept across the Korean community. If a classmate was absent from class, other students anxiously speculated about whether the absent student had gone to the local administrative office to change his or her identification from Chōsen to Kankoku. One day, Hwa-ji’s students were so agitated that they flocked to the district office to picket it. A student who had been absent that day walked in with her family. She was astonished to find her classmates imploring her not to change the designation, yet she had no other choice but conform to her family’s decision. Feeling ashamed and distressed, the student quit school the next day.

Before the mid-1960s, Chōsen/Chosŏn remained for the most part an undifferentiated default category in Japan, as it had been in the colonial period. The term was a reminder of the entire Korean peninsula in which transborder Koreans had their “roots” and was an ethnonym denoting a community of descent, history, and destiny that had survived colonial occupation and national division. Neither Chōsen nor Kankoku was a reliable sign of a person’s alignment with North or South Korea. Some maintained the default Chōsen category simply because they had no compelling reason to change the status quo. Others changed their designations from Chōsen to Kankoku by coercion or because of misinformation. Those who (p.109) had obtained other people’s registries to legalize their undocumented status could not always align their objective identification with their subjective allegiance. This type of incongruity was common among those from Cheju Island who fled the bloody left–right clash and the subsequent civilian massacre by the emerging anticommunist South Korean regime in 1948. Many of those who fled understandably became ardent supporters of Ch’ongnyŏn and yet had to obtain other people’s registries to avoid deportation, whether these registries were identified as Chōsen or Kankoku. The nationality designation therefore remained more or less irrelevant to the organization of the everyday lives of Koreans in Japan. Those who were technically identified as Kankoku were still able to participate in various Ch’ongnyŏn-run organizations or the repatriation campaign.

After all, nationality on paper, albeit a potentially sensitive subject, could not provide a visible diacritical marker in everyday interactions as, say, phenotype, skin color, or cultural practices often did. To illustrate, in an oral history documented by journalist Jackie Kim, Sŏ Meng-Sun joyfully recalled how puzzled she was when she first heard her neighbors talking about “Ch’ongnyŏn people” and “Mindan people.” Having recently moved from the countryside in Saitama to a large ethnic enclave in Kawasaki, she had no idea what those terms meant. She made her neighbors laugh by asking what “Ch’ongnyŏn people” and “Mindan people” looked like (J. Kim 2005, 129). As far as everyday interactions and passing were concerned, the boundary between Japanese and Koreans could be a more sensitive one than that between “Ch’ongnyŏn people” and “Mindan people.” Because of the severe discrimination against Koreans and their degree of cultural assimilation, passing as “Japanese” was the default state of being for many Zainichi Koreans in everyday interactions that did not involve “papers” (Lie 2008, 20). Reflecting the term Kakure Kirishitan (Christians in the closet), which derived from the history of the persecution of Christians in early modern Japan, the term Kakure Chōsenjin came to designate some Koreans who took pains to pass as Japanese even among their compatriots (Song 2008).

These circumstances changed after the mid-1960s. The intensified competition over the nationality designation transformed what it meant to be identified as Chōsen or Kankoku. As South Korea began an all-out effort to encourage conversion, disciplinary efforts to defend group boundaries intensified on the other side, too. The story of Kim Su-gi, reported in (p.110) Chosŏn Sinbo on October 5, 1970, shows how, among those affiliated with Ch’ongnyŏn, being registered as Kankoku became a source of embarrassment and humiliation regardless of the rationale behind such registration (Chosŏn Sinbo 1970a). According to the article, when Kim Su-gi visited the local administrative office to register his son’s birth in 1950, he was told that he could not register his son under the Chōsen designation and could be deported if he maintained his own. Frightened, Kim Su-gi changed the identification of his entire family to Kankoku—a decision he later regretted, as he became one of the born-again Ch’ongnyŏn Koreans who experienced a profound sense of empowerment through their identification with the organization’s political discourses and activism. Although he had hidden this embarrassing fact from his neighbors and friends, he could not but feel ashamed whenever his distressed son, a Ch’ongnyŏn activist, asked him why Kim changed the identification to Kankoku in the first place. The anonymous author of the article closed the report with a redemptive ending: Kim Su-gi was finally liberated from this shame by joining Ch’ongnyŏn’s countercampaign encouraging Koreans in Japan to change their identification from Kankoku to Chōsen. Many stories like this one were published in Chosŏn Sinbo in 1970, at the peak of the North–South competition over the nationality designation.

The unabashedly propagandizing tone of these articles notwithstanding, the intensifying politicization of the nationality designations, Chōsen and Kankoku, was not simply a product of the political machinations of the upper echelon of Ch’ongnyŏn or Mindan. A range of spontaneous actions from below equally contributed to this changing political landscape, as demonstrated by Hwa-ji’s account of the picketing students at the district office. Whether to belong to the category of Chōsen or Kankoku increasingly influenced the organization of the everyday lives of Zainichi Koreans, hardening the “groupness” (Brubaker 2004) of these two categories. The sharpened opposition often strained family and neighborhood relations, although the degree of vehemence of this conflict varied across families, neighbors, and time. Cha-gyŏng, a lifetime Ch’ongnyŏn supporter, recalled how this conflict unfolded in a compact ethnic enclave where she had been running a Korean traditional dress shop for years. In 1974 when the South Korean government and Mindan made a disputed accusation that Ch’ongnyŏn tried to assassinate President Park of South Korea, young Mindan activists—some of whom Cha-gyŏng had known for a long (p.111) time—swarmed into her store and spray-painted “Murderer’s House” all over. A butcher in her neighborhood, a Mindan supporter, began to ask his customers, “Are you Mindan or Ch’ongnyŏn?” proclaiming that he would not sell his meat to “despicable Ch’ongnyŏn murderers” (see Figure 2.1 and Figure 2.2 for the street scenes of the Korean ethnic enclave in Ikaino, Osaka, in the early 1970s, covered with campaign placards of the two opposing parties).

