From its establishment on the peninsula in 1784 to Pope Francis’s visit to beatify 124 martyrs, in 2014, 230 years later, the Catholic Church in Korea has experienced massive change as it has sought to navigate persecution, imperialism, national division, war, dictatorship, and democratization. Despite the challenges it has faced, the Korean Catholic Church has managed to transform itself from a tiny, marginalized community into a highly respected part of Korean society with millions of members. This history can be divided into four periods: the time of hope, in which some Koreans came to believe that Catholicism would bring both spiritual salvation and this-worldly knowledge (the early 16th century to 1784); the time of persecution in which Catholics on the Korean peninsula suffered and died for their faith (1784–1886); the time of imperialism (1886–1945), during which Catholics had to balance the demands of nation, state, and faith in the face of increasing Japanese control of their country; and the time of development (1945–2014) as the Catholic Church in South Korea (the Catholic Church in North Korea being essentially destroyed) became an increasingly integral and active part of Korean society.
Catholic Christianity in Korean History
Chinese Merchants in Japan and Korea
In the mid-19th century, Chinese merchants moved to the treaty ports of Japan and Korea to expand the domestic commercial network abroad. They made significant profits by importing and distributing British cotton clothes via Shanghai to Japan and Korea. While Chinese merchants in Japan remained purely economic immigrant groups, those in Korea took an active political role since their advance to Korea on business was part of an effort by the Qing dynasty to strengthen its influence in Korea. Before the Mukden Incident in 1931, Chinese merchants in Kobe, Japan, engaged in trade with China and Southeast Asia and continued to be a powerful commercial group in Asian trade. However, Chinese merchants in Korea suffered from business crisis earlier on. They were hit hard by the sharp decline in import trade from China, which was their primary business, due to Japan’s protective tariff policy introduced in 1924. Until 1930s, both Chinese merchants in Japan and Korea were forced to gradually revise their business strategies to sell Japanese products in Greater China and Korea. The outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937 turned out to be a decisive blow to the already struggling businesses of the Chinese merchants in Japan and Korea.
Japan established a protectorate in 1905 and annexed Korea in 1910. The colonial occupation officially lasted thirty-five years, until the atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima precipitated the end of World War II on August 15, 1945. The Government-General of Korea administrated the colony’s affairs and enforced many laws and regulations from Japan. Yet the Japanese also made significant legal modifications that allowed for stricter censorship and control of the colony. In principle, the Government-General had absolute authority over Korea and was only accountable to the Japanese emperor rather than the Imperial Diet under the Meiji Constitution. However, in practice the Government-General was not completely independent because of the need to file reports and receive financial subsidies from the Imperial Diet. The considerable autonomy of the Government-General to enact its own legal provisions may be important to keep in mind to understand how colonial Korea was an authoritarian system that operated separately from the Meiji Constitutional order. Korea underwent a major transition from an agrarian society to the beginnings of an industrial society during the colonial period. Many historical accounts tend to portray the colonial administration as an omnipotent force, but the Japanese faced considerable limitations and challenges in ruling the colony. Korea gradually became integrated into an autarkic economic block along with Manchuria that formed the basis for Japan’s East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. However, political integration remained a controversial topic that was never resolved before 1945. The Japanese enforced numerous policies to mobilize the colonial population for World War II. Yet even as Koreans marched into the battlefront and served labor duty in the factories, basic political rights continued to be denied. Many of today’s tensions between Korea and Japan stem from the unresolved historical controversies from the colonial period.
Ethnic Groups of Manchuria
Ethnic groups of the geographical region of Manchuria can be understood in relation to their cultural, demographic, and linguistic differences and similarities; historical formation; and modern status. Manchuria is a macroscopic entity, Greater Manchuria, which comprises areas administered by China (the People’s Republic of China) and Russia (the Russian Federation) as well as, until recently, by Japan. Geographically Manchuria is closely associated with the maritime dimension formed by the Korean Peninsula and the Japanese Islands as well as the island of Sakhalin.
Japanese Pirates and the East Asian Maritime World, 1200–1600
Peter D. Shapinsky
Historians translate a variety of terms from 13th- through 17th-century Japan, China, Korea, and Europe as “Japanese pirates” (e.g., Jp. kaizoku, Kr. waegu, Ch. wokou). These constructs reflected the needs of regimes and travelers dealing with a maritime world over which they had little direct control, and often denoted bands of seafarers who based themselves in maritime regions beyond and between the reach of land-based political centers. Seafarers rarely used the terms to refer to themselves. Japanese pirates opportunistically traded, raided, and transmitted culture in periods when and places where the influence of central governments attenuated. However, some innovated forms of maritime lordship that enabled them to establish dominance over sea-lanes and territories at the heart of the Japanese archipelago. Pirates developed expertise in navigation and naval warfare that helped them acquire patrons, who provided access to networks of diplomacy and trade. In the 16th century, some Japanese pirates forged multiethnic crews that seized control of the maritime networks linking East and Southeast Asia. Labels for Japanese pirates also operated as ethnographical, geographical, and historical symbols. Traumatic assaults by waves of Japanese pirates who massacred and enslaved local populations were indelibly etched into the collective memories of Koryŏ–Chosŏn Korea and Ming–Qing China. By contrast, in early modern Japan the eradication of piracy enabled the state to extend its maritime sovereignty as well as to then commemorate pirates as ethnocentric symbols of Japanese warrior prowess.
