Abstract Forty years after the people’s uprising and state massacre took place in Gwangju during the spring month of May 1980, what is now widely known as “5.18” remains a contested history. Just these past years, we have seen new facts about the tragedy unearthed, new testimonies made on public record, and old fabrications and fallacies resurfacing in news feeds. In light of the increasing pertinence of people’s rise against social injustices across the globe today, this panel seeks to revisit the structure and semantics of platforms through which the newsreels, photographs, paintings, songs, and revolutionary affect of Gwangju have been documented and transmitted across geographic and temporal boundaries. This history of transmission, as much as the history of representation, is important particularly because the political potential of Gwangju lies not only in the actual event of coalition formation (“absolute community”) in the face of a state massacre, but also in the power of that historical fact as it traveled beyond the initial ten days in Gwangju. If the 20th-anniversary edited volume Contentious Kwangju reassessed the uprising in light of the institution of South Korean democracy in 1987 and the national politics of commemoration in the 1990s, this roundtable expands on the transnational and global aspects of 5.18 and its legacy. With the goal of situating 5.18 within the transnational history of revolution, the presentations highlight the interdisciplinary aspects of social movements and historicization of their potential impact on future revolutions.
PRESENTATION 1 Short-circuiting Seoul, Reaching Afar to Germany, Japan, and the US: The Photographs of Gwangju in 1980
Sohl Lee, Assistant Professor of Modern and Contemporary East Asian Art, Department of Art, Stony Brook University
While the access to the truth of the Gwangju Uprising was limited for most citizens of South Korea, those living in Germany, Japan, and the US could view photographic images and documentary footage from Gwangju almost immediately after the uprising and its resultant massacre. The extent of transnational pathway through which the images of Gwangju travelled is testament to the transnational nature of South Korean pro-democracy movement, a significant aspect too often overlooked. What does the examination of media platforms that carried the message of Gwangju reveal today about the sociocultural significance of the event in the global scale--and the subsequent struggles against dictatorship and for citizenry rights that unfolded in 1980s South Korea? How did the spaces of anti-authoritarian state pro-democracy movement emerge by bypassing the state apparatus? What was the role of overseas Korean populations? Each set of stakeholders outside the peninsula forged distinct relationships with the event and its aftermath, and this diversity compels a reconsideration of the global significance of 5.18.
PRESENTATION 2 “March for the Beloved” and the Making of a Counter-Republic in South Korea
Susan Hwang, Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Indiana University Bloomington
In 1982, a group of writers and musicians gathered in Gwangju to clandestinely perform “March for the Beloved” (Im ŭl wihan haengjin-gok), a song created to honor the “soul marriage” of two activists who had died in the Kwangju Uprising two years prior. Over the following decades, the song emerged as a central piece in South Korea’s repertoire of resistance, resurfacing in March 2017 during months of sustained popular demonstrations that led to the impeachment of Park Geun-hye. And beyond South Korea, the song would become a call to action in various other parts of Asia, including Hong Kong, China, Japan, Malaysia, and Thailand. This paper examines the role that the Gwangju Uprising played in the process of South Korea’s democratization, and argues that “March for the Beloved” was instrumental in transforming the victims of state violence into martyrs and the subalterns of an unlawful republic into political subjects of a morally righteous counter-republic. This paper analyzes the people-oriented cultural practices behind the birth of the song, as well as the performative elements in the making of the song into an anthem of the counter-state. In conclusion, the paper discusses the ongoing controversy over the song as an occasion to think about the reification of Gwangju and the perpetual struggle over its signification in South Korea’s contemporary moment.
PRESENTATION 3 Smoke Signals: Framing the Gwangju Uprising in North Korea
Douglas Gabriel, Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute of Korean Studies, George Washington University
From May 18, 1980, news of the Gwangju Uprising dominated the North Korean media. Finally, it seemed, South Korean students had taken up Kim Il-sung’s call to “thoroughly defend the interests of the workers and peasants, go deeply among the masses of workers and peasants and fight in close unity with them.” In turn, North Korean cultural producers—including painters, illustrators, filmmakers and documentarians—began mythologizing the event through representational reconstructions. On the surface, these works asserted a correspondence between the actions of the protestors at Gwangju and the vision of reunification sponsored by the North Korean state. Images of South Korean youth activists functioned chiefly as a means of bolstering government policies by framing the southern half of the peninsula as an illegitimate puppet state of the United States. In the process, however, visual artists employed peculiar compositional framing devices aimed at keeping viewers at bay, often presenting the unruly figurative content of their works as dream images detached from the immediate circumstances of North Korean audiences who, it was implied, had no reason to revolt against their own government. Perhaps paradoxically, North Korean artists’ representations of the uprising had the effect of acknowledging and modeling ways of acting politically that exceeded the ideological lens through which they otherwise viewed the world.
Moderated by Paul Chang, Associate Professor of Sociology, Harvard University
East Asian Digital Scholarship Series; co-sponsored by Harvard-Yenching Library, Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, and Korea Institute
Peter Bol (Harvard University, China Biographical Database) Grace Fong (McGill University, Ming-Qing Women’s Writings) Andrew Gordon (Harvard University, Japan Disasters Digital Archive Project) Helen Hardacre (Harvard University, Constitutional Revision Research Project)
It is difficult to start a digital scholarship project. Maintaining it for decades is even more difficult. In this year’s first forum of the East Asian Digital Scholarship Series, we invite the founders of four long-running North American-based projects. Peter Bol, Grace Fong, Andrew Gordon, and Helen Hardacre will share their experiences in building and leading digital scholarship projects.
The East Asian Digital Scholarship Series, founded by Feng-en Tu and Sharon Yang, has been a monthly luncheon at Harvard-Yenching Library. This year, the Series will be conducted remotely and is sponsored by Harvard-Yenching Library with the support of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, and Korea Institute. The Series will cover a wide range of topics in East Asian digital scholarship.
John Park, Director, Korea Project, Harvard Kennedy School – Overview Paul Kolbe, Director, Intelligence Project, Harvard Kennedy School – Welcoming Remarks Andrew Kim,Fellow, Korea Project, Harvard Kennedy School; Former Assistant Director of CIA for the Korea Mission Center – Opening Remarks
12:15 PM: Panel Discussion
Markus Garlauskas, Former National Intelligence Officer for North Korea, National Intelligence Council, Office of the Director of National Intelligence Karen Gibson, Former Deputy Director for National Security Partnerships, Office of the Director of National Intelligence Blaine Harden, Journalist and Author of King of Spies: The Dark Reign of America’s Spymaster in Korea Kathryn Weathersby, Adjunct Professor of Asian Studies at Georgetown University; Author of “Soviet Aims in Korea and the Origins of the Korean War, 1945-1950: New Evidence from Russian Archives”
Moderated by John Park, Director, Korea Project, Harvard Kennedy School
9:00 AM Welcoming Remarks Speaker: Aditi Kumar (Executive Director, Belfer Center, Harvard Kennedy School)
9:05 AM Opening Remarks Speaker: Dr. LEE Geun (President, Korea Foundation)
9:10 AM Panel 1: Geopolitical Implications Context: In a world changed by COVID-19, leaders will have to adapt to a host of rapidly evolving challenges and opportunities. On the international level, the growing trend among leaders has been competition rather than cooperation. What are the specific ways in which the rise of geopolitics will impact global governance during the new normal of co-existing with COVID-19? What is the role of national actors in this new normal?
Moderator: Dr. John Park (Director, Korea Project, Harvard Kennedy School) Speakers: Professor Joseph Nye, Jr. (University Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, Belfer Center, Harvard Kennedy School); Professor YOON Young-kwan (Former ROK Minister of Foreign Affairs; Professor of International Relations Emeritus, Seoul National University)
9:30 AM Q&A
10:00 AM Panel 2: Geoeconomic Implications Context: To flatten the curve and tame the global spread of COVID-19, national authorities like the U.S. government have implemented what economist Jason Furman has called “a medically induced coma” of their economies. How will leaders balance public health goals with the need to restart their economies? What are the main geoeconomic implications of national actors operating in a global environment lacking robust cooperation and economic policy coordination?
