Refusing the Empire of Bases: Gangjeong Village’s Culture of Peace and Life Movement

Nan Kim, Associate Professor
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

On South Korea’s Jeju Island, the recent completion of a contested naval base’s construction has marked a time of transition for the anti-base movement there, whose members have come to identify more pro-actively as the “Culture of Peace and Life Movement” (pyeonghwa saengmyeong munhwa undong). Rather than pursuing strictly an anti-base campaign, these activists have sought to broaden their opposition to the rationale behind the naval base by diversifying their challenge to the logic of global militarism itself. Through activism and network-building that have made the village a vital node among transnational peace movements, Gangjeong activists have become known for the range and prodigiousness of their creative production as an alternative community of conscience, collectively refusing the culture of war. Identifying Gangjeong’s peace movement as one of creative refusal draws upon anthropologist and Native American Studies scholar Audra Simpson’s observation that “resistance” already gives too much legitimacy to the actions of wrongful dispossession by a dominant power. Indeed, “refusal” more accurately describes the dynamic whereby Gangjeong activists have framed their dissent – in political, intellectual, artistic, and spiritual expressions – through universalizing claims of authority. That is, proponents of the Culture of Peace and Life Movement have staked claims chiefly based on three modes of discourse and practice: (1) unfailing repetition of rituals of conscience, notably the 100-bows meditation at dawn and a midday Catholic Mass, as daily solemn protests defending Jeju’s official designation as an “Island of World Peace”; (2) invocations of Jeju’s status as an exceptional case among UNESCO World Natural Heritage sites; and (3) contemporary integrative holistic philosophies that are Korean in origin but universal in scope, including the “Peace and Life” teachings originally formulated by Jeju-born Buddhist monk Dobeob Seunim, and the “seed idea” (ssialsasang) developed by pacifist Quaker religious leader and democracy activist Ham Seok-Heon.

Sexual Economy of the Global Black Market: MPC and the R&R Economy during the Korean War (1950-53)

Jeongmin Kim, Ph.D. Candidate
New York University

This paper examines South Korea’s wartime black market that was formed, and worked, in connection with Japan during the Korean War. In particular, I trace two movements that took place across Japan and Korea, both of which involved sexual exchange between American GIs and local women: the circulation of U.S. dollar and MPC (Military Payment Certificate), and American GIs’ R&R (Rest and Recreation) leaves to Japan. Launched in December 1950, the R&R program sent over 800,000 UN servicemen from Korea to Japan for their five-day leave from Korea, and this program led to the further growth of the base economy and military prostitution in Japan. While its use was supposedly restricted within U.S. overseas bases, the MPC was used widely and contributed to the formation of a transnational black market that went hand in hand with the formation of the R&R economy. This paper illuminates how the R&R economy and the MPC market spanning Japan and Korea facilitated each other’s growth with the sexualized unequal exchange between GIs and women as a key mediation. While they were never documented in the official international balance sheet, the black market transactions among non-state actors served as a core element in the wartime everyday economy of South Korea, and became an integral part of the regional political economy during the war. Hence we see how the U.S. military expansion in East Asia was built on and sustained by the gendered utilization of the geographical and human resources in the region.

Our Chosŏn: China’s Policy toward Korea between Zongfanism and Colonialism, 1882–1895

