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Korean Study Group

Between Mountains: Refugee Life during the Korean War, 1948-1953


“Dotty: (Kim Kim sources), Mascot of K Company, 7th Cavalry, hugs a GI before she is put aboard a truck to be taken to an orphanage to Taegu. “Dotty” was one of them any mascots transferred from the 1st Cavalry division to an orphanage in “Operation Mascot”. Chaplains of the 1st Cavalry convinced the troops that separation from the mascots was inevitably in the best interest of the children. The soldiers collected $500 for each child to insure education at the orphanage. Taken in 1951, UNCACK Services. Source: State Gahn 5, 1951. Reproduced at the United States National Archive, 2010. “Between Mountains: Refugee Life during the Korean War, 1948-1953” is the first systematic history of refugees and civilian livelihood during the war published in any language. There have been numerous politicized and political histories of the conflict that is called the Korean War (1950-1953) outside of the peninsula, the June 25th War (yugio chŏnjaeng六二五戰爭) in the Republic of Korea (ROK), and the Fatherland Liberation War (choguk haebang chŏnjaeng 祖國解放戰爭) in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

In contrast, scholarship on the civilian and social history of the war has been comparatively sparse in both English and Korean. The dearth of information on non-combatants, however, did not mean that there was little activity among ordinary people. In South Korea alone, over five million people fled violence in the first year of the conflict, and two years into the war, roughly half of the population, 10 million people, were identified as war sufferers. Therefore, this project explores the history of refugees, defined broadly as those who crossed the thirty-eighth parallel separating North and South Korea, war sufferers, and the internally displaced

Although the war’s general effects on North Korea will be examined, due to the lack of access to the majority of North Korean sources, Professor Janice Kim (Principal Investigator) focuses on the history of refugee life in South Korea. The project will assess the details of and changes in the numbers of refugees, their routes of passage, their methods of survival, and institutional assistance for war sufferers. She will also investigate how fratricidal warfare influenced the creation of welfare mechanisms and, by extension, differing visions of civil society in the two Koreas.

This project is funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Standard Grant.


Korean refugees at Inchon, waiting to go further south out of reach of Communists coming down from the north. Mother with children waits at the sea wall for boat. Taken 3 January 1951 by C.K. Rose. Reproduced at the United States National Archive, 2010. 2010.2011

In the first year of the project, Professor Kim spent three months in Korea and several weeks in the United States (at the U.N. Archives in New York, U.S. National Archives in Washington D.C.), met with unofficial collaborators affiliated with the National History Compilation Committee (Republic of Korea) in Seoul and Ottawa and conducted interviews in Seoul, Kŏje Island, Pusan, Los Angeles and San Diego.  Her research assistant has been translating newspaper headlines pertaining to Korean War refugees as well as important testimonial documents. 

“Living in Flight: Civilian Displacement, Suffering, and Relief during the Korean War, 1945-1953” in Sahak yŏn’gu [The Review of Korean History] was published in December 2010. In the first year, Professor Kim also presented research related to the project at the Association for Asian Studies 62nd Annual Conference in Philadelphia (March 2010). 



A Korean carries his aged father across the icy Han River at Chungju in their flight to the south to escape the onrushing communists. U.S. Army photograph by CPL J.J. McGinty on 14 January 1951. Reproduced at the United States National Archive, 2010.


Professor Kim will return to Korea in May 2011 for further interviews and research and is also committed to co-edit a collaborative monograph on the two Koreas in the 1950s with Steven Hugh Lee (History, University of British Columbia) as an extension of her SSHRC project.  She will present research related to the project at the Conference of the Association for Korean Studies in Europe hosted by the International Center for Korean Studies of Moscow State University in June 2011. 





Contact Information:

For more information, please contact Professor Janice Kim at jkim@yorku.ca.

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