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Korea Old and New: A History

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Book Review: Korea Old and New: A History

The book I chose for this book review assignment is titled Korea Old and New: A History by author Carter J. Eckert along with other contributing authors Ki-baik Lee, Young Ick Lew, Michael Robinson and Edward W. Wagner. The book is published at Korea Institute, Harvard University in 1990. The book consists of 418 pages and it is more of a survey of Korean history and reference type of book, rather than selected readings on modern Korean politics. I chose this book because it is a complete survey of Korean history from the ancient Choson period up to the economic boom of the 1990's, a span of over 2000 years. Each chapter covers a different period, but they all share the same organization of describing the social, cultural, political, philosophical and scholarly aspects of the period in respective subsections. This made it easier to later refer to previous chapters and compare different periods in order to learn the comprehensive history of Korea.

This book is pieced together in two different efforts, one which is to understand the latter history of the post-1945 era with its political liberalization and rapid industrialization period, while at the same time centering its entire text on the question of Korean nationalism and the struggle against the countless foreign invasions Korea had to face. The purpose of this book was composed to provide detailed treatment of how modern Korea has developed with the converged efforts of top eastern and western scholars who wanted to construct a fair overview of Korea's complicated history. Also, the writers wanted to create an updated version of Korea's history by covering the contemporary arena up to the 1990's. The authors of this book boldly state in their Introduction that for understandable historical reasons, the history of Korea has always been under-chronicled (Eckert, 1990). Therefore, the need for a more balanced survey (the old and new of the title of this book) was equally concerned when this book was written. A lot of the beginning portion of the book is devoted to the turbulent history of Korea's past century from the development of the Three Kingdoms (Silla, Paekche and Koguryo) during the 1st - 3rd centuries A.D. up until the period from 1864-1910, where it talks about the growth of enlightenment policies and strict Japanese aggression towards Korea. The remainder end of the book covering the period from 1910-1990 talks about nationalist and social revolutions in Korea, to the liberation, division, and tragic cause of the 1950 Korean War. During the post-1945 era, Korea's first phase for modernization and the call for democracy along with the development of Korea's economy are also analyzed in this book. The authors of Korea Old and New: A History applied a specific approach when addressing the effects of the changes on Korea's populace, economy, and diplomatic standing in the East Asian world. Most works dealing with the history of Korea do not focus on the underlying forces behind the changes in Korean political structure. This book is an exception though. Korea Old and New: A History does a good job of synthesizing all factors and including detailed analysis to the major periods of Korean history and clearly defines the major issues of each period.

Accurate and insightful, the book begins with the basic introduction of nomadic Korea which then explores the history from the three unified kingdoms and how the influence of Buddhism and Confucianism molded Korea's social, family, and political institution. Each phase is covered in collaboration by experts of that field. Because each subsection is handled by scholars who are not only expertise on these subjects, but derived from his own intensive studies of these events in Korean history, new materials and analysis in this book made it a good source to understand the content of this book. The complete details to geography, arts and culture only helped enhance the events that took place. However, as the 20th century dawned, Korea was overrun by Japan and roughly five decades of occupation took place. From this point on, the book's strength is its account of modern Korea and the motivations



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