Korean Peasants and the Struggle over Land Reform in U.S.-Occupied Korea
Kornel S. Chang, Associate Professor of History, Rutgers University – Newark
October 16, 2019 (UCHI Conference Room: Babbidge Library, 4th Floor North)
This talk captures a slice of Korea’s “Asian Spring,” by examining the different ways Korean peasants imagined liberation, sought to actualize their aspirations, and clashed over its meaning in the aftermath of the Second World War, when the collapse of the Japanese Empire ushered in a moment ripe with hope, idealism, and uncertainty. It also looks at how the entry of American forces complicated, and, ultimately, narrowed possibilities for agrarian reform. This touched off a struggle with Korean peasants, who, despite their differences, held more far-reaching visions of emancipation. Focusing on land rights, my talk reveals the vitality and complexity of Korea’s “Asian Spring,” by highlighting the emancipatory opportunities that inspired, mobilized, and fractured Korean peasants, while recounting the ways Americans foreclosed many of its possibilities in an effort to establish control in Korea and rebuild a postwar social order in Asia.