Pei Jean Chen

PhD defended at: 

Cornell University



As the first full-length comparative study of colonial Taiwan and Korea that attempts to reflect the intertwined relationship of East Asian modernity, this dissertation takes a transnational approach to present a circuit of colonial modernity that differs substantially from that assumed by conventional colonial history, which focuses on a uni-directional impact from imperial powers. In particular, I investigate the formation of national identity and sexuality from 1895 to 1937 through the works of various colonial intellectuals and writers. My research shows that a broad archive of texts that have mediated the entanglement between East Asian societies, however, were routed through and interrupted by imaginative geographies incommensurate with the nation-state. In particular, Taiwan and Korea are perceived as cultural entities through their vertical relations with their imperial pasts, and segregated from each other as the “unimagined communities.” I argue that the relationship between colonizer and colonized is recalibrated in the colonial texts of both states through the discourses of vernacular and sexuality that blur geographic and relational lines. In advancing this argument, I track the processes of transnational exchange and translational shaping of the modern concepts of national language and literature, as well as romantic love and sexual desires in early twentieth-century East Asia. In so doing, I problematize the nationalistic imaginaries of the world by inter-referencing Taiwan and Korea, together with juxtaposing the institutionalizations of language and sexuality to rupture the knowledge production of the modern nation-state. By theorizing and historicizing the construction of modern ideas of language and sexuality, I challenge the imperialist and nationalistic hegemonies with the notion of “untranslatability” in colonial linguistic and literary practices, and the “critical love” against the normative idea supporting intimate relationships in nation-building. I illustrate the “untranslatability” as “unhomed” moments and linguistic complexities that are depicted and experienced by colonial writers, while “critical love” is embodied as love suicides and same-sex love that countered the hetero-normative reproductive relationship. These arguments are supported by the result of my investigation on considerable primary materials, including the literary works by Yi Gwangsu, Yi Injik, Yi Hyosŏk, Yi Sang, Hyŏn Jin’gŏn, Kim Dongin of colonial Korea, and by Lai He, Zhang Wojun, Xu Kunquan, Weng Nao, Xie Chunmu of colonial Taiwan, as well as numerous public debates and discussions from renowned newspapers and literary magazines in the colonial era.

ICAS is an initiative of the
International Insitute for Asian Studies