These chapters by eight Korea specialists present a new approach to human rights issues in Korea. Instead of using an external and purely contemporary standard, the authors work from within Korean history, treating the successive phases of Korea’s modern century to examine the uneasy fate of human rights and some of the ideas of human rights as they have developed in the Korean context. Beginning with the Independence Club of the late nineteenth century and continuing through to the constitutional and judicial structures underlying the Sixth Republic Government of Roh Tae Woo in South Korea, these papers illuminate the sometimes complex interactions between modern Korean human-rights issues and the legacies of Korean culture and colonial occupation.
The contributors provide a corrective to two common errors: one, an overemphasis on the tension between residual Confucian culture and human-rights concepts; two, the opposite error, a defensive nationalism that gives rise to ill-founded efforts to identify democratic antecedents in the Korean past. Instead, these authors allow each episode in the emergence of Korean human rights thought and action to stand in the context of its own time and of Korea’s modern history. The final sections deal with the usefulness and appropriateness of U.S. policies toward human rights in South Korea and comparatively with the overall issues raised in the volume.