A useful overview of Korean history from ancient times to the present is Bruce Cumings’s Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History (New York: W.W. Norton, 2005). Joong-Seok Seo’s Contemporary History of South Korea: 60 Years (Seoul: Korea Democracy Foundation, 2007) more specifically deals with Korea’s history since its liberation from Japanese imperialism, from the perspective of social movements. Cumings also wrote an outstanding two-volume history of the Korean War: The Origins of the Korean War, Vol. 1: Liberation and the Emergence of Separate Regimes 1945–1947 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981); The Origins of the Korean War, Volume II: The Roaring of the Cataract, 1947–1950 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990). In these books, Cumings focuses on conflicts among various political organizations within Korean society, in particular, between socialism and nationalism, as a primary cause of the civil war. By contrast, Myung-Lim Park, The Requiem for Peace, a Critical-Constructive Reflection on the Korean War (Seoul: NANAM, 2005) rebuts Cumings’s view, revealing that North Korea’s leadership, supported by the Soviet Union and China, played a more important and direct role in triggering the war. Mikyoung Kim (ed.), Routledge Handbook of Memory and Reconciliation in East Asia (London: Routledge, 2015) covers the relationship between trauma of wars in the twentieth century, post-war nationalism, and social movements for coming to terms with the past in East Asia.
Hagen Koo, Korean Workers: The Culture and Politics of Class Formation (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001) delineates the process by which Korean workers’ collective identity was formed in response to harsh suppression by the authoritarian government. T’aeil Chŏn is a symbolic figure or martyr, who heralded the emergence of progressive labour movement in Korea. The late human rights lawyer Young-rae Cho wrote a biography of Chŏn in 1991, a must-read for many intellectuals and college students in Korea, which was translated in English: A Single Spark: The Biography of Chun Tae-il (Seoul: Korea Democracy Foundation, 2003). Chun Soonok, They Are Not Machines: Korean Women Workers and their Fight for Democratic Trade Unionism in the 1970s (London: Routledge, 2003) investigates female workers’ lives and struggles after Chŏn’s death. Hwasook Nam, Building Ships, Building a Nation: Korea’s Democratic Unionism Under Park Chung Hee (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009) explores the rise and collapse of militant labour unionism, focussing on male shipyard workers in the 1960s and 1970s. Jang-Jip Choi, Labor and the Authoritarian State: Labor Unions in South Korean Manufacturing Industries, 1961–1980 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990) analyses Korean labour movements in the same period through the framework of power relations between the state, capitalists and workers.
Namhee Lee, The Making of Minjung: Democracy and the Politics of Representation in South Korea (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009) illuminates solidarities and tensions between intellectuals and ‘common people’, who were defined and represented as Minjung by the former. The Kwangju Uprising of May 18, 1980, which triggered the Minjung Movement, is outlined in detail in Sangyong Chung, Memories of May 1980: A Documentary History of the Kwangju Uprising in Korea (Seoul: Korea Democracy Foundation, 2003). Gi-Wook Shin and Kyung Moon Hwang (eds), Contentious Kwangju: The May 18th Uprising in Korea’s Past and Present (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003) introduces various interpretations of this critical event. Jung-woon Choi’s article in this volume ‘The Formation of an Absolute Community’, which is the abridged version of his book The Social Sciences on ‘May’ (Korean edition, Seoul: Pulbit, 1999), describes Kwangju citizens’ loves, struggles and tragedies. Jung Han Kim, Insurrection of the Masses and its Democracy in 1980 (Korean edition, Seoul: Somyong, 2013) sheds new light on the subjectivities of civilian militias and their pursuit of ‘anti-violence’. The Kwangju Uprising and the US government’s silence about it ignited anti-American sentiment, which developed into the National Liberation faction. David I. Steinberg (ed.), Korean Attitudes Toward the United States: Changing Dynamics (Armonk, NY: Sharpe, 2005) and Katharine H. S. Moon, Protesting America: Democracy and the U.S.-Korea Alliance (Berkeley, CA: Global, Area, and International Archive, 2013) deal with anti-Americanism and related social activism.
The June Democracy Movement of 1987 sparked Korea’s transition from military dictatorship to institutional democracy, and Joong-Seok Seo’s The June Democracy Movement (Korean edition, Seoul: Dolbegae, 2011) explains this process in detail, based on numerous primary sources. Jang-Jip Choi, Democracy after Democratization: The Korean Experience (Stanford, CA: Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, 2012) examines how democratization after 1987 ironically resulted in the political system being dominated by conservative parties. The general strike of 1997 led by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions was a workers’ reaction against neoliberalism. To understand Korean workers’ struggles against neoliberal globalization, see: Hochul Sonn, ‘The “Late Blooming” of the South Korean Labor Movement’ (Monthly Review 3, 1997); Kevin Gray, Korean Workers and Neoliberal Globalization (London: Routledge, 2007); and Jennifer Jihye Chun, Organizing at the Margins: The Symbolic Politics of Labor in South Korea and the United States (Ithaca, NY: ILR Press, 2009).
Geoncha Yun’s The Trend of Thoughts in Contemporary Korea (Korean edition, Seoul: Dang-Dae, 2000) maps Korean intellectuals’ theoretical positions in the 1980s and 1990s, ranging from conservatism to socialism to postmodernism. Jinkyong Lee, Marxism and Modernity (Korean edition, Seoul: Munhwa Kwahak, 1997) points out the limitations of Marxism from the viewpoint of the New Left, which arose in 1990s Korea. Jie-Hyun Lim, ‘Mapping Mass Dictatorship: Towards a Transnational History of Twentieth-Century Dictatorship’, in Jie-Hyun Lim, Karen Petrone (eds), Gender Politics and Mass Dictatorship: Global Perspectives, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) criticizes Korean progressive scholars’ consensus on the military dictatorship as a simple dichotomy of state dominance and people’s resistance. In order to explain how ordinary people’s consent and collaboration provided a hegemonic base for military dictatorship, Lim proposes a new concept of ‘mass dictatorship’; Jung In Kang (ed.), Contemporary Korean Political Thought in Search of a Post-Eurocentric Approach (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2014) reinterprets Korea’s modernization and democratization from a ‘Korean perspective’, in an effort to escape from the Eurocentrism that permeates Korean academia.
Barbara Molony, Janet Theiss and Hyaeweol Choi, Gender in Modern East Asia (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2016) traces structural transformations in gender relations in China, Korea and Japan from ancient times to the present. The Research Institute of Asian Women at Sookmyong Women’s University published two multi-volume histories of Korean women from the late nineteenth to the early twenty-first century: A Political and Social History on Korean Women (Korean Edition, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 2005); A Cultural History on Korean Women (Korean Edition, Vol. 1, 2, 3, Seoul: Sungmyong, 2005–2006). Won Kim, Female Workers in the 1970s and Their Counter-History (Korean edition, Seoul: Imagine, 2004) and Seung-Kyung Kim, Class Struggle or Family Struggle? The Lives of Factory Workers in South Korea (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997) depict the lives, struggles, and identities of female workers who played a crucial role in both the economic miracle and progressive labour movements. Korea Women’s Hot Line (ed.), A History of Korean Women’s Human Rights Movements (Korean edition, Seoul: Hanul Academy, 2015) is a useful introduction to diverse feminist movements grappling with issues ranging from sexual and domestic violence to prostitution to LGBT rights. Seung-kyung Kim and Kyounghee Kim, The Korean Women’s Movement and the State: Bargaining for Change (New York: Routledge, 2014) examines how Korean feminists succeeded in having gender related laws enacted under progressive presidencies in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
‘Comfort Women’ or Japanese military sexual slavery has been considered one of the most crucial issues of women’s human rights, in domestic, regional, and global contexts. Some of Korean survivors’ testimonies, which sparked social movements and academic research regarding this topic, were translated into English: Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, True Stories of the Korean Comfort Women (London: Cassell, 1995); Dai Sil Kim-Gibson, Silence Broken: Korean Comfort Women (Parkersburg, IA: Mid-Prairie Books, 2000). Against Japanese right-wing attempts to deny the historical existence of this matter, efforts to unearth historical facts based on official documents and survivors’ testimonies are still going on: Yoshaki Yoshimi, Sexual Slavery in the Japanese Military during World War II (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000); Center for Research and Documentation on Japan’s War Responsibility’s periodical, The Report on Japan’s War Responsibility (Japanese edition, 1993); Maria Rosa Henson, Comfort Woman: A Filipina’s Story of Prostitution and Slavery under the Japanese Military (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999); Jan Ruff O’Herne, 50 Years of Silence (North Sydney: William Heinemann, 2008); Peipei Qiu and Su Zhiliang, Chinese Comfort Women: Testimonies from Imperial Japan’s Sex Slaves (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014); Caroline Norma, The Japanese Comfort Women and Sexual Slavery during the China and Pacific Wars (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). With regard to social and artistic movements on this issue, see Margaret D. Stetz and Bonnie B. C. Oh, Legacies of the Comfort Women of World War II (London: Sharpe, 2001) and Chinsung Chung, Japanese Military Sexual Slavery (Korean edition, Seoul: Seoul National University Press, 2004).