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In Session: The Making of Public Memory in Contemporary South Korea: Narratives of Family and Politics
3: Memories of Political Gangster, Kim Tu-Han
Thursday, March 25, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Young Sun Park
Saint Mary's University of Minnesota, United States
This paper dives into the social and cultural memories of Kim Tu-han (1918-1972), arguably the most famous gangster in modern Korean history. A splendid Ch’ŏndojae, Buddhist memorial service, was conducted for Kim in 2002 even after three decades passed after his death, drawing public attention, due to the popularity of the TV series about Kim’s life in the same year. His legendary life has been reworked in multiple representations, including TV series, films, and novels. Kim also published his own biography, consolidating the glorious stories as a chivalrous fighter. This popularity has been intertwined with the narrative of Kim’s family history as patriots. Based on his fame and reputation as a righteous fist and as a son of anti-Japanese guerilla leader, Kim even became a congressman and served the term twice. His daughter also became a politician based on Kim’s legend, serving the congress twice as well. The paper argues that their family narrative that they have resisted Japanese colonialism provided legitimacy to their political activities. It also shows that anti-communist nationalism was another cause for which their family claimed to have served. The catered discourse around Kim’s life and family appropriates romanticized anti-Japanese nationalism, anti-communist patriotism, suffering from political corruption, and chivalry. Regardless of its historical accuracy, the cultural production reproduces and reinforces the nostalgia of romanticized gangsters in South Korea.