One particular object, a doorplate still found in the neighborhoods where Koreans have long been concentrated, embodied the effort to make the otherwise invisible nationality designation visible and tangible; it reads “Daikan Minkoku Kyoryū Mindan dan’in no shō” (the sign of a member of Mindan of the Republic of Korea) (see Figure 2.3). Mindan demanded that those who changed their designations from Chōsen to Kankoku hang this doorplate, as if trying to impress people with its expanding turf in the neighborhood—although many Zainichi Koreans admittedly preferred to make their “defection” as inconspicuous as possible. The broadly circulated phrase, “the 38th parallel42 on the dinner table” (Rim 2008), also conveys the extent to which the competition between Ch’ongnyŏn and Mindan became territorialized. National division was finally imposed on the Korean communities in Japan, including their most intimate domain of family life, more than two decades after the division of the peninsula.

However, we must note that the belated imposition of national division did not bring about the closure of the competitive transborder nation-making process all at once. Unlike in the Korean peninsula, in the case of Zainichi Koreans, North and South Korea were unable to rely on territorial closure, sustained by a heavily militarized border, to prevent “infiltration” or “defection.” “Mindan people” and “Ch’ongnyŏn people” continued to live at each other’s elbows, sometimes within the same family, as the very phrase “the 38th parallel on the dinner table” implies. Some kept paying dues to both Mindan and Ch’ongnyŏn out of everyday pragmatism. In this context, the paranoid regimes in both Koreas treated even those formally identified as their own citizens with perennial suspicion and the threat of violence. The Chōsen or Kankoku designation in itself did not guarantee a North Korean or South Korean passport for decades; the case-by-case discretion of Ch’ongnyŏn or Mindan authorities, or South Korean immigration or consular officials, was more important. One of the first tasks undertaken by the Korean Immigration (p.112)

“Who Owns the Nation?”Cold War Competition over Zainichi Koreans in Japan

Figure 2.1. Mindan’s placard hung in Ikaino (the Korean neighborhood in Osaka) in 1971. It reads, “Don’t let the lies fool you! Don’t regret after the deadline and apply for permanent residency as quickly as possible.”

Source: Cho and Kin (2003, 50). Reprinted with permission.



“Who Owns the Nation?”Cold War Competition over Zainichi Koreans in Japan

Figure 2.2. Ch’ongnyŏn’s placard hung in Ikaino (the Korean neighborhood in Osaka) in 1971. It reads, “The application for death, let’s cancel the application for permanent residency, and change the puppet nationality Han’guk into Chosŏn!”

Source: Cho and Kin (2003, 51). Reprinted with permission.

“Who Owns the Nation?”Cold War Competition over Zainichi Koreans in Japan

Figure 2.3. Doorplate for Mindan members.

Source: Author photo.

Service created in 1961, for example, was to screen the applications of Zainichi Koreans hoping to visit South Korea (Pŏmmubu 2003). Mindan frequently refused to issue South Korean passports to those whose family members were involved in dissident groups regardless of their registration under the Kankoku designation. This perennial suspicion brought about much grimmer consequences as well. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Zainichi Korean repatriates in North Korea found themselves increasingly vulnerable to persecution by the despotic regime (S. Ryang 2004). In the same period, Zainichi Koreans with South Korean citizenship became ready-made scapegoats of the authoritarian regime in the South, which mobilized the Red Scare whenever its democratic credentials were questioned from below: as many as 109 Zainichi Koreans were arrested, tortured, and convicted for their alleged crime against national security between 1971 and 1990 (H. Kwŏn 2007). The two competing “homeland” states’ efforts to discipline the arduously constructed, yet territorially unbounded, boundary of their own citizens continued relentlessly throughout the Cold War era.

(p.115) Anomaly of the Interstate System: Ordeals of “zainichi Chōsenjin”

In the late 1990s when Yŏng-ch’ŏl’s elder brother applied for a master’s degree program in the United States, his family, who had been Ch’ongnyŏn supporters for three generations, decided to change their identification to Kankoku to avoid complications. Yŏng-ch’ŏl, at that time a student in a Ch’ongnyŏn-run senior high school, refused to follow suit. However, it took him only two years to regret his decision. When he himself went to Dalian, China, to study Chinese as an exchange student, the immigration officer at the airport singled him out and transferred him to the second-tier inspection department, where he was interrogated for several hours. He was released only after a Japanese staff member from his school submitted an affidavit for him. This was not the end of his ordeal, though. Yŏng-ch’ŏl had to appear at the local police office for further questioning, during which he had to explain his complex legal status in broken Chinese. It took him one month to resolve this predicament. Frustrated, Yŏng-ch’ŏl changed his designation to Kankoku when he returned to Japan during the summer break.

