CUREJ - College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal

From Jeju to Gwangju: Korean People’s Movements and the Ongoing Struggle for Political Recognition in the Post-1945 US Hegemonic Order

Kingsley Song

Division: Social Sciences

Dept/Program: Asian Amer Studies; History; International Relations; Political Science

Document Type: Undergraduate Student Research

Mentor(s): Robert Vitalis

Date of this Version: 01 January 2022


The original publication date of January 1, 2022, was entered in error. The record was corrected on 10/28/22 to reflect the correct publication date of April 10, 2022.


South Korea is often held up as a model for the Global South within the political science discipline for both its economic success and democratic governance. However, in both regards, the scope of research on South Korea is still limited by this widely accepted narrative. Current literature on South Korea in political science has focused on its economic success as an “East Asian Tiger” with little consideration for its political processes. Conversely, within ongoing debates on democratization, South Korea has often been ignored in favor of other countries in the Global South and presumed as a successful export of US democracy. As the literature stands, there remains a dire need for research specifically on South Korea’s political formation as well as the impacts of U.S. involvement in the context of post-1945 US hegemonic order. These prevailing narratives on South Korea within political science lead me to ask: how did Korean people negotiate their position as the backdrop of global power struggles? What were the motivations for Korean people to mobilize? How did Korean people’s movements serve as a means to reclaim agency and political recognition? To reframe South Korea around Koreans, I focus on people’s movements using the Jeju 4.3 Struggle and the Gwangju Uprising as case studies to better gauge evolving Korean popular opinion and its strength to mobilize the public. Given prevailing notions of the U.S. as a beacon for democracy for South Korea, I reevaluate this history in consideration of alternative motives for United States involvement and critical theory to offer a fuller understanding of South Korea’s longer struggle for independence. In doing so, I offer insight into how Korean political agency defied the Western liberal democratic framework and in turn posed an existential challenge to US hegemony. This case-study analysis presents a novel understanding of South Korea’s political processes and the ramifications of US influence on nascent nation-states. By placing the people’s movements of Jeju and Gwangju in conjunction with one another, this work seeks to illuminate the trajectory of South Korea’s political formation and the US hegemonic context that shaped Korea and subsequent independent nations.


Asian American Studies | Asian History | Diplomatic History | International Relations | Political History | Political Science

Suggested Citation

Song, Kingsley, "From Jeju to Gwangju: Korean People’s Movements and the Ongoing Struggle for Political Recognition in the Post-1945 US Hegemonic Order" 01 January 2022. CUREJ: College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal, University of Pennsylvania,

Date Posted: 08 September 2022




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