Everyday Life in the North Korean Revolution, 1945–1950

Everyday Life in the North Korean Revolution, 1945–1950

Suzy Kim
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Everyday Life in the North Korean Revolution, 1945–1950
    Book Description:

    During the founding of North Korea, competing visions of an ideal modern state proliferated. Independence and democracy were touted by all, but plans for the future of North Korea differed in their ideas about how everyday life should be organized. Daily life came under scrutiny as the primary arena for social change in public and private life. InEveryday Life in the North Korean Revolution, 1945-1950, Kim examines the revolutionary events that shaped people's lives in the development of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. By shifting the historical focus from the state and the Great Leader to how villagers experienced social revolution, Kim offers new insights into why North Korea insists on setting its own course.

    Kim's innovative use of documents seized by U.S. military forces during the Korean War and now stored in the National Archives-personnel files, autobiographies, minutes of organizational meetings, educational materials, women's magazines, and court documents-together with oral histories allows her to present the first social history of North Korea during its formative years. In an account that makes clear the leading role of women in these efforts, Kim examines how villagers experienced, understood, and later remembered such events as the first land reform and modern elections in Korea's history, as well as practices in literacy schools, communal halls, mass organizations, and study sessions that transformed daily routine.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6936-7
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  6. [Map]
    (pp. xiv-xvi)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    A satellite image of the Korean Peninsula at night shows South Korea and the surrounding regions bathed in light while North Korea seems engulfed in darkness except for the capital city of Pyongyang. The image has symbolized North Korea’s “backwardness” since U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld referred to it during a news briefing on December 23, 2002: “If you look at a picture from the sky of the Korean Peninsula at night, South Korea is filled with lights and energy and vitality and a booming economy; North Korea is dark.”¹ From this description, he concludes matter-of-factly, “It is a...

  8. 1. Revolutions in the Everyday
    (pp. 14-41)

    During the North Korean Revolution, everyday life became at once the primary site of political struggle and the single most important arena for experiencing the revolution in progress. Publications were peppered with expressions that emphasized a particular aspect of everyday life, from more recognizable terms such as family life (kajŏng saenghwal) and social life (sahoejŏk saenghwal) to less familiar ones such as party life (tang saenghwal), organizational life (chojik saenghwal), collective life (tanch’e saenghwal), ideological life (sasang saenghwal), scientific life (kwahakchŏk saenghwal), life reform (saenghwal kaesŏn), and life skill (saenghwal kisul). Life after liberation was variously described as a new...

  9. 2. Legacies: Fomenting the Revolution
    (pp. 42-70)

    By many accounts, August 15, 1945 was a quiet day in Korea when the voice of Japanese Emperor Hirohito was broadcast on radio acknowledging defeat in the Asia-Pacific War.¹ Many people had not yet heard the news and others who had were apprehensive about what would happen next. However, by the next day the streets were filled with celebration as people paraded and congregated in huge numbers. Panya Shavshyna, a member of the Soviet consulate stationed in Seoul between 1940 and 1946, was there to bear witness. She wrote in her diary for August 16, 1945, that “every two or...

  10. 3. Three Reforms: Initiating the Revolution
    (pp. 71-104)

    At the end of colonial rule, Korea consisted of thirteen administrative provinces (to) that were divided into counties (kun), townships (myŏn), and villages (ri).¹ Inje County was located in the middle of Kangwŏn Province, a province situated in the center of the peninsula along the 38th parallel that divided Korea in half into the two separate occupation zones in 1945. With the partition, five and a half provinces out of the thirteen fell into the northern half, and Kangwŏn Province was split almost exactly in half, as was Inje County. The upper half of the county fell above the 38th...

  11. 4. The Collective: Enacting the Revolution
    (pp. 105-139)

    The text for educators quoted above defined the relationship between the individual and the collective, not as one of conflict, but as constitutive of one another, whereby the collective defined the very basis for individual identity and welfare. In the aftermath of colonial rule, a renewed sense of national collectivity was to be expected, but this was to be more than a simple fomentation of nationalism. It was a call for a different kind of politics that would give concrete form to the principle all-for-one and one-for-all. The last chapter looked at three pivotal events that set the stage: the...

  12. 5. Autobiographies: Narrating the Revolution
    (pp. 140-173)

    Born on April 8, 1905, in the northern city of Hŭngnam, South Hamgyŏng Province, Kim Ho-ch’ŏl was working in the North Korean People’s Committee, Bureau of Foreign Affairs (Pukchosŏn inmin wiwŏnhoe oemuguk) when his resume and short autobiography were compiled on June 14, 1948.¹ After detailing the hardships he faced while growing up as a boy in colonial Korea, his autobiography described a fascinating journey that took him first to San Francisco in 1927 for a brief stay, then on to Chicago where he enrolled as a student of English for four years at the Lewis Institute, the present-day Illinois...

  13. 6. Revolutionary Motherhood: Gendering the Revolution
    (pp. 174-203)

    All social revolutions in modern history have attempted to address the status of women as a critical element of social change, and North Korea was no different. Photographs from the time show firsthand how women were speaking out in public. Figure 6.1 is all the more striking because it was shot from behind the stage showing the back of the speaker facing the audience. What makes the image so powerful is the anonymity of the speaker, allowing anyone peering into the picture to stand in her place—to imagine what it would have been like to be standing on that...

  14. 7. “Liberated Space”: Remembering the Revolution
    (pp. 204-239)

    In figure 7.1 we see one of the most iconic images depicting Korea’s liberation from colonial rule on August 15, 1945. It is ubiquitously displayed throughout South Korea in museum exhibits, school textbooks, and documentary materials, and reproduced widely on the Internet on both official sites as well as on private blogs. The picture, however, was taken the dayafterliberation when political prisoners were released from Sŏdaemun Prison.¹ That the photograph was taken on the 16th rather than the 15th does not diminish the sense of liberation, expressed in the raised hands of released prisoners cheering together with the...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 240-250)

    From the first three seminal reforms that initiated a thoroughgoing social revolution to the collective life enacted through multiple organizations, the North Korean Revolution was an attempt to institute a new socialist everyday imbued with social meaning that would overturn the alienation and subjugation experienced under capitalist colonial modernity. The result was a singular focus on the creation of autonomous modern subjects, not just as empowered individuals (by way of writing autobiographies, for example) but as part of the socialist collective that fused individual and collective interests into one, leading to North Korea’s own distinct form of heroic subjectivity embodied...

  16. Appendix: Sample Curricula
    (pp. 251-254)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 255-302)
  18. Index
    (pp. 303-308)