The discussion so far shows that, beginning in the mid-1960s, Chōsen became an elective category, requiring conscious effort to maintain and implying alignment with North Korea. But Chōsen did not become a legal identity with a valence symmetrical to that of Kankoku. Those who consciously kept the Chōsen designation increasingly found themselves in a profoundly paradoxical impasse. On some occasions, they were treated as stateless people, with all the complications that accompany being an anomaly in the contemporary interstate system. On other occasions, they were treated as quasi–South Koreans, which made them susceptible to aggressive courtship by the South Korean state. On still other occasions, they were treated as North Koreans, with all the negative consequences of affiliation with that pariah state.

In the absence of mutual recognition between Japan and North Korea, the Japanese government tended to treat “Zainichi Chōsenjin” (Chōsen residents in Japan)—an administrative category that, beginning in the mid-1960s, came to refer only to those identified with the Chōsen designation—either as stateless or as quasi–South Koreans. Because the Chōsen designation was seen as signifying not nationality but the stateless status of the person, South Korean or Japanese citizens who married Zainichi Chōsenjin were not permitted to change their nationality to Chōsen, whereas a change in the opposite direction was approved or encouraged.43 (p.116) In a similar vein, it was through the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, not through a bilateral treaty between North Korea and Japan, that in 1982 Zainichi Chōsenjin finally came to secure permanent resident status in Japan and the right of reentry in the event of international travel. However, in various legal and bureaucratic transactions involving the determination of legal domicile, the Japanese government often categorized Zainichi Chōsenjin simply as Zainichi Kankokujin (South Korean residents in Japan).44 This situation increased Zainichi Chōsenjin’s dependence on the South Korean state, which pressured them into changing affiliation in exchange for the administrative assistance it provided. Many Japanese bureaucrats refused to grant the same authority to documents issued by Ch’ongnyŏn as to those issued by Mindan or South Korean consular offices.

The South Korean government was torn between its deep-seated hostility toward these “North Korea sympathizers” and the imperative to claim these hundreds of thousands of transborder Koreans as “its own.” On the one hand, the government continued to demonize and stigmatize those who retained the Chōsen category by severely punishing South Korean citizens for their alleged connection with these “untouchables.” On the other hand, it continued to include these “untouchables” in its annual official report on “South Korean citizens abroad” (chaeoe kungmin) and press their conversion by all means. At the same time, as members of an “antistate organization” under South Korea’s National Security Law, those who retained the Chōsen designation could enjoy neither the rights of South Korean citizens nor the rights of other foreign nationals (including those who naturalized as Japanese), who in general did not have much difficulty visiting South Korea.45

Curiously, in some respects, North Korea itself has treated Zainichi Chōsenjin at best as ethereal members of the state. Despite North Korean citizenship law, which defines all ethnic Koreans who have not obtained foreign citizenship (including South Korean citizens) as its own citizens, this proclamation, lacking the necessary legal and bureaucratic support, remains more rhetorical than substantive. Enumeration and identification form the fundamental basis of modern national membership, which establishes an unmediated relationship between state and individual; the passport is the ultimate embodiment of this relationship. But North Korea has not specified the rights and obligations of its “overseas citizens” (haeoe kongmin), nor has it counted them in any registration and documentation (p.117) system. As already mentioned, neither the Chōsen designation nor Ch’ongnyŏn membership guarantees a North Korean passport or the accompanying right to enter North Korea. Ch’ongnyŏn has never made public the number of its dues-paying members. Its local branches have operated on the basis of de facto membership, rather than official registration (S. Ryang 1998, 583).46 Such a loose and flexible definition of membership has enabled those who have obtained South Korean citizenship to remain Ch’ongnyŏn affiliates and enjoy accompanying benefits. But it is also true that this loose and flexible definition leaves the nature of the relationship between Zainichi Chōsenjin and North Korea vague and contingent on changing political contexts.

Notably, those who retain the Chōsen designation sometimes are treated as North Koreans by other state authorities. When this happens, they have to bear the brunt of the increasing international isolation and stigmatization of North Korea. Its consequence becomes clearer when the focus of analysis moves beyond the temporal frame of this chapter. For instance, in the 2000s, when the relationship between Japan and North Korea was strained, Zainichi Koreans who retained their identification as Chōsen were singled out for various sanctions by the Japanese government (S. Ryang 2009). There are more mundane but nonetheless significant forms of disadvantage. Those who retain the Chōsen designation are subject to stringent visa regulations, prolonged interrogation by immigration officers, and restrictions on their opportunities to expand businesses overseas or to study abroad. The disadvantages that my interviewees reported range from the relatively benign (for example, having to change their honeymoon destination from Italy to Malaysia due to visa complications) to the serious (such as the cancellation of important international business contracts or the interruption of graduate study at a U.S. institution). According to a handbook published by a Ch’ongnyŏn-aligned organization in 2004, of the forty-nine most popular tourist destinations among Japanese travelers, Zainichi Koreans holding South Korean passports were able to enter all the Schengen signatory countries in European Union and some additional twenty-five countries without a visa, whereas those identified as Chōsen could enter only three countries (Malaysia, Maldives, and Singapore) without a visa.47 As a result, when they travel abroad, many Chōsen Koreans choose to bring only travel documents issued by the Japanese government to its resident refugee status holders, leaving their North Korean passports, even if they have one, at home. Yet this does not necessarily exempt them from possible (p.118) complications, nor does it resolve a nagging question of which government would provide consular protection for them if necessary. These various disadvantages are experienced as a critical liability in the highly mobile, yet increasingly paranoid post–Cold War, post-9/11 world, accelerating the movement of ethnic Koreans out of the category of Zainichi Chōsenjin. Yŏng-ch’ŏl’s experience presented at the beginning of this section gives a clear illustration of this dynamic.

