The 1956 Crisis and the Making of North Korean Despotism

Dr. Kathryn Weathersby
Tuesday, July 2, 2019 -
7:30pm to 9:00pm
Second floor Residents’ Lounge, Somerset Palace
10,000won for non-members and 5,000won for student non-members (with student ID); free for members


Royal Asiatic Society, Korea Branch lecture series

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The 1956 Crisis and the Making of North Korean Despotism


Why is North Korea so unusually repressive? Even by the standards of communist countries, it stands out for having no dissidents and no organized resistance. Prof. Weathersby will explain how North Korea's distinctive despotism was created following the dramatic challenge to Kim Il Sung's rule from within the Korean Workers' Party in the summer of 1956. The attempt to force Kim Il Sung to follow the reforms of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev failed despite Soviet and Chinese intervention. In its wake, Kim Il Sung carried out a vast purge designed to eliminate from power anyone even remotely affiliated with this opposition and he restructured the society to ensure that such a movement would never again arise.

However, what is made can be unmade. The system of social control Kim Il Sung put in place after 1956 has begun to unravel as a result of the marketization of the North Korean economy over the last two decades. As North Koreans now get most of what they buy from private markets rather than the state, and money is playing a role it has never before played, new power structures are taking shape. The lecture will conclude with a discussion of the dangers this process poses to the Kim Dynasty's hold on power.

Dr. Weathersby is an Adjunct Professor at Korea University and at American University in Washington, DC. She holds a Ph.D. in Russian history, with a second field in Modern East Asia, from Indiana University. Following the collapse of communist rule in the Soviet Union, she conducted research in Russian archives on the creation of the North Korea state and the Korean War, and has published and lectured widely on these subjects. After access to Russian archives was restricted in the late 1990's she created the North Korea International Documentation project at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC, which organizes research on the history of North Korea through the archives of the DPRK's former allies in Eastern Europe. In 2014 she received the Medal of Civilian Merit from the ROK Ministry of Patriosts and Veteran Affairs and in 2012 she received a Special Prize for Promotion of Democracy from the Federation of Korean Industries.

Venue:          Second floor Residents’ Lounge, Somerset Palace,

                      Gwanghwamun (near Anguk Station, across street from Japanese Embassy)

                      * Somerset Palace is no longer providing free parking. 


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Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch
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[03129] 서울시 종로구 대학로 19 (연지동) 한국기독교회관 611호

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