Organizer and Chair: Chungmoo Choi, University of California, Irvine
This panel will examine historical approaches to understanding the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea). Western historiography on Korea tends to ignore North Korea, or treat the DPRK as an aberration from the main stream of Korean history, which is seen to flow from pre-modern times to the colonial period to the Republic of Korea in the South. In the past several years, however, with the collapse of the USSR and greater academic freedom in South Korea, historians in South Korea, Japan and elsewhere have begun to wrestle earnestly with the problem of how to write North Korea's history as an integral part of Korean history. The availability of new sources for historical research in China and the former USSR, greater access to North Korean materials, and the uncertain future of the DPRK give both a new capacity as well as a special urgency to understanding the development of North Korea since 1945. This panel will evaluate various approaches and conceptual frameworks for interpreting North Korean history. Haruki Wada will analyze the history of the Korean communist movement and the origins of the DPRK in light of new historical evidence, and Charles Armstrong will discuss theoretical issues involved in interpreting North Korea.
The Manchurian Guerrilla Struggle and the Origins of the DPRK
Haruki Wada, Tokyo University, Japan In the 1930s and early 1940s, the anti-Japanese guerrilla struggle in Manchuria was the most active armed resistance against Japanese colonialism involving Koreans. Kim Il Sung and other major leaders of the DPRK were participants in this movement, and in its official histories the DPRK has given great importance to this period and to Kim Il Sung's alleged leadership in the Manchurian struggle. In recent years, newly available sources, primarily from China and the former USSR, have made possible a much clearer picture of this experience than was previously the case. Utilizing these sources as its basis of interpretation, this paper will examine the Manchurian guerrilla struggle and its significance for the formation of the North Korean regime, the DPRK's internal political dynamics, and North Korea's world outlook.
Toward a Post-Division Historiography of Contemporary Korea
Man-gil Kang, Koryo University
With the possibility of Korean unification apparently close at hand, the pressing task facing historians in South Korea today is how to negotiate the intensely political terrain of narrating the history of a divided Korea since 1945. Only recently have historians in South Korea attempted to write the history of North Korea. The inclusion of North Korea in the new 27-volume History of Korea represents a significant step towards a unified history of contemporary Korea, yet these volumes admittedly contain many shortcomings, both in terms of information and interpretation. In the context of the rapidly-changing political environment, both on and around the Korean peninsula, the time has come for historians to think deeply and seriously about how to write a post-colonial, post-Cold War, post-division history of both the South and the North-a project which itself can be part of the effort to overcome division and achieve genuine reconciliation.
Interpreting North Korea
Charles K. Armstrong, Columbia University
Until recently, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has generally been viewed from one of two diametrically opposed perspectives: a highly critical conceptual framework of "totalitarianism" derived from Cold War anti-Soviet scholarship, and the self-congratulatory rhetoric of the regime itself. This paper compares and critiques various alternative approaches to understanding the DPRK, including the corporate state, post-colonial theory, revolutionary nationalism, and neo-traditionalism. Focusing on questions of state, society and ideology, the paper will also re-examine the concept of totalitarianism in light of the theoretical reworking of the term in recent years and the DPRK's own self-representation as a "monolithic" regime in which state-society divisions are completely effaced.