Schools versus Documents: Competing Means of Transborder Nation Building

The literature on postcolonial state building has tended to analyze the legacy of colonial rule exclusively in relation to the development of territorial nationalism. This chapter has taken a different approach, paying attention to how the colonial legacy shaped and was reshaped by the shifting relationship between postcolonial states and their ethnonational, ethnoreligious kin populations situated outside their newly demarcated territories. The colonial legacy for transborder membership politics in Korea is not limited to the fact that the orphans of the empire in the former metropole became the focus of transborder membership politics during the Cold War period. Postimperial Japan and North and South Korea all inherited from the colonial state its definitions of “where Korea was” (although North and South Korea each could rule only half of it) and “who Koreans were” (although many fell outside the respective reach of the two postcolonial states). The three states commonly inherited the concrete bureaucratic techniques to establish this legal identity (most important, the family registry), as well as the mutually overlapping and competing terminologies that designated “Korea” and “Koreans” as a distinctive national community (Chosŏnin/Chōsenjin, for instance). This common legacy explains in part why there was hardly any disagreement over the boundary separating the Koreans from the Japanese when the three states executed repatriation plans or created their respective constitutions and nationality laws in the immediate postwar period—a rarity in the prolonged decolonization processes of European overseas empires.

However, the question of who were the members of the two fledgling postcolonial states, North and South Korea, could not be resolved in the same way. Without the reifying power of established institutions, the question of who were North or South Koreans immediately became the question (p.119) of how to produce North or South Koreans. Whereas these questions were resolved on the Korean peninsula by domestic “pacification,” civil war, and (somewhat precarious) territorial closure, and in China and the Soviet Union by diplomatic fiat, none of these resolutions came to pass in the case of Koreans who remained in Japan. This chapter has explored the distinct—and more protracted and contested—path by which the two inchoate postcolonial states competitively created their own citizens (kungmin) out of the colonial-era migrants stranded in the former metropole.

North Korea represented itself as a safe haven in which its transborder coethnics could find an escape from the hostility and discrimination experienced in their state of residence. It accomplished this in two ways. First, North Korea adhered to the ideology that Korean settlement in the former metropole was a temporary and abnormal state of affairs, caused by the tragic national division imposed and sustained by the neoimperial alliance of the United States, Japan, and the puppet regime in the South. It promoted the eventual return to the reunified homeland as the most desirable future for Koreans in Japan. North Korea was committed to realizing this vision in practice as well, as illustrated by the large-scale, subsidized repatriation of Zainichi Koreans to North Korea at the turn of the 1960s.

Yet North Korea did not pursue the congruence of territory and nation simply by bringing “its own” people in. More distinctively and perhaps more ambitiously, North Korea brought “the bosom of the socialist fatherland” out to “its” people overseas. That is, it constructed a parallel institutional world for the excluded Korean minority in Japan and promoted their radical disengagement from mainstream Japanese society. The role of the transborder intermediary organization was crucial. In a manner that invokes the Foucaultian concept of “state effect,”48 Ch’ongnyŏn constantly conjured the effect of the absentee homeland state through its statelike performances that saturated the lifeworld of the transborder population while nurturing a sense of distance and alienation from their Japanese surroundings. In this way, Ch’ongnyŏn could help the “homeland” state overcome the structural difficulties entailed in penetrating, embracing, and mobilizing a population beyond its territorial reach. Ch’ongnyŏn schools exemplified this most ambitious type of transborder nation-building strategy, which aimed at the creation of new national subjects in the most comprehensive and substantive way.

South Korea found both strategies infeasible. Ever vigilant of communist infiltration and burdened with the problems of overpopulation and (p.120) poverty, the South Korean regime hardly considered the repatriation of indigent and subversive Zainichi Koreans an economically and politically viable plan. The pro–South Korea organization Mindan, beset by a lack of resources and legitimacy, was never able to construct its own community in Japan comparable to the Ch’ongnyŏn world, either. Instead of pursuing the congruence of territory and nation, South Korea pursued a more deterritorialized transborder nation-building strategy, capitalizing on its advantage at the interface between the transborder ethnic community and its outside world. It, too, accomplished this in two ways.

First, by wielding its geopolitical leverage vis-à-vis Japan, South Korea fashioned itself as a broker that could facilitate the integration of transborder coethnics into their state of settlement. When Koreans in Japan began to question the long-term sustainability and viability of North Korea’s transborder nation-building strategy, the South’s alternative vision finally had a chance to win them over. The South Korean state urged the Japanese state to grant permanent resident status to, and mitigate institutionalized discrimination against, Koreans in Japan if they identified themselves as South Korean citizens. South Korea’s support for legal and institutional integration into the state of settlement, therefore, went hand-in-hand with the demand for the unswerving loyalty and commitment of its transborder coethnics.