Yuanchong Wang, Assistant Professor
University of Delaware

The article examines Qing China’s policy toward Chosŏn Korea between 1882 and 1895, when both countries struggled to define their time-honored and hierarchical Zongfan (a.k.a. tributary) relationship whose nature was severely challenged by Western and Japanese powers. Many Chinese officials and intellectuals suggested that Beijing should completely resolve the Korean crisis by integrating Korea into a part of China. This colonial approach presented itself in two ways. On the one hand, some invoked Zongfan norms and enthusiastically proposed that China should convert Korea into a province or several prefectures and counties. This proposal derived its legitimacy from historical precedents in the Han, Yuan, and Ming dynasties, when the Chinese empire construed Korea as constituting Chinese “prefectures and counties” or considered sending officials to the country to “supervise and protect” it. What this proposal would exploit was China’s patriarchal authority in the China-centric Zongfan family. On the other hand, some officials and intellectuals proposed that China could follow its policies toward Mongolian and Tibetan areas into incorporating Korean into China and these proponents used the relationship between Britain and India as a reference point. This proposal thus combined the Manchu colonialism in Central Asia with European colonialism in Asia that had recently triumphed over the Chinese way in Indochina and reached East Asia. What this proposal preferred was China’s hegemony in East Asian geopolitics. This article discusses the two proposed ways of incorporating Korea into China, namely Zongfanism and colonialism, and reveals the Qing ruling house’s great efforts to steer a middle course during a critical period in the late nineteenth century.

Imagined Territory: Paektusan in Late Chosŏn Maps and Writings

Nianshen Song, Postdoctoral Fellow
History Department, Vassar College

The presentation examines the formation of the territorial consciousness in Chosŏn Korea
(1392-1895) through the lens of maps and geographical writings. The modern shape of the Korean territory was generally formed in the fifteenth century. But the notion of a Korean space, especially the sense of its northern end centered at Paektusan (Ch. Mt. Changbai), emerged only in the early eighteenth century. The landmarks of the northern border—Paektusan, a demarcation stele, and a barrier connecting the stele and the Tuman River—recorded the results of a joint topographic survey conducted by a Qing official and his Korean counterparts in 1712. In late Chosŏn atlases and maps, those landmarks were presented prominently, often in an exaggerated and paradoxical manner.

The highlighting of these landmarks on maps and texts, from the perspectives of geography and cartography, revealed the popular effort among late Chosŏn intellectuals in searching for a new Korean identity. Such an effort was stimulated directly by Chosŏn’s geopolitical tensions with the Manchu Qing regime, and was influenced indirectly by Qing’s geopolitical tension with Russia. At the same time, mediated by the Qing, the image of a Korean space was profoundly improved by the introduction of Jesuit cartographic technique.

With comprehensive trans-regional and global contexts, a Korean “geo-body” was portrayed in an era when self-awareness was in rising. The legacy of such visualization was transformed to, and deeply embedded in, modern nationalist imagination—with Paektusan being promoted as a symbol of the Korean nation.

War Orphans, Capitalist Family, and Postwar North Korea’s State Form as Exchange

Cheehyung Kim, Assistant Professor
University of Missouri

While a war raged on the peninsula, the North Korea began, in November 1951, sending its children and young adults abroad, a portion of them orphans. The first group of went to Hungary, and over the next decade, as many as ten thousand settled throughout Eastern Europe’s state socialist countries. China alone welcomed twenty thousand. Toward the end of the decade, North Korea called them back home. The circulation of North Korea’s children of war evokes some observations. First, their movement was a part of global circulation of a quarter-million children after the Second World War. An intriguing aspect of this circulation was the movement of children from state socialist countries of Europe to the United States, the very socialist countries that accepted North Korean children. Second, the political economy of socialist solidarity reveals the need for surplus production and international loans in the name of industrial growth. The state’s appropriation of the children’s lives and their transport abroad were carried out as enormous amounts of loans arrived from the countries that took these children. In this process, the children, now removed from the traditional family, immediately attained the economic function of potentially productive workers within North Korea’s production regime, if not already as symbols of collateral for the loans. Finally, the circulation of children is North Korea’s moment of critique of the capitalist family form. The state’s appropriation of the children was an attempt to eradicate the first source of exploitation, the liberal family. The subjugation of women and children within the patriarchal bourgeois family form was to be thwarted by the state form. Moreover, the placement of the transported children not with families but at institutions was a rejection of the adoption market, which North Korea saw, particularly in South Korea, as a new system of slavery.

