Table of Contents

ETHNOCULTURE  (Vol.2, 2010 pp. 11-26)



Oleg Pakhomov

Kyoto University

[email protected]

The aim of this paper is to provide an analysis of how the ethnicity of Korean immigrants is constructed and represented in Russia, USA and Japan. Korean immigrants, and probably many other immigrant groups, face similar problem of representation. How to represent what is socially and individually diverse as a unity called "Korean community" in order to avoid the risk of discrimination and to obtain the trust of the host society? According to Luhmann (1990:118), to represent unity it is inevitable to selectively simplify self-description and thus to fix individuality contingently within a certain range of possibilities. This means that Korean immigrants, in order to represent themselves, are forced to take a risk in selecting information that is available in the host society, and which should therefore be comprehensible and trustworthy for the majority of its members,

The central hypothesis of this paper is that there are specific parallelisms between the ethnic identity of an immigrant community and the national identity of the host society. These relations are based on a re-entry principle, where the difference between a social system and its environment is reintroduced into the system. In the case in point, this means that Korean immigrants construct their ethnicity on the same principles that form the basis of the host society's national identity. This does not mean assimilation, since ethnic identity is represented as "authentically" Korean, but in fact it may have little in common with traditional Korean culture. "Trust is not concerned with knowing the essential truth about a matter but with the success in the reduction of its complexity" (Luhmann, 1979:69). Constructing a structural parallelism between ethnicity and nationalism is a sort of guarantee against exclusion and discrimination.

This paper focuses particularly on the artistic communication of cultural differences in the work of three Korean immigrant artists: Anatoly Kim (Russian Korean writer), Margaret Cho (Korean American stand-up comedian) and Tal-orum (Japanese Korean female theater troupe). These artists describe "Korean culture" in very extreme forms, which makes it easier to understand the principles behind the construction and representation of Korean ethnicity in Russia, USA and Japan. The sequence of the paper"s sections follows the chronology of the mass migration of the Korean people. The year 1863 marks the beginning of Russian Korean history, 1903 that of Korean Americans, and 1905 that of Koreans in Japan.

Russian Koreans and the political regulation of risk

The construction of Russian Korean ethnicity by Russian Korean artists facilitates the political regulation of ethnic discrimination risks. According to Niklas Luhmann, "the function for which the political system is differentiated can be characterized as supplying the capacity to enforce collectively binding decisions" (Luhmann 1990:73) by the use of power and by "the centralization of the decision of conflicts" (Luhmann 1995: 377). This requires a high degree of simplification of ethnic culture that ignores individual differences in favor of collective identities. Ethnic boundary should refer to a bigger, already existing entity or process that makes peoples different parts of one single whole.

The politicization of ethnicity in general and ethnic art in particular was an underlying principle of Soviet identity construction and it remains as such in post-Soviet Russia. According to Lenin ethnic culture was a form of a class struggle.1 The contradiction between labor and capital was a central principle of ethnic cultural development that would ultimately lead to the emergence of one socialist culture (Lenin 1967: v. 5, 113-150). According to Stalin different ethnic cultures should organize this struggle as different parts of a single whole personified by one political party (Stalin, 1958: v. 2, 290-367). The function of ethnic art was to describe this dialectical unity (Lenin, 1967: v. 25, 98) of class conflict that pervades all ethnic cultures (Kaloshin, 1953) and serves as a common ground for intercultural class solidarity (Ilyenkov, 1984).

Another reason for the politicization of ethnic art is the opposition of literature to political power. As Soviet poet Evtushenko said: "a poet in Russia is more than a poet" (Evtushenko, 1973). Reliance on the political regulation of economy and religion made art a place where individuals could enjoy freedom. Artistic communication automatically became a source of social resistance against the state, and this set up literature against politics. In the 18th century politics was a central theme of Russian literature, whether in praise of the monarch, as in Lomonosov's "Odes" (Lomonosov, 2009), or as messages about social injustice. Political power was perceived as a challenge to collectively binding decisions imposed on Russian society.2 The first victim was Radishev (Radishev, 2006), who was arrested and exiled under Katherine the Great because of his Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow.3

The example of works by the Russian Korean writer Anatoly Kim will show the construction of "Korean culture" in Russia. According to him, ethnic culture has to represent a single whole that transcends the lives of individuals in time and space. This is achieved through ethnic memory, which can be accepted or rejected by individuals but cannot be changed. The central idea of Anatoly Kim's works is that there is a single natural process that underlies life, and all deviations from it lead to alienation and suffering. This idea he represents through the symbols of self-regeneration offered by the natural world. Forests, plants or animals have a type of organization which must serve as a model for society. Society and every individual must follow the model of these natural forms of life. Several novels, short stories, and articles written by Anatoly Kim from 1973 to 1997 clearly illustrate the way this idea is at the core of Russian Korean ethnicity construction.

