Reconstituting the Social: Transforming Institutions and Emerging Forms of Knowledge-Making in Korea, Late Nineteenth Century to 1945

John P. DiMoia, National University of Singapore

Kyung Moon Hwang, Rationalizing Korea: The Rise of the Modern State, 1894-1945. University of California Press, 2015. 416 pp. $75 (cloth); $35 (paper/e-book).

Theodore Jun Yoo, It's Madness: The Politics of Mental Health in Colonial Korea. University of California Press, 2016. 248 pp. $65 (cloth/e-book).
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In recent Korean studies scholarship, the period falling under the label of the “Taehan” (1897–1910)—or, alternatively, the “Taehan Empire”—has generated a great deal of commentary. This brief slice of time, immediately preceding the onset of Japanese colonialism (1910–1945), has drawn interest due to its temporal proximity to the dramatic events associated with the end of the Joseon, as well as for the rich, dynamic interplay of various reforms, practices, and new ideas that characterized the period, suggesting the possibility of counterfactual, or alternate, readings (Kim, Duncan, and Kim 2006). In a span of less than three decades, Korea underwent a forced opening, similar to that experienced by Qing China and Meiji Japan, and rapidly sought an appropriate response to the challenges of empire, surrounded as it was by imperial China, Japan, and Russia (Lankov 2007; Son 2008). The enormous ferment associated with the period has attracted scholars, who see the origins of emerging forms of economic activity, cultural reform, and technological developments as already present within it, thereby providing a contrast to an earlier body of scholarship according to which the Japanese triumphed with little difficulty...