I've been thinking about writing a historical fiction novel about the Korean War. It is told from the perspective of a Korean character and includes many elements of Korean culture and language. I am not Korean. Is it cultural appropriation for me to write this?

3 Answers 3


The short answer is no. Not the way you are describing your intent.

For it to be considered Cultural Appropriation you'd need to be representing elements of Korean culture as your own.

As a writer, you are supposed to present the reader with the viewpoints of your character, whatever their situation is. In your case, its about a human in the middle of a terrible war that had a long lasting impact on the history of the world. It sounds like a good subject for a story. Having just finished "The Things They Carried" by Tim Obrien, the author shares details and perspectives of the people he fought against as a infantryman in that war, as well as his own experiences in combat.

If you, like him, treat the subject with the respect and integrity it deserves, its perfectly fine to writing on any subject or topic that you find inspiring enough to come up with a story about.

Doing the research to make it as realistic as you are capable of is important. Talking with people who were there is also an excellent idea.


No. Life and literature would be very boring if all writers felt themselves compelled only writing about things they know personally and experience(d) first-hand.

Now, another thing is, if you are going to write about a culture strange to you and from the viewpoint of a representative of that culture, you've got to do a huge lot of homework and do it well. Reading everything you can about the time and place, and make sure you try to learn different points of view and perceptions (women vs men, country folks vs city-dwellers, military vs civilians, different social classes...) Try and find people who lived through it (it is still quite possible) or their children and interview them. Travel to South Korea, if you have such a possibility; otherwise, do your online touring of places and museums. Study maps and transportation technical specs (you would need to know, e.g., how people were getting from point A to point B in 1950, how long it would take them, and where they could stop for meals/overnight etc.) Eat traditional food of the region you are writing about (cook it yourself, if you can.) Etc. etc. That would let you immerse in that time and culture and make your story convincing, immersive, and respectful (even when you are writing about negative things or portraying negative characters - readers can feel whether the author knows what they are doing!)


The other answers have already explained that even within the concept of cultural appropriation, well-researched and respectful representation of a culture the writer isn't part of is not cultural appropriation.

Another approach to your question would be to consider the validity of the concept of cultural appropriation itself. People have learned from each other and tried to understand each other since the beginning of time. If peoples didn't adopt the inventions of other peoples, progress in all areas of life would be painstakingly slow, if not impossible, and we would probably still live in the bronze age and do human sacrifice. Did the Germanic tribes "steal" the technique of iron production from Anatolian cultures? Yes, sure. Is it cultural appropriation to adopt democracy, iron smelting or modern medicine? I think not.

And how do we come to understand and respect other people? By trying to imagine what it would be like to be them. Children play family, mentally healthy writers write about psychopaths, musicians from Europe play the Sitar. So what? Sitar players are free to play the chembalo, psychopaths can write about mentally healthy characters, and adults can play with their children. That's just how we learn about what it means to be the other person and it is the best method against prejudice and intolerance. And if some white people play blues, do they do it to belittle and suppress black musicians? Quite the contrary! Usually those that adopt music from foreign cultures or write about, to take your example, the Korean War from a Korean perspective, do so out of interest and respect. And often the public develops an interest in aspects of a foreign culture after they have learned about it through works that have "appropriated" that culture. It is not like the native voice got silenced by the "appropriation", rather it is often only heard because of it.

Also look at the criticism summarized on the Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_appropriation#Criticism_of_the_concept

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