Organized Panel Session
This paper explores the reinvention of orphans by Kim Ch’unsam, a historical figure known as the “Beggar King”, in South Korea from the 1950s to 1990s. Orphans and beggars in Korea have been considered human excess and outcasts from Korean society. Orphaned and vagrant children have typically been represented with both sympathy as victims and antipathy as potential criminals. Kim’s story confirms mainstream representations of orphans and vagrants by emphasizing their criminal potentiality, whilst simultaneously contesting and subverting these representations by ascribing them agency. In this sense, Kim’s story disputes the stereotypes of orphans and beggars, namely that they are both pitiable waifs and criminals.
Thus, this paper repositions orphans as both subjects and agents of the state-building process during the post-liberation era, arguing that Kim Ch’unsam represents a rehabilitated self-made man with agency. While the state has generally regarded orphans as passive subjects, either as objects for its paternalistic protection or for its reformist discipline, Kim’s story is a testimony to the active agency of orphans, whether presented as a clone of an American charity, a political hoodlum, a replica of a tyrannical reformist president, or a beggar king.