What is "Nichi-Nichi"?

Multiculturalism with Trans-identity Discourse

林 大根(韓国外国語大学校大学院 グローバル文化コンテンツ学科長)


This article discusses multiculturalism and, from the individual's standpoint, argues that trans-identity discourse is a very useful framework for analysis. To do this, we set up some premises as following:

First, the concept of national culture causes many misunderstandings in cultural discourse. For convenience, we use certain nationalities as modifiers before the term culture, such as Korean culture, Japanese culture, and Chinese culture. But as we already know, the concept of nationality or nationalism was created after modern times, as Benedict Anderson described as “imagined communities”.(Benedict Anderson 1983). To concede, even though the concept of national culture is being circulated realistically by a number of factors (eg, legal and administrative control of modern nations), there is no fixed and intrinsic culture that is a complex of institutions, ideologies, customs and emotions.

Second, in this context, I would like to agree the figurative proposition “Culture is like water.”(文化若水).

Culture can flow and easily change because it has rheological properties(流變性);it forms continuous tributary and joint because it has sharing and combining properties(分合性); it changes shape depending on the container that holds it because it has the variability(可變性); it also changes its own color by other colors because it has easily dyeing properties(易染性). Therefore culture is liquid. The constructivist position, which thinks culture has the liquidity that can change easily anytime, anywhere, supports cultural pluralism. For example, today’s popular culture phenomenon called Hallyu is not only composed of cultural resources unique to Korea, but also various cultural postwar cultures such as China, the United States, Japan, and Hong Kong.

Third, therefore, in the term ‘multiculturalism’, the word ‘multi’ became a meaningless prefix. This is because culture can only exist in various ways. The term multiculturalism, therefore, paradoxically shows how closed and misunderstood the particular positions of culture have been, since this has led to the need to reemphasize the fundamental nature of culture. The term multiculturalism should be used only temporarily and instrumentally, and in itself cannot be a value concept that describes a situation for a purpose.

2.Multiculturalism and Identi

Multiculturalism basically supports the situation where various cultures coexist. Other terms that support this situation include examples such as cultural diversity or cultural hybridity. Cultural diversity, as seen in the “Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity” (2001) by UNESCO or the “Convention on the Protection of Diversity of Cultural Contents” (2005), is mentioned “culture takes diverse forms across time and space. This diversity is embodied in the uniqueness and popularity of the identities of the groups and societies making up humankind.”(UNESCO 2001). It has been argued in the context of having a worldview and, at the same time, accepting cultural goods as an exception in terms of realistically opposing the omnidirectional application of free trade.

“Cultural hybridity constitutes the effort to maintain a sense of balance among practices, values, and customs of two or more different cultures. In cultural hybridization, one constructs a new identity that reflects a dual sense of being, which resides both within and beyond the margins of nationality, race, ethnicity, class, and linguistic diversity. Many immigrants, for instance, face this process as they attempt to accommodate new environments and experiences, while holding on to their indigenous sociocultural principles or beliefs” (Lillie R. Albert & Mariela Páez, 2012)

As Lisa Yoneyama wrote well in the introduction to Ayabe Tsuneo's work on cultural theory, multiculturalism are divided into liberal and critical positions. (Ayabe Tsuneo 2006) The concept of cultural diversity is more or less liberal multiculturalism, the concept of cultural hybridity seems to be closer to the critical multiculturalism.

When we say multiculturalism, we come to mind some important criteria that distinguish the world. Typical criteria are ethnicity, race, religion and language. In United States, for example, multiculturalism is explained by the theory of melting pot or salad ball, which is a multiethnic and multiracial society, but does not meet the requirements of multi-religion and multilingualism. In Canada, multiculturalism is explained by mosaic theory, with the same conditions as in the United States, with the exception of some multilingual traits. In Singapore, multiethnic, multilingual and multi-religion traits are strong, and multiracial traits are relatively weak. However, the cases of representative multicultural countries were possible because they had various elements since the establishment of the state formation. The problem is not such a born multicultural society, but a later multicultural society. Korea is one of them.

In later multicultural societies, external factors are added to internal factors that were believed to be immutable and face the situation of collective identity adjustment. In this situation of collective identity coordination, the force to preserve the existing identity and the force to adjust to a new identity become tension with gravity and form a reorganizing situation. At this time, the internal and external boundaries are not just the boundaries of institutionally created lines such as borders. It includes the nonphysical and customary lines that have long been formed. The multicultural elements mentioned above, such as ethnicity, race, religion, and language, are largely problematized by institutional boundaries, while class, gender, and sexuality are problematized by conventional boundaries. Thus, multicultural societies, in contrast to the categorical regulations of some administrators, involve the problem of ‘old others’ who have already existed but have not been approved internally such as women, the lower class, the disabled, homosexuality, etc. Therefore they are important indicators of the level of multicultural society as well as refugees, immigrants, and married migrant women.

These internal and external power relations are represented not only by group problems, but also by the individuals who make up a multicultural society. Thus, no matter what position we take in multicultural societies or multiculturalism, the keyword that can never be missed in the relevant discussion is identity. Liberal multicultural scholar Charles Taylor led discussions on ‘identity politics’ and ‘politics of recognition’. (Charles Taylor 1992), Also, critical multiculturalists also exposed power relations concealed in identity discourse. They have been passionate about these things.

3.Trans-identity Discourse

In any case, whether the representation of an individual or the tendency of a group, the process of problematized identity is irrelevant when the identity is consistent. In other words, if a man maintains his/her original identity consistently until the last moment, no issue arises. For example, if a Korean is born as a Korean and ends his life as a Korean, at least the issue of personal identity does not arise. Of course, the problem will be different if the external multicultural element enters in the situation of maintaining the collective identity. In other words, there is no change in the identity of the individual, but when various multicultural issues arise in the society, he/she may face a situation in which he/she must have an opinion about the situation given. This is a problem of ‘looking identity’. It is just what the perception of other people’s identity is.

If a man is born as a man, but in fact thinks he may be a woman rather than a man, and that idea is convinced to change his identity, then a serious issue of identity conversion arises.

The Trans-Identity discussion pays attention to this very situation. Some studies use the term trans-identity, but in my case, I began to discuss this problem with the many narratives that humanity has created. Many stories such as myths, legends, novels, plays, movies, cartoons, and TV dramas that have been loved by humans include characters who want to change their identity either by wanting to change themselves or by changing their identity under external pressure. Lots of characters from stories of great religious leaders such as Zeus in Greek myths, the Mulan in Chinese legends, the Bear in Korean Dangun mythology, Buddha and Jesus, novels and plays such as Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”, and Superman, Batman, Hulk and Wonder Woman from the heroes of Hollywood movies have been constantly created and loved by the public. (LIM Dae Geun 2016; 2019)

The change of identity produced by these characters shows the types of reversal, displacement, traversal, and transcendence. A reversal is a case of completely opposite characters. For example, men become women, prince and beggar, or police officer and criminal. Displacement is a case that an identity has chaos and changes because it is placed in a different context. Traversal is the case that back and forth between two identities such as Dr. Jekyll and Hyde, mother and courtesy in Chinese film Goddess(1934). Transcendence refers to the case where a very small person becomes a big person (a transcendental ascension) through a series of processes, or a big person becomes a small person (a transcendental fall). Storytelling, which shows the process of trans-identity, must have their representations of identity transformation. The typical representations are costume, transformation, renaming, mask, and water.

These cases of trans-identities are not only found in represented stories, but also exists in our reality. Thus, the discussion of trans-identity can extend beyond the level of characters, storytelling, and narratives to the level of realistic discourse. In that context, there is an important phenomenon called multiculturalism.

In multiculturalism, the same case exists in which one tries to change or must change one's identity to another. They change their identities by showing types of reversal, displacement, traversal, and transcendence. In the process, they often choose realistic representations such as costumes and renaming. But as we can easily imagine, there are a number of problems with trans-identity.

The start of trans-identity comes from the decision to abandon the old identity and move on to a new one. The moment he/she opens the door to the old identity, he/she enters the process of trans-identity. I call this process ‘identity bridge’ between old and new identities. This ‘identity bridge’ is a place where many problems coexist without failing to completely abandon the old identity or to arrive at a completely new identity.

For example, we can consider the case of a Vietnamese virgin who has to marry and move to a rural groom in Korea. She must leave the cultural space she has lived so far and enter a new cultural space. This is a kind of displacement. Faced with the displacement of identity, she must be given a new Korean name and live in a new relationship. She faces a number of legal, ethical, economic, political, social and cultural issues. Let us think a more extreme example, transgender. The problem before him/her will extend to institutional, physical, medical and psychological things.

Nevertheless, as soon as he/she is convinced to change his identity through the ‘declaration of denial’, we must respect his/her choices. By academically explaining the numerous problems that arise in the process, it is necessary to interpret the meaning and issue at the practical level on those phenomena. The trans-identity discourse has the ultimate goal of contributing to multiculturalism like this.


  • Benedict Anderson(1983), Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, London: Verso.
  • Charles Taylor(1992), Multiculturalism and the Politics of Recognition, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Lim Dae Geun(2016), “Concept and Types of ‘Trans-Identity’: Character, Storytelling, and Discourse”, Foreign Literature Studies Vol. 62.(Korean)
  • Lim Dae Geun(2019), “How to be Represented the Trans-identity”, 2nd TinC Conference (Korean)
  • Lillie R. Albert & Mariela Páez(2012), “Cultural Hybridity”, Encyclopedia of Diversity in Education, Newcastle: SAGE, 2012 Ayabe Tsuneo(2006), Bunka Jirui-Gaku 20 no Riron, Kobundo.(translated into Korean)
  • UNESCO(2001), “Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity”.
  • UNESCO(2005), “Convention on the Protection of Diversity of Cultural Contents”.