Nature is a structuring principle of social reproduction and the basis of representation of ethnic culture. For example, Kim's famous story "Squirrel" (Kim, 1997: 13-281) begins in a Korean forest, where a Korean woman bears a child who turns into a squirrel who later has various adventures in society. "Korea" here represents the beginning of participation in a bigger process. In another novel, Father Forest (Kim, 2005), he describes the history of one family from the 19th century until the end of the 20th century in terms of a process of natural development. The ancestors are like the roots and the descendants are like the branches and leaves of the same tree. "The life that we love so much is the constant renewal of dead leaves by living ones, and it should not be interrupted, not for a second. There was always and will always be the shining of all of us that they call WE…" (Kim, "Onion Field", 1997: 540).

Opposition between nature and society is crucial here. Deviation from nature means alienation and death. In Anatoly Kim's novels society lures people away from nature by the illusions of career growth and money. According to Kim, all people are connected with nature through some universal bond, similar to the roots of a tree in the forest. Deviation from life as determined by these roots leads to suffering and results in human mortality. For example, in the story about "Myoko's Dog Rose" (Kim, 1998: 366-374) a husband moves to a big city to follow his scientific career and his wife stays in Sakhalin. One day he receives a letter telling him that she has died. He goes back and when he visits her grave he sees a dog-rose growing there. The wife overcame death and became part of the eternal process of natural regeneration but he cannot become part of it because he was driven by his own individualistic interests, which are finite.

Salvation or suffering can only be a collectively binding act. In "Squirrel" Kim (1997) tells the story of a squirrel moving in human society under the form of different people: men and women, alive and dead. Through the squirrel"s adventures Anatoly Kim illustrates different forms of alienation between people and between people and nature. At the same time, the squirrel demonstrates the unity and mutual penetrability of human beings and animals. It does not mean that there are no boundaries, but that the only legitimate form of boundary is the one that includes or excludes from one big entity like nature. Interaction is then possible not between parts but between parts and the whole that has to be accepted as it is. For example, after another travel from death back to life a character radically changes his views on society: "For one who had just been resurrected from the dead, differences between familiar and unfamiliar people were no longer relevant. He could not now love one and hate another. … It seemed that he was each of them, whether man or woman, adult or child. Inside every one there was something common, something essential that made them equal before the heavens. And now he realized that it is foolish and vain to hate or love this essence, like it is impossible to love or hate lightning or the North Pole" (Kim, 1997: 129-130).

Ethnic culture can be a boundary that excludes individuals from the process of nature. Anatoly Kim tries to demonstrate that the closed character of ethnic culture may have negative consequences for people because it alienates them from nature just as other finite individualistic interests, such as money, career, etc. Ethnic boundary thus functions as an obstacle to unity between people and therefore becomes a source of suffering. For example, in "Grass Gatherer" (Kim, 1997: 340), the attributes of ethnic culture, like name and language, are not the most important things for individuals. In this story Kim says about one Japanese woman in Sakhalin: "She had three names, Russian, Japanese and Korean, and none of these beautiful names can define her because all of them are accidental. A human being connects oneself with a name but it is not the name that connects one with life. ... We look for ourselves in darkness and in light, in crowded cities and in the forest, and keep on creating myths about ourselves without being able to accept that we are children of Earth, brothers and sisters of trees and animals" (Kim, 1997: 340).

Anatoly Kim applies this principle to the construction of Russian Korean ethnic identity. According to him the existence of Russian Koreans as an ethnic group depends on whether they maintain their ethnic memory. In "Squirrel" he writes that "nature is the model of our memory" (Kim, 1997: 278). The natural self-reproductive mechanism of ethnic memory is supposed to prevent Russian Koreans from turning "into amorphous dust of history" (Choi, 2003: 10). It is memory that lets all Russian Koreans imagine themselves as parts of their ethnic past and provides the continuity of ethnic culture into the future 4. The notion of "memory" adjusts ethnic culture to a bigger process through simplification. A sense of common memory creates diachronic connections with ancestors and synchronic connections between people who live now and those who lived in the past. In other words, it encourages individuals to ignore current social complexity and instead draws attention to the past or to the future. Kim recommends to all Russian Koreans to simplify ethnic culture to the level where it is comprehensible for individual consciousness and does not contradict one"s fantasies and desires. Because of the memory-based structure of ethnic identity individuals are free to imagine their relations with people in the past, present, and future, as well as to arbitrarily use Russian Korean culture for expressing their expectations.

The ambiguous character of an ethnic boundary based on "ethnic memory" creates risks of mistrust from the host society, leading to possible exclusion. In order to overcome the exclusive character of an imagined "Korea" Anatoly Kim emphasizes the linguistic similarity between Russian and Russian Korean societies. He mentions the "inseparability" of Russian Koreans from Russia because ethnic memory also must refer to a common ground between the immigrant community and the host society. In other words, according to him, Russian Koreans may dream about "Korea" but still do it in the Russian language, thus representing themselves as a part of Russian culture and of the culture of humankind. As summarized by Bronya Choi: "We see our past, present and future national identity inseparably connected with Russian language, culture, and history. But this does not mean that once and for all we move away from our national roots, refuse to realize our uniqueness, and simply become a part of Russian culture and history. ... We bring into the culture of humankind the unique characteristics that only we have. It does not weaken our future position in history, but on the contrary it gives it more stability, in the confidence that there will be no complete assimilation of Koreans in Russia" (Choi, 2003: 21-22)

Another Russian intellectual, Gerasim Yugai (Tyan, 2006) completes the picture of the interrelation between Russian Koreans and Russians by supplying Anatoly Kim's core idea with scientific support.5 According to him there is much more than simply a linguistic connection between Korean and Russian cultures; they are different parts (superethnos) of one big natural process of what he calls "ethnogenesis". He uses Lev Gumilyov's theory, which proclaims that there is a direct relation between culture and nature whenever an ethnic group emerges from a natural energy impulse (Gumilyov, 2005). On this basis, Yugai explains that the solidarity between Russians and Koreans has roots in the distant past, when they shared a common ancestor and emerged from one source of energy supplied by nature (Tyan, 2006).


