Korea and Vietnam in the Modern and Contemporary Ages: Comparisons and New Connections

The program and abstracts are available now.

Venue: Seoul National University Asia Center (SNUAC) Youngone Hall 2F (BLDG 101)
Onsite registration: Friday morning: SNUAC, bldg 101 in front of Youngone Hall 2F / Friday afternoon and Saturday: SNUAC, Bldg 101, 3rd Floor, near room 303

Conference dates: 1-2 June 2018

A two-parts conference 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. An initiative directed by IIAS

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, Seoul National University-Asia Centre, the International Institute for Asian Studies, Vietnam National University, Leiden University and École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales set out to address this “comparative gesture” by initiating a deliberate by-pass of dominant geometries and meta-narratives. One way to do so is by organizing conferences or other forms of interactive platforms that would explore unexploited or only partially studied parallels and connections. In doing so, the partners not only seek to contribute to renew how ‘Asian studies’ is methodological framed. By identifying new articulations beyond established approaches of global history, they seek to underscore the intellectual merits – as well as limits - of comparisons as a social science and humanities method.

The first conference entitled Vietnam and Korea as "Longue Durée" Subject of Comparison: From the Pre-modern to the Early Modern Periods took place in Hanoi, Vietnam from 3-4 March 2017.

The second conference entitled Korea and Vietnam in the Modern and Contemporary Ages: Comparisons and New Connections will take place in Seoul, South Korea, from 1-2 June 2018.

In-depth comparison of the premodern histories of Vietnam and Korea yields an index of fascinating parallels, some of which are structurally related to both historical communities’ adjacent to the center of the Sinosphere, if on opposite ends of it. The long 19th century and the equally long and traumatic 20th century occasioned divergences to emerge in the developmental trajectories of the premodern states located on the Korean peninsula and in the east of the Indochinese peninsula. Both states shared the experience of brutally exploitative colonialism, but colonial experiences were as diverse as the colonial empires the states were drafted into. The seeming likeness of the modern histories of Vietnam and Korea continued when the postcolonial condition was made painfully explicit in the North-South divisions of states. Again, a devastating war with the pronounced involvement of super powers between North and South mirrors Vietnamese and Korean experiences. As a consequence, Vietnam was reunified, while Korea stayed divided. Here, comparison dissolves into connection when the South Korean participation in the Vietnam War is taken into consideration. Vietnam became a possible Korean future, while both Korea’s had become futures that would no longer happen for Vietnam.

The intricate patterns that emerge when considering Vietnam and Korea side by side in the modern age of course stretch into every field of academic enquiry, whether historically, geographically or culturally. Comparison and connection taken together offer a grip on the rich and complicated intertwined narratives of the Korean and Vietnamese states from the late 19th century onwards. The conference’s heuristic purpose will be to (re)connect the two countries as subjects of History and articulate their trajectories diachronically, yielding changing perspectives on Vietnam and Korea.

Whether it is the role of the South Korean businesses who in the shadow of the ROK troops set their first steps on the path of becoming the international conglomerates in the Vietnam War that kick started the Korean economy (returning to Vietnam in the late 90s); the developmental processes of Vietnam as potential beacons for future North Korean development; or the Vietnamese and Korean diaspora’s in comparison, these are the loci where comparison and connection meet and meet again, yielding changing perspectives on Vietnam and Korea.

The conference is open to anyone interested in the theme. There is no registration fee. If you would like to attend the conference, please register via our online form.

For questions, please contact Ms Martina van den Haak at m.c.van.den.haak@iias.nl

Steering Committee

Prof. Myungkoo Kang (SNUAC)
Prof. Nguyen Van Kim (VNU)
Dr Philippe Peycam (IIAS)
Prof. Remco Breuker (LU)
Prof. SooJin Park (SNUAC)
Prof. Suhong Chae (SNUAC)
Dr Valérie Gelézeau (EHESS)

Inline photo by manhhai [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons