Department of Asian Studies
Department of Asian Studies

Visualizing "Local Color" and the Imperial Tourist Gaze: Native Types and Must-See Destinations in the Korean Peninsula

Fri, March 30, 2012 | Meyerson Conference Room, WCH 4.118

3:30 PM - 5:00 PM


Visages of deposed royals, Yangban officials, seductive kisaeng, quaint peasants, and innocent street urchins framed by scenic palace gardens, gates, shrines, and temples are the most recognized tourist images representing the antiquity and beauty of Old Korea. This talk traces the disciplinary origins, photographic conventions, and cultural biases inherent in the creation, dissemination, and curating of stock images of “native types and places” dating back to the turn of the century when the first mass produced ethnographic sketches/photographs, postcard views and tourist guides commissioned by the Colonial Government –General of Korea were included in archaeological reports, museum catalogues, newspapers, photo-albums, exposition postcards, and textbooks. By the 1920s-1930s, the Japanese tourist industry (NYK, South Manchurian Railroad Co.; The Chōsen Branch of the Imperial Government Railways, JTB, Hot Springs) and printing presses in Japan as well as Korea were distributing millions of travel manuals, brochures, and picture postcards promoting Korea’s ruins and its people as the most authentic and picturesque destination in the Japanese empire to a world audience. Out of the estimated millions of postcards that circulated the globe, only a small fraction are now housed in public institutions such as the National Folklore Museum, Pusan Historical Museum, and private museum collections in and outside of Korea.  The most popular subjects and objects of the “camera’s eye” surviving today are dominated by “souvenir postcards” and pocket-sized guide-books favored by large tour groups of soldiers, students, and leisure tourists who collected them as travel mementos to famous places (meishō) and Kisaeng Houses situated in Pusan, Keijō (Seoul), Diamond Mountains, Keishū (Kyŏngju), and P’yŏngyang. Contextualizing the aesthetic, scientific, and commercial knowledge contained in this early body of travel archives now being amassed by museum curators for preservation, public exhibition, and commercial reproduction is critical to understanding how the visual and cultural legacies of colonial racism and shared imperialists’ nostalgia targeting the tastes, desires, and expectations of the globe-trotter, leisure tourist, and curio-collector have contributed to the formation of the highly exoticized, eroticized, and commodified images of the “Hermit Kingdom" we are all familiar with today re-enacted at theme parks, folk performances, and dramatized historical romances on TV.

Hyung Il Pai (Ph.D. Anthropology, Harvard University) is associate professor at the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara. She is the author of Constructing Korean Origins: A Critical Review of Archaeology, Historiography and Racial Myth in Korean State Formation Theories  (Harvard University Asia Center 2000) and co-editor of Nationalism and the Construction of Korean Identity. (University of California, Berkeley East Asia Monograph Series 1998). She has published on a wide range of topics related to the politics and history of East Asian archaeology, museum studies, heritage management, history of photography, tourism, and culture contact and change in international journals. Her book Antiquity and Identity: The Politics of Heritage Management in Japan and Korea (1862-2008) is currently in press with the University of Washington Press. Her future projects include visual culture, tourism studies, the heritage industry and the Korean Wave in the Republic of Korea and Japan from a comparative perspective.

Sponsored by: Center for East Asian Studies

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