For more than half of the twentieth century, the Korean peninsula has been divided between two hostile and competitive nation-states, each claiming to be the sole legitimate expression of the Korean nation. The division remains an unsolved problem dating to the beginnings of the Cold War and now projects the politics of that period into the twenty-first century. Korea’s Twentieth-Century Odyssey is designed to provide readers with the historical essentials upon which to unravel the complex politics and contemporary crises that currently exist in the East Asian region. Beginning with a description of late-nineteenth-century imperialism, Michael Robinson shows how traditional Korean political culture shaped the response of Koreans to multiple threats to their sovereignty after being opened to the world economy by Japan in the 1870s. He locates the origins of both modern nationalism and the economic and cultural modernization of Korea in the twenty years preceding the fall of the traditional state to Japanese colonialism in 1910.
Robinson breaks new ground with his analysis of the colonial period, tracing the ideological division of contemporary Korea to the struggle of different actors to mobilize a national independence movement at the time. More importantly, he locates the reason for successful Japanese hegemony in policies that included―and thus implicated―Koreans within the colonial system. He concludes with a discussion of the political and economic evolution of South and North Korea after 1948 that accounts for the valid legitimacy claims of both nation-states on the peninsula.
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Michael E. Robinson is professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Indiana University.Review:
Robinson’s effort overshadows other publications in Korean studies because of its clear, concise, succinct, and easily accessible writing style. (Southeast Review of Asian Studies (30, 2008))
An excellent introduction to modern Korea for college-level courses or for the general reader. The author brings together representative research studies, including his own, and offers a succinct, dynamic and synthesized history of modern Korea. . . . [H]e pays close attention to how the everyday life of ordinary people intersects with the rapid economic and cultural transformations, rendering a highly engaging and captivating narrative with precision, wit and balanced viewpoints. (Pacific Affairs (80:4, Winter 2007–2008))
An excellent book which concisely and succinctly presents the reader an opportunity to better understand the 20th century historical and cultural context for events occurring on the Korean peninsula today. (Korean Quarterly (11:3, Spring 2008))
Michael Robinson has written an excellent survey of twentieth-century Korean history that will be useful for both students and interested readers. . . . The book is concise enough not to overwhelm the reader yet informative enough to provide a firm foundation for understanding modern Korea. . . . It is unmatched in its treatment of the crucially important colonial era. For this reason Robinson has produced what is probably the most useful survey text on modern Korea. (Acta Koreana (11:1, 2008))
The wait for a succinct yet comprehensive history of modern Korea is over. This volume, deftly written by Michael E. Robinson, comes as a welcome alternative to histories of Korea too long or too complex for typical undergraduates. . . . Striking photographs throughout confirm this impressive volume’s status as the new standard in the field. . . . Essential. (Choice (November 2007))
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