Yongusil 77: Reconfiguring Histories in the Borderland: A Workshop in Leeds

By | September 29, 2015 | No Comments

The boundary that separates and unites China and its putative North Korean ally remains a site of intense inquiry. Recent incidents along the border and in nearby settlements evince a contested space; one where local actors compete for rich smuggling routes along the Tumen River and, further to the west where the Yalu (Amnok) River meets the sea and in China proper, suited traders pursue cross-border commercial licenses in the shadow of the “stationary bandit” North Korean state. The tendency to instinctively link borderland incidents (such as cross-border shootings) to meta-narratives of the bilateral China-North Korea relationship can render the situation all the more difficult to parse.

On the afternoon of Thursday, October 1, Sino-NK editors Adam Cathcart and Christopher Green will dive headlong into this milieu, convening a workshop at Cathcart’s home university of Leeds. The goal will be to chronicle aspects of change and continuity in the Sino-Korean border region. Using the sociologist Park Hyun-ok’s new book, The Capitalist Unconscious: From Korean Unification to Transnational Korea (Columbia University Press, 2015) as a provocation, the workshop will assess the depth of interconnectivity between and among states, cities, ethnicities, and capital in the broader border region.

According to Dr. Park, the oft-heard argument that North Korea’s historical ties with the People’s Republic of China have been eroded sharply in recent years but trade–both legal and illegal alike–has played a binding role is no longer adequate to describe the depth of localized interactions. For her, the movement of capital, ideas, and labor across Korean and Chinese borders in the 21st century constitutes no less than a unification in the era of neoliberal capitalism in Northeast Asia.

Using Dandong, Harbin, and the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture as case studies, the workshop will explore these ideas. The workshop begins at 17:00 in Michael Sadler 3.11, The Grant Room, School of History, University of Leeds.