East Asia

, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 37–65 | Cite as

Politicising the Manhwa Representations of the Comfort Women: with an Emphasis on the Angoulême International Festival Controversy

  • JeongWon Bourdais ParkEmail author


This article discusses the nexus between comics, collective historical memory and politics in the context of the contemporary relationship between Japan and South Korea by examining the graphic manhwa narratives dealing with the memories of comfort women that were exhibited during the Angoulême Comics Festival in France in early 2014. With a theme of ‘memories of war and gendered violence’, commemorating the centennial of the outbreak of the First World War, the event that accommodated a special exhibition for Korean manhwa attracted controversy because of its political nature, drawing heavy media attention and sparking public debate and diplomatic quarrels. Adding academic depth to this cultural and diplomatic clash by linking the concepts of soft power foreign policy and cultural citizenship, this paper investigates what made the cultural event politically tainted and how the politicisation debate between the two countries escalated throughout the event. Existing studies on soft power foreign policy often leave the core contents of the ‘soft’ part unexplained. This article, in contrast, explores the current limits of accommodating cultural expressions of historical memories through an in-depth analysis of the exhibited artworks and the two countries’ nationalised soft power diplomacy. It argues that both governments’ direct and indirect intervention in the cultural realm nurtured irreconcilable cultural representations in this particular theme and genre of cultural representation under the current research.


Soft power diplomacy Politics of comics Comfort women Japan–Korea relations Cultural citizenship 



I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all of the anonymous reviewers who have provided thoughtful questions and tremendously insightful and constructive comments during the review process, contributing in improvement of the final version of this research.


This research was partially financed by the Hong Kong General Research Fund 2016/2017–2019, via Lingnan University Hong Kong, in support of the collective project ‘Entitled historical justice and reconciliation: dealing with Japan’s occupation in Korea.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of International Relations and Regional Studies; Executive Director, DPRK Strategic Research CentreKIMEP UniversityAlmatyRepublic of Kazakhstan

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