A State of Ranches and Forests: The Environmental Legacy of the Mongol Empire on the Korean Peninsula

John Lee, PhD Candidate
Harvard University

The era of Mongol Yuan domination in the Korean peninsula, stretching from 1271 to 1368, lasted less than a century. The relatively short span, however, would witness the integration of the Korean peninsula into the Mongol imperial ecumene, with immense implications for the late Koryŏ and subsequent Chosŏn dynasties. Previous scholarship on the period has largely focused on how interactions between Korean elites and the broader Mongol empire fostered intellectual, cultural, and political changes on peninsula. This paper focuses on another area where the Mongols made an indelible but oft-ignored impact: the Korean environment. From the invasion fleets built from felled Korean forests to the expansion of hunting grounds in the interior and ranches on the islands and coasts, Yuan policies and priorities deeply imprinted the Korean landscape. I argue that the imprints were not temporary: they left a lasting institutional legacy. Yuan exploitation of Korean coastal forests forced later Koryŏ and particularly early Chosŏn officials to reckon with the limited supply of domestic timber. Yuan reliance on horse cavalry necessitated the establishment of ranches on southwestern islands and along the coast; in turn, they would form the basis for the expansion of state ranches for military use and royal consumption in the early Chosŏn era. By extracting new flows of sylvan resources from the peninsula and instituting new mechanisms for corralling animal resources, the Yuan empire established the basis from which the Chosŏn dynasty would launch centralized control of the peninsula’s environment. The early Chosŏn government instituted protected forests (kŭmsan 禁山) and state ranches (mokjang 牧場) to an extent unprecedented to that point in Korean history. Such innovations should remind historians that empires are also spatial-political entities with the capacity to extract and engender biotic shifts with consequences ranging beyond the empire’s lifetime.

Made in (South) Korea: How Preserving Tradition Led to K-Lit

Jenny Wang Medina, Ph.D.
Columbia University

The construction of “global” Korean literature and culture in the late 20th and early 21st centuries sought to transcend the geographic boundaries of South Korea while simultaneously attempting to reformulate an historical ethnonational identity across the divided peninsula. Millennial South Korea was a period during which state, institutional, and individual actors intervened and clashed over the production and transmission of this geographically unbounded “national” literature and culture. Extending my previous research on the tensions involved in defining a national Korean literature that aspired to recognition as a dominant “World Literature,” this paper examines the shift from extra-national organizations such as UNESCO to national organizations like the Daesan Foundation and the Korean Literature Translation Institute (KLTI) in shaping the parameters of Korean culture writ large in the Republic of Korea. The hierarchies established in the idea of “World Literature” are imbricated in the developmental and racial hierarchies of the post-WWII World Order, and South Korea’s involvement with UNESCO cultural projects as the country moved from an impoverished post-colonial nation to a model of rapid economic development in the latter half of the twentieth century exposes productive fissures in the tiered conception of global culture that emerged in that period. By focusing on the efforts made to preserve, and later promote Korean literature and literary scholarship, I explore the concerns over hyper-development, cultural parity, and new modes of inclusion and exclusion in the (re-)construction of culture as an instrument of neo-colonial participation in the Cold War era and sub-imperial yearnings in the 21st century.

Two Empires, Two Imperialisms: Land Surveys and Taxation Mechanisms in the Korean Empire (1897-1910) and the Colonial Period (1910-1945)

Sora Kim, PhD Candidate
Seoul National University

In 1897, the last king of the Chosŏn dynasty inaugurated a new era. The country was renamed the Korean Empire (Taehan cheguk), and King Kojong assumed the title of emperor. At the same time, several reforms were enacted to realign Korean society. The Kwangmu Land Survey (1898-1904), which assessed the country’s agrarian tax base, was one of these reforms. Although national codes set the interval of national land survey to be once every twenty-years, these rules were not followed. The dynasty had relied on the Kyŏngja Land Survey (1720) until the late of nineteenth century. The Kwangmu Survey, therefore, was the first of its kind in 180 years.