Political regulation is efficient where collectively binding actions are necessary. "Korea" according to these two Russian Korean intellectuals is a model for imagining ethnic unity. The most effective mechanism that can implement this function of social mobilization around one purpose, is political power in the form of a political party with a strong leadership, since political power operates with already-made decisions imposed on society. The history of Russian Koreans shows that the modernization of traditional ethnic culture demanded political participation. Russian Koreans organized their ethnic labor armies (Korean collective farms), as different elements of one bigger process of socialist modernization, organized by the communist party in the Soviet Union.

Political regulation also presupposes serious dangers. According to Luhmann, "a political system … requires and renders possible a high degree of risky decision making" (Luhmann, 1993: 145). Deviations from decisions supplied by political power create the risk of losing trust and of triggering negative sanctions in the form of physical violence. In political communication the affected parties are excluded from the process of decision making and have to accept decisions that are imposed on them. Political organization and control over Korean ethnic labor armies resulted in the appreciation of the efficiency of this labor, but also in loyalty or disloyalty, further transferring conflict to legal regulation. The insufficient productivity of Russian Korean labor 6 could be a reason for distrustful expectation from the Communist Party because it demonstrated that Russian Korean ethnic culture was not enough "socialistic". This led to growing distrust and finally to negative sanctions like forced deportation.

Political power is a mechanism for the de-politicization of risks. "The political system attracts risks from all sector of society, partly absorbing them as political risks of over-reaction or over-sight, and partly passing them back to society" (Luhmann, 1993: 175). Recent historical experiences in Russia, such as the collapse of the Soviet Union, separatist movements in the North Caucasus region, and the hostile attitude of Russian people to labor migrants from Central Asia, show that cultural differences may activate social tensions and mobilize people against a political regime. In order to avoid this, political power tries to de-politicize culture, trasfering attention to legal, moral or economic systems. For example, Russian Korean ethnic festivals 7 and ethnic mass media 8 proclaim common moral values and loyalty to local and central authorities. Representation of disappointments and claims is only permitted in the same way as the president does it, for example in reference to corrupted bureaucrats as well as terrorists "who do not have nationality". 9 However, in Russia de-politicization by transfer of conflict to the legal system is hardly possible because of the high level of corruption of the courts. Besides, the wide gap between the rich and the poor makes it difficult to organize the efficient economic regulation of risk. 10

Korean American art and economic regulation of risks

This section attempts to show how risks of ethnic discrimination may be transferred to economic regulation. Niklas Luhmann explains the attractiveness of economic risk processing: "many roads by which risks are passed on finally lead to the economic system. This system is characterized by a good capacity for calculation and a bad memory. … Money does not remember why it was paid out. The consequences of a policy of passing on risks might thus finally dissipate in a putatively wealthy, at any rate pecuniarily well-supplied economy-only because this system has no way of politically asserting a claim to its own opportunity costs" (Luhmann, 1993:172).11 My analysis of this mechanism is based on the example offered by the performances of perhaps the most famous Korean American "offensive" comedian, Margaret Cho.

In order to adjust ethnicity to economic regulation it is important to represent culture as constructed on the same principles as economic cooperation. According to Niklas Luhmann the capitalist economy became possible as a result of "a particular vision of the human body as material supply of needs" (Luhmann, 1998: 250).12 It was the artists of the European Renaissance who first imagined society as based on physiological needs but it was Adam Smith who offered the most complete theoretical description of the capitalist universe (Sahlins, 2008: 63-71). Thus, ethnic culture is contrasted to human biology in two ways that show the primacy of biology over culture. First, ethnic culture is an obstacle for the satisfaction of human needs. Second, ethnic culture serves as a form of satisfaction of body needs.

The homogeneity of physiological needs coincides with the homogeneity of money relations. "Margaret Cho" is first of all a commercial brand with a clear profit motive. Profanation and monetization reduce all differences to the universality of human nature. For example, Sloterdijk says that money "is the medium in which the equating of what is different is realized in practical terms. Like nothing else, it has the power to bring different things to a common denominator" (Sloterdijk, 1988: 315). And he goes on to say: "Today's jokers are anything but committed, and they can profit from the inflated price of laughter insofar as buffoonery suits the spirit of the times better than does nasty satire" (Sloterdijk, 1988: 89).

One of the main trends in Korean American ethnic art 13 is the representation of human biology as underlying ethnic-culture construction. Korean American artists adopted the ideology of power functionalism, by which cultural differences are viewed in terms of power relations. Society plays the role of source of "stereotypes" that put up obstacles for the free expression of individual desires. Margaret Cho's obscene style is simply a reminder that human biology is primary and culture is secondary. The minorities that she represents all have only a physiological background. For example, racial minorities and sexual minorities are defined on the basis of their relation to human physiology, in terms of skin color, sexual preferences, and gender roles. As Cho says in her show titled "Assassin"(2000): "I am one of us, I don't acknowledge difference between us".

Selfishness is one of the central symbols of her stage identity. The universality of human physiological needs does not legitimate the imposing of ready-made decisions. Similar to money relations in the economy, it increases individual response to one's body needs and encourages assuming new risks for individual satisfaction. For example, one man commented on her performances: "What everybody said about you is right. You are a selfish bitch, and you deserve to die alone", to which she replied that "selfishness is the right of all of us who struggle" (Cho, 2005: 82). Being depicted in a negative way is racism in action, as if self-realization—the dreaming of dreams, the achieving of goals, the living out of rewards—is only bestowed upon the modest, the un-ambitious, the passive, the oblivious. "Selfishness needs to be reclaimed as a tool for empowerment, so that we might all one day live in a world where class can transcend race, where the color of your skin does not affect the color of your money, or the color of the upholstery on your couch. That we are selfish gives us the opportunity to gain the power so that, in time, we might be selfless…" (Cho, 2005: 82).

Selfishness prevents discrimination in society. Cho justifies her offensive jokes by telling that she belongs to minorities and this gives her the right not only to speak in their behalf but also to have a privileged opportunity to make fun of them. Similar to economic competition, this egoistic background prevents her from acting against her own interests and the interests of other people of the community that she represents. In order to legitimize her position she refers to identity construction as based on what she calls "selfishness". For example, in the show "Assassin" (2000) she says: "I belong to many minorities, which gives me an advantage".

Physiological characteristics serve as a form of exclusion of outsiders. Margaret Cho refers to racial differences to justify an individual claim which legitimizes assuming new risks within a physiologically determined boundary by excluding people of other races. Her racial characteristics as Korean American and Asian American serve as a starting point for imagining the culture of "her people" and give her a privileged right to decide what is culturally authentic and what is not. If ethnic or racial symbols are used by outsiders they are perceived as coercive (i.e., as stereotypes) or as a form of domination because they prevent individuals from assuming new risks by them. In a joke about Asian chicken salad she shows the arbitrary character of ethnic tradition by making fun of the stereotyped image of Asian people for non Asian people. In this joke, in the show titled "Revolution" (2003), Cho says: "I was on a plane, and the steward was coming down the aisle saying. 'Asian chicken salad...Asian chicken salad...Asian chicken salad...' And he gets to me and he's like, '...chicken salad!' What does he think I'm gonna do? ... Dis is not de salad of my people! In my homeland, dey use mandarin orange slices...and crispy wonton crunches!"

Physiological characteristics also have the opposite function of preventing exclusion by people of other races. There are a number of jokes in Cho's shows that make fun of the stereotype that people with similar racial characteristics have the same culture and belong to the same community. These stereotypes refer to the expectation that people are ascribed to physiologically-constructed ethnic and racial boundaries. The purpose of Margaret Cho is to profanate the racial boundaries of other racial groups but to prevent others from profanation of her own. In order to avoid the accusation of being "hegemonic" she first describes others as "racist" and then justifies her claims as simply resistance against racism. Besides, using the body as an argument she draws the attention of her audience from social complexity to the complexity of individual consciousness by encouraging them to be more reflexive towards their physiological needs. For example in the show "Revolution" (2003), speaking about Asian American stereotyping Cho says: "I get nervous when people say to me, 'I just can't tell any of you Asians apart!' Um, why do you have to tell us apart? Are we gonna be separated for some reason? I can't tell us apart! I was not born with a chip in my neck that would automatically identify every Asiatic person that I would come across, beebeebeebeebeep Filipino."

Body needs function as a natural criterion for moral norms.14 The provocative character of Margaret Cho's shows is targeted against moral norms that she represents as "stereotypes" that have to be fought against because they create nothing but hegemonic relations. Cho deduces morality from human biology, which justifies any form of satisfaction of physiological needs and prevents collective control over this satisfaction, since individuals know best what they want. As a result, she can say that all collective attempts to constrain enjoyment are morally bad. "I smoke pot because I do not think it is a drug. It is a vegetable—people of color have a right to enjoy it; if you do not agree, you are a racist" (Wendy Williams Show, 2008).15

Race and gender are different forms of scarcity risk distribution. The physiological background of culture makes legitimate the flow of money and property along racial or gender lines. Margaret Cho uses the notion of "women of color" in order to justify the concentration of wealth within racialized gender boundaries. She represents cultural differences as "competitive situations that emerge most clearly under conditions of scarcity, thus in the economy" (Luhmann, 1995: 383), and as regulated through money-mediated exchange and conflict. In the show titled "I'm the One That I Want" (2000), she describes the circulation of capital within the ethnic boundaries of the Korean American community: "I am not gonna die because I failed as someone else. I am gonna succeed as myself. And I'm gonna stay here and rock the mike until the next Korean-American, fag hag, shit starter, girl comic, trash talker comes up and takes my place!". In the "Wendy Williams" show (2008) she tells the same thing but through the example of gender boundaries: "I hated it when women of color do not revere another women of color because it is so hard to get where you are if you are women of color. You have to be better, smarter, more talented, and more beautiful. Women of color should worship each other; we are queens".

According to Cho, hegemony inside the ethnic family is the result of straight sexual relations. Straight families function as constraints against natural desires. She tolerates only homosexually reorganized families. The natural desire to enjoy 16 is supposedly dominant among all family members and sexual desires are the strongest. However, enjoyment is not hegemonic if it is organized within physiologically homogeneous boundaries because selfish individuals cannot act against their own interests. Her mother's stories about a "gay daddy" are based on the assumption that women can be safe if male sexual desire as a source of male chauvinism is not directed at them but at another man (Notorious C.H.O. Show, 2002). Consequently, in the "Wendy Williams" show she recommends to "outlaw all straight people getting married".

This probably explains Margaret Cho's eager support of gay marriages and extremely positive representation of gay sex. Male homosexuality saves women from male "chauvinistic" sexual desire. In gay sexual relations, it looks as if one man harasses oneself, under the voyeuristic control of Margaret Cho. Male sexuality in its gay version simply does not have any alternatives and is sexually liberating. For example in the show titled "I'm the One That I Want" (2000) she says: "What I love most about gay men is the way that they are about sex. There is a kind of fun and frivolity that surrounds gay men and their sexuality that is not there for straight men and sex. I think if you're oppressed over who you want to sleep with, when you actually go and do it, you're gonna have a really good time. If you are hated for who you like to fuck, you're gonna kick up your heels and fuck...and it is such an inspiration to watch". No surprise that she adds: "Thank God for gay men. Thank God for gay men, because if it were not for gay men, I would not talk to men at all"( I'm The One That I Want Show, 2000).

Besides the enslavement of women, male physiology can also play an emancipatory role. Margaret Cho suggests that males of other cultures can be included into American society in an act of emancipation strictly based on their sexual function, that is, with the help of their phallus. The reduction of humans to sexual organs, with the main function of sexual enjoyment, helps to avoid the risks of domination presupposed by all cultural and gender differences. The primacy of biological identity provides further construction of identities in the form of parallelism between physiology and culture. In fact, her offer comes as logical continuation of torture: first male prisoners are taught the primacy of physiology over culture through violence and then they are expected just to follow their body needs.

The deconstruction of gender boundaries helps to avoid domination. All differences, and especially gender differences, are unimaginable without relations of power because difference is based on cultural boundaries and boundaries are socially constructed. Equality is possible in reference to the homogeneity of body needs which are the same for people of every culture. Margaret Cho shows the falsity of gender differences through their profanation. She switches female and male physiology depicting the way that desires have to move without meeting any obstacles. Paraphrasing Bakhtin’s idea of the carnival, physiological processes are opposed to socially imposed inequalities (Bakhtin, 1965). For example, in the show titled "Notorious C.H.O." (2002), she describes what would happen if straight men, for example truck drivers, and gay man were to have menstrual cycles. The reason she gives for speaking about her periods on the stage is that "if Richard Pryor had a period, he would talk about it".

Gender equality is possible only through the adoption of man’s sexual behavioral patterns. For example, Cho often complains in her shows that she cannot get satisfaction from sexual intercourse, 17 since the criterion of satisfaction is to have a visible beginning and ending. By doing so, she puts male-like sexual desire at the center of female identity. For example in "Notorious C.H.O." (2002) she says: "It's just that it's been my experience in having sex with some straight men that the sex is over when he gets off. And I don't accept that. I want to have an orgasm! ... I'll put a chalk board over the bed." Niklas Luhmann explains how the ideology of equality between man and women eventually made man’s sexual experience as its criterion. "This emphasis on equality results, paradoxically, in sexual matters and semantics of love which reflect it being interpreted after the liking men. The man’s experience of sexuality and his behaviors have the advantage ... of having a clearly visible beginning and end. ... Ideas on how sexually oriented behavior can be differentiated also seem to take what the man wants and not what the woman desires as their point of departure. When a woman loves, it is said that she loves forever. In the meantime, the man has other things to attend to" (Luhmann, 1998:162).


Besides obvious advantages, the economic regulation of discrimination risks also has serious disadvantages. This kind of system is extremely intolerant about non-market forms of cultural organization. People who for some reasons can not or refuse to reconstruct their culture according to the demands of economic cooperation put themselves at risk of exclusion and can become objects of forced regulation through non-market violence, justified by the imposed image of "inferiority". The history of Korean immigration to the US clearly shows this pattern of cultural evolution, moving from the early distrust of a "country of beggars" (Lee, 1932: 135-140; Patterson, 1994: 108; Rhee, 2001: 260-261) at the beginning of the 20th century, and reaching the image of Korean Americans as a "model minority" by the end of the 20th century.

