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Imperial Korea’s Western Capital (Sŏgyŏng): The Pyongyang Development Project, 1902-08

  • Eugene Y. Park

Except for specialists working on the period, the Korean Empire's (1897–1910) project to develop Pyongyang as the "Western Capital" (Sŏgyŏng) is not all that well known even among Korea historians. From the perspective of international relations, there can be no doubt that the Russo-Japanese War sealed independent Korea’s fate. All the same, in the last two decades or so, Korea’s own effort toward modernization has received more attention among historians who no longer dismiss the history of the Korean Empire as the tail end of the Chosŏn Dynasty. For sure, the official rhetoric that empires old and new have had two capitals conceals imperial Korea’s self-perceptions about its place in the civilized world of the past, the present, and the future. Moreover, scrutiny of the circumstances in which the government undertook the project before it came to a halt allows insight into the Korean Empire’s understanding of geopolitical realities at the time.

Eugene Y. Park is the Korea Foundation Associate Professor in History in the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also the director of Penn's Korean Studies Program. Dr. Park completed his doctorate in East Asian languages and civilizations at Harvard in 1999 and has received numerous research grants and fellowships, including: a 2007–08 Seoul National University Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies Fellowship; a 2003–04 Korea Foundation Advanced Research Grant; a 1999–2000 Yale University Council on East Asian Studies Postdoctoral Fellowship; a 1996–97 Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship; and a 1995–96 Fulbright Fellowship. His research interests focus on the sociopolitical history of early modern Korea, and his current work examines the chungin ("middle people") to address questions of modernity, identities, and agency. His book, Between Dreams and Reality: The Military Examination in Late Chosŏn Korea, 1600–1894, was published by the Harvard University Asia Center in 2007. He has published chapters and articles in venues such as Journal of Social History and Yŏksa wa hyŏnsil.