Vietnam and Korea as "Longue Durée" Subject of Comparison: From the Pre-modern to the Early Modern Periods

Conference dates: 3-4 March 2017

It is no longer possible to submit proposals for the conference.

This conference is the first part of a two-parts conference In Comparison: Korea and Vietnam in History. The second part of the conference, focusing on the contemporary Korean and Vietnamese conditions, from 1945 onward, will be held in Korea in the following year. In Comparison: Korea and Vietnam in History is an initiative directed by IIAS, and jointly organized by: Seoul National University, Asia Centre (Seoul), Vietnam National University (Hanoi), International Institute for Asian Studies (Leiden), Leiden University (Leiden), École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (Paris)

The conference 'In Comparison: Korea and Vietnam in History'

Comparative studies are located at the heart of humanities and social science studies (Détienne 2000, Werner and Zimmermann 2004; Felsky & Friedman 2013), particularly in area studies (Anderson 1998, Lieberman 2009). In that field especially, implicit or explicit comparisons often determine certain conceptions of regional and sub-regional orders. For example, the study of East Asia is implicitly situated within a comparative approach to China and the Sinitic culture. What other “strange parallels” (Lieberman) could possibly be operational to set a “comparative gesture” (Robinson 2011) that would not be determined by usual ‘sino-style’ conceptions of Asia? How to trigger new connections and parallels in area studies?

In partnership with a number of universities and institutions, IIAS and its partners set out to address this “comparative gesture” by initiating a deliberate by-pass of dominant geometries and meta-narratives. One way to do so will be by organizing conferences or other forms of interactive platforms that would explore unexploited or only partially studied parallels and connections. In doing so, it will not only seek to contribute to renew how ‘Asian studies’ is methodological framed. By identifying new articulations beyond established approaches of global history, it seeks to underscore the intellectual merits – as well as limits - of comparisons as a social science and humanities method.

Conference 1: Vietnam and Korea as "Longue Durée" Subject of Comparison: From the Pre-modern to the Early Modern Periods

The first proposed event will focus on Korea and Vietnam, two major regional nations and societies in Asia: as great kingdoms in the pre-modern period they developed, sometimes within and sometimes outside of the Sinitic “tributary” system, strong political organizations and original civilizations. The vicissitudes of the modern and contemporary periods, first with the experience of colonial subjugation, then international warfare and civil conflicts resulting in division of the two countries set much connections and parallels in the two countries’ trajectories. Today, Vietnam and Korea continue to stand at the edge of the two great ideological systems that shaped the twentieth century, socialism and capitalism, yet in a divergent ways – Vietnam being reunified and having entered post-communist-pro-capitalist State authoritarianism while Korea remains divided between two models of statehood and governance.

The conference is conceived as an exploratory exercise to identify points of connections in which scholars of Vietnam and Korea could confront their work and engage their paradigms. As an ongoing project historically grounded with contemporary perspective situated within the larger Asia-global spectrum as well as for practical sake, the first part of the conference entitled Vietnam and Korea as "Longue Durée" Subject of Comparison: From the Pre-modern to the Early Modern Periods will focus on two conventionally agreed historiographies of the countries’: their ‘pre-modern’ and ‘colonial’ periods. An underlying question this conference aims to address will be: How the Korean and Vietnamese states and their civil societies, concepts that shaped during the tributary system, became formulated during the modernization period?

Topics particularly relevant for the conferences include:

  • Ancient kingdoms: indigenization of Sinitic culture and resources; articulation with vernacular cultures (e.g. indigenous religious systems and beliefs);
  • Pre-modern urban cultures, bureaucracies, statehood;
  • Ways of dealing with the world and China: diplomatic cultures and techniques, exchange, commerce, piracy;
  • Western incursions and missionary experiences in Korea and Vietnam
  • Looking at China, Japan and other Asian countries from Korea and Vietnam;
  • Writing and languages (relation to Chinese writing systems, and vernacularization processes; linguistic innovations and hybridization);
  • Colonial experiences, including differences of governmentalities, processes of modernization; cities and modern urban cultures; transcultural experiments; forms of political (and cultural)  resistance and contestation; new cosmopolitanisms.

Individual presentations may not be restricted to works explicitly comparing Korea and Vietnam, yet presenters have to bear in mind the ultimate purpose of framing debates in comparison between the two Asian countries and their societies.

A second part of the conference, focusing on the contemporary Korean and Vietnamese conditions, from 1945 onward, will be held in Korea the following year.


Further information about the venue, suggestions for accommodation, and logistics will be provided on this webpage in due course.

For questions, please contact Ms Martina van den Haak at

Steering Committee

Prof. Kang Myungkoo (SNUAC)
Prof. Nguyen Van Kim (VNU)
Prof. Remco Breuker (Leiden University)
Dr Valérie Gelézeau (EHESS)
Dr Philippe Peycam (IIAS)


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