Second, South Korea and its delegate Mindan actively assumed the role of a gatekeeper, allowing only its loyal affiliates to engage with families and home communities under its territorial governance in a variety of transactions such as sending remittances, paying visits, inviting families to Japan, and making investments. This strategy was open to North Korea and Ch’ongnyŏn as well, especially during and after the Repatriation Campaign. For instance, some Ch’ongnyŏn affiliates, despite their disillusionment with North Korea, kept the Chōsen designation in order to occasionally visit and financially support their families now in the North—a poignant mirror image of the earlier configuration in which many were forced to change their identification to Kankoku to reconnect with or protect their families in the South.49 Still, the South Korean state and Mindan reaped considerably more benefits from these gatekeeping practices. The reasons were both ethnogeographical and geopolitical: over 90 percent of Zainichi Koreans originally migrated from the southern regions of the peninsula; the absence of diplomatic relations between North Korea and Japan (p.121) stymied the free flow of goods and people between the two countries in the first place.

While the Repatriation Campaign and the Ch’ongnyŏn schools exemplify North Korea’s transborder nation-building strategy, various identification documents—such as family registration documents, “nationals abroad” certificates, and passports—embody South Korea’s contrasting strategy. The South Korean state utilized these official documents to identify opaque populations at its transborder margin, define their state membership according to its own preferences, distinguish the docile from the subversive, and mobilize the transborder population for its developmental and ideological agendas. It is important to note that these interconnected bureaucratic practices served not merely to document an already existing status but to performatively create South Korean citizens de novo out of colonial-era migrants: a group of people who registered as South Korean nationals abroad (chaeoe kungmin) in the consular office; whose nationality in the Foreigners’ Registry appeared as Kankoku rather than Chōsen; who were properly registered in the family registry in South Korea; and who obtained Permanent Residence by Treaty, a key symbol of the bearer’s alignment with South Korea. In a nutshell, South Korea sought to move its transborder coethnics across the border on paper, yet not on the map as repatriation policies would have done. And instead of targeting the soul of the people, South Korea targeted their bureaucratic persona, their paper identity.

In comparison with North Korea’s ambitious vision, South Korea’s strategy of focusing on the paper identity may strike some as too minimalist and formalistic an approach to the question of who were South Koreans or how to produce South Koreans. Such an approach indeed reflects the lack of commitment, legitimacy, and political will of the South Korean regime in its engagement with Koreans in Japan. The approach also explains the irony that the greater success of South Korea’s transborder nation-building strategy during and after the 1970s was built on and contributed to the unmaking of Korean communities distinct from mainstream Japanese society. The Ch’ongnyŏn world, and most importantly its schools, had provided Koreans with a buffer against assimilation—for better or worse. South Korea focused on undermining the Ch’ongnyŏn world without making a serious commitment to building alternative venues in which a distinct (South) Korean identity could be nurtured. Taboos against interethnic marriage (p.122) or naturalization cut across the Ch’ongnyŏn-Mindan opposition, at least among the first generation. Still, lacking the institutional support necessary to guard the ethnic boundary and reproduce a distinctive Korean identity, those whose lives were less embedded in the Ch’ongnyŏn world were more prone to disregard these taboos as time passed.50

But precisely the fact that South Korea was able to effectively press for conversion and prevent defection—even without successfully cultivating a distinct South Korean identity—should prompt further discussion. Instead of dismissing the paper identity as superficial, we need to carefully reexamine the source of its power. I argue that the registration and documentation practices of South Korea were able to serve as its primary means of transborder nation building because they were interlinked with and buttressed by the consensual practices of other states. This observation draws our attention to the hitherto neglected international dimension of transborder membership politics, that is, the question of the recognition of a state’s transborder jurisdictional claim by other states or international and supranational organizations. This is the last point I want to develop in this chapter.

In transborder membership politics, international recognition can override recognition from below when the two are not congruent. The Japanese state and other international bodies ultimately determined the meaning of a particular nationality designation in Japan’s Foreigners’ Registry and what this designation would entail for deportation, repatriation, civil registration, or domestic court proceedings involving Koreans in Japan. The support for North Korea’s Repatriation Campaign offered by the Japanese government and the International Red Cross, which aligned with the broader support that North Korea won from below at the time, dealt a heavy blow to South Korea. This episode, however, was an exception to the overall trend. The increasing asymmetry in international recognition that favored the South as well as the increasing isolation of the North undermined or completely overrode the self-identification of some Koreans as overseas citizens of North Korea. Regardless of their own preference, they were often treated as stateless people or as quasi–South Koreans.

Ch’ongnyŏn nonetheless continued to claim that its affiliates were neither stateless people nor quasi–South Koreans but rather the overseas citizens of North Korea. It tried to strengthen this fragile claim through numerous ritualized practices—the realm of North Korea’s expertise as a “theater state” par excellence (Kwon and Chung 2012). The “school excursion (p.123) to the fatherland” was one such rite of passage. Through this excursion, which became available first to students of Chosŏn University and then to all students in Ch’ongnyŏn-run senior high schools in the early 1980s, many third- and fourth-generation Zainichi Korean students gained an experiential understanding of the notion of “homeland” through the warm welcome they received in North Korea during the trip. The regularly organized fatherland trip for Ch’ongnyŏn activists, from which Chint’ae’s photo with Kim Il-sung came (see the Introduction), played a similar role. Nevertheless, no matter how dramatically these rites of passage were performed and how authentically they were experienced, these practices could not exercise the same level of “symbolic power” (Bourdieu 1991) or “state effect” (T. Mitchell 1999) as far more mundane and dreary bureaucratic rituals of the other states such as registration and documentation practices. A deficit in international recognition had a profoundly negative impact on the symbolic power of the North Korean state, despite its surprising success in producing self-identifying overseas citizens of North Korea in the hostile international environment.

