Korea Seminar Series -- The Recovery of a Vanished Public Memory: Slavery in Choson Korea
Milan Hejtmanek - Associate Professor of Korean History, Academy of East Asian Studies, Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul, Korea
The establishment of systematized hereditary slavery in Korea dates from the outset of the Koryô period (918-1392) and was formally ended in 1894. The system comprised a wide variety of bondage arrangements and its scale varied greatly over time and locale, but reliable census records in the Chosôn period show that during the mid-seventeenth century in southern rice-growing regions around half the population was legally owned, mostly privately. The turbulence of events in Korea during the twentieth century eroded public memory of slavery, to the extent that by the 1980s it had been completely effaced and only a handful of professional historians recognized its prior scope and importance. Subsequently a spirited and occasionally acrimonious debate in the academic world has ensued over its meaning and legacy and begun to spill out into public discourse.