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"Let Us Boil Our Parents' Blood and Bones!"

Let Us Boil Our Parents' Blood and Bones!: Yi Kwangsu's Treatise on the Centrality of Children and the Emergence of Children's Literature in Twentieth Century Korea

Dafna Zur (Stanford University)

This paper examines the social and political conditions that opened the space for the emergence of children’s culture in Korea at the turn of the twentieth century. The men responsible for founding children’s magazine publication were inspired by their firsthand witness of a vibrant children’s culture in Japan at a point in time when the child had emerged at the center of social discourse in both in Japan and consequently in Korea. The evils that plagued Korea at the turn of the century—economic and social stagnation, the looming threat of colonialism following the defeat of China in the first Sino-Japanese war of 1894-5 and then of Russia in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5—created a sense of grave urgency that was projected onto the future generation. Besides being encouraged to turn their backs on the past—marked, for example, by Yi Kwangsu’s irreverent call to children to feast on their “parents’ blood and bones”—youth were also encouraged to master modern knowledge, to become familiar with the military and economic giants of the nineteenth century, and to embrace more generally the individualism coming out of the western movements of enlightenment. The written text in the magazine Sonyŏn is supported also by a diverse collection of illustrations and photographs, and these images enrich our reading by providing a “visual lexicon” of militarism and modernity.