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UCLA Institute of American Cultures

Title: Professor
Department: Theater, Film and Television

Current Project(s):

  • K-pop Live: Performance of Multimedia Music in Digital Age (Stanford University Press, 2018). This project traces the rapid rise of Korean popular music (K-pop) in relation to the equally meteoric rise of digital consumerism — a phenomenon mostly championed by the widespread development of high-speed Internet and the distribution of mobile gadgets — and situates their tenacious partnership in the historical context of Korea from the early 1990s to the present day.
  • Another book project, tentatively titled "Traversing the Continent: Korean Language Theater in Kazakhstan and the Politics of Belonging in the Soviet Empire," delves into the violent history of the Soviet empire by looking at the forced migration of ethnic Koreans within the Soviet Union. Conceived by Stalin in 1926 and carried out in 1937-38, this plan resulted in 171,781 ethnic Koreans being shipped on a cattle train from the Far East to Central Asia, which constituted the first mass transfer of an entire nationality in the Soviet Union. The mass migration was prompted by Stalin’s growing paranoia about the infiltration of Japanese espionage into the Soviet Korean community as the confrontation between the Soviets and the Japanese in Manchuria escalated. Stalin’s suspicion is startling, given how these Koreans ended up in the Soviet Union in the first place: most were economic and political migrants fleeing the persecution of the Japanese colonial regime (1910-1945), and they eventually formed one of the largest border minorities in the Soviet empire. Astonishing in its scale and misconception, the forced migration put nearly 40,000 Koreans to death, roughly 22 percent of the population, who could not withstand the hardship of transit and famine in Central Asia from 1937 to 1938. And yet, the new settlers managed to not just survive but thrive in their new homeland, keeping in touch with their cultural roots even though it was their ethnicity that caused their hardship. Koreans in Kazakhstan today call themselves “Koryo saram” (Korean people) and run a Korean-language theater and radio station of their own while being successfully integrated into Kazakh society. My book will primarily focus on the Korean-language theater productions from 1931 to the present as a way to navigate the flexible cultural affiliations with which Koryo saram have come to associate themselves, but more broadly, the project will examine the politics of migration and citizenship from the end of the Russian Empire to the present.

Available Publications/Books:

  • Kim, S. Y. (2014). DMZ crossing: performing emotional citizenship along the Korean border. Columbia University Press.
  • Kim, S. Y. (2010). Illusive utopia: theater, film, and everyday performance in North Korea. University of Michigan Press.

Tagged: Cultural Production