A few other scholars have reported on similar findings. Anthropologist Navaro-Yashin (2003) explains how the lack of international recognition threatens the jurisdictional claim of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), a disputably independent state separated from the Republic of Cyprus in 1973. No document or title produced by TRNC institutions—such as “birth, school, marriage, and death certificates, salary slips, utilities bills, land registry documents, property points, and certificates of military service” (Navaro-Yashin 2003, 78)—is considered valid by the Republic of Cyprus, by other states (except for Turkey), or by international bodies, which have refused to recognize the TRNC as a legitimate state. This has forced Turkish Cypriots who want to travel or reside outside northern Cyprus to try to attain valid papers issued by other recognized states, such as Turkey or the Republic of Cyprus. Recently, the accession of the Republic of Cyprus to the European Union has made its passport even more attractive to Turkish Cypriots, who are usually subject to stringent visa regulations if they travel with TRNC passports (Navaro-Yashin 2003, 83). Sociologist Horng-Luen Wang (2004a) also shows that the “citizens” of the Republic of China (Taiwan) traveling or residing abroad experience similar, if less extreme, troubles because of Taiwan’s deficit in international recognition.

(p.124) To be clear, pursuing favorable paper identities does not bring about the deep, subjective identification with the sought-after bureaucratic persona. Without Japanese bureaucrats’ persistent demands for the family registration document in a variety of contexts—a demand informed by the bureaucratic logic of identification as much as by their political leanings—and without the practical benefits a South Korean passport could provide for international travel, many of my study participants, who still identified themselves as loyal Ch’ongnyŏn affiliates and remained sympathetic toward North Korea, would not have obtained South Korean nationality. This seeming pragmatism, this disjuncture between the subjective and objective identification, may be interpreted as the limited power of the South Korean transborder nation-building strategy focused on the “superficial” paper identity. Or, more broadly, one might read it as a sign that the nation-state in general has become increasingly incapable of shaping loyalties and subjective identities in an increasingly globalizing world, an assessment captured by terms like “passport citizenship” (Harpaz 2013), “postnational citizenship” (Soysal 1994), or the “lightening of citizenship” (Joppke 2010). Indeed, one of the study participants, quoting Bertolt Brecht, compared his acquisition of South Korean nationality to “changing shoes,” that is, something irrelevant to who he really was. And yet, however much he might deny the importance of the change, under the current interstate system, individuals had better wear shoes—and a change of shoes in the opposite direction, that is, from Kankoku to Chōsen, is not allowed.

Instead of pointing out the limit of national citizenship, I would rather underscore that the increasing transborder flows of goods and people over the past decades have multiplied the occasions on which the state-granted official identity becomes the only acceptable currency for various transactions. Hence, regardless of one’s subjective identification with a certain state, adopting the bureaucratic persona validated by that state and ensuring that this particular identity is documented correctly and consistently within and beyond borders—in other words, becoming a legible subject in the interstate system—have become more critical for one’s mobility than ever before. By failing to ensure that those identified as Chōsen were treated unambiguously, consistently, and seamlessly as its overseas citizens, North Korea could not provide its transborder members with a reliable or desirable official identity, one that could facilitate their unencumbered navigation of a world in which people are pervasively sorted and re-sorted by their state membership. Those identified as Chōsen in Japan’s Foreigners’ (p.125) Registry became illegible subjects, “orphan[s] of infrastructure” (Star 2006), in the contemporary interstate system. As illustrated by Yŏng-ch’ŏl’s trouble with Chinese immigration officials, increasing global mobility has aggravated, rather than attenuated, the inconvenience, humiliation, and anxiety experienced by these “orphans”—those who cannot be neatly pigeonholed into the existing categorical system, or, to tweak the metaphor of my interviewee, those who are forced to travel with bare feet. Instead of making the nation-state, or even the “homeland” state, less significant, globalization has broadened their relevance. I will return to this point in the concluding chapter.


(5.) In both cases, one party chose to remain disengaged while the other actively claimed to be the custodian of its transborder “kin.” see nyírí (2002) and j. wang (2007) for a comparison between the policies of mainland china and taiwan during the cold war period. see ther (1996), wolff (2003), and brubaker and kim (2011) for comparisons between the policies of east and west germany.

(6.) for the meaning of “zainichi” and the related terminological issue, see the introduction.

(7.) this famous distinction created by robert jackson (1990) has produced a productive line of inquiry that attributes the failure in nation building in many postcolonial states to their deficit in empirical statehood, that is, the incapacity to fulfill the basic functions required of the modern state. the north korean case, however, enables us to recognize the importance of juridical statehood in successful (transborder) nation building.

(8.) given the clandestine nature of such “return,” it is hard to estimate precisely how many koreans entered japan after 1945 and how many of those who did were former repatriates. the statistics of the japanese government show that nearly 48,000 koreans were deported for illegal entry between 1945 and 1950, (p.257) suggesting that tens of thousands of koreans may have been able to enter japan without being arrested at the border (morita 1996). the records of deportation or legalization proceedings and the oral histories and ethnographic evidence collected by myself and others (j. kim 2005; oguma and kang 2008) confirm that the majority of these “illegal migrants” were from kyŏngsang province or cheju island, where korean repatriates from japan were concentrated. in these regions bloody clashes between communist guerillas and the south korean regime claimed the lives of many civilians. this violence may have added incentives to flee. but cumings (1981, 276–278) suggested that the causality could have operated in the opposite directions: regions with a high concentration of repatriates were prone to leftist politics and thus tended to experience more civil disturbances characterized by mass uprisings and brutal confrontations with the u.s. or south korean authorities.

