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North Korea's Vinalon City: Industrialism as Socialist Everyday Life

Date and Time: 
Tuesday, October 30, 2018. 04:00 PM - 06:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
Humanities Center Boardroom
Workshop: 
Cold War In Asia: Culture, Technology, History
Meeting Description: 

In the early 1960s, the synthetic fiber vinalon became North Korea's national fiber, a product symbolizing the independence and ingenuity of its state-led socialism, from the raw materials needed to make it (the abundant coal and limestone) to the person who invented it (the colonial Korean chemist Ri Sŭnggi, scouted by North Korea in 1950). The Vinalon Factory near Hamhŭng City-a factory originally built by a Japanese chemical company and a city rebuilt with the assistance of East Germany-also became a national emblem of its own as a factory arising solely from the toil of the North Korean people. The history of vinalon is a transnational convergence of the colonial industrial system, the postliberation efforts of state building, the dynamics of multinational postwar reconstruction, and the Kim Il Sung government's monopoly of production and politics. At the same time, "Vinalon City," as the enormous factory was called, was immutably localized as part of everyday ideology: the completion of the factory was possible with the help of thousands of volunteer workers who possessed no special skills, and the workers who turned vinalon into clothes also wore them. It was in everyday life that vinalon exerted its ideological force.

Cheehyung Harrison Kim is assistant professor in the Department of History at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa. His research and teaching focus on socialism, labor, industrialism, everyday life, and urbanism in the context of East Asia and, in particular, North Korea. Heroes and Toilers: Work as Life in Postwar North Korea, 1953-1961 (Columbia University Press, 2018) is his first book.

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