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ISSN : 2384-0668(Print)
ISSN : 2384-0692(Online)
S/N Korean Humanities Vol.5 No.2 pp.13-31

Capitals of the Korean Meta-nation: An archipelago of Hyperand Shadow-Capitals

Valérie Gelézeau**
* This paper is a translated and amended version of the first chapter on a recently published book, in French, on Korean capital cities (Gelézeau 2018b).
** Professor at l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS-School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences), Director of the Research Centre on China, Korea, Japan (CNRS-EHESS-Université de Paris). Received July 16, 2019; Revised version received August 15, 2019; Accepted August 25, 2019


This paper discusses the Korean urban space by focusing on capital cities and how they structure the Korean “meta-nation”, i.e. this very unique cultural space, attached to the locus of the Korean peninsula and coherent over the historical longue durée, currently split into two States and fragmented into great diasporic communities, which positions are determined by political polarization. It is based on the analysis of geographical discourse on Korean “capital cities”, and “capitalness”, as the quality of some cities able to take on the power that comes with a central political role, even if they are not or no longer the current capital, in various secondary sources in English and Korean. Next to the great capitals of Korean geo-history (hyper-capitals of the present States, Pyongyang and Seoul, or legitimizing historical capital cities such as Kaesong and Kyŏngju), de-capitalized cities such as Suwŏn, forgotten or marginalized capitals, such as Puyo, or Kongju) form an archipelago of capitals. This archipelago of “hyper-capitals” and “shadow capitals” is scattered not only across the peninsula itself, but is also connected to many capital cities of the Korean diaspora: from the North American diaspora’s Koreatown in Los Angeles to the Central Asian diaspora’s Almaty in Kazakhstan.