Previous books dealing with the China–South Korea relationship have been predominantly written by South Korean scholars. The above four books, all published recently in China, represent by contrast the latest scholarship on Sino–South Korean relations from the Chinese perspective. As such, these books fill an important narrative gap. The authors all have a significant presence in China’s academic community. The issues they deal with reflect major research interests in China’s scholarly community on South Korea, each with its own strength [End Page 265] and foci: South Korea’s international relations, history of political thought in South Korea’s long relations with China, sociopolitics, and rumination on South Korea’s domestic political landscape, respectively. These books have generated significant interest and substantial scholarly debates. They have broadened the horizon of Korean studies and are deemed to be serviceable as textual references for those who are interested in Sino-Korea relations: in particular they showcase how the same sociopolitical accounts are told from the Chinese side.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE KOREA STUDIES IN CHINA
Despite their being geographical neighbors Korea and China have had discontinuous diplomatic relations. For thousands of years, there were robust cultural, political, and social exchanges between the two, leading Koreans to often claim they are the “people who know China best in the world,” a point that can well be contested. Discontinuity set in during the Cold War when South Korea and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) became adversaries. After the fall of the Soviet Union and against the backdrop of the global loosening of ideological confrontations, South Korea and the PRC reestablished a diplomatic relationship in 1992. The forty-some-year hiatus in relations has introduced a significant change of heart in the way South Koreans view China: simply put, they do not look up to China as they used to do in the past.
Contemporary Korean Studies in China coincided with the 1992 establishment of diplomatic relations between the PRC and Republic of Korea, which also allowed regular academic exchanges to occur. Chinese academic interests in Korea studies significantly expanded in the late 1990s when the South Korean popular culture of the so-called Hallyu (the Korean Wave) went viral and Chinese interest in South Korea soared. Chinese scholars call it the “first Renaissance period” for Korean studies in China. It reached its zenith under South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun (2003–8). Roh’s seeming pro-China orientation was widely seen as contributing to the upsurge. The ensuing period of the Lee Myung-bak administration (2008–13) was, on the other hand, regarded as “a setback period,” as Lee was a staunch pro-American politician. Whether South Korea’s relationship with China and its relationship with the United States are mutually exclusive should be duly examined, but the South Korean media nevertheless commonly portrays it that way.
When South Korea’s current president Park Geun-hye (Pak Kŭnhye, 2013 to the present) was elected, she sent her emissaries to China first. It was a reversal of the previous practice of a South Korean president-elect sending goodwill envoys first to the United States, Seoul’s staunch military ally since World War II. Park projected herself as a person who has a cultural affinity with China when she publicly mentioned she was fond of Chinese philosopher Feng Youlan. Park is widely seen as...