Most research treats the Kwangmu Survey as a “progressive project,” and have tried to identify its “modern” features. When compared to the colonial land survey (1910-1918), however, indigenous aspects of the Kwangmu project stand out. This paper compares the two land surveys to reveal differences in taxation mechanism and their underlying political ideologies.

The differences between the two surveys are visible in surveying processes, measurement methods, and how they are linked with household registers. Even information about area and grade, the most important variables for determining tax rate, could vary for the same plot of land between the two surveys. Although both surveys were conducted by “empires,” their different methodologies reflected the distinct political ideologies of the two regimes. The Korean Empire took over indigenous characteristics in taxation system of the dynasty. The Japanese colonial regimes, on the other hand, tried to implement a modern, Western model into Korea. Whereas ideals of benevolent Confucian rulership during the Korean Empire accommodated regional, the colonial government, however, believed a unified, procrustean order could flatten regional variation. The two regimes had distinct notions of imperial rule for Korea.

The Case of the Art and Archaeology of Koguryo and Palhae as the World Cultural Heritage

Ah-Rim Park, Professor
Sookmyung Women’s University
Visiting Professor, University of Pennsylvania

Koguryo and Palhae history would be an interesting case study for understanding how ancient Korea interacted with neighboring empires such as Chinese and nomadic empires. In addition, the historical and cultural heritages from Koguryo and Palhae have received an intensive attention since the nomination of Koguryo capitals and wall painting tombs as the World Cultural Heritage in UNESCO in 2004. How these ancient Korean history and culture have been perceived by the international communities and by Korean people in the process of historical contesting on the identity of Koguryo and Palhae proposes us an interesting question to explore the internationalist discourses about Korean history. In this paper, first, I shall argue about the interaction with Chinese and nomadic empires shown in the cultural heritage of Koguryo and Palhae, especially about the wall painting tombs to see how Koguryo and Palhae appropriated and modified Eurasian cultures within their cultural contexts. Next, I will address the issue of how we can understand the significance of the cultural heritages of Koguryo and Palhae in the context of universal cultural values as the World Cultural Heritage.

C.A.R.E.: Building an Empire through Humanitarian Food Aid, 1957-1966

Dajeong Chung, Visiting Assistant Professor
The College of William and Mary

This paper begins by arguing that US humanitarian food assistance to South Korea was born out of the failure of earlier US Cold War policy. Previously, the United States had supplied relief food directly to the South Korean government. Although it helped avoid famine, it failed to achieve a longer and more pervasive goal of the United States, which was to persuade the South Koreans to the advantages of joining the “free world” in contrast to a communist rule. The result was dismal. New food from the United States, rather than representing the generous gift of the US government, was more associated with the South Korean governmental corruption and US complicity in it. Partly as a corrective to this, the United States introduced a new Voluntary Agency Program under Title III, Public Law 480, which was to provide food aid through international organizations and civilian voluntary agencies, and claimed a higher moral ground in comparison to communist states.

CARE (Cooperation for American Relief Everywhere) inherited the Milk Feeding Program from UNICEF in 1957, and modified it to a School Lunch Program that continued to 1966. South Korean schools, local communities and newspapers responded positively to the UNICEF-CARE programs which engaged the recipients with practices of child care, public hygiene, and nutritional science. However, the fact that the US Department of State donated most of the food for the programs under Title III, US Public Law 480 was not actively promoted. Instead, South Korean newspapers credited UNICEF and CARE as original donors. This paper identifies the mediation through voluntary agencies as a key mechanism of humanitarian food aid. By de-emphasizing the intent of the US government, the voluntary agency programs enabled a humanitarian image of US food aid as coming from multiple, de-centralized, civilian agencies operating through voluntary individual donations from US citizens. Thus established humanitarian image successfully construed a difference from the communists, and it was fed into the metaphors of the American Cold War.