AAS Annual Meeting

Korea Session 353

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Session 353: Diversity in South Korea’s Democratization Movement

Organizer: Paul Y. Chang, Harvard University, USA

Chair: Yeunjee Song , University of California, Los Angeles, USA

Discussant: Elli S. Kim, University of Southern California, USA

The democratization of South Korea is one of the most important developments in that nation’s modern history. The papers in this panel aim to give voice to the wide diversity of themes that were part of the democracy movement in the 1970s and 80s and the civic movements that arose after 1987. The first paper explores the politicization of different social groups in the 1970s. While many know the story of students’ involvement in the movement, this paper shows that there were many other groups that made significant contributions. A second paper adds to this basic theme of diversity in the democracy movement by showing how progressive groups in the 1990s raised the issue of ch’inilp’a (Japanese collaborators) as an extension and fulfilling of the democracy movement. This case shows the wide application of the democracy theme and the varied imagination of progressives in the post-authoritarian period. The third and final paper adds to our understanding of the richness of the democracy movement by showing that the movement was not restricted in both geography and issues. The third paper argues that Koreans in America mobilized for Korean unification which was one of the main pillars of the democracy movement in Korea. All three papers show that the democracy movement was multifaceted and dynamic, and in this way contribute to our understanding of an important movement that changed the Korean polity in significant ways.

Politicization of Social Groups in South Korea’s Democracy Movement
Paul Y. Chang, Harvard University, USA

Large scaled social movements rarely involve a single group of actors. Rather, movements are often staged by groups from multiple sectors of society. In South Korea, protest events were staged by groups of actors that maintained similar socio-vocational identities and often times made their claims based on these identities. This paper explores the emergence and evolution of South Korea’s democracy movement by focusing on the entry of different social groups into the movement in the 1970s. While past scholarship has focused on the catalytic effects of the Kwangju Uprising and the pivotal moment of democratic transition in 1987, the origins of South Korea’s democracy movement are to be found in the formidable repressive years of the Yusin period (1972-1979). This paper argues that while state repression decreased the overall number of protest events staged by democracy activists that same repression motivated the entry and politicization of distinct social groups which in turn contributed to the overall development of the democracy movement.

Chang the Present by Changing History: The Movement of Ch’inilp’a Ch’ongsan as a New Form of Democratic Movement
Yeunjee Song , University of California, Los Angeles, USA

My paper will examine the movement of ch’inilp’a ch’ŏngsan and its discourse in South Korea from a perspective of a newly-styled democratization movement after 1987. In the early 1990s, a group of the Korean progressives began to argue that redressing the unsolved issue of pro-Japanese collaborators after 1945 is the most urgent historical task of the time. According to their argument, ch’inilp’a is not only an issue of Korea’s colonial past, but also accountable for the post-colonial mishaps such as division, procrastinated democracy, and corruption. For this very reason, the full-length investigation of those collaborators and their anti-national activities, they argue, is required to de-legitimate those who shared legacies from the past. In examining this civic movement and its discourse in mass-media and in print, I will look at how Korean progressives strategically used the ch’inilp’a issue to gain moral and historical ground fighting against conservatives. Especially in the 1990s and 2000s when Korean democracy still confronted a number of challenges, I explore how the discourse, based on a strong historical narrative and anti-foreign nationalism, came to provide Koreans with the logic for further democratization. Emerging in the historical period after the democratization movement of 1987, my paper will furthermore contend how this unique form of civic movement on “changing history” has to some extent replaced the old-styled democratization movement in Korea while maintaining the ideals of the nation, people, and democracy from the past.