ELIMINATING TOXIC CITIZENRY: TRANSNATIONAL ADOPTION FROM SOUTH KOREA

Description

This photo collection examines how transnational adoption has been used in three major time periods in South Korea: first, during the rebuilding period after the Korean War through to get rid of the problem of mixed-race children born to Korean women and fathered by UN soldiers; second, to remove the social welfare burden of children born into poverty during the economic development frenz of the 1960s and 1970s; and finally, from the 1980s and still today, to eliminate the problem of unwed mothers in order to protect the hegemonic two-parent heterosexual family form in contemporary South Korean society. Thus, my three images will attempt to visually capture the ways that transnational adoption was used in each phase as a tool to remove children who were seen as “social toxins” who threatened a biopolitical nation-making agenda by the South Korean government.

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Found Image: Removing 'Ostricized' Korea Brown Babies 1953-1960s

Substantive Caption: The image is a US State Department advertisement that was printed in Jet Magazine, a magazine with a predominantly African-American readership, on March 24, 1955. The advertisement titled, “State Department seeks to help ‘ostracized’ Korea brown babies,” describes the racial discrimation that mixed-race children (whose fathers were American GI soldiers in South Korea) face in South Korean orphanages. According to the ad, mixed-race children were at risk of starvation since, according to the ad, Korean caretakers prefer to feed non-mixed Korean children first. The ad attempts to recruit African-American families to adopt these children, promising government support to adoptive families.

Design Statement: I am interested in understanding the use of adoption by the South Korean state to control "toxic citizenry," or those members of the nation that threaten the state's biopolitical agenda in nation-building projects. After the Korean War, both the South Korean government and the U.S. government, under the banner of "benevolence," sought to remove mixed-race children, sure that they would face racial discrimination in a "racially homogeneous" society such as South Korea. Of course, the adoption of mixed-race South Korean babies to the United States failed to recognize the racism that they would later experience in the US, as well as provided a blueprint for a relationship between a feminized South Korea and paternalistic United States (McKee). It also set a precedent for the South Korean state to eliminate social issues such as racial discrimination through attempts to remove racial difference, rather than through attempts to expand notions of Koreanness. This pattern would later be repeated through the removal of children from poor families and children from single parent households. 

Jet Magazine. March 24, 1955. Found online. https://dreamwaterchildren.net/2017/07/17/maintaining-exporting-protecti...

Found Image: Removing 'obstacles' to economic development 1960s-1970s

Substantive Caption: Although dominant adoption rhetoric has often framed the practice of adoption as charitable, I am interested in examining the way that international adoption operates within the global flow of capital. In the case of this graph, it is clear to see that international adoption brought in much needed foreign capital at a time when the country was undergoing rapid economic development. Not only did international adoption become a profitable industry within the country, it also spared the South Korean government from needing to create a social welfare structure to support vulnerable children and families. In other words, the “siphoning overseas of ‘surplus’ and ‘unwanted’ children allowed South Korea to direct most of its resources to national security and economic development” (Oh 2015, 195). To date, the South Korean government continues to have one of the lowest levels of social welfare spending of any OECD country. 

Design Statement: Although dominant adoption rhetoric has often framed the practice of adoption as charitable, I am interested in examining the way that international adoption operates within the global flow of capital. In the case of this graph, it is clear to see that international adoption brought in much needed foreign capital at a time when the country was undergoing rapid economic development. Not only did international adoption become a profitable industry within the country, it also spared the South Korean government from needing to create a social welfare structure to support vulnerable children and families. In other words, the “siphoning overseas of ‘surplus’ and ‘unwanted’ children allowed South Korea to direct most of its resources to national security and economic development” (Oh 2015, 195). To date, the South Korean government continues to have one of the lowest levels of social welfare spending of any OECD country. 


Source: Oh, Arissa H. 2015. To Save the Children of Korea: The Cold War Origins of International Adoption. Stanford University Press.

Created image: Removing 'illegitimate' children 1980s-present

Substantive Caption: I created this image using an archive photo from Yonhap News and a personal photo. The photo on the left is of the "Babybox" located in Seoul. The "Babybox" photo shows the following text (in Korean) displayed on a window above which says, "For children with disabilities or of unwed mothers that there is no way you can raise. Instead of abandoning your baby, grab the handle below and place them here." Below the window and above the handle, the text from Psalms 27:10 can be seen, "For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in." Below the image of a rainbow and a baby and a box, "Jesus loves you" is written (in English). 

The photo on the right is of two banners hanging on the outside of the offices of Social Welfare Society (SWS) adoption agency located in Seoul. The banner on the left says, "We will listen to each word from an unwed mother" with an image below of a woman holding an infant and smiling down at it. The photo is reminiscent of a mother-baby post-childbirth photo. The second banner says, "Adoption is the most special happiness in the world" with an image above of a woman holding a baby and smiling. 

Design Statement: 

Finally, I am interested in examining the ways that adoption has been used to reinforce the hegemonic heterosexual two-parent family structure in South Korea. Since the 1980s and still today, upwards of eighty percent of all of the children sent for adoption in the 1980s were the children of unwed mothers. This percentage increased in the 1990s, so that today the children of unwed mothers constitute over ninety percent of adopted Korean children. The most recent statistics show that in 2012, ninety-two percent of the children sent for overseas adoption were the children of unwed mothers (Ministry “2012 Statistical”). This is unsurprising given the fact that, typically, when women become pregnant outside of marriage in Korea and choose to give birth, families heavily pressure the mothers to give the child up for adoption. In other words, although adoption is often seen as a symbol of multiculturalism and non-traditional, pluralistic family structures in the West, it has paradoxically stifled the acceptance of diverse family formations in South Korea, particularly single mother-headed families. 

Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare. “1958–2008 Statistical Report on Unwed Mothers and
Adoption.” http://stat.mw.go.kr/, 2010. Accessed 12 May 2017.
———. “2012 Statistical Report on Domestic and International Adoption.” Ministry of
Health and Welfare. http://www.mohw.go.kr/react/index.jsp/, 2012. Accessed 12
May 2017.

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Created date

November 24, 2018