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The Perception of ‘Poverty’ in Modern History Books: Focusing on Writings about the Pre-modern Period

  • Journal of Humanities, Seoul National University
  • 2018, 75(1), pp.83-119
  • DOI : 10.17326/jhsnu.75.1.201802.83
  • Publisher : Institute of Humanities, Seoul National University
  • Research Area : Humanities > Other Humanities
  • Received : January 12, 2018
  • Accepted : February 1, 2018
  • Published : February 28, 2018

Lim Da-Eun 1

1서울대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

In modern society, the concept of ‘poverty’ features importantly in the social discourse. The dramatic socioeconomic changes, transitions in governmentality, and the birth of political thoughts pursuing liberty and equality contributed to the introduction of newly perceived ‘poverty’. The discourse on ‘poverty’ in historical texts reflected such intensive changes. Although historical texts published in the late 19th and early 20th century Korea contained modern historical conventions and lenses, the citation of pre-modern historical texts extended the Confucian ideology regarding the discourse of poverty. Baek Nam-Woon is the first to discuss the problem of ‘poverty’ as a social problem in history writing. Baek prescribed class as the fundamental cause of ‘poverty’ and expected that elimination of class would bring in a shift in social formation and dissolve ‘poverty.’ However, the liberation and division in Korea severed such traditions of historical materialism in South Korea, and opened the doors for Lee Ki-Baik’s perception on the cause of ‘poverty’ — that the pre-modern status system and tax policy had caused ‘poverty.’ On one hand, under the influence of the colonial historiography, historians recognized the contradictions between poverty and development, and conventionalized the narrative that the intensification of poverty in the late Chosun period deterred the autonomous modernization in Korea. However, historians in the 1960s searched for traces of internal development in Korea, and, in turn, disclaimed the severity of poverty in the late Chosun period. Post-1980s historians formed the history of the Minjung by inheriting the traditions of historical materialism and critically accepting the results of internal development. While these historians propose the problem of class as the cause of ‘poverty,’ they offer a more expansive view on the relationship between class and social institutions. Furthermore, the post-1980s historians suggest new possibilities of autonomous development in Korean history in expanding the narrative on ‘poverty’ and point to the problem of ‘poverty’ as the objective condition for the development of ‘Minjung’, the principle agent of reform.

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