An economic perspective of ethnicity presupposes standard construction of ethnic boundaries with more or less predictable outcomes. Culture has to be grounded in physiology in order to function as supply mechanism of body needs for the market. In other words, culture should be constructed on the basis of a worldview that sees humans as animals who participate in economic cooperation when their avaricious nature is mutually balanced by others in a self-regulating market (Sahlins, 2008). This in turn creates contradictions between the individual and society, and conflicts between individual identity and ethnic identity become the central problem of ethnicity. Competition removes social security and encourages individual initiative, which in turn increases sensitivity to power relations, eventually leading to extreme forms of power functionalism.18

Under economic regulation ethnic boundaries produce social inequality. Ethnicity becomes a form of alienating and transferring property. This creates risks of social tensions that can happen along cultural boundaries. In other words, economic regulation of ethnic discrimination risks results in unequal distribution of scarcity risks and makes poverty one of the dominant forms of intercultural relations (Sahlins, 2004: 37). Niklas Luhmann describes the deadlock of economic exchange: "Scarcity means that access for one is at the cost of others. This may be tolerable if tomorrow is another day giving someone else a turn. However, the more each person seeks to take precautions about scarcity for a longer period, the greater will be scarcity for others where quantities remain constant. Scarcity is thus one of those problems that become a paradox if seen as a social problem: the less scarcity there is (for one), the more scarcity there is (for others)" (Luhmann, 1993: 62).

Japanese Korean art and the moral regulation of risk

Japanese Korean art is an example of morally regulating the risks of discrimination. Ethnicity was formed in anticipation of possible discrimination that needed the construction of boundaries on similar principles as morality. There are three qualities of morality that have strong impact on Japanese Korean ethnicity. First, as argued by Luhmann, morality does not possess a socially integrating function but, on the contrary, "morality is laden with conflict that has its polemical side” (Luhmann, 1995: 235) and that "needs the obliviously scandalous in order to have occasion to rejuvenate itself" (Luhmann, 2000: 80). Second, the concept of morality does not presuppose consensus or equal relations but requires "one to obey the moral law for its own sake" (Luhmann, 1995: 236). Third, moral regulation of risks leads to "a rapid fixation of positions, to intolerance, and to conflict" (Luhmann, 1987: 92), since once engaged in moral discourse, one cannot but identify oneself with the positive side and the other with the negative side. The majority of Japanese Korean artists tend to equate cultural differences with the distinction "good/bad" where Japanese society appears as "pathologically" evil and the Koreans community in Japan is seen as normal.

There is a strong parallelism between Japanese nationalism and Japanese Korean ethnicity. The morally constructed ethnic boundary of Japanese Koreans reflects morally constructed Japanese nationalism. In order to overcome discriminatory politics the Japanese Koreans constructed their ethnicity in the same way as the Japanese constructed their nationalism. This parallelism between Japanese nationalism and Japanese Korean ethnic identity emerged during the post World War II period, when Japanese society adopted the idea that Japan was a victim of war (Orr, 2001; Osawa, 1998). Japanese Koreans were excluded from this category of "victim" which led to their exclusion from legal, political and economic spheres. The structural principle of negative expectation towards others (self-victimization) at the basis of Japanese nationalism is adopted as an authentically Japanese Korean experience. In other words, Japanese nationalism and Japanese Korean ethnicity are similar in form but different in content. A major role in this process was played by social activists and by artists, when both groups tried to re-define and mobilize the Japanese Koreans on the basis of negative expectations (Park, 1989).

Japanese Korean ethnic culture functions as a deterrent from "pathological deviation" in Japanese society. Japanese Korean artists use the anticipation of possible future discrimination from Japanese society as justification of claims towards Japanese society in the present. The similarity between the moral construction of Japanese national identity and of the ethnic identity of Japanese Koreans makes it one of the most legitimate forms of communication of cultural differences in Japan. Ethnic art shows this anticipatory aggression in a very extreme form. For example, Miri Yu simply mortifies Japanese males in her stories as a precaution for probable harassment in the future (Yu, 2004).

The Japanese Korean theater troupe "Tal-orum" 19 is another example of moral representation of ethnic culture in its extreme forms. This is an all-female theatrical group that consists of five members, four of which are third-generation Japanese Koreans and one is Japanese. They offer bilingual theater, with plays both in Japanese and in Korean. The mission of this group is to remind young Japanese and Japanese Koreans that the tragic history of Korean residents in Japan is an inseparable part of both Japanese and Japanese Korean culture. The audience is not limited to particular social or age groups, since the plays are aimed to a wide public interested in Japanese Korean and ethnic minority issues in Japan. Their performances are representation of cultural differences in terms of norms violations, or pathologies. This paper analyzes the way Japanese Korean ethnic identity is communicated in their performances by focusing on four major plays: "The Wind of 4.24" (Shigatsu Nijyu-yon no kaze); "Dawn of the Lonely Island" (Koto no reimei); "Line" (Rain); and "Osaka Loop Line" (Osaka kanjo-sen).

The characters of each play are divided according to two basic functions: one group plays the victims and another group plays the harassers. This strict division of characters is done with the purpose of avoiding the risk of misinterpreting who is good and who is bad, and who should be the "natural" object of the audience compassion. One group of performers anticipates harassment by transmitting this anticipation to the audience and another realizes this anticipation in practice. Representation of unbalanced relations takes very extreme and provocative forms in their performances. For example, policemen or military men capture women and symbolically rape them in "Line", or murder children in "Dawn of the Lonely Island".

