Panel I: “Rights in Historical Perspective” (2018 Signature Conference)

Panel I: “Rights in Historical Perspective”


“The Emergence of Rights in the Chosŭn Period”

Jisoo Kim, The George Washington University

This paper traces precursors to the concept of rights in Chosŭn Korea. I analyze legal cases to show how people sought rights. The discourse of (equal) “rights” (권리) only emerged in the late 19th century with the rise of modernity. As the practice shows, people were engaged in legal disputes to seek rights related to life, property, inheritance, etc. I am going to argue that it is anachronistic to claim that “rights” did not exist in Confucian judicial system in East Asia by applying the modern notion of “rights” that emerged after the French revolution in the West. Legal practice shows people were practicing rights within their society. But, of course, there is a shift in the notion of rights in the late 19th century as the status system gets abolished and with the introduction of modern notion of rights (권리).


“Women at the Courts: Women and Lawsuits in Colonial Korea”

Sungyun Lim, University of Colorado, Boulder

How did the Japanese colonial rule influence women’s inheritance in Korea? In this paper, I explore the impact of the Japanese colonial rule on women’s legal rights in Korea through a close examination of some civil court records. Despite the restriction on legal rights of women under the Japanese colonial legal system, Korean women were actively present in the colonial courts to defend their customary rights and most of these women were successful. What does this tell us about the nature of the Japanese colonial policy in Korea and how did women fare under them? This paper delves deep into the complex dynamics between the colonial power and the colonized society through civil cases waged by widowed household-heads.


“A Tale of Two Commissions: The Evolution of Rights Claims in the Jeju Commission and the TCRK”

Hun Joon Kim, Korea University

With at least ten commissions, South Korea is leading a trend of addressing past human rights violations using truth commissions. Two commissions—the Jeju Commission and the TRCK— stand out in their mandate, budget, and personnel. Both commissions worked effectively under two consecutive progressive regimes but their paths starkly diverge with the inauguration of Lee Myung-bak in February 2008. With an appointment of new commissioner, the TRCK was hurriedly closed down, even without properly placing the excavated remains of victims. In contrast, the Jeju Commission, faced with the exactly same pressure from the new regime, effectively resisted the repression until today and even made significant achievements such as progressively revising the law to proclaim April 3rd as the national memorial day. By tracing how claimants defined rights and articulated their rights, this paper examines whether the different processes in the evolution of rights claims in two commissions make a difference.


Panel I Discussion

Discussant Li Chen kicked off the discussion of Panel I: “Rights in Historical Perspective” by urging all authors to define “rights” in an East Asian context and the particular type of rights they are referring to in their papers. He commended Jisoo Kim for trying to avoid comparing Chosun dynasty rights to Western conceptions of rights, but noted that comparisons with other colonial contexts and East Asian countries could bolster Sungyun Lim and Hun Joon Kim’s arguments. Aram Hur suggested that Hun Joon Kim further investigate regional identity formation as a factor in Jeju-do’s collective rights claims. Other participants raised questions about the role of social status in delimiting rights, the methodology of choosing historical legal case studies, and the historical evolution of collective versus individual rights claims. The panelists agreed that this discussion would help them tighten their arguments and paper structure going forward.

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