This paper examines North Korea’s border politics along the inter-Korean border before the Korean War, focusing on the provincial division and the border revisions of Gangwon north of the 38th parallel. It traces how the division of Korea by foreign powers and the provincial boundary modification by the nascent North Korean state shaped northern Gangwon’s distinct way of becoming a North Korean province. Rather than focusing on certain areas of Gangwon, the present study takes northern Gangwon as a whole, examining how the border revision affected the political relationship between the province’s old and new administrative centers, Cheorwon and Wonsan, respectively, and North Korea’s capital Pyongyang. This paper advances the notion of borderland, inspired by Etienne Balibar’s rethinking of the concept of de/territorialization from the peripheral perspective, highlighting the power of bordering practices in maintaining the imposition of homogeneous symbolism upon heterogeneous realities. Through the lens of borderland, this research reveals the historical transformations of northern Gangwon from a remnant of an arbitrary division to a political arena of changing spatial relations and eventually to an abstracted territory not without uncontrollable elements within itself.
Born of the fratricidal Korean War (1950–1953), Korea’s Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) endures as the oldest continuous frontline of the Cold War. It is also a sealed heritage site, replete with accumulated emotions, trauma, and tension. Given the strict restrictions to access, until recently the DMZ has remained largely imaginary to the public, yet it has been attracting growing interest. The appeal of the Paju DMZ is that it provides the only public window through which the North can be glimpsed from the South. First opened to international visitors in the 1970s through a so-called “security DMZ tour,” it was from 2000 increasingly promoted to both domestic and international visitors under the new name “peace and security DMZ tour.” Tracing the tour route in Paju, this study examines the formation of the Cold War heritage-scape to understand the role of border heritage in Korea today. We pay particular attention to the heritagization of the Paju DMZ from 1953 to the present. This study also assesses the degree to which the heritage-scape of the Paju DMZ contributes to the representation of peace and reconciliation that the tour aims to convey. We argue that Korea’s border heritage acts as a bellwether for the broader interKorean relationship.
This article examines the multilayered meanings of the Korean Workers’ Party Headquarters, Cheorwon (WPHQ) as a place of memory. Originally built by North Korea in 1946, the building was partly destroyed during the Korean War, and taken over by South Korea after the 1953 ceasefire. After decades of desertion within the Civilian Control Line near the Demilitarized Zone, it was eventually registered as a cultural heritage property by South Korea. For decades, the WPHQ remains have built on the collective memory of anticommunism in South Korea and contributed to formulating a sense of national identity. From the standpoint of counter-memory, however, the site calls for a more nuanced approach. Oppressed memory can reemerge to integrate with current experiences and produce new meaning. Through this process, the site is recoded as a part of cultural memory and transmitted to future generations. Recognized in South Korea for its value as cultural heritage, the WPHQ has become an unintentional historical monument. But reminding us of loss and demise, it has also become an anti-monument. In this uncanny space, dualities such as south/north, center/periphery, prosperity/collapse, and presence/absence converge and their distinctions are blurred, while the various memories associated with the site lead us to reconsider our views on Korea’s modern history.
For over 70 years, people have been excluded from the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). However, flora and fauna have been able to live within and surrounding the DMZ beyond the control of humans. Birds are highly mobile, and through their movements within and across the border region, they also have the potential to identify valuable ecosystem and conservation priorities shared between the two Koreas and the wider Asian region. Since 2018, plans for the peaceful use and development of the Han River Estuary (HRE) in the Neutral Zone between the two Koreas, have been the subjects of peaceful dialogue on the Korean Peninsula. Further, the HRE has international importance for birds during the migratory season as defined by the Ramsar Convention, which uses the number of waterbirds and the percentage of the population of a waterbird species counted at a given wetland in determining that wetland’s international importance. The internationally endangered species on the IUCN Red List maintain wintering grounds in the HRE between two Koreas. This study suggests possible inter-Korean and wider regional cooperation regarding the ecological importance of the HRE for birds as well as other wildlife species and their habitats.
The collective memory of Korea, which has evolved through the shaping of the country’s national culture and identity, has deepened Koreans’ animosity toward Japan, and undermined reconciliation between Korea and Japan since the end of World War II. This paper analyzes how the collective memory of Japanese colonization of Korea has been constructed since World War II by examining the multiple narratives contained in Arirang, a popular Korean novel by Jo Jeong-rae, which has since the 1990s achieved canonical status on the basis of its nationalist perspective. For this purpose, this paper explores how Japanese colonialism is portrayed in Arirang, the pushback this portrayal has received from professional historians, and the socio-economic context in which the collective memory the novel promotes has been shaped and shared among Koreans.
Widow’s heir adoption in Joseon was largely secured by the adoption law in the Great Code of Administration. Widows, especially eldest daughters-in-law, in late Joseon were involved in legal disputes with their husbands’ younger brothers or the entire descent group over adoption. On the one hand, widows relied on adoption to protect their positions in their husband’s lineage against the encroachment of their brothers-in-law claiming the status of lineage heir. On the other hand, widows actively pursued their choice of an adoptee with strong social background, albeit from a distant relative, against the collective opinion of the husband’s descent group. In most cases, the state ruled for the widow’s adoption not only by law but also by acknowledging the widow’s position as the eldest son’s wife. The state believed that the widowed eldest daughters-in-law could secure the lineal succession of a descent group against the collateral line. Widows themselves went on to appropriate such a descentline principle to their favor, actively claiming their status as a representative of the direct line of descent. Such a close relationship between widows and the lineage principle in late Joseon was something rarely seen in contemporaneous China. Widow’s heir adoption may be a useful lens for observing differences in kinship practices between pre-modern Korea and China.
Three fertility surveys were carried out in Korea in the 1960s through funding provided by the Population Council. In this study, I reveal the sociological turn in population studies in Korea that occurred over the 1960s and 1970s by focusing on sociologist Yi Hae-yeong’s 1965 fertility survey and a 1972 scholarly conference hosted by the Korean Sociological Association under the title “Sociological Evaluation of Korean Family Planning Research Activities.” I analyze the academic foundations of fertility surveys in the 1960s (i.e., ‘coupling to American academia’), internal changes of the actors implementing the surveys in the field (i.e., ‘feedback from the field’), and the discursive challenge to medical doctor-led implementation of fertility surveys initiated by tacit knowledge of survey (i.e., ‘competition for institutional resources’). Thus, I review the attempt at the Koreanization of social surveys in the field of sociology and the sociological turn in population studies, and explore the reason this legacy has been forgotten.
The present article explores the life and struggles of Heo Seongtaek (1908–?), a typical peasant (and later worker) grassroots militant of 1920–1930s colonial Korea. He actively participated in both the post-1945 radical labor movement and subsequently in the establishment of the North Korean regime, and was purged after the regime consolidated in the 1950s. The radical peasant movement of the northern Korean county of Seongjin—of which Heo was one of the leaders—was characterized by a combination of spatial dynamism, mobility, and varied repertoires of resistance. These repertoires creatively blended technically legal, a-legal and illegal forms and techniques of struggle. The chosen forms of resistance varied, including both legal reading societies, a-legal mass meetings, and illegal coercive and violent methods (forced destruction of debt documents, anti-spy struggles against police informers etc.). Both a-legal, and especially illegal, methods could invite police repression but were also conducive to solidifying the counter-hegemony of the peasant radicals.