Reauthenticating Race: Na Sejin and the Recycling of Colonial Physical Anthropology in Postcolonial Korea Academic Article uri icon


  • What are the roles of colonial physical anthropology in postcolonial societies? Does it simply disappear from the public scene, losing its academic and political utility of providing seemingly scientific justification for colonial racism? Or does it have a renewed life, serving another master in the name of science? The analysis of the postcolonial intellectual trajectories of Na Sejin (also known as Ilchae and Nishiki Seishin), Korea's foremost anatomist and physical anthropologist, points to an unsavory continuity. Under the new political demands of the postcolonial nation-state, Na, who consciously or unconsciously collaborated with the colonial regime in justifying colonial racial essentialization, did not find it problematic to use body measurements collected and analyzed by his Japanese teachers and colleagues during the Colonial Period to identify the racial characteristics of Koreans. Rather, in postcolonial Korea, which reasserted ethnic uniformity as the constructive lynchpin of the post-Liberation nation-state, Na retooled his skills and reauthenticated the category of "race" to support a discourse of a homogeneous ethnic Korean society using measurable (and therefore seemingly irrefutable) scientific evidence. Recognizing this continuity of physical anthropology through the colonial and postcolonial periods is to discover the long-Term legacy of knowledge that originated from German physician-Anthropologists in Meiji Japan, a legacy that was mediated and relayed by Japanese progenies in Imperial Japan, and found its unexpected utility in postcolonial Korea.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Kim, H.

complete list of authors

  • Kim, Hoi-eun

publication date

  • January 1, 2016 11:11 AM