Korea in the World: Linkages and Legacies

A Symposium at Lafayette College

November 11, 2011 (Friday)  1:00pm-4:30pm Wilson Room Pfenning Alumni Hall

Korea’s role in international affairs since World War II has been as profound as it is well known.  But the impact of international affairs on the history of the peninsula, and on the lives of over seventy million Koreans, has received comparatively less attention in the American academy.  The purpose of this symposium is to add balance and depth to our understanding of Korea’s role in international affairs by moving beyond the frame that considers Korea as the stage upon which other people’s history is acted out.  In this context, “linkages and legacies” refers to this symposium’s goal of keeping a traditional focus upon Korea’s connections with regional and global structures and dynamics, while putting equal emphasis on the longer history of how entanglements with the international system have impacted Korean society since the 1870s.  In short, “linkages and legacies” asks how the history of Korea’s role in international relations would look if equal weight were given to studying the impact of international relations on the history of Korea.


1:00pm: Welcome, Introductory Remarks:

Angelika von Wahl, International Affairs Program, Lafayette College

Panel One: Linkages

1:15 pm: 

Andrew Yeo, Catholic University, Department of Politics

“Anti-U.S. Base Movements and the Politics of Peace on the Korean Peninsula.”


Il Hyun Cho, Cleveland State University, Department of Political Science

“Nuclear Proliferation and Regional Orders: The Multidimensional Challenge of North Korea and Iran.”

2:15 pm:

Comments by discussant and questions from the audience

Panel Two: Legacies


Seo-Hyun Park, Lafayette College, Department of Government and Law

“Korea’s Search for Sovereignty in the Late 19th Century.”


Paul Barclay, Lafayette College, History

“Korea in the Visual Economy of Japanese Empire: Comparisons with Colonial Taiwan, 1905-1945.”


Comments by discussant and questions from the audience



Robin Rinehart, Lafayette College, Chair of Asian Studies and Department of Religious Studies

Closing remarks and general discussion

This event sponsored by: Department of History, Department of Government and Law, Asian Studies Program, Skillman Library, Policy Studies Program, International Affairs Program and the Dean’s Office of Lafayette College.


a. Linkages

In 1945, with the defeat of Japan, Korea was divided at the 38th parallel by the United States and the Soviet Union.  After disarming Japan, Washington and Moscow backed their respective “client states” in a three-year war (1950-1953) that left millions of Koreans dead while devastating the cities, farms and fields of the peninsula. Henceforth, the U.S. acted as guarantor of allied regimes in South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, and South Vietnam.  This global war against socialism, communism, and anti-imperialist nationalism put the United States and the Soviet Union on a permanent state of military preparedness known as the Cold War.

Today, the Cold War is becoming a memory in Europe and the United States, while Korea remains divided and finds itself at the epicenter of another dispute that involves both Koreans and outside powers.  In 2011, the 38th parallel separates one of Asia’s most vibrant and wealthy capitalist democracies from the world’s most diplomatically isolated and impoverished socialist regime.  No longer of value to its former communist patrons as a model for socialist development,  North Korea (DPRK) has become reliant on the development of nuclear weapons as its only international bargaining chip.  As one of the most infamous examples of a “rogue state,” North Korea has become a flashpoint for current international anti-nuclear proliferation disputes.

Whereas in the early 1950s Koreans played host to contending Chinese, Americans, and Russians whose major priorities were geo-strategic and only secondarily regarded the interests of Koreans, the Six Party talks of more recent vintage display a similar mixture of motives and agendas: some local, but most geo-strategic.

b. Legacies

While these two watersheds, the beginning and end of the Cold War, mark the most well known conjunctures of Korean history and international affairs, events on the Korean peninsula have portended epochal shifts in global balances of power and transformations of the international order for some 150 years.  In the late nineteenth century, the United States, Japan, Russia, China, and England all targeted the so-called “Hermit Kingdom” for foreign investment, missionary activity, and diplomatic intrigue.  In the face of foreign pressure, patriotic Koreans founded reform movements to secure popular sovereignty in the face of dynastic inertia and the imperialist threat.  These movements sent Korean scholars, statesmen, and soldiers to East Asia, Europe, and North America in search of aid and solutions.  Today, in the Republic of Korea, this late-nineteenth century burst of intellectual, political, and technological creativity is an important reference point for imagining a progressive, democratic Korean future that is not contingent upon externalities for its integrity and dynamism.

Before these efforts could bear fruit, however, Japanese, Chinese and Russian armies fought each other in Korea to deny the peninsula to rival states.  As a result of the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, Korea lost its sovereignty, though not its relevance.  As a colony or protectorate of Japan from 1905 to 1945, Koreans launched a popular press, authored modern literary movements, started up industrial enterprises, and fought armed resistance against the colonizers, creating the nationalist, capitalist, and anti-colonial impetuses that defined post-liberation politics after the Japanese defeat.

c. Linkages and Legacies

Thus, we argue, the history of Korea before the Cold War must be understood before the dynamics of contemporary Korean interactions with the world can be comprehended.  Therefore, we dedicate our first panel to detailed analysis of two aspects of this lesser known, pre-Cold War period of “Korea in the World.” These papers will focus on pre-1945 “legacies” that have continued to shape developments and consciousness on the peninsula well into the 21st century.  The second panel, “Linkages,” will focus on the Korea’s place in the global security system.  Both presenters in this second panel will add new perspectives as scholars well grounded in the languages and histories of Korea and East Asia.






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