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Author: Hye-jung Park

Abstract

Most studies of U.S. cultural diplomacy focus on the ways that the United States has leveraged cultural events to achieve its own political ends. The present article takes a slightly different approach in its analysis of the 1954 Korean Children’s Choir (kcc) tour of the United States. Using copious documentary sources and interviews the author has conducted with former child choristers, it traces how Republic of Korea (rok) President Syngman Rhee used this high-profile cultural event to create a new opening to advance his goals in his complicated diplomatic relations with the United States. At the close of the Korean War, the rok was a war-ravaged nation with little power in dealing with its patron superpower. Deploying personal connections and propaganda skills that he had cultivated during decades of living in exile in the United States, Rhee orchestrated the kcc’s tour of the United States, and the visit helped Rhee gain new footing in negotiating the rok’s unequal partnership with the United States. This detailed socio-historical and musicological account shows how both President Rhee and the choristers were active and effective agents in striving to put the rok front and center in the imaginations of Americans and impress upon them its cultural gravitas and strategic importance.

In: Journal of American-East Asian Relations