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The 1946 Spread of Cholera in Seoul and Its Social and Political Contexts

Im Chong Myong 1

1전남대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

The cholera broke out in Seoul comparatively belatedly at the end of May, 1946, and then in the following month the epidemic came to be spread to the outskirt of Seoul, especially on the riverfront of the Han River and its vicinities, infecting not a few residents there. The flood late in July exacerbated the outbreak of the epidemic, which came to make continually contagious those people living next to downtown Seoul, especially the inhabitants of the villages along Ch’ŏnggye Stream and the residents in its neighboring ones. In the fall of the year, however, the epidemic came to an end. The seasonal choler epidemic in metropolitan Seoul showed its outstanding feature, viz. the less infections with lower case fatality rate compared with the epidemic plaguing other provincial localities in contemporary South Korea. The feature was caused by the local potentials of basic heath and social infrastructures enough to cope with the epidemic, and, more significantly, by the contemporary disinfection policy of South Korean authorities which was currently oriented toward the protection of metropolitan Seoul from the infection. The short history of the cholera epidemic in Seoul was not only bacteriological but also socio-political in post-colonial South Korea. The fact that the waterborne infection of cholera surged in the areas along the Han River and the Ch’ŏnggye Stream shows the cholera spread in 1946 Seoul was a bacteriological phenomenon. At the same time, the spread was a socio-political one in that the surge of the epidemic was found in the outskirts of Seoul where the urban infrastructures such as water supply and drainage system was poorly established. Moreover, the epidemic spread which began with the infection of some Korean repatriates from China expressed the post-colonial history of the East Asia and Korea which the establishment of the ethnic nation-states system followed the collapse of Japanese empire. Given this, we can say that the cholera outbreaks in 1946 Seoul were socio-political occurrences as well as natural, bacteriological ones. At the same time, the cholera pandemic in Seoul expressed the simultaneous progress of modern ‘metropolis/periphery’ relationship at the level of the nation and the locality. The Seoul-oriented disinfection policy for the defense of the capital city delayed the first outbreak of cholera in Seoul, bringing forth its comparatively mild outbreak. Given this, the center of the epidemic in Seoul was the local periphery which was located at riverside and streamside areas equipped with poor urban infrastructures. This shows that the cholera epidemic in 1946 Seoul was the historical event as a modern relationship between metropolis and periphery.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.

This paper was written with support from the National Research Foundation of Korea.