Demographic Regimes refers to sets of practices encompassing the gathering, registering, and counting of human subjects in northeast Asia, with reference to the Korean peninsula, especially from late Chŏson to the present.
For South Korea, many demographers treat the 1925 imperial survey as the first “modern” population census, placing the project clearly within the boundaries of Japanese colonialism, even as South Korea’s national census would not start until 1955, with the intervention of the Korean War. This observation raises questions about the collective, underlying assumptions informing a conception of population—what factors, if any, distinguish the various forms of register, with a lengthy pre-history in East Asia, from subsequent forms of demographic census? Who organizes the counting, which categories get counted, and under what circumstances?—as well as the type of periodization appropriate for the region. Historian Kyung Moon Hwang argues in Rationalizing Korea (2016) for locating many of these emerging practices in the mid-nineteenth century, if not earlier, emphasizing their impact upon Japanese colonizers, rather than the other way around. Taking a more recent focus, sociologists of Korea (Paul Chang, Hyunjoon Park and Grace Kao) are looking at select target populations, such as Korean millennials, to focus tightly upon their group interests, behaviors, and life choices.
If the emphasis of the project lies with the two Koreas, and includes questions of labor, migration, and the accumulation of technical expertise, there clearly needs to be attention to the East Asian region and the comparative dimension, both geographically and temporally. Much of the recent work for Japan (Fabian Drixler) and Republican/PRC China (Tong Lam, Malcolm Thompson, Arunabh Ghosh, Susan Greenhalgh) underscores the critical relationships negotiated and established among new ideas about population, the state and its bureaucracy, and diverse understandings and uses of statistics for aims including public health, fertility, and labor productivity.