Sean Song Yeol Han

Assistant Professor, The University of Alabama
Faculty Adviser: Benjamin Elman

Bond Beyond Nation: Sinographic Network and Korean Nationhood, 1860–1932


This study consists of the cultural and intellectual interactions between literary elites in China and Korea that took place from the late nineteenth century to 1945. Although most of the relevant historiography of modern Korea emphasizes the influence of Japanese colonial rule (1910–1945) on Korea’s modern historical path, I examine the ways that the post-nineteenth-century cultural and intellectual interactions between the literary elites in China and Korea contributed to the rise of modern Korea. In particular, I focus on Korean literary elites in China—envoys, educators, and exiles—to account for the ways that their engagement with Chinese officials and intellectuals stimulated the swift metamorphosis of Korea that began in the 1860s and continued until the end of Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945). The first two chapters of the dissertation investigate early Sino-Korean relations before the arrival of Western influences, examining these relations through exchange envoys and the modern print culture in Shanghai, which strongly influenced Korea in the late nineteenth century. These chapters comprise the first part of the dissertation that focuses on Korea’s encounter with the modern world through China. I show how the perceptions of Korean intellectuals in China contributed directly to the change in Korea’s attitude toward the West, and indeed the world, pushing perspectives far beyond the traditional tributary system toward embracing a broader intellectual curiosity and pursuit. Following this, the next two chapters explore the interactions between Chinese and Korean intellectuals in Shanghai during the Japanese colonial period. Each chapter focuses on influential Korean nationalist thinkers and their activities to legitimize Korea’s anticolonial struggle through a Sino-Korean nationalist dialogue and the political impact of Sino-Korean nationalism in East Asia in the twentieth century. Sino-Korean relations in the early twentieth century illustrate the essential transnational role of intellectual ideas relating to reform, national history, and nationalist thought in shaping cultures and countries. In the conclusion, I suggest how such a historical argument can support the construction of a regional history of East Asia as an approach for examining the political tension in East Asia that has been caused by historical disputes. This study of sinographic dialogues within the East Asia region contributes in developing a nuanced understanding of regional interaction and its dynamic in East Asia.