Politics, Economy, and Everyday Life in Early Cold War East Asia

AHA Session 202
Saturday, January 7, 2017: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Centennial Ballroom F (Hyatt Regency Denver, Third Floor)
Tuong Vu, University of Oregon
Harrison Kim, University of Missouri–Columbia
Steven Pieragastini, Brandeis University
Alex-Thai Vo, Cornell University

Session Abstract

This roundtable will explore the everyday political economy of socialist states in East Asia during the early Cold War period, with a focus on the local implementation of national policies of land reform, collectivization, and industrialization. These policies are usually examined at the highest level; when and how decisions were made by Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, and Kim Il-Sung and their colleagues in the party’s national leadership and their immediate subordinates in the party-state hierarchy. Past studies have developed, to the greatest extent possible given source limitations, a broad picture of the effects of these policies – increases or decreases in production, average redistribution of land, the number of workers or farmers employed in collectives, communes, and factories, etc. But much of our knowledge of the enactment of these policies on the ground is informed by sparse anecdotal evidence. However, newly available and previously unexamined sources can shed light on the experience of these policies at the lowest level – the village, the factory, even the household.

The presenters on this roundtable will discuss these issues in several connected yet distinct contexts: the People’s Republic of China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and the Viet Minh-controlled parts of Vietnam (and later the Democratic Republic of Vietnam). These three regions went through a nearly simultaneous, connected “transition to socialism” in the early years of the Cold War. Although the prevailing influence of both the Soviet Union and Mao’s particular brand of Communism cannot be denied in Korea and Vietnam, these policies were realized in specific contexts which determined their contours. Even within China, the move towards a socialist economy was always guided by overarching objectives but implemented according to local conditions, allowing space for flexibility, negotiation, even backsliding. These were revolutionary processes, but which extended over time and were intertwined with everyday life, becoming normalized.

As a roundtable, this panel will begin with brief presentations on the everyday experience of socialism in each of these three regions followed by extended discussion among the panel and with the audience. Alex-Thai Vo will examine the process of land reform in the Vietnminh-controlled areas of Vietnam and later the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Cheehyung Kim will discuss everyday life on the factory floor in early post-civil war North Korea. Finally, Steven Pieragastini will analyze the process of land reform, cooperativization, and collectivization in ethnic minority regions of the People’s Republic of China. Tuong Vu, an expert on comparative politics and economics in East and Southeast Asia, will serve as chair, offering questions and comments to the panel before moderating discussion with the audience.

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