Untold narratives and inchoate histories : remembering the Pusan and Masan uprising of 1979



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Pu-Ma Hangjaeng (the Pusan and Masan Uprising, hereafter Pu-Ma) of 1979 was the largest and longest incident of civil unrest and resistance during the Park Chung-hee regime in South Korea. However, overshadowed by more sensational and disruptive events in the turmoil of contemporary South Korean history, Pu-Ma was largely forgotten. In the post-democratization era, scholarly attention on Pu-Ma in Korean has steadily increased, and Pu-Ma’s valorization as a citizens’ uprising against government oppression has increased as well. It has now been given an important place in the genealogy of the democratic movement in South Korea.
I term such recognition among scholars, as well as South Korean governments, the nationalization of Pu-Ma. One of the central concerns of this study is to explore the socio-political reasons behind this process. I attempt to demonstrate that the nationalization of Pu-Ma is closely related to the consensus among progressive scholars about the need to transcend regionalism and resist nostalgia for the Park Chung-hee era. My other focus is on the localization of Pu-Ma, which refers to citizens’ acceptance of Pu-Ma as a proud part of the identities of Pusan and Masan. I explore why localization of Pu-Ma has been problematic despite progressive scholars’ efforts to promote it. I argue that the most significant reason is the difficulty in building coherent collective memory among the participants in Pu-Ma as well as the citizens who witnessed the uprising. I investigate Pu-Ma through newspapers, oral history, and scholarly works to learn why memories of it have remained disconnected and inconsistent for so long.