(9.) for the general ideological landscape of postindependence korea and the popularity of north korean leader kim il-sung, see cumings (1981) and armstrong (2004).

(10.) this is the second verse of the song entitled “uri charang iman chŏman anirao” (our pride is inexhaustible), one of the most popular songs among ch’ongnyŏn members. the lyrics were written by han tŏk-su [han duk-su], who served as the chair of ch’ongnyŏn for forty-six years until his death in 2001.

(11.) also see s. ryang (1997) and uri hakkyo (our school) (2006), a documentary film by south korean director myŏng-jun kim. for the significance of the “gift” from the great leader in the moral economy in north korea, see kwon and chung (2012, 151–182).

(12.) see bilig (1995) for a discussion on the significant role of indexical language (for example, we, our, the) in producing banal and prosaic, yet nonetheless powerful, forms of nationalism.

(13.) sonia ryang (1997), after examining language switching among ch’ongnyŏn koreans, cogently argues that a kind of “linguistic division of labor” helped ch’ongnyŏn koreans flexibly navigate the two worlds in their everyday lives. that is, their organizational lives were performed through the pyongyang standard korean language, whereas the lives outside these arenas were managed through various korean regional dialects (in the case of the first generation) or the japanese language (in the case of the second or third generation).

(14.) the korean central intelligence agency (kcia) was not formally established until 1961. it drew on the membership of its predecessor, korean counterintelligence corps (kcic), which formed much earlier. the cited booklet published in 1964, however, simply used kcia (kankoku chūo jōhōbu) to describe incidents that took place before 1961. i’d like to thank jesse lichtenstein to bring my attention to this.

(15.) (p.258) for more information about this organization, see note 23 below.

(16.) for the largely neutral position of the united states on this matter, see morris-suzuki (2007, 198–207).

(17.) the chronic postwar labor shortage in north korea was aggravated by the massive repatriation of chinese soldiers who had fought in the korean war and remained in north korea during the post–civil war reconstruction; at the end of 1957, the chinese communist party ordered the soldiers to return for its own great leap forward. morris-suzuki (2007, 178) reports in passing that north korea also began to encourage the repatriation of ethnic koreans from northeast china to compensate for this loss in the labor force, which i discuss in more detail in chapter three.

(18.) the festivity surrounding the repatriation campaign is captured well by a film, chi to hone (blood and bones) (2004), based on sŏgil yang’s novel and directed by yōichi sai, a renowned second-generation zainichi korean novelist and filmmaker, respectively. one scene in particular portrays a massive crowd of zainichi koreans in a train station, shouting in excitement, waving the north korean flag, and singing the north korean national anthem in unison before the train, full of repatriates, leaves for the port city of niigata, where the ship bound for north korea awaits them.

(19.) pachinko is both a recreational arcade game and a gambling device popular in japan. partly due to severe discrimination in the formal sector of employment, zainichi koreans came to dominate the pachinko business; in the 1990s, zainichi koreans owned an estimated 70 to 80 percent of the 18,000 pachinko parlors (lie 2008, 73).

(21.) with regard to the ethnonym for the korean nation, left-wing nationalists preferred chosŏn/chōsen while han/kan attracted some right-wing nationalists in the colonial era. this divide became rigid around 1948 as north korea used chosŏn and south korea han for their respective names (im 1993).

(23.) the cases summarized in this and the next paragraph were collected by zainichi chōsenjin no jinken o mamoru kai (the association for the protection of the human rights of korean residents in japan). for more information about this organization established by japanese lawyers in 1963, see kashiwazaki (2009, 131). kashiwazaki correctly noted that this group of lawyers tried to enlighten the japanese public that korean residents should be treated not as inferior former colonial subjects but as “full-fledged foreign nationals with inalienable basic human rights just like american or british people.” however, she did not clarify that this organization frequently formed a coalition with ch’ongnyŏn and protested the government’s denial of equal statehood to north korea.

(24.) (p.259) ministry of justice (december 28, 1954).

(26.) for example, while more than 120,000 koreans residing in japan in 1962 came from cheju island, fewer than 100 per year visited their hometowns before 1961; most of the recorded visitors were either relatively affluent korean entrepreneurs participating in government-sponsored homecoming events or athletes participating in the national sports festival (chaeil tongp’o moguk kongjŏk chosa wiwŏnhoe 2008, 167). when asked why they had not visited their hometowns for so long, most of my interviewees answered that they were simply too poor in the 1950s and 1960s, preoccupied with how to put food on the table lest their children starve.

(27.) the military service law in 1957 stipulated that south koreans abroad were not exempted from prosecution for evasion of military service.

(28.) zainichi chōsenjin no jinken o mamoru kai (1964, b18–b21). a man interviewed by kyŏng-hŭi cho (2015, 53) recalls that one-third of his alumni in kŏnkuk school (a non-ch’ongnyŏn-line korean school in osaka) in the early 1950s were older students who had defected from the military during the korean war.

(29.) the screening of residence records was almost abolished in may 1969 as a result of the intense lobbying by mindan and the south korean government.

(30.) see taet’ongnyŏng pisŏsil (presidential secretariat) (1969, 1970). the revised military service law, enacted in january 1971 (the application deadline), stipulated in article 24-2 that “those who have obtained permanent resident status as south korean citizens in japan or other countries are exempted from military service” (italics mine).

