The case of Choe Seung-hui ( 崔承喜; 1911 – 69?), a prominent Korean dancer also known by the Japanese pronunciation of her name, Sai Shoki, illuminates an ironic dimension of cultural relations between Korea and Japan within the sphere of the Japanese Empire. Choe choreographed and presented creative works as a colonial female dancer in widespread performances […] What distinguishes Choe from other entertainers is that she was the first colonial female dancer ever to perform overseas. Obviously Japan did not allow any entertainment group to present the explicit political theme of resistance to Japan’s colonial rule. Promotions of Choe’s bodily movements on stage enacted “the Orient” itself. Choe’s dance performance was based on seemingly apolitical thematic features of Asian culturalism such as a colonial tradition, folkish humor, and myth. Japan dramatized the colonial and Orientalist fantasies of Pan-Asianism by staging a flexible female body.
The physical enactment of “the Orient” generated its multiple and discontinuous identities for the performing subject in different spaces according to what the intended audience wanted Choe to be. Tracking the changes in Choe’s career chronologically and observing national tensions that she navigated help us comprehend the ironic contradictions of the Japanese colonial empire. […] Although Korea had seen the beginning of industrialization and modernization after the 1920s, its image from the past persisted, as in how Chosen appeared in Choe’s posters. In this process Korea was exoticized, Orientalized, and gendered.
Choe’s life dramatically portrays a personal experience during the colonial era. It suggests that cultural performance should be understood as one aspect of sociopolitical activities. The intensive activities of theater helped disseminate Japan’s imperialist ethos in the guise of entertainment. Deployed as a useful vehicle for enacting political ideas both at home and abroad, colonial theater reinforced the machinery of cultural hegemony, noncoercive social control, and the underlying politics of culture.
The study of Choe’s U.S. recitals underlines how integral Japanese imperialism was in the context of the colonial culture and demonstrates the influence of colonial culture on the construction of one of the most popular cultural trends of wartime Japan. Choe was a useful figure, presenting herself in contrasting ways to people in different regions: in Korea, generally as a figure of national pride; in Japan, as a representative cultural figure of the empire; in the United States, as an “exotic” symbol. Embracing all of these intercultural features, Choe appeared to represent the East and embody Pan-Asianism. The analysis of the cultural embodiment of a colonial woman contributes to rethinking the relationship between the penetrating ideologies of imperialism and nationalism through sociocultural activities at the international level.
Park, Sang Mi (2006). ”The Making of a Cultural Icon for the Japanese Empire: Choe Seung-hui’s U.S. Dance Tours and “New Asian Culture” in the 1930s and 1940s”. Duke University Press.
Also see her wiki page.