Landscape and Nation in North Korea
In 2023, images emerged of Kim Jong Un hand in hand with his young daughter Kim Ju Ae. As they walked over concrete launchpads, away from an intercontinental ballistic missile readied for launch, the leader and his child not only made a statement about succession and military power but also became a new addition to the visual vocabulary of North Korean landscapes. North Korean landscapes and geographies have held both an energetic, vibrant piquancy and a curious, opaque mysteriousness for the outsider almost since the nation’s foundation in 1948. Observers are confronted with a commonality of visual and semiotic tropes focused on the materiality of North Korean spaces; these include barren hills and fields, missiles spewing fire as they launch out of their silos or from their transporters, massed ranks of soldiers marching in steps of uncanny synchrony, starving children, mass hysteria at the death of an autocrat, and the infrastructure of illicit nuclear capacity. North Korean landscapes are real and unreal; known, unknown, and unknowable; constructed and mythographic; a mélange and intersection of fears, history, threat, and ambition. Thongchai Winichakul in his articulation of the geo-body, explored the active and engaged roles that landscape, space, and topography play in the formation of a nation and a national body. Seen in such a frame, North Korea seems to possess a mirrored double: landscapes that play key roles in the nation’s prehistory and foundation are central to its emergent period and are reflective of and enmeshed in the state’s ideological projections. At the same time, for the outsider, the geo-body of North Korea reflects the bodies of its people as they are seen—as stunted, denuded, oppressed, and incarcerated. A holistic overview of North Korean landscapes must move between the mythic and the material, the imagined and the encountered, dualistic in essence and dependent on a viewer’s predictions and presumptions, placing two very different terrains in energetic tension.
Power and Trade between Qing China and Chosŏn Korea
Scholars often regard the Qing-Korean relationship as the most representative instance of the so-called tributary system, the Sino-centric hierarchical world order in early modern East Asia. It was also the most stable one, established in 1637 and ending as late as 1895 after the Qing’s total defeat in the first Sino-Japanese War. Precisely because this bilateral relationship was so typical and so stable, it was also unique in many ways. Although the Manchu regime largely inherited Ming China’s institutions in dealing with Korea (and, later, with other foreign states), this legacy revealed new meanings in the context of the Manchu conquest of China. As the Qing’s first and last subordinate state in the region, Chosŏn Korea served as both an ideological and a practical model in shaping the Qing’s geopolitical construction. Beginning and ending with military clashes, the Qing-Chosŏn hierarchical relationship from the early 17th to the late 19th centuries was nourished and solidified by more peaceful interactions. Generally conducted under the Confucian zongfan (宗藩) principles, these interactions included rituals, diplomatic missions, trade, negotiations, cross-border jurisdiction, and cultural exchanges. Far from being imposed unilaterally by the Qing, the bilateral relationship was mutually constructed in a long process in which the Korean government and literati played a proactive role. During this time, the Korean attitude toward the Qing underwent a gradual change, from hostility to nuanced acceptance. In the late 19th century the two countries tried but failed to adjust their relationship in order to survive the geopolitical threat from industrialized, colonial powers. The collapse of the Qing-Chosŏn hierarchy eventually led to the rise of new national identities in both China and the Korean Peninsula in the 20th century.
Protestant Christianity in Modern Korea
Sean C. Kim
Korea is the only Asian nation with a significant Protestant presence. One in five South Koreans professes the faith. With more than eight and a half million believers, Protestantism as an organized religion ranks second numerically, not far behind Buddhism, but in terms of power and influence, it is unrivalled. Protestants occupy a central position in the country’s politics, society, and culture. Western missionaries, mostly Americans, introduced Protestantism in the late 19th century. As bearers of Anglo-American civilization, the missionaries built not only churches but also modern hospitals and schools. Korean converts, however, quickly assumed leadership under a policy of self-propagation, self-government, and self-support. In the 1920s and 1930s, the church came of age under popular revivalists who commanded national audiences. The process of indigenization also involved the adaptation to local beliefs and practices, producing a distinctive Korean Protestant tradition. Moreover, because of Japanese colonization, Protestantism did not suffer the stigma of Western imperialism common in other mission fields. Many Protestants, in fact, became nationalist leaders. Following World War II, Korea suffered the division of the country and the Korean War. Protestantism was extinguished in the communist north, leading to a mass exodus to the south, but in South Korea, it thrived. Industrialization and urbanization provided opportunities for the churches to create a sense of community, but it was primarily the aggressive one-on-one proselytization and mass evangelistic campaigns that fueled the dramatic expansion. From the 1960s to 1980s, South Korea became the fastest-growing Christian population in the world. The growth stalled in the 1990s because of the church’s support for previous dictatorial regimes as well as scandals involving Protestant political and corporate leaders. Yet Protestantism today remains a vibrant force in South Korea, home to the largest churches in the world and the base for thousands of Korean missionaries.