(32.) i cite the conservative statistics of the ministry of justice (jiyū minshutō seimu chōsakai 1970). ch’ongnyŏn daily newspaper chosŏn sinbo cited a much larger figure, possibly to encourage its readers to participate in this countercampaign, claiming that more than 4,000 had successfully changed their designations from kankoku to chōsen.

(33.) the different biographies and political convictions of rhee syngman (the president of south korea from 1948 to 1960) and park chung hee (the president of south korea from 1961 to 1979) also partly explain this shift. unlike rhee, whose hostility toward japanese and zainichi koreans was well known, park, a graduate of the military academy of manchukuo, actively pursued diplomatic rapprochement with japan and the co-optation of zainichi koreans.

(34.) some native koreans, for their part, saw the returning zainichi koreans as half-japanese snobbish show-offs. hyŏk-t’ae kwŏn (2007) argues that the (p.260) lingering hostility among south koreans toward their former colonizers may have reinforced such a negative representation of zainichi koreans.

(35.) the overseas koreans foundation published in 2008 a compilation of such stories, entitled moguk ŭl hyanghan chaeil tongp’o ŭi paengnyŏn chokchŏk (one hundred years of dedication of coethnics in japan to their motherland) (chaeil tongp’o moguk kongjŏk chosa wiwŏnhoe 2008). this belated appreciation came as the south korean state began to reinforce its outreach effort to ethnic koreans abroad to survive the global competition in the post–cold war period. see chapter four for more.

(36.) heonik kwon (2006) shows that the vietnam war—another ideologically charged civil war in which the united states was actively involved, albeit with opposite outcomes to the korean war—left the same imprint on many families in newly unified vietnam. despite the cultural significance of ancestral worship rituals, those with family members who died fighting the war on the side of south vietnam could not commemorate their deaths for fear of persecution.

(37.) despite the lack of reliable data on the north korean side, most economic historians agree that south korean economy began to surpass its competitor in the mid- to late 1970s. see figure 2.4, which shows the per capita gdp trends of south and north korea between 1950 and 2008.

(p.261) (39.) Sonia Ryang (2004, 759–760) found that repatriates from Japan to North Korea kept observing the principle of exogamy and the ancestral worship practices, even though both practices, considered a remnant of the “feudalistic past,” remained taboo in North Korea for a long time.

(40.) A personal communication with Pak Chae-hwa, a former teacher and principal of a Ch’ongnyŏn-line elementary school and Ch’ongnyŏn activist in Yokohama, Japan.

(41.) I could not find the exact provenance of this editorial. A clipping of this editorial was included without information about its provenance in the collection of Han’guk Sinmun, Mindan’s old official gazette, currently compiled in the central library of Chonbuk National University (Han’guk Sinmunsa 2004). Given its critical tone, I suspect that the editorial was not from Mindan’s official gazette, but the note of concern suggests that it was not taken from one of Ch’ongnyŏn’s newspapers, either.

(42.) The 38th parallel refers to a circle of latitude in the Northern Hemisphere used by the occupying Allies in 1945 to divide the Korean peninsula.

(44.) See endnote 3 of S. Ryang (2000, 52n3) for a survey of the varying viewpoints of Japanese legal scholars on this issue. Although in rare cases the Japanese court recognized North Korean laws as the lex domicilii of Zainichi Chōsenjin, it often could not find the equivalent laws in the socialist legal system of North Korea to apply to inheritance cases (Zainihon Chōsenjin Jinken Kyōkai 2004, ch. 7).

(45.) For how this policy changed with the attenuation of Cold War tensions in the region, albeit with enduring ambiguity, see the discussion in the Conclusion.

(46.) According to my interviewees, the following indicators were used to certify de facto membership in Ch’ongnyŏn: whether individuals or their children attended Ch’ongnyŏn schools, whether they subscribed to the Ch’ongnyŏn newspapers, and how regularly and consistently they paid membership dues. Because many affiliates have obtained South Korean citizenship over the last decade, Ch’ongnyŏn lately tends to stress that the designation in the foreigner’s registry should not be taken as a sign of one’s allegiance, in a manner reminiscent of South Korea’s argument in the early 1950s, when most Koreans were registered as Chōsen.

(49.) S. Ryang (2000, 45) reported that, by 1998, many Koreans in Japan believed that a certain amount of money had to be paid to Ch’ongnyŏn to ensure the safety and well-being of their repatriated families in famine-stricken North Korea. There were even rumors that they were able to invite their repatriated (p.262) family members to Japan for a month, as long as they paid 8 million yen (approximately US$61,500 at the 1998 exchange rate) to North Korea via Ch’ongnyŏn. True or not, these widespread rumors reveal the sense of resentment felt by some Koreans in Japan; some of my interviewees commented that their families in North Korea were held hostage. The films of Zainichi Korean director Yonghi Yang (Yŏng-hŭi Yang), especially her 2012 Kazoku no kuni (literally translated as “The Family’s Country,” yet released with the English title, “Our Homeland”), provide a poignant portrayal of this circumstance based on her own experience.

(50.) To illustrate, many academics and activists who have intimate knowledge of Zainichi Koreans suspect that the naturalization rate is likely to be higher among those who have South Korean citizenship than those who maintain the Chōsen designation. I could not obtain the statistical evidence to support or invalidate this speculation.