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Book Reviews1 87 keen perceptions and nimble adaptations expressed by Abelmann's subjects provide abundant evidence to contradict such pessimism. Reviewed by Michael E. Robinson Indiana University The North Korean Revolution, 1945-1950 by Charles K. Armstrong . Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003. xv, 265 pp. $39.95 (cloth) The North Korean Revolution is Charles Armstrong's challenging choice of title for his detailed and well-researched study about politics, economics, education , cultural production, and everyday life in post-liberation North Korea. This title is a decisive marker, of course. One of the book's main objectives is to explain Korean history on its own terms as a people's history that wants us to understand even the period of Soviet occupation north ofthe 38th parallel as a Korean revolution, not merely a Soviet implemented system with a Soviet appointed leader. Published in a declared post-Cold War period, but after 9/11—a period that is placing excluding brackets around the treatment ofNorth Korea—the timing for such a book seems unfavorable. This is even before the Bush administration put North Korea in the doghouse, a place from which it had just started to emerge. No glorious Long March preceded this Korean revolution, nor did the many anti-Japanese activities of Korean guerilla fighters lead to liberation from colonialism. If we calculate history the old-fashioned way—in terms of political results, consciousness-raising—the circumstances that led to Korean liberation in 1945 had little to do with the actions of the northern guerrillas, however celebrated and remembered they might be in both North and South. Yet, we have long known that Edgar Snow's Long March led all too soon to other long marches into mass starvation, while Nym Wales' Korean Song ofArrian hero was executed by fellow communists soon after his American biographer left "the field." Many younger researchers (at least if it comes to studies about neighboring China and Japan) have resigned from writing about such seemingly big topics as revolutions and have begun instead to look into everyday life histories and cultures, contesting the singular and linear character of capitalist modernity by narrating and conceptualizing the obvious tensions and contradictions within Asian modernities. Such focused and sometimes even microscopic renditions, honoring the irreducibility ofhuman experience, however discomfiting for some, liberate us at least from the usual agenda-driven, country study dangers of romanticism, Orientalist textualism, overemphasis, and Cold War slatings. Armstrong, on the other hand, not only 1 88The Journal ofKorean Studies takes on such a big topic, but also literally constructs it, as there has been no mention of a North Korean Revolution in history books thus far. Two decades ago, Bruce Cumings' impressive work focused on the "people 's committees," (mostly in South Korea) which were presented as the legitimate revolutionary representation of the Korean people. This established the Korean War as a civil war, the result of an internal Korean conflict rather than Stalin's puppet war. Armstrong's work follows Cumings in a sense, as it helps to establish a new people-based legacy for the existence of the later North Korean state, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). To achieve this, the author has the North Koreans run the show early on: the Soviet occupation forces are mostly reduced to mere bystanders to the spectacle. To be sure, this is a serious study based on first-rate research and a huge bulk of primary sources, a book that offers a lot to anyone interested in the formative years of the DPRK. The discussions about land reform, policy directives from the Korean Worker's Party, judicial reforms, and the interaction between people and government agencies, are valuable and insightful. This is especially the case when it comes to the actual implementation of policies at the county and village level, about which we have little reliable research and certainly not for the period covered here. Armstrong did an assiduous job in presenting such data, often including telling statistical observations and quotes from letters, internal reports, and interviews, mostly done in North Korea and by North Koreans at the time. He also makes use of source materials similar to those for Cumings...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-1665
Print ISSN
0731-1613
Pages
pp. 187-192
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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