11th Annual Korean Studies Writing Prize Awarded: Co-recipient Yeseul Byeon

Ye Seul Beyon headshot at the Stanford quad atrium

Yeseul Byeon (PhD student, History) was a co-recipient of the 11th annual Korea Program Prize for Writing in Korean Studies, for her paper "Shrine in Every Village: Legacies of Religious Reform in Cheju, 1702-3"

"'A Shrine in Every Village' was about a campaign conducted by Yi Hyŏngsang (1653-1733). He was a magistrate on Cheju Island from 1702 to 1703, where he carried out drastic measures to repress ŭmsa, or wrongful rituals. This campaign had an enduring impact on how Cheju people remember the island’s history and its relationship with the mainland," says Yumi Moon, Associate Professor of History. “Yeseul aptly wondered why Yi’s purge went beyond the boundaries that the Chosŏn government set for shamans in other provinces. She considered that Yi’s case is not sufficiently explained by the established views of religion and state in the Chosŏn dynasty. She read Yi Hyŏngsang’s own writings and other primary texts, and analyzed them within the historiographical context of Chosŏn Korea. She beautifully put together important details of the sources in her essay and did an excellent job of revealing how Yi tried to figure out Cheju’s place in the dynasty and justify his own mission on the island.”  

In Byeon's own words: "My essay delves into the question of regionality in premodern Korea, taking as case study a religious purge that took place in Cheju in 1702. Instigated by scholar-official (and magistrate of Cheju at the time) Yi Hyŏngsang, the incident has been regarded as something of a puzzle and an anomaly. Yi’s persecution of popular religion goes far beyond the scope of the social reforms we typically associate with the 'confucianization' of Chosŏn. What explains the extraordinary zealotry? Why here, and why at this time?

I find the keys to this question in Yi’s accounts of the purge, which I analyze alongside Yi’s writings on the human geography and history of Cheju more broadly," Byeon comments "I identify the purge within a larger struggle over the territoriality of the Chosǒn state, arguing that Yi’s actions and words connote a paradigmatic shift regarding Cheju’s place in the Korean polity, from foreign 'other' to wayward insider, politically contiguous with the peninsula, yet utterly distinct in terms of its cultural and physical landscape. My question also extends to the evidentiary basis upon which scholars today reason about and narrate the history of the 1702 purge — I argue for a recognition of the archival silences that surround this incident, and a broadened outlook on the sources of truth for Cheju’s past."

Sponsored by the Korea Program and the Center for East Asian Studies, the writing prize recognizes and rewards outstanding examples of writing by Stanford students in an essay, term paper or thesis produced during the current academic year in any discipline within the area of Korean studies, broadly defined. The competition is open to both undergraduate and graduate students.

This year's co-recipient is Michelle Ha.

Past Recipients:

10th Annual Prize (2021)

9th Annual Prize (2020)

8th Annual Prize (2019)

7th Annual Prize (2018)

6th Annual Prize (2017)

5th Annual Prize (2016)

4th Annual Prize (2015)

3rd Annual Prize (2014)

2nd Annual Prize (2013)

1st Annual Prize (2012)