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North Korea remains the most mysterious of all Communist countries. The acute shortage of available sources has made it a difficult subject of scholarship. Through his access to Soviet archival material made available only a decade ago, contemporary North Korean press accounts, and personal interviews, Andrei Lankov presents for the first time a detailed look at one of the turning points in North Korean history: the country’s unsuccessful attempts to de-Stalinize in the mid-1950s. He demonstrates that, contrary to common perception, North Korea was not a realm of undisturbed Stalinism; Kim Il Sung had to deal with a reformist opposition that was weak but present nevertheless. Lankov traces the impact of Soviet reforms on North Korea, placing them in the context of contemporaneous political crises in Poland and Hungary. He documents the dissent among various social groups (intellectuals, students, party cadres) and their attempts to oust Kim in the unsuccessful "August plot" of 1956. His reconstruction of the Peng-Mikoyan visit of that year—the most dramatic Sino-Soviet intervention into Pyongyang politics—shows how it helped bring an end to purges of the opposition. The purges, however, resumed in less than a year as Kim skillfully began to distance himself from both Moscow and Beijing. The final chapters of this fascinating and revealing study deal with events of the late 1950s that eventually led to Kim’s version of "national Stalinism." Lankov unearths data that, for the first time, allows us to estimate the scale and character of North Korea’s Great Purge.
Ancient to Contemporary Times
Death and the activities and beliefs surrounding it can teach us much about the ideals and cultures of the living. While biologically death is an end to physical life, this break is not quite so apparent in its mental and spiritual aspects. Indeed, the influence of the dead over the living is sometimes much greater than before death. This volume takes a multidisciplinary approach in an effort to provide a fuller understanding of both historic and contemporary practices linked with death in Korea.
Contributors from Korea and the West incorporate the approaches of archaeology, history, literature, religion, and anthropology in addressing a number of topics organized around issues of the body, disposal of remains, ancestor worship and rites, and the afterlife. The first two chapters explore the ways in which bodies of the dying and the dead were dealt with from the Greater Silla Kingdom (668–935) to the mid-twentieth century. Grave construction and goods, cemeteries, and memorial monuments in the Koryŏ (918–1392) and the twentieth century are then discussed, followed by a consideration of ancestral rites and worship, which have formed an inseparable part of Korean mortuary customs since premodern times. Chapters address the need to appease the dead both in shamanic and Confucians contexts. The final section of the book examines the treatment of the dead and how the state of death has been perceived. Ghost stories provide important insight into how death was interpreted by common people in the Koryŏ and Chosŏn (1392–1910) while nonconformist narratives of death such as the seventeenth-century romantic novel Kuunmong point to a clear conflict between Buddhist thought and practice and official Neo-Confucian doctrine. Keeping with unendorsed views on death, the final chapter explores how death and the afterlife were understood by early Korean Catholics of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Death, Mourning, and the Afterlife in Korea fills a significant gap in studies on Korean society and culture as well as on East Asian mortuary practices. By approaching its topic from a variety of disciplines and extending its historical reach to cover both premodern and modern Korea, it is an important resource for scholars and students in a variety of fields.
The Tonghak and Chondogyo Movements and the Twilight of Korean Independence
Tonghak, or Eastern Learning, was the first major new religion in modern Korean history. Founded in 1860, it combined aspects of a variety of Korean religious traditions. Because of its appeal to the poor and marginalized, it became best known for its prominent role in the largest peasant rebellion in Korean history in 1894, which set the stage for a wider regional conflict, the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895. Although the rebellion failed, it caused immense changes in Korean society and played a part in the war that ended in Japan's victory and its eventual rise as an imperial power. It was in this context of social change and an increasingly perilous international situation that Tonghak rebuilt itself, emerging as Ch’ŏndogyo (Teaching of the Heavenly Way) in 1906. During the years before Japan’s annexation of Korea in 1910, Ch’ŏndogyo continued to evolve by engaging with new currents in social and political thought, strengthening its institutions, and using new communication technologies to spread its religious and political message. The story of Tonghak and Ch’ŏndogyo is an example of how new religions interact with their surrounding societies and how they consolidate and institutionalize themselves as they become more established.
In the half century after 1945, South Korea went from an impoverished, largely rural nation ruled by a succession of authoritarian regimes to a prosperous, democratic industrial society. No less impressive was the country's transformation from a nation where a majority of the population had no formal education to one with some of the world's highest rates of literacy, high school graduates, and university students. Drawing on their premodern and colonial heritages as well as American education concepts, South Koreans have been largely successful in creating a schooling system that is comprehensive, uniform in standard, and universal. The key to understanding this educational transformation is South Korean society's striking, nearly universal preoccupation with schooling-what Korean's themselves call their "education fever."
This volume explains how Koreans' concern for achieving as much formal education as possible appeared immediately before 1945 and quickly embraced every sector of society. Through interviews with teachers, officials, parents, and students and an examination of a wide range of written materials in both Korean and English, Michael Seth explores the reasons for this social demand for education and how it has shaped nearly every aspect of South Korean society. He also looks at the many problems of the Korean educational system: the focus on entrance examinations, which has tended to reduce education to test preparation; the overheated competition to enter prestige schools; the enormous financial burden placed on families for costly private tutoring; the inflexibility created by an emphasis on uniformity of standards; and the misuse of education by successive governments for political purposes.
Military Rule in Medieval Korea
Generals and Scholars is the first work in English to examine fully military rule during the Koryo. Although it lasted for only a century, the period was one of dynamic change--a time of institutional development, social transformation, and the reassertion of the civil service examination and Confucian ideology coupled with the flowering of Son (Zen) Buddhism. (When confronted with fundamental matters of rule, however, Ch'oe leaders frequently opted for the status quo and in the end aligned with many traditional civil elites to preserve their power.) The traditional tension between civilians and the military was eased as both came to accept the primacy and necessity of civilian values. Koryo generals, unlike those in Japan, learned they could govern more readily by relying on civil leaders administering a strong central government than on a call to arms. Institutional innovations from this period survived well into the next and Son Buddhism continued to flourish throughout the country.