The end of the Korean War in 1953 was in many ways the true beginning of what we now know as South Korea (ROK). Born in 1948 as part of an artificial division of the country abetted by the intrusion of outside powers, wracked by political strife, rebellion, and finally a bitter civil war, it was only after 1953 during a painful process of physical reconstruction that any purposeful nation-building could begin. A part of this process was the construction of a new public sphere that attended the emergence of newspapers, political journals, and electronic media. It was within the new public sphere that the intellectual process of de-colonization could finally begin. The 1950s was a period of cultural and intellectual growth; the press and media revolution expanded a public sphere long constricted and circumscribed under Japanese rule. While the ROK created a new censorship regime based on a fierce anti-communism, it did not slow significantly the rapid emergence of new intelligentsia and greatly expanded intellectual discourse.
This talk will focus on the role played by the journal Sasanggye (the World of Thought) [hereafter, SSF] in encouraging all manner of cultural production and intellectual debate at this time. It survived in a harsh political environment and evolved with little capital and few resources save the donated labor of a cadre of extraordinary intellectuals. By the political transition of the early 1960s, SSG mentored the political activism of intellectuals and students, fostered debates surrounding the creation of the Second Republic, and provided economic expertise for the government and planning policies of Park Chung Hee—all the while championing liberal democratic values. Understanding SSG’s rise, maturation, and ultimate decline shows that ideas did matter. And to understand the 1950s in Korea, we must appreciate in nuance the creation and evolution of this remarkable journal and the role it played in creating and defining intellectual discourse in South Korea.
Michael E. Robinson completed his AB degree at the University of Michigan in 1968 and after a stint in the Peace Corps entered graduate school at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he received his Ph.D. in East Asian History in 1979. Robinson joined the East Asian Languages and Cultures Department at Indiana University 1995 after serving 15 years in the Department of History at the University of Southern California. He teaches a wide variety of courses on his specialty, modern Korean history, as well as survey courses on East Asia and other specialized topics. His work focuses on the intellectual and cultural history of modern Korea with an emphasis on Korea’s colonial period. He has written extensively on Korean nationalist ideology formation, journalism history, and colonial popular culture. Among his many publications are Modern East Asia: An Integrated History (with Jonathan Lipman and Barbara Molony); Korea’s Twentieth Century Odyssey: A Short History; and Colonial Modernity in Korea, 1910-1945 (co-edited with Gi-Wook Shin). He is a co-editor of the forthcoming The 1950s as History in Korea: Politics, Ideology, and Social Change (with Carter Eckert and Tae Gyun Park).