Marginality and Subversion in Korea

The Hong Kyongnae Rebellion of 1812

Sun Joo Kim

  • Published: July 2015
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / China; Literary Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 304 pp., 6 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Korean Studies of the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies
  • Contents

In the history of Korea, the nineteenth century is often considered an age of popular rebellions. Scholarly approaches have typically pointed to these rebellions as evidence of the progressive direction of the period, often using the theory of class struggle as an analytical framework. In Marginality and Subversion in Korea, Sun Joo Kim argues that a close reading of the actors and circumstances involved in one of the century's major rebellions, the Hong Kyongnae Rebellion of 1812, leads instead to more complex conclusions.

Drawing from primary sources in Korean, Japanese, and classical Chinese, this book is the most extensive study in the English language of any of the major nineteenth-century rebellions in Korea. Whereas previous research has focused on economic and landlord-tenant tensions, suggesting that class animosity was the dominant feature in the political behavior of peasants, Sun Joo Kim explores the role of embittered local elites in providing vital support in the early stages to spur social change that would benefit these elites as much as the peasant class. Later, however, many of these same elites would rally to the side of the state, providing military and material contributions to help put down the rebellion. Kim explains why these opportunistic elites became discontented with the state in the scramble for power, prestige, and scarce resources, and why many ultimately worked to rescue and reinforce the Choson dynasty and the Confucian ideology that would prevail for another one hundred years.

This sophisticated, groundbreaking study will be essential reading for historians and scholars of Korean studies, as well as those interested in early modern East Asia, social transformation, rebellions, and revolutions.
Sun Joo Kim is professor of Korean history at Harvard University.

"Kim argues convincingly that it was neither desperate peasants nor ambitious new economic forces but rather traditional local elites, frustrated by their marginalization from the center and by government policies that threatened to undermine both their status and their financial well-being, who plotted and carried out the rebellion."
-John B. Duncan, UCLA

"Kim's thorough analysis of the 1812 Rebellion's cause and events, the players involved, agendas or self-interests have contemporary relevance, not just within the Korean borders, but globally . . ."
-Korean Quarterly

"In portraying the rebellion as based in regional resentment and led by an elite that appealed to popular prophecies and superstitions in order to mobilize the populace, Kim implicitly suggests that Hong's uprising was not rooted in the broad historical trends that much scholarship has identified as signs of the dynasty's decline. Kim's approach offers a very different historical context for the rebellion and is one of the more important-and contentious-findings of the book.... Other work, following Kim's fine lead in committing to more regional history, will be needed to answer... the many... questions raised, both implicitly and explicitly, by Kim's provocative work."
-Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies

"...An admirable example of a persuasive multidimensional analysis of a major historical event. Important not only for Korea historians, but also for comparativists of rebellions in the context of larger social change in world history, I expect this well-researched book to remain a classic for many years to come."
-Journal of Asian Studies, Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 68, No. 3, August 2009