Steven Hugh Lee
Relevant Degree Programs
Graduate Student Supervision
Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - April 2022)
In the 1960s the North Korean leadership embraced the variety of radical Third Worldism associated with Cuba’s Tricontinental Conference of 1966, which advocated a militant, united front strategy to defeat US imperialism via armed struggle across the Global South. This political realignment led to exceptionally intimate political, economic, and cultural cooperation with Cuba and a programme to support armed revolutionary movements throughout Latin America. In the process, North Korea acquired a new degree of prestige with the international left, influencing Cuban and Latin American left-wing discourse on matters of economic development, revolutionary organization and strategy, democracy and leadership. North Korea and Cuba became leaders of a radical Third Worldist tendency within the international communist movement that challenged the leadership of Moscow and Beijing, rejected the economic liberalization occurring in the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc, and championed militant internationalism. While most studies of this era in North Korea focus on its relationship with the Soviet Union, China, and events internal to the Korean peninsula, this dissertation shows how important Cuba and Latin America were to the North Korean leadership’s international perspective and foreign policy formulation.
This thesis explores the history and memory of three incidents of massacres committed by South Korean government forces during the Korean civil war (1948-1953) against alleged "communists"—the Cheju Incident, the National Guidance League Incident, and the Kŏch'ang Incident. These three episodes were part of a broader "politicide" that was organized and facilitated by the nascent South Korean National Security State. Drawing from sources unearthed by the South Korean Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the National Committee for the Investigation of the Truth about the Cheju 4.3 Incident, and various bereaved family associations, this dissertation demonstrates that this politicide was rooted in processes of anticommunist ideological consolidation and state building that were predicated upon the obliteration of the "communist" other, in the context of a fratricidal civil war. From 1953 to 1960, in the aftermath of this period of mass violence, survivors and bereaved families were subjected to legal, economic, and social discrimination from the state, which threatened these families with "social death". Most profoundly, state prohibitions on the burial and mourning of "communists" engendered a social crises within these communities. However, some families were granted the right to mourn, and through the construction of mass graves honouring the victims, these families articulated an alternative identity than that imposed by the anticommunist state: one that was rooted in the notion of a unified bereaved subject. In 1960, the authoritarian First Republic collapsed, leading to a brief period of liberation. In this context, victims formed Bereaved Family Associations. Through petitions, advertisements, private and public mourning practices, and the establishment of "truth" committees, the Bereaved Family Associations offered a radical rethinking of the Korean War past. The lynchpin of this strategy was an alternative nationalist narrative in which the alleged "communists" were reconceived as patriotic martyrs for a not-yet-authored unified democratic state. However, in the wake of the military coup of May 16, 1961, these efforts were brutally repressed, as the military junta arrested and tortured the Bereaved Family Associations' leadership, destroyed monuments dedicated the atrocities' victims, and desecrated the mass graves built to honour the spirits of the dead.
This project traces the history of population movements out of “Red China” during the Cold War and investigates how certain Chinese migrants came to be treated as refugees when the vast majority did not. From 1949 to 1989 thousands of people left the People’s Republic of China. The settler societies of the British Commonwealth offered refuge to only a few.Contrary to the politics surrounding the flight of individuals and groups from the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, no discourse of “Cold War warrior” or “freedom fighter” attended the movement of people leaving the Chinese mainland after the victory of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949. In investigating the reason for this marked difference, this project connects the mediating role played by humanitarian actors and officials in Hong Kong with longstanding histories of racist exclusion in the settler societies of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. States were confronted with the challenge of reconciling notions of universal human rights, liberty and freedom with their persistent reservations about the desirability of Chinese migrants. As a result, there was an inconsistent and fractured response to the idea advanced by NGOs, churches and Chinese community organizations that the people leaving China were refugees in need of assistance. States responded to the movement of people and pressure from humanitarian actors by carefully delineating the ways and means in which people would be identified as refugees. They proffered aid accordingly. Questions of assistance and protection were deeply entwined with the elaborate migration controls and regulation that characterized the international migration regime of the late twentieth century. Authorities frequently defined people as illegal in order to reject calls to provide assistance or protection. While the discourse of illegality undermined claims to refugeehood, the growth in the number and variety of official migration categories meant that people simply moved according to whatever category, or discrete resettlement program, was available to them. This movement subverted state efforts at regulating migration and further undermined the work of religious and secular humanitarians who consistently depicted refugees as abject and helpless. Humanitarian actors were therefore only modestly successful in their efforts to secure consistent state engagement with refugee issues. For most of the Cold War, refugees from China were unwanted in the settler societies of the British Commonwealth.
This thesis investigates the background behind the resilience of North Korean system, one which has endured numerous shocks and upheavals in its history. The era from 1945 to 1970 was decisive in the formation of North Korea’s domestic system; it also provides sufficient perspective to examine the major trends in the evolution of North Korea’s political and economic structure. The thesis analyzes DPRK history from the perspective of the regime’s internal and external integration into the socialist system, as well as efforts to diverge from that system. The dynamics of integration and divergence relate to the commonalities and distinctiveness of North Korea’s political and economic structure compared to other socialist countries, mainly the Soviet Union and China. This thesis studies the formation and evolution of North Korea’s political economy and defines its uniqueness within the socialist system. Socialist aid and trade are one focus of the study. We analyze four realms of relationships – ideology, politics, economy, and security. The northern regime’s ideological positioning was closely linked to North Korea’s nationalist course and to the regime’s divergence from the socialist system; economic considerations and security imperatives, by contrast, tended to push the regime toward the socialist world. The thesis defines North Korea’s place in the socialist world from the view point of the interaction between politics and economics. It argues that despite North Korea’s ideological and political divergences from the socialist system based on the Chuch’e (self-reliance) paradigm, the regime remained more integrated economically than is usually perceived. This factor is one of the main reasons for the DPRK’s ability to withstand the blow of the Soviet collapse, for it retained considerable economic ties to China. During the 1945-1970 era, North Korea occasionally deviated from one or another of its two major allies, but it never distanced itself from both the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China simultaneously. The DPRK also tried to compensate reductions in its interactions with one major ally or camp, including the Eastern bloc, by nurturing more active relations with capitalist states. This trend represents an important consistency in North Korea’s history.
Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2021)
As the fall of 1950 deepened, the Korean War literally came home with the retreat of the North Korean troops back across the 38th parallel, complicating the distinction between who belonged to the war front or the home front. This thesis examines letters written by North Korean soldiers and civilians that demonstrate their shared experiences, traumas, and hopes. They reflect soldiers’ fluid identity between the war front and the home front and reveal the agency of the authors of the letters who tried to cope with and survive the war, yet remain absent in the history of the Korean War. Through the framework of the history of the everyday life, this thesis recognizes and argues for the shared experiences between soldiers and civilians and their agency to improve their situations as the war theatre was further compressed. Focusing on the first turning point for the Korean People’s Army (KPA) after the successful Incheon Landing Operation by the US and UN forces in mid-September of 1950, this thesis follows the trajectory of the KPA’s frantic retreat and rapidly worsening living conditions for the people when the war zone and the home front merged into one space. Yet instead of suffering as victims of the extraordinary circumstances of war, letters demonstrate how people coped, or at least attempted to, through writing, by taking initiative when help could not be found nearby. North Korean people found ways to navigate war-ravaged terrain and were not silent victims. The thesis examines the literacy campaigns that began before the war, children during the war, physical and psychological merging of the war and the home front, retreat and civilian refugees, and shared challenges that the soldiers and civilians tried to overcome with the failing infrastructure and economy.