South Korea’s Gwangju uprising in 1980 and people’s protests in Egypt in 2011

Coming across with all the news reports about people’s protests against dictatorship in Egypt reminds me of South Korea’s own history of democratisation movements, which often ended in the bloodshed due to brutal suppression by the military, police or thugs.

One major uprising that still haunts people’s memory in South Korea is the violent oppression of people’s uprising in one of the southern provincial capital cities, Gwangju in Cholla South Province. In May 1980, ordinary people bravely stood up against the military government. In the course of this uprising, civilians were forced to arm themselves in order to defend them against military forces that repeatedly attempted to suppress them. For a brief period, the city was in an autonomous status, an urban commune that was governed by the people themselves with no real disorder and violence. Eventually, the city fell. More than 2,000 people were thought to have died or gone missing due to the military operation that ended on 27th May 1980. The operational code name for this military exercise that resulted in the massacre was ‘splendid holiday’.

Owing to the severe military containment of the city at that time, much of the national population were not aware of what was really going on in that part of the country. Reports were repeating government accusations that communists were behind these protests, and no exact details of military action were delivered. For many years, talking about Gwangju uprising was a taboo. One of the causes that drew university students towards student movement was knowing the truth about Gwangju uprising. Some rare video footage could be found on these YouTube links:

Gwangju massacre (Part 1)

Gwangju massacre (Part 2)

Gwangju massacre (Part 3)

In 1987, another big round of people’s uprising took place in Seoul, which led to the concession by the military government that agreed on a direct presidential election. Although this did not led to the change in power due to the division within the opposition leaders at that time, one of the key factors that led to this concession was the non-intervention by the military force at that time. Military actions in the form of coup d’etat no longer took place since 1980. I suppose there were too many risks involved for the military to intervene, now that they had witnessed escalating protests and discontents and that the whole world was carefully following the development of democratisation movements in places like Seoul. Perhaps, Seoul’s status as the host city of the 1988 Summer Olympic Games was another reason for such world-wide attention, making it even more difficult for the dictatorship to make any wrong moves.

Civil uprising in June 1987

Now that I see the series of protests in Egypt, my only hope is that the military does not intervene and let the people decide the course of history.

Total incompetence of Lee administration in South Korea fails to contain the spread of foot and mouth disease

I still remember the pig that was being taken away from my grandmother’s house when it was sold to a butcher. This was when I was a very small child probably before schooling age. It was a big pig, at least in the eyes of a small child. Several adults had to wrestle with the pig, pulling the rope that was securely tied around its neck and legs, in order to tow him towards the vehicle that was to carry him to the slaughterhouse. Somehow, the pig knew about its destiny, I think, as it was resisting the men with all his might, crying out as loud as it could. It was a shocking, horrible scene.

In South Korea, as of now, horrible acts of killing pig and cattle stock are being carried out on a daily basis. The Lee administration in South Korea is showing total incompetence in containing the ‘foot-and-mouth’ disease, which broke out in November 2010. The Lee administration failed to take any significant actions in its early days of outbreak. Now it’s killing animals en masse. One of the most recent reports here: It is reported that more than 2 million pigs and cows have been killed since its outbreak, many of them being buried alive. Yes, alive! Continue reading

Gentrification in the Global South: Dilapidation, Obsolescence and Land Exploitation

First Call for Papers

RGS-IBG 2011 Conference: The Geographical Imagination

31st August – 2nd September 2011 (London)

Gentrification in the Global South: Dilapidation, Obsolescence and Land Exploitation


Dr Hyun Bang Shin (Department of Geography and Environment, London School of Economics)

Dr Ernesto López-Morales (Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism, University of Chile)

Sponsors: Urban Geography Research Group


The proposed session aims to examine how gentrification as an urban phenomenon is played out outside the domain of the European and North Atlantic regions. In particular, we invite contributions that address the production of gentrifiable properties and areas through the interaction between obsolescence (fall of exchange value) and dilapidation (decrease in the use value), reinforced by the re-appreciation of landed value and rent gap exploitation. Dilapidation may occur as a result of physical deterioration caused by either deliberate actions/inactions by property-owners or state institutions (e.g. redlining or blockbusting). Obsolescence, on the other hand, may result from changes in the preference for a particular building style or aesthetic tastes, but increasingly, it is the deliberate acts of market agents that affect the artificial decline of the exchange value. As these processes of devaluation take place, they produce waves of displacement and eventually eviction, prompting potential urban segregation. However, although the public policy usually sees the construction of ‘trendy’ commercial buildings as a neighbourhood ‘saviour’, this form of urban production overshadows existing buildings and often leads to the obsolescence of the latter, prompting a further chain reaction of redevelopment that aims at higher rates of financial gains. Continue reading

Urban Utopianism Workshop @ Hong Kong Baptist University

(The original deadline for abstract submission has passed, but please contact the organiser to see if there is a place available)

Call for Papers

Urban Utopianism workshop

An International Workshop on Urban Utopianism

Organised by Department of Geography, Hong Kong Baptist University in collaboration with Urban Research Plaza, Osaka City University on 12-14 May, 2011 at Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong

The Objective

Today, while most of us have already lived in cities and towns, the world is still urbanising at an alarming rate. While most of the policy-makers are busy with mundane, daily life, they advocate the ‘end of utopia’. On many occasions, policies are merely old wine in the new bottle. They cannot merely tackle many burgeoning urban problems. Even worse, many policies, once implemented, create more problems than they were intended to resolve. In sum, without any utopian vision, it is difficult to debate about the way that our cities should proceed in the future.

The utopian perspective, according David Pinder, is one that involves “the expression of desire for a better way of being and living through the imagining of a different city and a different urban life?. David Harvey charts a course to construct the future, or what he calls a ‘dialectical or spatiotemporal utopianism’. This approach underscores a study of the historical geography of capitalism to provide clues as to how a dialectical utopian project can be grounded in both the present and the past. In particular, it requires us to unravel the internal contradictions and then consider how to develop the collective mechanisms and cultural forms necessary for the realisation of alternative urban visions based on these contradictions. For Henri Lefebvre, the world space has been colonised by commodity capitalism and state management and planning. Nevertheless, out of the isotopias in urban space, there are heterotopias developed out of contradictions. Heterotopic spaces can further be developed into utopia, as the May 1968 Movement in central Paris, a utopia, originated from the earlier heterotopia of Nanterre has illustrated. More specifically, for Lefebvre, our utopia is the differential space. This search can be achieved by his much-celebrated regressive-progressive method. For the non-West, the search for utopia must work harder to counteract the hegemony of current urbanisation in co-determination with the world. It is the objective of this international conference (1) to identify the spatial contradictions, (2) to argue conceptually different ways to imagine a different city, (3) to propose ways to build the collective mechanisms/autogestion/the reformed state, (4) to detail cases of experiment all over the world, and (5) in particular, compare and contrast experiments in the developed, developing and socialist worlds.

Call for Papers

This workshop is interested in papers that focus on one or more of the following sub-themes:

  1. Conceptual discussion of utopia by invoking theoreticians like Foucault, Lefebvre, Gramsci, Harvey, and others;
  2. Documentation of experiments around the world including examination and critique of the present, into the possibilities of imagining a future transformation;
  3. Compare and contrast more than one cases in different categories of city and in various types of society;
  4. Cases of experiment in East Asia, in general, and Hong Kong, in particular.

Please send abstracts to Wing-Shing Tang ( at the Department of Geography, Hong Kong Baptist University, before the 31st December, 2010.


It is intended to publish some of the papers in a monograph.