I thought I would revive this title once more and add another post to the series on recent historiographical clashes in South Korea since I recently came across another interesting example that actually fits rather nicely with some of the posts made here by Jiyul and Noja.
I came across this report on a debate on the Park Chung-hee era between Im Chi-hyŏn and Cho Hŭi-yŏn in the pages of the Donga Ilbo newspaper. Apparently the debate between the two has been going on since 2004, particularly in the pages of the journal Historical Criticism (역사비평) and the Professors’ Newspaper (교수신문).
Basically, the main protagonist, Im Chi-hyŏn, argues that Park’s rule was an example of a ‘mass dictatorship’ (대중독재), in other words, the idea that Park was able to rule by creating some degree of consent for his dictatorship. Cho counters that “the mass dictatorship theory is problemmatic because it expands the accommodating silence of the masses into a general and active agreement with the dictatorship, thus justifying it.”
Im on the other hand responds that “Cho’s understanding makes the people into heroes and demonises the dictator, creating a moralistic duality. If we are to prevent a new dictatorship from arising we need to go beyond moralistic dualism and provide a dispassionate analysis.”
Going a bit further, Cho argues that both Im Chi-hyŏn’s views and those of Yi Yŏng-hun (who edited two recent books I’ve mentioned here: 해방 전후사의 재인식 and 수량경제사로 다시 본 조선후기) are part of a general attempt to create a revisionist history that takes advantage of the current crisis of ‘democratic progressive discourse’. He argues that while Yi’s critique comes from the viewpoint of the so-called ‘New Right’, Im’s comes from a postmodernist (탈근대적) position. Funnily enough I’m planning to translate a review of 해방 전후사의 재인식 by a Korean Marxist historian whom I rate highly, who makes almost exactly the same point, titling his review: ‘A reactionary duet between the right and the postmodernists.’ When I actually have some time to do the translation I’ll be sure to make it available to readers here.