Cover of Figuring Korean Futures by Dafna Zur
Figuring Korean Futures
Children’s Literature in Modern Korea
Dafna Zur

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October 2017
304 pages.
$65.00

Cloth ISBN: 9781503601680

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This book is the story of the emergence and development of writing for children in modern Korea. Starting in the 1920s, a narrator-adult voice began to speak directly to a child-reader. This child audience was perceived as unique because of a new concept: the child-heart, the perception that the child's body and mind were transparent and knowable, and that they rested on the threshold of culture. This privileged location enabled writers and illustrators, educators and psychologists, intellectual elite and laypersons to envision the child as a powerful antidote to the present and as an uplifting metaphor of colonial Korea's future.

Reading children's periodicals against the political, educational, and psychological discourses of their time, Dafna Zur argues that the figure of the child was particularly favorable to the project of modernity and nation-building, as well as to the colonial and postcolonial projects of socialization and nationalization. She demonstrates the ways in which Korean children's literature builds on a trajectory that begins with the child as an organic part of nature, and ends, in the post-colonial era, with the child as the primary agent of control of nature. Figuring Korean Futures reveals the complex ways in which the figure of the child became a driving force of nostalgia that stood in for future aspirations for the individual, family, class, and nation.

About the author

Dafna Zur is Assistant Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Stanford University.

"Figuring Korean Futures is a remarkable achievement, a rigorous study based on extensive archival research of the virtual explosion of children's literature in early twentieth-century Korea and its investment in the nation's future. The book gives welcome new insights into colonial modernity and astutely illuminates some of the most fundamental concerns of the colonial period."

—Karen Thornber, Harvard University

"Dafna Zur's superb study of the rise of Korean children's literature from 1908 to 1950 is based on remarkably thorough research and critical analysis. It is the first profound history of Korea's children's literature in English and covers all the political and social complexities involving the nation's aspirations, the modern focus on the child as a symbol of hope, and the transformative power of imagination."

—Jack Zipes, University of Minnesota

"Figuring Korean Futures offers a powerful and important history of children's literature in Korea from the early 1900s through the late 1940s. Drawing on a wealth of textual and visual sources, Dafna Zur's groundbreaking book demonstrates the ways in which the notions of the child and a literature for children stand at the center of Korean articulations of the modern itself."

—Theodore Hughes, Columbia University