|Contentious Kwangju: The May 18 Uprising in Korea's Past and Present|
|Writer : 5·18eng Date : 2008-10-02 Hit : 3549|
A Review By Tobias Lehmann (Erfurt, Thuringia, Germany)
The authors of this book cover a very disputable topic of recent South Korean history. Not without reason is the Kwangju massacre regarded as Korea's Tianmen square incident. Kwangju was along time not permitted to be a scientific subject in Korea as Gi-Wook Shin maintains in the introductory chapter during the authoritarian regimes under Chon Doo Hwan and Roh Tae Woo that were the major responsables for the tragedy.
This book has two preferences. After a brief and precise survey about the events that occured during May 1980 the authors scrutinize in the first part individual commemorations including personal attitudes and sufferings from various perspectives, e.g. an American missionary. The second part contains brief scientific articles about the trajectory of Korean politics in the 1980s and the outcomes of Kwangju for Korea's final democratization and June uprising in 1987/88.
Even though this book seems to be a little bit too short it provides the reader with a useful introduction in Kwangju uprising as a historical watershed on the road to democratization. Not merely that the Korean military elite and the regime weakened the suppression and the political pressure on the opposition after Kwangju but also the events in May 1980 completely changed the point of view towards the USA which were apparently involved in this way that they allowed the intervention of Korean military and paratroops from Taegu defeating the people's riot with thousands of dead Korean citizens. They were not any longer considered as the big brother but rather the the Anti-Americanism emerged and reinforced in the end of the 1980s particularly among Korean intellectuals and students. This had the consequence that the Americans refrained from encroachment in the students demonstrations and labor riots what made free elections and more democratic amendments in the constitution possible. Another topic in the book are the regional divergences in Korea between the area around Seoul (and Kaesong province) in the North and the Cholla provinces in the south. Issues like the victimization of Kwangju or Kim Dae Jung's discrimination are also subjects of concern.
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