This study examines the relationship between the formation of modern nationalism and the implantation of Western culture and arts including Western theatre in Korea. During the early part of the
modernization of Korea called Kaehwagi, Western culture and arts were associated with modern nationalism,
and implanting Western theatre to Korea was demanded for social enlightenment. Such unique discourses
about Western culture and arts suggest that the identity of Western culture and arts was an instrument
for the grand scheme of modernization of Korea.
The period from the mid-Nineteenth century to the year of 1910 in which Korea was annexed to
imperialist Japan is called Kaehwagi. During this period, in order to overcome the threats of imperialism,
the Koreans discarded the traditional Sinocentric world-view and formed modern nationalism adopting Social
Darwinism that argued the principle of “struggle for survival” in biology could be applied to human
society as well. In order to secure the nation in the international “struggle for survival” through
modernization, the Korean intellectuals broke with their own tradition based on Confucianism and decided
to import new Western traditions calling them “civilization.”
Theatre also was considered as an element of Western civilization to be imported for modernization. As
theatre was considered to be effective for enlightenment, the necessity of importing theatre was emphasized
by the intellectuals during the period of the Patriotic Enlightenment Movement starting after the
Protectorate Treaty of 1905. While the Patriotic Enlightenment Movement concentrated the nation's efforts
on raising nationalism and enlightening people, the social demand for Western theatre finally gave birth to
Yi In-jik’s W?ngak-sa that attempted to practice Western style of theatre for the first time in Korea.
It was Kaehwagi that Koreans formed their general and basic attitude toward Western arts and culture
including theatre. Western culture and arts were considered as part of true civilization and instruments to
save the nation in the Darwinian interantional society, and such view toward arts and culture still remains
among Koreans today.