2020: YUN Isang

The Asia-Pacific Journal | Japan Focus Volume 18 | Issue 19 | Number 3 | Article ID 5492 | Oct 01, 2020
Mit freundlicher Erlaubnis von Japan Focus

Yun Isang, Media, and the State:
Forgetting and Remembering a Dissident Composer in Cold-War South Korea

Hyun Kyong Hannah Chang

Yun Isang (1917-95) was one of Korea’s most prominent composers in the twentieth century. From 1957, the year he moved to West Germany, to his death in 1995, he had an internationally illustrious career, garnering critical acclaim in Europe, Japan, the United States, and North Korea. In South Korea, however, he became a controversial figure after he was embroiled in a national security scandal in 1967. As part of this incident, dubbed the East Berlin Affair at the time, Yun Isang was abducted in West Germany by the Korean Central Intelligence Agency and charged with espionage for North Korea. This experience of victimization, which also included torture, imprisonment, and an initial death sentence, turned him into a vocal critic of Park Chung Hee and an overseas unification activist in contact with North Korea. This article remembers the moral and political framings of Yun Isang in South Korea against a recurring politics of forgetting that masks the magnitude of violence that was wielded in the name of national security. It traces coverage of Yun in several mainstream newspapers from the first mention of his name in 1952 to 1995. It argues that representations of Yun were mediated by a tension between national artistic progress and national security, one of the central tensions that defined South Korea’s Cold-War cultural politics.

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