SOAS University of London

Japan & Korea Section, Department of East Asian Languages & Culture

The Two Koreas since 1953 (PG)

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2021/2022
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 2

This module looks at the historical trajectories of the two Koreas since the end of the Korean War. While the two countries have diverged dramatically in their political systems, both have experienced extensive economic growth, urbanisation and industrialisation in the postwar period. We will look at the rise and decline of the North Korean economy as well as its political system, ideology and personality cult. For South Korea the course will look at military rule, economic development, and gender under the rule of Park Chung Hee. It will also concentrate on how South Koreans have attempted to change their own society, from the April Revolution of 1960 to the democracy movement of the 1980s. Finally, it will examine how the two Koreas have been transformed in the post-Cold War period by such historical turning points as the North Korean famine of the 1990s and the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997. The module will look at the two countries alongside one another, making comparisons and connections where appropriate. We will also consider critically how the history of two Koreas has been understood within the peninsula and beyond. This module should usually be taken after the 15 credit module ‘The Making of Modern Korea, 1864-1953’.


Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  1. Articulate an in-depth understanding of historical developments on the Korean peninsula since the Korean War.
  2. Understand a variety of aspects of historical change on the Korean peninsula, including social change, demography, culture, politics and economy as well as the role of Korea in the larger East Asian region.
  3. Demonstrate a basic understanding of how modern Korean history has been interpreted by both Korean and overseas scholars.
  4. Assimilate and synthesise prior knowledge while also developing original critical views.
  5. Formulate appropriate research questions, propose and evaluate analyses and present evidence (for and/or against) these analyses.
  6. Assess evidence critically from primary and secondary sources and formulate historical arguments on the basis of this evidence.
  7. Use appropriate research techniques, such as finding relevant materials in the library and through web-based archives.


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week consisting of a 1 hour lecture and a 1 hour seminar.

Scope and syllabus

The following syllabus is for guidance only and is subject to alteration at the discretion of the module convenor.

  • The Miracle on the Taedonggang: North Korea's postwar take off
  • Syngman Rhee’s authoritarianism and South Korea's April Revolution
  • The state, the military, and economic development in South Korea
  • Labour, migration and social change under Park Chung Hee
  • Conversion, reeducation and ideological persecution in the two Koreas
  • The causes of North Korea's long decline
  • From the Kwangju Uprising to democracy and civilian rule
  • The trajectory of North-South relations, 1970-2016
  • North Korea since the 1990s: Famine, marketisation and the nuclear option
  • South Korea since the 1990s: The neoliberal transformation of a developmental regime



Method of assessment

Critical source commentary of 1000 words to be submitted on day 1, week 5, in the term of teaching(20%); an essay of 3000 words due day 1, week 1 in the term following teaching (80%).

Suggested reading

Core Readings
  • Robinson, Michael. Korea’s Twentieth Century Odyssey.
  • Seth, Michael (ed). Routledge Handbook of Modern Korean History.
  • Shin, Michael (ed). Korean History in Maps.
  • Lankov, Andre.  From Stalin to Kim Il Sung.
  • Seungsook Moon, Militarized Modernity and Gendered Citizenship in South Korea.
  • Lewis, Linda. Laying Claim to the Memory of May.
  • Lee, Namhee. The Making of Minjung.
  • Haggard and Noland, Famine in North Korea.
  • Gray, Kevin. Korean Workers and Neoliberal Globalization
Additional Readings
  • Kim, Quee-young, The Fall of Syngman Rhee.
  • Van Ree, Eric. “The Limits of Juche.”
  • Kim, Hyung-A, Korea's development under Park Chung Hee.
  • Hwang, Su-kyoung. The Grievous Korean War.
  • Chun, Soonok. They Are Not Machines.
  • Lewis, Linda. Laying Claim to the Memory of May.
  • Haggard and Noland, Famine in North Korea.
  • Lankov, Andre. The Real North Korea


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules