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Northeast Asia Center

The Northeast Asia Center (NEAC) takes Asia as a method to study Korea in the world and the world in Korea. To seek out the possibility of East Asian solidarity and cooperation in various dimensions, the Center has set fundamental research into the memories and experiences, sites and relics, culture, and other historic heritage and legacies of the Northeast Asian region as its main research direction. NEAC also analyzes the complex layers of relations between the two Koreas and surrounding great powers, the US, China, Japan, and Russia. In 2016, Prof. Jeonghoon Lee succeeded Prof. Keunsik Jung as the Center’s director, and it was a year of wrapping up previous projects and searching for a new vision for the Center.

Research Topics

Consistent with previous years, NEAC carried out research on POW camps as well as the new flow of cultural movements that arose with the end of the Cold War in the Northeast Asian region. In particular, the Center was able to examine the contemporary significance of historical heritage in a more practical way through a research project into the viability of the Geoje POW camp to be registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site. In addition, the Center conducted an in-depth study of universities in North Korea and their place in the higher education of Northeast Asia. Meanwhile, the Center was able to grasp major trends of new cultural movements of Northeast Asia through a cooperative project with the Gwangju Biennale. Other goals of the Center included the development of a network with various domestic and international research groups to promote a better understanding of the Northeast Asian region.

Of the 26 formal and temporary Korean War-era POW camps and POW collection points covered by this research, surviving historic sites exist at Geoje, Tongyeong, Incheon, Jeju-do, Nonsan, Gwangju, and Yeongcheon, and the records of Korean War-era POW camps are scattered among 33 organizations in 17 countries. NEAC focused its effort on demonstrating the value and historical significance of Cold War cultural heritage through the POW camp records and historic sites The Center reached a positive conclusion regarding the possibility for the records on POW camps to be registered as UNESCO Memory of the World.

Major Research Outcomes

First, NEAC conducted research into the viability of registration of the Geoje POW camp as UNESCO World Heritage Site and its records as UNESCO Memory of the World. By carrying out fieldwork and surface investigations of the surviving structures at the Korean War-era POW camps on five separate occasions and drafting a list of records related to the POW camps, preserved at 11 domestic organizations including the National Archives of Korea and 20 international organizations including the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the Center was able to formulate two types of roadmaps: one for the registration of these sites and records with UNESCO and the other for the construction of a POW camp archive center.

This project is particularly important as the first in Korea synthesis of Korean War-era POW camp-related records. Drawing on existing literature, NEAC located and estimated the size of the domestic and overseas collections of written and non-written records (photographs and video and voice recordings) as well as their value. The team was able to determine the location of camps, changes in structures and sites, and the overall status of preservation of the surviving sites through the records, aerial photographs, and on-site fieldwork. These research results have brought the plans for the camp’s registration as a UNESCO Memory of the World and the construction of an archive center one step closer to realization.

Second, in its research on POW camps on Chubong and Yongcho Islands in the Tongyeong area, NEAC conducted interviews of local residents over the course of four months. Based on its findings, the Center organized a photo exhibition of Chubong and Yongcho Islands during the annual Great Battle of Hansan Island Festival and produced a 5 minute promotional video and 30 minute documentary titled “Place of Memories.”

Third, as a continuation of research on the history, status, and outlook of North Korean universities, NEAC investigated Soviet-type universities and examined the differences between them and North Korean universities under the theme of “Comparative Analysis of the Formation and Decline of the Soviet-Type University: One Perspective on Understanding North Korean Universities” through in-depth interviews of North Korean university faculty and professors.

A symposium on the same topic compared higher education in North Korea, China, the Soviet Union, East Germany, and Vietnam. The Center is currently preparing to publish a compilation of comparative research on North Korean and Soviet universities, interviews of people who studied in North Korea and specialists in North Korean refugee education, and research papers presented at academic conferences.

Fourth, NEAC co-hosted a workshop organized as part of the Gwangju Biennale Infra-School. Entitled “What Do the Arts Do? A Concrete Answer,” the workshop investigated the prospects of the Gwangju Biennale and sought to formulate a discourse on the relationship and mediation between the arts and society.

Outlook and Tasks for the Future

In the future, NEAC will focus its research and organizing activities on examining the effect China’s rise and the US Pivot to Asia strategy have on Northeast Asian societies and relations between them and investigating these linkages and transformations. The Center will also attempt to regionalize Korean humanities and social sciences by departing from the existing approaches and exploring the ways to understand Korea within an Asian context.

To achieve these goals, NEAC has planned a lecture series dealing with recent China-related issues and opened the Colloquium China series. The Center seeks to investigate not only the economic ripple effects but also the social and cultural effects of China’s rise on the surrounding countries, by looking into the phenomenon of youke (遊客, Chinese tourists) whose number exceeds a hundred million people per year.

At the same time, NEAC will conducting research on pending issues on the Korean peninsula within a global context and attempt to rebalance the one-sided image of North Korea as an irrational rogue state by examining the country from various angles through a project entitled “De-demonizing North Korea,” jointly conducted with research institutions in Northern Europe that are relatively unaffected by the internal conflicts and antagonisms of Northeast Asia.


Jung, Keunsik (2016). Peace and Solidarity in East Asian Cold Islands. Asia Review Vol.5, No.2

Jung, Keunsik (2016). “Social History of War.” in Kim, B. et al. <Social History/Historical Sociology>. Dasan Books

Lee, Jeong Hoon (2016). Chapter 4, Psychological Warfare Between Kimmen(Quemoy) and Xiamen(Amoy). <Island, Rebirth of Kinmen>. Zininnin

Gab Seang Jeon (2016). <The Geoje Modern and Contemporary Literature Series V- the U. S. Military Government and Pre- Geoje Island Important Documents 1960>. Sunin Publishing

Gab Seang Jeon (2016). <The Geoje Modern and Contemporary Literature Series VII – Geoje Island Important documents Since 1960>. Sunin Publishing

Gab Seang Jeon (2016). The US Army Base Camp in Incheon and Prisoner of War Camp Korean War. Yellow Sea Culture Vol. 93


Jeonghoon Lee (Dept. of Chinese Language and Literature)

Eunyoung Nam (SNUAC)

Research Assistants:
Xiang Qing Song (SNU)
Suejin Lee (SNU)