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Playing Between Empires: Baseball in South Korea and Zainichi Players as the Cold War Paradox
Thu. October 26 @ 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
Dr. Younghan Cho will present a seminar on “Playing Between Empires: Baseball in South Korea and Zainichi Players as the Cold War Paradox.”
This study delves into the cultural construction of Cold War Korea by tracing the historical narratives of Korean baseball from its resurgence in the late 1940s to its emergence as a national phenomenon in the early 1970s. By examining baseball’s transpacific trajectories, it demonstrates how the sport embodies the Cold War paradox in South Korea, reflecting both American modernity and hegemony while evoking legacies and influences of Japanese colonial occupation. Baseball arrived in Korea in 1905 through American missionaries and quickly became a symbol of modern innovation embraced by Koreans. However, during the colonial period (1910-1945), Japanese educators and players actively fueled its diffusion and popularity. The sport was entirely prohibited during the Pacific War under Japanese colonization, but after Japan’s defeat and the subsequent U.S. military occupation, baseball experienced a quick revival in both Korea and Japan. In post-liberation South Korea, baseball resurfaced with direct support from the U.S. military and saw significant growth, culminating in the peak of high school baseball tournaments’ participation and popularity in the 1970s. However, it also exposed its undeniable association with Japan, mirrored by the renowned ‘Summer Koshien’ system. Particularly, the presence and dominance of Zainichi baseball teams in Korean tournaments served as stark reminders of Japanese colonial legacies and historical wounds. This national fever and the colonial connection to baseball, reveals a Cold War paradox that manifests both a rupture from and continuity of Japanese colonization in South Korea’s procedures of accomplishing postcolonial modernization. The interplay between American modernity and Japanese colonial legacies further adds complexity to the cultural construction of Cold War Korea through the lens of baseball.
Younghan Cho is a Professor in the Department of Korean Studies at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, South Korea. His publications cover various areas, including global sports, fans and celebrity culture, the Korean Wave, East Asian pop culture, and nationalism and modernity in modern Korea and East Asian society. In 2020, he served as a Korea Research Fellow at the Carolina Asia Center.
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