Plays usually consist of three parts, where each part represents various reactions to harassment. Plays always begin with a scene of happiness that is interrupted by outsiders and that eventually mobilizes Japanese Koreans for resistance against discrimination. This structure puts harassment at the center of every performance and tries to convince the audience that it is also a central element of Japanese Korean culture. Introductory scenes that show the daily life of the Japanese Koreans emphasize the absence of discrimination and of any conflict within the Japanese Korean community. Scenes of harassments draw a boundary between the Japanese Koreans as victims and the Japanese as harassers. Besides, the distinction between victim and harasser provoke the audience to be compassionate towards the Japanese Koreans and to feel disdain towards Japanese society.

For example, in "Wind of 4.24" the play begins by showing an idealistic picture of a Korean female community who have a little party and are happy with their few possessions. In the beginning of "Osaka Loop Line" a Japanese Korean school girl goes to school and meets some Korean female tourists with whom she makes friends. And in "Line" a group of young females are preparing for a tourist trip to Korea, anticipating a good time.

The second stage introduces a harasser. The harasser draws a distinction between Koreans and Japanese in terms of "good" and "bad". Using physical violence the harasser creates unbalanced relations, with one side having full power over the destiny of the other. At this stage, the Japanese Koreans suffer discrimination and are powerless against the harasser, represented by repressive mechanisms such as the police or the military. Violence against the powerless seems only justified by the harasser's whims. This distinction prevents the audience from misinterpreting who is who and helps to bring them on the side of the "good people". For example, in "Wind of 4.25" or "Line" Japanese policemen and South Korean and North Korean military men play this function. Moral construction of ethnic boundaries narrows the possibilities of ethnic solidarity.

In the third stage there is a switching of roles in the unbalanced relations. The harassment shown in the previous stage becomes legitimization for collective or individual resistance. Collectively binding decisions and actions are represented as legitimate reactions to social pathologies (norm violation). For example, at the end of "Line" North and South Korean soldiers establish unequal relations with a group of Japanese Korean female tourists who fall under the total control of the armed males. In "Wind of 4.24", instead, the harassment finally provokes the collective mobilization of the Japanese Koreans who rise to protect their ethnic schools.

Gender strengthens the impression of difference between harasser and victim. Similar to ethnic and national identities, gender roles in modern Japanese society are also constructed in anticipation of possible harassment. The use of negative expectations in social identity construction and emancipation proved to be successful in the post-war period for the Japanese Koreans and today sexual minorities and women use the same model. Tal-orum equates the difference between women and men with the difference between victim and harasser. Men usually appear as real or potential harassers of women.

Gender differences are also based on negative expectations. In Tal-orum plays Japanese Korean males never play the role of harasser. The behavior of these men is constrained by socially approved moral norms. In other words, the moral construction of identity for Japanese Korean males prevents them from uncontrolled expressions of desire to harass women. This image of men is also used, for example, in Yu's writings, where men are reduced to a state in which they cannot harass women: as dead men or as an infant under mother’s control.

Children play two mutually exclusive roles of deviation and conformity. In some plays they are passive victims of adult violence and function as proof of external pathologies. On the other hand, when they act as pupils in school they show morally upright behavior, as when they are under the control of women. Similar to women, children personify absolute weakness and incapability to resist adult desire to harass them. For example, in "Wind of 4.24" we hear either the peaceful singing of children in the Korean language or children’s crying in the background. In "Dawn of the Lonely Island" after a demonstration the audience hears gunfire and then a woman crying that her baby has been shot.

Unbalanced relations between culturally different groups displace the risk of discrimination. The stage props of some plays deliberately represent Japanese Koreans as speechless human flesh. This is the way Tal-orum members try to depict the unbalanced relations between the Japanese Koreans and the Japanese. Depersonalized humans on the stage refer to the lack of subjectivity of people who cannot resist violence by themselves and need help from the outside, represented by the audience. In "Wind of 4.24" stage props depict people as misshapen black silhouettes of human bodies blowing in the wind, and in "Dawn of the Lonely Island" a massacre of Japanese Koreans is represented by lighting the stage in red and black.

The same function is played by physical contact with the audience during the plays. In the first part of a play actors invite people from the audience, mostly men, to join their party on the stage. The invitation of male members of the audience is important to symbolically establish physical contact with the Japanese Korean female body. This physical contact is basically represented as an exchange of enjoyment. Women actors are ready to take risks concerning such enjoyment because they decide when, where, and how to begin contact with men and reduce them to mere speechless objects of female fantasies. But when it comes to harassment, women represent themselves as powerless objects of male violent fantasies and all risks of obtaining social respect are transferred either to a defender or to a harasser.

Discussion and conclusion

There are two basic problems that may emerge in the moral regulation of ethnic discrimination risks. The first one is the weakening of ethnic solidarity when collectively bound decisions and actions within the Japanese Korean community become harder to maintain during long periods of time. The conflicted nature of the morally constructed ethnic identity of the Japanese Koreans increases social sensitivity to norm violation. "It all presupposes a weakened, temporary, but sensitive capacity for binding among individuals” (Luhmann, 1995: 238). That is why ethnic solidarity is possible as a reaction to norm violation only for short periods of time, for example during an artistic performance, conference, or protest demonstration.

