Kwangju Diary: Beyond Death, Beyond the Darkness of the Age, and: Laying Claim to the Memory of May: A Look Back at the 1980 Kwangju Uprising, and: Contentious Kwangju: The May 18 Uprising in Korea's Past and Present (review)
- Journal of Korean Studies
- Duke University Press
- Volume 9, Number 1, Fall 2004
- pp. 192-197
- View Citation
- Additional Information
1 92The Journal ofKorean Studies presented as anything but a tactical game. It resulted in rolling heads rather than a working coalition of national left and national center. Another problem is the book's broad coverage, a problem that most works in the country studies tradition share: trying to discuss too many areas—politics , theater, cinema, education, economics, women's rights, and so forth. Doing so, ofcourse, limits the author to shallow waters. Many areas are touched, but none is treated in depth, and the author fails to employ any theoretical framework developed in such areas as film studies, literature, or economics. By default, such holistic studies tend to be bloodless and hard to read, and while Armstrong succeeds in bringing to life a village boy who is struggling with Korean orthography ("I wood Hk to get a lot of ejjucashun nex tim" p. 104), the political and cultural figures discussed remain merely names mentioned in passing. Armstrong does display some nuance in his narration of the political process, but regrettably, the movers and shakers within it do not come alive. The author offers a mixed bag of often-contradictory explanations that never really build a sustainable argument. His frequent redundancy does not make up for his many inconsistencies of logic. In sum, The North Korean Revolution fails to convince. Frank Hoffmann Harvard University Kwangju Diary: Beyond Death, Beyond the Darkness ofthe Age by Jae-eui Lee. Trans, by Kap Su Seol and Nick Mamatas. Los Angeles: UCLA Asian Pacific Monograph Series, 1999. 172 pp. $14.95 (paper) Laying Claim to the Memory of May: A Look Back at the 1980 Kwangju Uprising by Linda S. Lewis. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2002. xxi, 189 pp. $21.00 (paper) Contentious Kwangju: The May 18 Uprising in Korea's Past and Present edited by Gi-Wook Shin and Kyung Moon Flwang. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003. xxxi, 159 pp. $22.95 (paper) The Kwangju uprising of May 18, 1980, is perhaps the most suppressed yet simultaneously well-known and politicized event in contemporary Korean history. Following the shift from military to civilian government in the 1990s, a distinctive genre of documentaries, literature, poems, drama, movies, and memorials have formed around "Kwangju," evoking and reshaping public memories of the event itself. This "commemoration boom" has opened up a Book Reviews1 93 space not only for (an) exposing and deepening of "truths" behind the event but also fuels the public debate over the meaning of the Kwangju civilian uprising in Korean history. To cope with the resurgence ofmemories around the event, the state, in 1993, issued an official apology for the massacre and sought to appropriate the Kwangju uprising as a symbol of democratic and patriotic movements in Korea. Since then, the official stance on the event has shifted the social meaning of May 1 8 from "Kwangju Riot" or "Kwangju People's Uprising" to the very different sobriquet of "Kwangju Democratization Movement." Three recent volumes on Kwangju examine how the incident has been perceived, interpreted, and historicized by various groups for different objectives in the quarter century since the tragedy. Kwangju Diary: Beyond Death, Beyond the Darkness of the Age (1985, 1999) was the first written account on the event in Korea. Written in 1985 under a pseudonym, it was circulated as an underground text with the "mute" title Nömö nomo [BeyondBeyond]. The text, however, ultimately fell into the hands of students and others and became a bestseller. I read it as a first-year college student, and this experience had a profound impact on my understanding of contemporary Korean politics. It shaped my consciousness for the first time about this event, and I was astounded and awed by the power ofthe state and what could happen to students who were engaged in political protest. The actual author, Jae-eui Lee, wrote the book from two positions: as an "objective " witness in order to "bring the Kwangju uprising to light," (p. 13) and as a participant to show that "we, the insurgents struggled to end the isolation by spreading the word of the uprising to the rest of world." (p. 11) For Lee, the main struggle was to reveal the...