Steven Hugh Lee

Associate Professor

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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - May 2019)
Civil war, politicide, and the politics of memory in South Korea, 1948-1961 (2016)

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.

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Unwanted refugees : Chinese migration and the making of a global humanitarian agenda, 1949-1989 (2012)

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.

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North Korea in the socialist world : integration and divergence, 1945-1970. The crossroads of politics and economics (2010)

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.

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