The Birth of Korean Academic Marxism: The Philosophy of Pak Ch'iu (1909-49)


Thursday, September 20, 2018, 4:30pm to 6:00pm


Belfer Case Study Room (S020), CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

SBS Distinguished Lecture In the Social Sciences
9/20 SBS Special Lecture Poster

Vladimir Tikhonov
Professor of Chinese and Korean Studies, University of Oslo

Vladimir Tikhonov is a professor of Korean and East Asian studies at the Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, Oslo University. Previously, he taught at Kyunghee University (Seoul, 1997-2000) and State University for Humanities (Moscow, 1996). His research focuses on the history of modern ideas in Korea. He recently published Social Darwinism and Nationalism in Korea: the Beginnings (Brill, 2010) as well as Modern Korea and its Others: Perceptions of the Neighbouring Countries and Korean Modernity (Routledge, 2015). He also recently co-edited Buddhist Modernities - Re-inventing Tradition in the Globalizing Modern World (Routledge, 2017) and Military Chaplaincy in an Era of Religious Pluralism (Oxford University Press, 2017).

Chaired by Carter Eckert, Yoon Se Young Professor of Korean History, Harvard University

The presentation deals with Pak Ch’iu (1909-1949), one of the pioneering Marxist philosophers of colonial-age Korea. A philosophy student and teacher-turned-journalist, Pak joined South Korean Workers’ Party and moved to North Korea in early 1947, only to come again to South Korea with a guerilla detachment and die in a firefight with South Korean governmental troops two years later. For a long time his legacy was tabooed in both Koreas: for South Korea, he was a dangerous “Commie,” while in North Korea he was primarily remembered as a close political ally of Pak Hōnyŏng (1900-1956), a purged rival of Kim Il Sung. Only since the mid-1990s Pak Ch’iu’s philosophical and journalistic legacy started to attract attention in South Korean academia, while in the Anglophone Korean studies even his name remains largely unknown. 

This presentation focuses on Pak’s methodology of dialectic, historically informed analysis of the contemporaneous socio-political and ideological realities, as well as his criticisms aimed at the nationalistic/fascist philosophies of totality. It will also deal with his views on classical liberalism, and his trademark dialectics of new individuality, to be born in the crucible of the collective emancipatory struggles. The presentation aims at reconstructing Pak Ch’iu’s particular variety of Marxism which combined the application of the historical materialism and Marxian dialectics with unusually strong focus on the problems of the personality and its interrelationship with the society around it, possibly influenced, inter alia, by Mencius and Wang Yangming. In the concluding part, it will attempt to define Pak Ch’iu’s place in the history of Marxism – and philosophical thinking in general – in Korean and broader world-historical context.

Supported by the Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS) Endowment for Korean Studies at the Korea Institute, Harvard University