Secondly, collective actions organized on the basis of moral claims have their own risks. Especially in art and protest movements one can see the constant mutual accusation of harassment between Japanese and Japanese Koreans. As Niklas Luhmann pointed out: "one man’s risk is another man’s danger" (Luhmann, 1993: 109), which means that there is always a risk that moral construction of ethnic boundaries can provoke disagreement with someone else in Japan. In their moral representation of cultural difference, the Japanese Koreans cannot control perception but only hope that their claims will be accepted because "when the moral directive instructs one to distinguish between the good and the bad, one cannot at the same time use one side of the distinction as identical to the distinction itself" (Laermans & Verschraegen, 1998: 131). In the case of protest movements and art we see this rule at work. For example, Japanese Korean demands for compensations on the basis of moral accusation of harassment have historically provoked counter-protest movements (Sakurai, 2004; Yamano, 2005) and anti- Japanese Korean publications.20

When applied to ethnic identity construction and representation, the art of risk ends up expressing the risk of art.


1. Lenin wanted to find common ground for national self-determination and proletarian solidarity against capitalism. Pure nationalism or internationalism could not provide this solidarity because support of nationalism by workers breaks international proletarian solidarity; on the other hand, denial of national self-determination means domination of one nation over another.

2. The example of Surkov, who unsuccessfully tried to combine the career of politician and writer proves this point. His story “Okolonulya” (Near-Zero), published under the pseudonym of Natan Dubocky, was a complete failure in spite of all the political resources he used to promote his work. This shows that political power and literature are not compatible in Russia because they oppose each other. One imposes ready-made decisions on society and the other resists them by profanation or by imagining another more "just" society based on distrust of power.

3. The famous phrase said by Katherine The Great, that Radishev was more dangerous than Pugachev (who led a great Cossak Revolution as Pugachev’s Rebellion during her reign, 1773-1774) marks the beginning of the politicization of literature in Russia.

4. This idea belongs to the founder of Russian "cosmism", Nikolay Fedorov and his theory of "mankind’s common ground" as a model of social evolution. See, Fedorov N.F. (1997).

5. It is interesting that the description of his theory is placed right after Anatoly Kim's entry in the Encyclopedia of Russian Koreans (Choi, 2003).

6. See reports about Korean collective farms in Koreyzi v. SSSR: Materiali Sovetskoy Pechati (Koreans in the USSR), 1918-1937, published by Soviet Press, 2004, pp. 262-267.

7. For example, the "Russian Korean Festival" in Ussuriysk-city (Primorsky region) was decorated with big posters of Russian president D. Medvedev.

8. See, for example, a Russian Korean local newspaper in Ussuriysk-city (Primirsky region), which often uses as its main themes family values, the work ethic, and similar uplifting topics.

9. The expression often used by political authorities in Russia shows attempts to de-politicize terrorism and to represent it as a criminal offense. See for example, Criminal Code of Russia, article 205; Federal Law, article 3, 06.03.2006 No. 35-F3.

10. Recent attempts to apply economic regulation of risk by Russian political leaders in order to de-politicize conflict proved unsuccessful. For example, the appointment of Alexander Khloponin as a representative of the Kremlin in the North Caucasian Federal District only made the situation worse, and terrorism spread all the way to Moscow, as the Metro Bombings on March 29th 2010 clearly demonstrated.

11. Niklas Luhmann, "Risk in economic systems" (1993), p. 172.

12. See also, Niklas Luhmann's Love as Passion (1998)

13. Korean American artists play a similar role to that of Renaissance artists who in their works imagined a world order based on human physiology.

14. This model had already been offered by Adam Smith, who wrote his major work on morality in 1759 (Theory of Moral Sentiments) and on economics in 1776 (Wealth of Nations), published as separate books.

15. This reference to "nature" as an argument against social restraints of a "natural" demand to enjoy is not limited to ethnic or racial minorities. For example, white male stand-up comedian Bill Hicks basically tells the same thing: "Why is marijuana against the law? It grows naturally upon our planet. Doesn't the idea of making nature against the law seem to you a bit ... unnatural?"

16. See for example Sidney W. Mintz (1986) Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, which describes the important role of sugar in European culture.

17. See also Track 18, "I can’t cum when you me" in "Notorious C.H.O, 2002" (Full length release, Nettwerk America).

18. Criticism of the "model minority model" as a tool to discipline and control minorities shows how the logic of economic regulation of risk encourages individuals to perceive cultural and racial differences in terms of power relations. See, for example, Gooding-Williams, Robert (1993), Reading Rodney King/Reading Urban Uprising, p. 203; Lee, Stacey J. (2009), Unraveling the "Model Minority" Stereotype: Listening to Asian American Youth; and Saito, Natsu Taylor (1997), Model Minority, Yellow Peril: Functions of Foreignness in the Construction of Asian American Legal Identity.

19. See the official home page:

20. See, for example, the home page of the right-wing radical movement "Zainichi tokken wo yurusenai shimin no kai" (Citizens’ Group against Special Rights for Zainichi) and his leader Sakurai Makoto who "specializes" mostly in anti Japanese Korean activities


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