Escaping to North Korea – with Markus Bell

Why did tens of thousands of people recently migrate from Japan to North Korea? What was life like for these people in North Korea? and why are an increasing number returning to Japan? Opening with the case of one family’s heart-breaking decision to send their only daughter to North Korea, this talk illustrates the relationship between memory, emotions, ideology, and the shaping of post-colonial identities in contemporary Northeast Asia.

In this talk I draw on declassified documents and interviews with Koreans and Japanese who migrated to North Korea to argue that returnees’ intimate memories of migration to North Korea contradict and consequently create friction with the Japanese state’s memories of the period. Returnees from North Korea recall how anti-minority discrimination and the grinding poverty of life in post war Japan acted as push factors that forced them to self deport. In contrast, the Japanese state recalls its involvement in the migration movement to North Korea as a humanitarian project to repatriate displaced people to their homeland. I show how returnees from North Korea are specters from Japan’s past, embodying alternative histories that challenge modern Japan as a state that has yet to adequately address its colonial past.

Dr. Markus Bell is a social anthropologist in the School of East Asian Studies, University of Sheffield. His current research uses ethnographic methods to examine contemporary out-migration from North Korea. Markus is currently working on a book manuscript based on his research in Korea and Japan titled, ‘Patriotic Revolutionaries and Imperial Sympathisers: Memory, Identity and Migration to North Korea’.

Date: Monday 19 February 2018, 6:45pm
Venue: The Swedenborg Society, 20-21 Bloomsbury Way (Hall entrance on Barter St), London WC1A 2TH

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