- Two Dreams in One Bed: Empire, Social Life, and the Origins of the North Korean Revolution in Manchuria
Among the instruments of Japanese imperial expansion in the first decades of the twentieth century were Korean peasants who, seeking land and livelihood, migrated from their homeland into adjacent Manchuria—in particular, the Kando region, now the Yanbian Korean [End Page 334] Autonomous Region in China. Park focuses on this Korean minority to highlight the relationship between what he sees as two contradictory phenomena: the territorializing impulse of empire and nation-state and the expansive tendencies of capitalism that ignore national boundaries. Criticizing earlier treatments of Japanese colonialism in Manchuria for their dichotomous approach, he adds a third element, the Koreans, to emphasize the importance of "the social," which he fails to define clearly, in understanding the economic and political tensions that abounded in a bitterly contested region. Park denies the autonomy of politics, and interprets ethnic, historical, and cultural differences between Korean migrants and Chinese peasants as reflections of antagonistic property relations. His last chapter, only loosely connected with the preceding ones, analyzes the role of Manchurian Koreans in the communist movement.
The monograph may be read on two levels. The more valuable part is an in-depth and insightful social history of Korean migration to Kando, and the political, economic, and social institutions that the Japanese empire, the Chinese government, and Manchurian regional authorities devised to enmesh Koreans in their conflicting projects. Park makes excellent use of monographs in Korean that most earlier scholars have not tapped. He also provides interesting socioeconomic readings of work of Korean fiction, particularly the novel Pukkando (1911), written by An Sugil, to elucidate the temporal and territorial themes of Korean families in the Japanese empire.
The other level is an example of what might be called contrarian revisionism, a genre of scholarship that denigrates all previous work on the subject and, in Park's case, attempts to build an intellectual high-rise scaffolding on top of a one-storey ranch house. The first chapter in particular is an exercise in postmodern and neo-Marxist verbal calisthenics in a style as dense and inaccessible as an equatorial jungle, requiring the intellectual equivalent of machetes and insect repellent to traverse. Thankfully, the succeeding chapters have far less jargon. Such obscurantist theorizing dresses up what would otherwise be a valuable and solid, but not particularly exciting, monograph.