Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Atkins, E. Taylor

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of History


This dissertation examines the preservation and adaptation of Korean-ness through musical performances in the Korean peninsula and in Hawai‘i during the early twentieth century, when Korea was a Japanese colony. Hawai‘i deserves special attention because the first and largest Korean diasporic communities in America were established in Hawai‘i during this period. More importantly, cultural environments in early twentieth-century Hawai‘i and Korea were similar in that both featured diverse music cultures of different ethnic origins and new cultural infrastructures under the influence of imperialism. This study investigates the reactions of existing Korean performing arts to the influx of foreign culture affecting penninsular and immigrant Koreans.

This study argues that both peninsular and immigrant Koreans took advantage of curating Korean expressive culture – by adapting traditional music of different social and regional characteristics and incorporating elements of foreign culture at events where respective colonial authorities were directly and indirectly involved. Traditional performances in colonial Korea (peninsular Koreans) were mostly driven by commercial enterprises comprised of professional performers, whereas Korean Hawaiians (immigrant Koreans) presented traditional music and dance at multicultural events featuring diverse nonprofessional ethnic performance groups who shared music, dance, and folk cultures, thereby prompting a surge of cultural interaction. Despite such differences, both peninsular and immigrant Koreans showed adapted forms of Korean traditional performing arts to represent Korean-ness. In this sense, this dissertation traces the origins of kugak (國樂), literally meaning national music, representing Korean-ness and covering a wide range of performances from the early twentieth-century musical activities. Korean musical performances, irrespective of genres or adaptations, have played an important role in preserving Korean ethnic identity and showing their adaptability to new cultural environments beyond the Korean peninsula since the early twentieth century.

Previous studies have been limited in exploring a comprehensive explanation of new styles and practices of Korean traditional music and dance during the early twentieth century beyond the Korean peninsula. Studies of Korean immigrants in early twentieth-century Hawaiʻi have generally targeted political movements or the segregated ethnic communities within plantations due to policies that prevented unionization among plantation workers. Despite increasing cultural interactions in urban areas beginning in the 1920s, the discussion of cultural exchanges among immigrant communities has received limited attention. Most importantly, prior studies have not necessarily focused on identifying the salient features of the Korean immigrants’ cultural activities bearing a resemblance to those of peninsular Korean performing arts; using such previous research frameworks can hinder fully understanding the cross-national roles of Korean traditional performing arts in the context of colonial modernity. As such, this study expands previous perspectives by comparing musicking of colonial Koreans with that of Korean diasporic communities in Hawai‘i to facilitate a better understanding of Korean preservation and adaptation of traditional music culture.


246 pages




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