Decentering the Urban: Reclaiming Rural Space for Modern Living in Colonial Korea and After


Thursday, April 16, 2015, 4:30pm to 6:00pm


Thomas Chan-Soo Kang Room (S050), CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Korea Colloquium

Albert L. Park, Associate Professor of History, Claremont McKenna College

Albert L. Park is an associate professor of history at Claremont McKenna College. A historian of modern Korea and East Asia, Dr. Park is the recipient of three Fulbright Fellowships and fellowships from the Korea Foundation and the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Chicago. Analyzing the intersection of modernity, religion, and the pastoral, his book manuscript, Building a Heaven on Earth: Religion, Activism and Protest in Japanese Occupied Korea, will be published by the University of Hawai’i Press in 2015. He is also the coeditor of Encountering Modernity: Christianity and East Asia (University of Hawai’i Press), which includes his article “A Sacred Economy of Value and Production: Capitalism and Protestantism in Early Modern Korea (1885-1919).” His next research project focuses on alternative conceptions and practices of democracy through architecture, design, and food movements since the 1990s. It is tentatively titled Designing and Building Utopia: Culturally Reconstructing Democracy in Contemporary South Korea thorough Architecture, Design, and Food. A native of Chicago, Professor Park received his B.A. with honors from Northwestern University, an M.A. from Columbia University and Ph.D. in History from the University of Chicago.  

Chaired by Paul Y. Chang, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Harvard University

Pushed by Japanese colonial authorities and prominent Korean intellectuals, popular imaginations of modernity stressed urbanization with industrialization as the means for unleashing the full potential of Koreans and insuring a vibrant future for the country. Motivated by utopian desires, religious-based agrarian movements by groups such as the YMCA, Presbyterian Church, and the Ch’ŏndogyo Church vigorously contested these established visions of Korea’s future. They carried out elaborate drives to reorder the countryside for the birth of a rural modernity that would feature an agricultural-based moral economy and forms of identity and consciousness rooted in the present. These pursuits to reconstruct rural Korea into a modern agrarian paradise were fraught with immense challenges as they battled two opposing forces: modernists who desired an electric urban future and traditionalists who longed for a pristine rural past. This paper explains the rationale behind and efforts of these agrarian movements through the theory of reclamation—a concept from landscape architecture that stresses a temporal and spatial framework for modernity that is centered on the present and sensitive to place. This paper emphasizes how these movements furnished an alternative path of modern life that sought to subvert the standard meaning of modernity that had ironically tied together the norms of Korean modernism and of Japanese colonialism. It further explores how the legacy of these agrarian movements has influenced contemporary agricultural and rural movements in South Korea. Finally, this study reflects on the question of the place of the rural and agriculture in Korean Studies today as scholars have primarily focused on and privileged urban issues and developments over issues in the countryside. 

Co-sponsored by the Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies

Generously supported by the Min Young-Chul Memorial Fund at the Korea Institute.