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Leprosy and Citizenship in Korea under American Occupation (1945~1948)

  • The Review of Korean History
  • 2010, (100), pp.253-283
  • Publisher : The Historical Society Of Korea
  • Research Area : Humanities > History

Jane S. H. Kim 1

1UCLA

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This article examines the leprosy control carried out in Korea during the American Occupation. Following the end of Japanese colonization, the American Occupation was a critical period of decolonization and post – colonial nation – building for South Korea and yet, this period remains understudied in diverse areas of subjects. In the studies of public health and sanitation, the above statement remains true as there has yet been significant literature that explored the public health and sanitation works carried out by the American Occupation Government. Leprosy, in particular, was one such public health project that the American Occupation paid particular attention. As disease that possessed politically symbolic values, ‘controlling’ leprosy was means for the Occupation Government to showcase the successful decolonization and establishment of modern nation – state in Korea. The argument of this paper is that self – government (chach’ihoe /chach’ije) carried out at the Sorok Leprosarium during the American Occupation served as symbol of ‘democracy’ underway in the newly liberated South Korea. Through ‘democratizing’ leprosy, the incoming Occupation government sought to epitomize the transplantion of American democracy onto a nation that had previously only known colonialism. However, as this article shows, this ‘self–government’ that the American Occupation lauded as an example of democracy and arrival of modern nationhood was neither ‘new’ nor ‘decolonizational’ in its practices. Through writings on American leprosy control in the Philippines, this essay will demonstrate that ‘self – government’ and ‘democracy’ have been one of the hallmark features of Culion Leprosarium, the world’s largest leprosarium built by the American colonial government in the Philippines in 1906. By replicating these American ‘colonial’ practices in the Philippines onto Sorok and by implication, the newly liberated South Korea, this essay concludes with questions on what decolonization and citizenship meant when the Korean leper body came to possess the symbolic values of democracy and modern nationhood.

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