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“Pusan at War: Refuge, Relief, and Resettlement in the Temporary Capital, 1950–1953”

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This article examines the changes that the Korean War and influx of evacuees brought about in the temporary wartime capital at Pusan. It describes the two waves of in-migration into the city—the first following the outbreak of war on 25 June 1950 and the second after the Chinese People’s Volunteer Force occupied Seoul on 4 January 1951. While the first round of conflict brought some 200,000 evacuees to Pusan, mostly relatives of political and military families and the Seoul elite, the second ushered in an overwhelming half million displaced people, including over 100,000 refugees from North Korea. The rapid influx of a transient population exhausted public services and resources that the war already had diminished. The simultaneous development of a U.S. military complex in southeast Korea gave rise to rampant illegal trade and prostitution. Although schemes to continue wartime education testifies to the agency of evacuees to enact continuity in liminal spaces, only the elite could go to school without interruption in a devastated, aid-dependent, hyperinflationary economy. This article evaluates some characteristics of wartime Pusan—with privatized continuation of educational and religious institutions on one hand, and dependence on U.S. aid and military along with widespread prostitution and illegal trade on the other—to help explain why they remained salient features of the South Korean developmental state long after the armistice.

Affiliations: 1: York University,


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