AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 88

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Session 88: Pop Culture to Migration: Refashioning Identities in East Asia

Organizer: Hilary V. Finchum-Sung, , South Korea

Chair: Roger L. Janelli, Indiana University, South Korea

Discussant: Roger L. Janelli, Indiana University, South Korea

Asia has long been categorized along the geopolitical lines of Central, South, Southeast, and Central Asia. Nationalist productions of identities have often appropriated these lines of division in order to reinforce local distinctions. Ascendancy of global culture, however, has obliged many in the region to re-evaluate the label of “Asian” as well as their own contribution to the projection of local and regional culture. Current patterns of migration, consumerism, residency, and artistic expression reveal a reality in which people are continuously refashioning multiple layers of identity within the region, drawing lines between previous assumptions regarding identity of locale and fluid contemporary habitation. This panel examines such current malleability by focusing on the activities of individuals and organizations contributing to both the refashioning of local identities and the fostering of multifaceted identity constructions that simultaneously reach out beyond national borders and revise past ideas regarding the nature of a population. New multitier constructions reveal local self assessments as well as how identity is sometimes shaped by a projected, assumed understanding of the “other.” Panelists collaborate to provide a well-rounded representation of this cultural milieu and demonstrate the ways by which cultural practice can reveal much about current societal trends and future trajectories. Through the window of contemporary musical cultures, factors such as migration, cultural promotion, consumer behavior, and global media will be considered in an exploration of the ways by which communities in Japan, mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea grapple with the respective ambiguities of contemporary identities.

Sounding Out Okinawa: Daiku Tetsuhiro’s Musical Politics
Marie Abe, Boston University, USA

In this paper, I argue that socio-musical practices of Daiku Tetsuhiro, a contemporary Okinawan folk musician, challenge the prevalent discourse of Japan as a “monoethnic” nation. A native of a Yaeyama island, Daiku is both a chief voice of the local traditional music and an influential musician who performs with a wide array of collaborators from Japan and beyond. I assert that Daiku’s musical practices enact and “sound out” an understanding of Okinawa as a place that is produced through social and historical relations that stretch beyond the confines of the geographical boundary. In so doing, his musical practices expose the contradictory practices which both silence Okinawan difference and render Okinawa as a racialized internal Other. To move through the implications of this claim, I examine the places, times, and relations evoked in Daiku’s music, and the kinds of “spaces” that can be produced through them. Such analysis will illuminate how musical hybridity embodies Japan’s constitutive relations with places such as Korea, Taiwan, Okinawa, and the US, which were created through Japan’s imperial and colonial past and the longstanding US military presence in Okinawa. Particularly focusing on the issues of land rights and formation of an Okinawan Diaspora, this paper highlights how contemporary Okinawan music such as Daiku’s effectively problematizes hegemonic designations of time and space, producing an understanding of space that is capable of asserting historical subjectivity, forging transnational connections and alliances, and exposing the silent production of internal Other.

The Rainbow Chorus and Korea’s Multiculturalism
Hilary V. Finchum-Sung, , South Korea

Put multiculturalism and Korea in the same sentence and a potential paradox materializes. Korea’s ethnic nationalism, with its espousal of one people, one blood, has driven government policies and local identity for decades. In recent years, escalating numbers of foreign workers and ‘marriage migrants’ have led local and national governments to develop social programs designed to assimilate immigrants into Korean society as well as educate native Koreans about these foreigners. Various multicultural family centers, like the Korean Multicultural Center in Seoul, have been set up around the peninsula to advance this goal. In this paper, I examine the Center’s annual Multicultural Children’s Choir Competition as a visible endeavor that both projects the Center’s goals as well as the specific Korean construal of the term ‘multicultural.’ A number of school ensembles participate, many of which specially recruit non-Korean children at their respective schools to qualify for the event in hopes of winning the grand prize of sponsorship and designation as the Center’s official Rainbow Chorus. With songs drawn on Korean children’s folk songs, new songs such as “Wonderful Korea,” ‘multicultural kids’ placed in ethnic costumes designating their identities, and the majority of the participants Korean (despite the claim that 50 percent of the children are ‘multicultural kids’), the event inspires questions regarding apparent superficialities and the exploitation of this new diversity for political and personal benefit. Through an examination of the choir competition, the paper offers a telling portrayal of the meaning of ‘multiculturalism’ in the South Korean context.

Musical Construction of Multiculturalism and Negotiating Identities in Singapore
Hee-sun Kim, Kookmin University, South Korea

Unlike places like Korea and Japan where the concept of multiculturalism is still arguable, the postcolonial Singaporean state has clearly defined a multicultural identity— multicultural, multiracial, multilingual, multiethnic, and multireligious—for the nation. Furthermore, with its short national history, Singapore “culture” and “heritage” still remains a sphere of strong state promotion. Along with awareness of multicultural heritage since the 1960s, traditional music and culture of major ethnic groups have constituted a part of Singapore’s “national culture” for several decades. This paper first provides a historic overview of the national rhetoric on multiculturalism and its connection with historical trajectories of traditional music in Singapore. Traditional music became one of the dominant discursive devices employed in the production of collective identity in Singapore. In defining national identity, certain musical genres, musicians, and practices have been selected, re-defined, and promoted by the state. Furthermore, these selected musical genres have been practiced and nurtured by each community, within which diverse new meanings associated with these performance forms have emerged. Using examples of government/ community-sponsored orchestras, namely the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, the Okestra Malayu Singapura, and the Singapore Indian Orchestra and Choir, this paper discusses the ways by which the idea of multiculturalism has become embedded within a national identity in Singapore. Through musical practice, identity is produced, reconfigured, appropriated and disseminated through manipulation by hegemonic institutions. At the same time, music provides a medium through which individual members of the society negotiate multiple layers of identity that are at once local, national, and regional.

Visual Identity: The Role of Popular Culture in Marketing Tourism
Sang--Yeon Sung, University of Vienna, Austria

Due to the development of the internet and multiple cable channels dynamic cultural exchanges within East Asia have contributed to an enhanced notion of East Asian regional identity. The ever-expanding intercultural ties have encouraged arts management companies and local governments to promote cultural products to their neighbors. At the same time, the ascendancy of global culture has obliged many in the region to reevaluate the label of “Asian,” as well as their own cultural contributions to this label. In this paper, I will examine cultural markets in both Taiwan and South Korea and their respective quests to promote popular culture as the face of the nation. Cultural brokers manipulate visual aspects, in particular, of regionally recognized music, dramas, and stars, in order to project new identities and maintain regional interest. National organizations consistently use pop culture in contributing to the refashioning of local identities and the fostering of regional interest. The significance of this cannot be understated as a the recent dominance of Korea in the cultural market led to an increase in Korea’s visibility both in the region and world-wide, thus leading to increased revenue from tourism and sales of products. In this paper, I analyze the use of pop culture in government-sponsored tourist videos of South Korea and Taiwan. Through videos like “Korea Sparkling” and “Taiwan Touch Your Heart” the respective governments are visually projecting cultural ideals that simultaneously espouse the nation’s distinctness and re-mold the young nation in the quest to strengthen positions in the region.