Yung-Hee Kim


University of Hawaii at Manoa

Public Authentication of Woman’s Voice: Sinyŏja (New Women), the First Feminist Journal in Colonial Korea

This paper seeks to appraise the impact and significance of Sinyŏja (New Women; 1920), the first feminist journal published in Korea, in the development of discourse on the “Woman Question” in colonial Korea. Managed by women—with the pioneering feminist writer Kim Wŏn-ju (1896-1972) as its editor and centrifugal force—the journal provided a public platform exclusively for Korean women, from which they publicized their feminist ideas, criticism, and visions. The journal’s major goals included: women’s awakening, empowerment, and self-realization through education; stimulation of women’s historical consciousness as socio-political beings; reforms of oppressive Confucian patriarchal family and marriage institutions; and, ultimately, reconstruction of Korean society based on reason, freedom, and gender equity. These thematic leitmotifs were passionately reiterated in the journal’s editorials, essays, poetry, short stories, reports, interviews, and even drawings. Simultaneously, Sinyŏja boasted of its international feminist linkages. It consciously adopted the agendas of the Seitō (Bluestockings) feminist movement of 1910s Japan, spearheaded by Hiratsuka Raichō (1886-1971), which was in turn engendered by European/Western feminisms propagated by the writings of Swedish women’s-rights advocate Ellen Karolina Key (1849-1926) and Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” and others. Although short-lived, a victim of Japanese censorship, Sinyŏja set the prototypical themes, format, structure, and perspectives of the discussion on Korean women that continued to rage among Korean intellectuals from the early 1920s to the late 1930s. In the end, Sinyŏja contributed to authenticating modern Korean women’s competence in mass media engagement as well as legitimizing their aspirations for socio-cultural intervention and subversion, which has been rarely duplicated ever since.