Science, Technology, and Religion in Chosŏn Korea
During the 518 years of Korea’s Chosŏn dynasty (1392–1910), many things changed and many things stayed the same. After the Yi family established the Chosŏn dynasty, Confucianism became the dominant philosophy. Although Confucianism’s grip on Chosŏn weakened somewhat at the end of the 19th century, it nevertheless continued to provide the basic framework for how government officials and most of the educated elite conceptualized ethics, religion, nature, and technology. This changed when the Chosŏn dynasty was absorbed into the Japanese empire in 1910. Chosŏn-era science, technology, and religion operated within a Confucian framework. This affected astronomical, geographical, mathematical, and medicinal thought and practice. It also affected the role of technology in Chosŏn life and society. Moreover, when Buddhism, folk religion and, from the end of the 18th century even Christianity, were practiced in Korea, it was necessary to maneuver within constraints imposed by a Confucian state and society. Korea’s Confucianism was imported from China. Koreans, however “Koreanized” what they adopted from China to make it their own. When dealing with religion, Chosŏn-era Koreans adopted a much harsher attitude toward non-Confucian religions. When dealing with science and technology, Koreans sometimes made improvements on Chinese models. For example, in the 15th century, Koreans built astronomical instruments that were better than those they had learned about from Chinese astronomers. And, in the 17th century, Koreans produced the most comprehensive encyclopedia of traditional East Asian medicine of pre-modern times. However, none of those changes threatened the hegemony of Confucianism. Chosŏn Korea remained Confucian in its science, technology, and religiosity for over five centuries.
South Korea’s Economic Development, 1948–1996
Michael J. Seth
At its independence in 1948, South Korea was an impoverished, predominately agricultural state, and most of the industry and electrical power was in North Korea. It faced a devastating war from 1950 to 1953, and an unpromising and slow recovery in the years that followed. Then, from 1961 to 1996, South Korea underwent a period of rapid economic development, during which it was transformed into a prosperous, industrial society. During these years, its economic growth rates were among the highest in the world. Under the military government of Park Chung Hee (Pak Chǒng-hǔi), which came to power in 1961, the state gave priority to economic development, focusing on a combination of state planning and private entrepreneurship. Possessing few natural resources, it depended on a low wage, educated, and disciplined labor force to produce goods for exports. As wages rose, economic development shifted from labor to capital-intensive industries. Focusing initially on textiles and footwear, South Korean manufacturing moved into steel, heavy equipment, ships, and petrochemicals in the 1970s, and electronics and automobiles in the 1980s. Two major reforms under the administration of Syngman Rhee (Yi Sǔng-man, 1948–1961) helped prepare the way: land reform and educational development. However, it was the commitment to rapid industrialization by the military governments of Park Chung Hee and his successor, Chun Doo Hwan (Chǒn Tu-hwan), that brought about the takeoff. Industrialization was characterized by a close pattern of cooperation between the state and large family-owned conglomerates known as chaebǒls. This close relationship continued after the transition to democracy, in the late 1980s and 1990s, but after 1987, labor emerged as a major political force, and rising wages gave further impetus to the development of more capital-intensive industry. In 1996, South Korea joined the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, being internationally recognized as a “developed state.” Although living standards still lagged behind those of North America, Western Europe, and Japan, the gap was significantly narrowed. After 1996, its economic development slowed but was still high enough to achieve a per capita income comparable to the countries of Western Europe and to shift from a borrower of to an innovator in technology.
Transnational Film in East Asia
To most Western scholars, “East Asian cinema” calls to mind either a small number of globally recognized art house auteurs or specific genres that have found cult audiences in the West. However, this overlooks the enormously complex history of the popular film industries in the region. The tendency to group together films from the region as East Asian cinema can elide some important differences in the film industries and cultures in individual parts of the region, but, at the same time, the “national cinema” framework fails to appreciate the interconnectedness of these cinemas both to each other and beyond the region. The earliest film screenings in China, Japan, and Korea were in the last decade of the 19th century, within a few years of the Lumière Brothers’ first demonstration of their new invention in Paris in 1895. Japan and China both developed robust popular film industries by the mid-1920s. Colonized by Japan in 1910, Korea nevertheless also developed a popular film industry by the mid-1920s, albeit one that was dominated by business interests (if not necessarily talent) from Japan, and subject to the censorship laws of the colonial government. It is impossible to extricate the networks of commodity and artistic exchange from the history of colonialism in the region—both the colonial designs of Western powers on East Asia, and the reach of the Japanese Empire, whose ascendance coincided precisely with the first half-century of film history, and whose shadow has continued to have implications for cultural exchange within the region ever since. Major geopolitical events such as World War II and the Cold War have also played an important role in shaping film production, and its circuits of exchange, in the region.