Burnt by the Sun: The Koreans of the Russian Far East
286pp. June 2016
Burnt by the Sun: The Koreans of the Russian Far East
Author: Chang, Jon K.;
Burnt by the Sun examines the history of the first Korean diaspora in a Western society during the highly tense geopolitical atmosphere of the Soviet Union in the late 1930s. Author Jon K. Chang demonstrates that the Koreans of the Russian Far East were continually viewed as a problematic and maligned nationality (ethnic community) during the Tsarist and Soviet periods. He argues that Tsarist influences and the various forms of Russian nationalism(s) and worldviews blinded the Stalinist regime from seeing the Koreans as loyal Soviet citizens. Instead, these influences portrayed them as a colonizing element (labor force) with unknown and unknowable political loyalties.

One of the major findings of Chang’s research was the depth that the Soviet state was able to influence, penetrate, and control the Koreans through not only state propaganda and media, but also their selection and placement of Soviet Korean leaders, informants, and secret police within the populace. From his interviews with relatives of former Korean OGPU/NKVD (the predecessor to the KGB) officers, he learned of Korean NKVD who helped deport their own community. Given these facts, one would think the Koreans should have been considered a loyal Soviet people. But this was not the case, mainly due to how the Russian empire and, later, the Soviet state linked political loyalty with race or ethnic community.

During his six years of fieldwork in Central Asia and Russia, Chang interviewed about sixty elderly Koreans who lived in the Russian Far East prior to their deportation in 1937. This oral history along with digital technology allowed him to piece together Soviet Korean life as well as their experiences working with and living beside Siberian natives, Chinese, Russians, and the Central Asian peoples. Chang also discovered that some two thousand Soviet Koreans remained on North Sakhalin island after the Korean deportation was carried out, working on Japanese-Soviet joint ventures extracting coal, gas, petroleum, timber, and other resources. This showed that Soviet socialism was not ideologically pure and was certainly swayed by Japanese capitalism and the monetary benefits of projects that paid the Stalinist regime hard currency for its resources.

Perspectives on the Global Past Series
“Drawing on new material from the Russian archives, Chang carefully illustrates how the shift from korenizatsiia to Russification played out in the Far East, complementing yet also challenging the broader work on this topic that has generally focused on European Russia. Chang concludes with a detailed discussion of the Korean experience of deportation and the Great Terror, while making a strong case for his ‘Tsarist Continuities theory’ against Terry Martin’s ‘Soviet xenophobia’ approach to the question of Soviet ethnic policies. He provides strong evidence, highlighting the importance of the early Soviet study of theKorean community by Vladimir Arsenev and its utilization in the ultimate decision to deport the entire community to Central Asia.” —Japanese Studies

"By letting the ethnic Koreans that lived in the Soviet Far East and, later, Central Asia tell their own story, Jon K. Chang fills in many of the holes left by the archival records on their collective history. . . . The result is a multilayered history of the Korean minority of the USSR that illuminates both the development of Soviet policy toward this group and the collective response of individuals in this group to these policies. Not only is Chang’s use of oral sources to reconstruct the social history of the ethnic Koreans in the USSR unique, but his use of sources from the Soviet and other archives also leads to some new and very compelling interpretations of Soviet policy toward the ethnic Koreans. . . . Chang’s methodological and interpretive approach to the history of ethnic Koreans in the USSR is thus revolutionary."—The Russian Review

"To begin with, the book is a valuable reminder of how multiethnic the Russian Far East was at the beginning of the 20th century. . . . Overall, this is a fascinating book that makes excellent use of a wide-range of sources (including interviews with around sixty elderly Koreans deportees) in support of a clear and convincing argument. . . . Having said this, not only those with an interest in the Korean diaspora, but also anyone wishing to learn more about the history of the Russian Far East, of Soviet nationalities policy, or of Japan’s relation with Russia will find much of value in this monograph." —Kyoto Journal

“In this rare invitation to reckon with modern violence and its tenacity in surviving the epic revolution, Jon Chang interrogates the universalism and multiculturalism of Soviet socialism with exemplary historical sensibility. Summoning the Korean minority from the deathbed of twentieth-century socialism, Burnt by the Sun honors the people whose only choice was to migrate—and keep migrating—or suffer deportation.” —Hyun Ok Park, York University

Burnt by the Sun ably demonstrates that there was clearly an evolution from Tsarist Russian population politics and nationalities (ethnic minorities) policies which led to the Stalinist ‘nationalities deportations.’ These deportations are currently ascribed to having occurred only due to the conditions, policies, and politics of the Soviet period and its leaders.” —Walter Richmond, Occidental College

Burnt by the Sun is the best book in any language on the experience of Koreans inside Russia and the Soviet Union. It is first and foremost a micro-history of Koreans in the Soviet Union—initially greeted as allies in the building of communism, then victimized by Stalin’s “national operations” that targeted Koreans as likely traitors and fifth columnists working with the Japanese.” —Jeffrey Burds, Northeastern University, author of Holocaust in Rovno

“This highly original work provides a fascinating insight into the lives of individual Koreans in Russia/the Soviet Union. It also shows that the infamous view of the “yellow peril” survived into the Soviet period and was responsible, to a significant degree, for the almost wholesale deportations of ethnic Koreans from the Soviet Maritime province in 1937–1938.” —Hiroaki Kuromiya, Indiana University, author of Voices of the Dead

“One of the first scholarly books to link the mass deportation of ethnic Koreans from the Russian Far East to Central Asia during the mid-to-late 1930s with escalating Soviet-Manchukuo border tensions. Just as Tokyo was bringing in hundreds of thousands of Japanese peasants from its home islands to fortify its side of the border, Soviet Koreans—the great majority of whom were loyal to Moscow—were being forcibly relocated and replaced by European Russians, largely Slavs, purged by Stalin during the Great Terror. A must-read for both Asian and Russian historians.” —Bruce A. Elleman, U.S. Naval War College, author of Diplomacy and Deception

Author: Chang, Jon K.;
Jon K. Chang is an American researcher who holds an MA from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a PhD in Russian/Soviet history from the University of Manchester.