Moderator: Dr. John Park (Director, Korea Project, Harvard Kennedy School)
Speakers: Professor LEE Jaemin (Professor of International Law, School of Law, Seoul National University); Dr. Christopher Smart (Chief Global Strategist and Head of the Barings Investment Institute; Former Special Assistant to the President at the National Economic Council)
10:20 AM Q&A
10:50 AM Adjourn
The Korea Project acknowledges the generous support of the Korea Foundation for this event.
Thomas Chan-Soo Kang Room (S050), CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, MA 02138
Kim Koo Forum on Korea Current Affairs
Suk-Young Kim Professor of Theater and Performance Studies; Director of the Center for Performance Studies, UCLA
Suk-Young Kim's research interests cover a wide range of academic disciplines, such as East Asian Performance and Visual Culture, Gender and Nationalism, Korean Cultural Studies, Russian Literature and Slavic Folklore. Her publications have appeared in English, German, Korean, Polish and Russian while her research has been acknowledged by the International Federation for Theatre Research's New Scholar's Prize (2004), the American Society for Theater Research Fellowship (2006), the Library of Congress Kluge Fellowship (2006-7) and the Academy of Korean Studies Research Grant (2008, 2010, 2015-2020), among others. Her first book, Illusive Utopia:Theater, Film, and Everyday Performance in North Korea (University of Michigan Press, 2010), the winner of the 2013 James Palais Book Prize from the Association for Asian Studies, explores how state-produced propaganda performances intersect with everyday life practice in North Korea. Her second book, DMZ Crossing: Performing Emotional Citizenship Along the Korean Border (Columbia University Press, 2014), focuses on various types of inter-Korean border crossers who traverse one of the most heavily guarded areas in the world to redefine Korean citizenship as based on emotional affiliations rather than constitutional delineations. In 2015, DMZ Crossing was recognized with the Association for Theater in Higher Education Outstanding Book Award. In collaboration with Kim Yong, she also co-authored Long Road Home (Columbia University Press, 2009), which investigates transnational human rights and the efficacy of oral history through the testimony of a North Korean labor camp survivor.
Sponsored by the 2014-15 ACLS/SSRC/NEH International and Area Studies Fellowship, she recently published K-pop Live: Fans, Idols, and Multimedia Performance (Stanford University Press, 2018). This project traces the rapid rise of Korean popular music (K-pop) in relation to the equally meteoric rise of digital consumerism — a phenomenon mostly championed by the widespread development of high-speed Internet and the distribution of mobile gadgets — and situates their tenacious partnership in the historical context of Korea from the early 1990s to the present day. She is currently working on several book-length projects: Media and Technology in North Korea, Korean Language Theater in Kazakhstan and Russian Theatrical Costumes and the Vestige of Empire.
Kim served on the editorial board of the Routledge Handbook of Sexuality Studies in East Asia and is currently at work as a senior editor for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature. She also sits on the editorial board of the Journal of Korean Studies and serves on the advisory committee for the Hong Kong University Book Series Crossings: Asian Cinema and Media Culture.
Kim previously taught at Dartmouth College and UC Santa Barbara. She received her Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Theatre and Drama with a Certificate in Gender Studies from Northwestern University in 2005 and her Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literature from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2001.
Chaired by Alexander Zahlten, Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University
Abstract North Korea might be known as the world’s most secluded society, but it has witnessed the rapid rise of media technologies in the new millennium. While the North Korean state is anxiously trying to catch up with the world standard of communication technology, it is also faced with the need to block free influx of outside information by allowing only intranet to its people. In a country where smuggling foreign media still can be punished by public execution, how do North Koreans manage to access outside information? This project explores how the expansion of new media technology complicates the country’s seemingly monolithic facade mired in entangled networks of technology and surveillance, intellectual property and copyrights, and the way for millennials to live creatively with censorship.