Reading North Korean Wartime Literature

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Monday, September 18th, 2017

Monday, September 18, 20172:00PM - 4:00PM108N, North House, 1 Devonshire Place
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North Korean wartime literature has never been valued highly by literary scholars. The lack of literary qualities in these wartime stories have deterred many from looking more seriously at this type of literature as its heroes, seemingly without any obstacles in their way, defeat the enemy and attain victory. Add this to the subservient role literature plays in North Korea and the worship of its leaders, and it is obvious why one would shy away from analysing these texts.

However, even under such conditions of prescribed rules and top-down directives, the writer still needs to imbue the story with sufficient literary qualities to make it interesting to its readers. This is because the author is still constrained by the fact that the novel should not stray too far from reality or else the reader will not be persuaded. The author, therefore, also needs to address issues that are politically and socially sensitive in society. Condemnation of these issues in itself is not enough: to make an ideological claim the issue needs to be foregrounded, and the author must give a satisfactory interpretation of the issue.

This led to the creation of quite interesting propaganda literature in wartime North Korea: The characters are imbued with heroic but down-to-earth characteristics that portray both the wartime experiences of North Korean soldiers and citizens, but also gives expression to North Korea’s wartime concerns.

Jerôme de Wit is Professor in the Korean Studies department at the University of Tübingen, Germany. He is a specialist on North and South Korean Wartime Literature and modern Korean culture. His research interest in Korean culture is focused on public discourses concerning history and society and how cultural sources can provide us with different viewpoints on debates such as nationalism, identity, and history. His recent projects deal with such topics as post-colonialism in contemporary South Korean alternate history novels, and a study on the representation and changes in identity in the literature and movies of ethnic Koreans in China.


Martina Mimica


Jerome de Wit
Junior Professor, Department of Korean Studies, University of Tubingen

Janet Poole
Associate Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, University of Toronto

Main Sponsor

Centre for the Study of Korea


Asian Institute


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