Natalia Kim, Political Memoirs and Collective Memory in South Korea: Turning Points in the Autobiographical Writings of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun

Natalia Kim, ‘Political Memoirs and Collective Memory in South Korea: Turning Points in the Autobiographical Writings of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun,’ European Journal of Korean Studies, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Summer), 7-31.

Abstract: The present research focuses on the autobiographical writings of two outstanding political figures, the former presidents of South Korea, Kim Dae-jung (1998-2003) and Roh Moo-hyun (2003-2008). The study aims to define how the individual memories of a past are interwoven with collective memories and reflected in life narratives. The research focuses on Kim Dae-jung’s written memories of the liberation period (1945-1948), the Korean War (1950-1953), the April Revolution (1960), and Roh Moo-hyun’s oral recollections of the April Revolution (1960) and of the May 16 coup (1961). Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun have used different forms of autobiographical writing, autobiography and memoir, to record their private recollections, which are testimonies of the authors’ past experience. In this regard, they are especially helpful resources for understanding how collective memory of the past has been formed and mobilized in South Korea.
The preliminary results of the research show that the individual memories of two politicians regarding significant historical events considerably contest and criticize the official historical discourse. In their autobiographical writings, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun argue that the past is not something settled and unaltered; it is a subject of continuous rethinking and revision. Through open criticism of the past mistakes of South Korean government and politicians, they oppose the unilateralism of the official historical discourse, which for decades has been forming on various misconceptions and limited information on socio-political realities of the modern Korean history. The lack of reliable information on the most significant events of the modern Korean history led to forming collective memory based on the oblivion of the tragic pages in the history of Korea. Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun believe that Koreans should remember the past in all its diversity and complexity to prevent the future mistakes. Continuous questioning, criticism, and focusing on impressions of the past events are the basic methods which both authors use to separate their individual remembrances from collective memory in the life narrative.

Keywords: Autobiography, political memoir, collective memory, individual memory, life narrative, the April Revolution of 1960, Korean War, liberation of Korea.