Council on East Asian Studies: “Vampires & Blood Whores: Media Voyeurism and Health Regulation in South Korea’s Black Markets for Blood”

Event time: 
Thursday, October 26, 2023 - 9:00am
Henry R. Luce Hall, Room 203 See map
34 Hillhouse Avenue
New Haven, CT 06520
Event description: 

The Council on East Asian Studies presents Professor Inga Kim Diederich - Assistant Professor of History, Colby College:

“Vampires & Blood Whores: Media Voyeurism and Health Regulation in South Korea’s Black Markets for Blood.”

This presentation examines the Cold War transformation of blood collection practices in South Korea to understand their operation at the intersection of local medical need, globalized scientific technologies, and postcolonial bio-governance. Today, voluntary blood donations account for almost all of South Korea’s medical blood reserve, but this donor culture is a relatively recent phenomenon. For decades after the Korean War, medical blood collection efforts struggled with widespread stigma against the purported dangers of donation and reservations about sharing such a personal substance with strangers. Blood collection programs consequently relied on market incentives (impoverished black-market sellers) and institutional coercion (soldiers and prisoners) to make up for the lack of public investment in the concept of a communal blood pool. For decades, voyeuristic press described an underworld of blood selling peopled by blood “whores,” “pimps,” “vampires,” and “ghosts” and punctuated by public health scandals. It was not until the AIDS crisis that a program of legislative reforms, R&D, and PR campaigns overturned a family-bound blood concept for a communal national blood ethos. This talk interrogates the political agents, scientific developments, and social negotiations that produced this coalescence of South Korean public health culture and national identity. In doing so, it integrates and expands upon scholarship in Korean Studies and STMS that have respectively illuminated the discursive colonial origins of modern Korean nationalism and the role of public health in nation-building. The story of South Korea’s shift from an underregulated black-market within a familial blood-paradigm to today’s state-regulated donor system and its national blood-culture reveals how the meanings and management of blood—as medical material, biocapital, and national resource—are subject to local contingency and global conditions.

Professor Inga Kim Diederich is a historian whose research focuses on the development of Korean ethnic nationalism and its medico-scientific dimensions. Working at the intersection of Asian Studies, Science Studies, and Ethnic Studies, she concentrates on how the symbol and substance of blood worked to congeal a new form of modern Korean identity across a divided peninsula and diverse diasporas. She has published, presented, and organized work that explores the connections between Korean nationalism and the biological sciences in the context of gender, race, and class formations in modern East Asia and the trans-Pacific sphere. She received her PhD from the University of California San Diego, an MA from Harvard University, and a BA from the University of Chicago. At Colby, Professor Diederich teaches courses in the Departments of History, East Asian Studies, Global Studies, and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies that survey East Asian history from antiquity through the present, explore the contours of Korean modernity, and consider how Asian bodies have been shaped by racialized, gendered, and classed discourses and practices.


Open to: 
General Public