Thesis ID: CBB132540302

Blood of the Nation: Medical Eugenics, Bio-Nationalism, and Identity Formation in Cold War South Korea (2021)


In the decades after the 1948 founding of the Republic of Korea, blood emerged as a powerful coherent for South Korean identity, working across law and science, race and economics, war and peace to produce a biological definition and political concept of Koreanness—in short, a bionational South Korean identity. Despite the centrality of blood to modern Korean identity, the historical processes by which Cold War geopolitics, (post)colonial racisms, and socio-scientific serology were collapsed into the powerful collective symbol of a singular ethno-national blood remain under-examined. Korean Studies scholars have noted the persistence of a blood-based discourse of Korean identity, but there has been little investigation into the impact of this pure-blood paradigm on the regulation of Korean bodies. By contrast, “Blood of the Nation” explicitly links symbolic blood discourses to material blood regulations, tracing the development of blood management in Cold War South Korea to illuminate the convergence of local medical need, global scientific exchange, and postcolonial biogovernance in the construction of national identity. Beginning with the introduction of transfusion technologies during the Korean War, South Korean scientists appropriated hematological advances to re-instate colonial-era eugenics policies and define Koreanness in biomedical terms. The Cold War concept of Korean blood that emerged was consequently defined in hierarchical and exclusionary raced, gendered, and classed terms of relative purity based on postcolonial anxieties, military imperatives, and developmental aims. This study tracks the biomedicalization of Korean blood from the Korean War through the authoritarian Yusin system (1950-80), concentrating on the convergence of medico-scientific and state interests in establishing so-called “blood independence” and safe-guarding this national resource from contamination or dilution. Based on diverse archives, it argues that blood functioned as a crucial bridge for reconfiguring the Korean nation from a community imagined through anticolonial cultural symbolism to a bionational body defined through the biological sciences. This historical interrogation of blood-based bionationalism in Cold War South Korea intervenes in Korean Studies scholarship on the discursive colonial origins of modern Korean nationalism and contributes to broader discussions on the intersection of science, technology, and medicine in nation-building and the formation of national identity.

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Authors & Contributors
Hyun, Jaehwan
McLoughlin, Aoibheann
Edwards, Matthew L.
Erna Kurbegović
Jacqueline D. Antonovich
Roth, Cassia
History of Psychiatry
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Social Studies of Science
Science in Context
Medical History
Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
Athabasca University Press
Edizioni San Paolo
University of Minnesota Press
University of Chicago Press
Princeton University Press
Edizioni ETS
Medicine and politics
Medicine and society
Biology and ethics; bioethics
Medicine and race
Caroline, Nancy L
Safar, Peter
Samyŏl, Yi
Billroth, Theodor
Time Periods
20th century, late
20th century
21st century
20th century, early
19th century
South Korea
United States
Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania)

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