Chizuko T. Allen


University of Hawaii at Manoa

Ch'oe Nam-sŏn's Modernity: Writings and Publication Projects up to 1919

Ch'oe Nam-sŏn (1890–1957), a leading intellectual of Korea in the first half of the twentieth century, was known for a wide range of activities, including publishing magazines and newspapers, pioneering new-style poetry and prose, drafting the declaration of independence for the March First Independence Movement of 1919, and writing prolifically on early Korean history and Tan'gun. This paper focuses on the revolutionary characteristics of his magazines and writings in the first two decades of the twentieth century, when Korea's sovereignty was threatened and then taken away by the Japanese. He launched his magazines as effective tools to reach out to those who were hungry for new knowledge of the world at this tumultuous time of modern Korea. Breaking away from the age-old Confucian tradition of upholding elders, he addressed the youth as his primary readers and inspired them with patriotic zeal. As a young man himself, Ch'oe emphatically wrote on the power of the youth in transforming the Korean society and their need to gain a new understanding of the world around them. Rather than portraying the world as an assailant to Korea, he called attention to the inseparable relationships between Korea and the world both in the past and in the present. His universalistic views were enhanced by his acceptance of anthropological studies and theories developing in the West in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Although his view of his country as an integral part of the world proved to be ahead of his time and unfeasible in Korea under Japanese colonial rule, his placing the youth in the limelight paved the way for Korea's youth movement in the 1920s.