우물 안 개구리


Japanese teacher disciplined for opposing nationalist textbooks

Filed under: — Owen @ 1:23 pm Print

I wonder whether anyone else has seen this article from the Christian Science Monitor, which I picked up via the Marmot’s Hole and Far Outliers. It concerns the story of a teacher in Tokyo who has been disciplined for attacking the view that “Japan never invaded Korea.”

[W]hen a Tokyo city councilman in an official meeting said “Japan never invaded Korea,” her history class sent an apology to Korean President Roh Moo-hyan – an action that sparked her removal from her classroom.


Masuda, who says her two sons have Korean friends, got censured after her class did a study group on Japan’s occupation of Korea. Her social studies class wrote a letter of apology to Roh, and sent it to the Korean Embassy in Toyko. In a cover letter, Masuda said that councilman Koga Toshiaki’s remarks were “a disgrace” by objective historical standards, but “regrettably [they] can be presented proudly as a triumph in the assembly of Tokyo, the capital of this country.”

The class never heard from the Korean consul. But Masuda did hear from the Tokyo Board of Education. Her letter was discovered by a Yasukuni shrine support group and they complained to city officials. Masuda was told that while Mr. Koga did speak in public, it was “inappropriate” for Masuda to repeat his name in a letter that was not private, and a violation of city employee codes.

Masuda is now ordered to spend her days in a small room studying public servant regulations, a serious humiliation she says. She in turn is trying to fight in court.

I wonder if there is any sort of support campaign for Ms Masuda, or if there is an e-mail address where those of us who want to can send messages of support.

Self-introduction: Kim Yuna

Filed under: — yuna @ 1:45 am Print

My name is Yu-na Kim. I’m a master course student at Seoul National University in South Korea. I’m currently writing a thesis about ancient China’s public health system and national organization. My focus is on the ancient history of china, but I also have a strong interest in Korean history and culture.

I have a keen interest in the life and culture of our ancesters – what they thought and how they lived. It might even be from myth or legend and my interests extend even to ancient clothing, customs and taboos.

My postings on my personal weblog are mosly about Chinese and Korean history, culture and literature but I write only in Korean.

This is my first time writing on an international weblog. But I’m very excited to be participating. I look forward to discussing many historical topics here.

안녕하세요, 만나서 반갑습니다.


Cinema, nationalism, and nostalgia

Filed under: — Remco Breuker @ 4:33 am Print

I have just finished reading a new book on Korean cinema (New Korean Cinema, New York: NYU Press, 2005, edited by Chi-Yun Shin and Julian Springer). It was a satisfactory read, most of the essays in it are good, some excellent. It has left me with some questions, though, and I am curious how other academics working on Korea think about these questions. Reading this book (and others as well), I have come across repeated statements on nationalism with which I find it hard to agree. The first one is the generally shared assumption that South Korea is an intensely nationalist country and that art (cinema) has to overcome nationalism (and nationalism alone) to become ‘real’ art. While superficially this may seem to be the case (especially from the outside), I have often found that, with the exception of the radical nationalists, nationalism is often a matter of rhetorics, not entirely perhaps, but to a significant extent at the least. Cultural studies in particular seem to take the all-pervasive influence of nationalism as a given, without problematizing what kind of nationalism is being discussed, in what context and from whom it emerges and for whom it is intended. The rhetorics of nationalism, as those of any influential ideology, must perhaps not be taken at face value, but be seen as a distinctive and for its users familiar way of communication.

Related to this is the also popular notion (present in several essays in this book) that due to the disappearance of the oppressively propagated nationalism of the 70′s and ’80s South Korea now is more fragmented, more anxiety-ridden and more diverse than it was during the 70′s and 80′s. (more…)


Market economy and exchange in ancient Korea

Filed under: — noja @ 10:52 pm Print

Dear all, one topic that might be interesting to discuss is the degree of the development of market relations, exchange economy and internal trade in early traditional Korea. I myself fell in love with this sort of things while reading the materials on the discussion on the so-called “Asiatic mode of production” in (still Marxist-Leninist) Soviet historiography of the 1960-70s. My older colleague, Prof. S.V.Volkov, was, in fact, a champion of this theory, which was also carefully backed by my dissertational adviser, M. N. Pak – also the latter chose not to irritate the mighty orthodox opponents of the “Asiatic mode” thesis and speak very carefully about “early feudalism”, with an “extremely low degree of the development of market relations”. Of course, now I understand more or less that the over-generalisations about “Asian” history as a whole smack too heavily of Orientalism to be taken seriously; China and India after 15-16th C. had the degree of the “proto-capitalist” development Europe could be envious of at that point, and some archaic “European” societies (Spartan, for example), also seemed to have highly centralized exploitation/redistribution systems. So, if we want to continue developing this thesis, we probably should speak of early statehood in a more general context, taking references to “Asian” out; we may also speak, I guess, about agrarian bureaucracies, which manage to preserve and develop to a fantastic degree of complexity the centralized redistribution mechanisms rooted in the “state exploitation” technologies of the early antiquity. But, with all these reservations and precautions duly taken, I still suppose that the earlier Marxist insights about centralized redistribution and its historical trajectory in the agrarian monarchies continue to be valid – and wonder what the others think about it.

For one thing in Korea particularly, a fact Korean historical textbooks seem to studiously avoid mentioning is that Korea began minting metallic coins only in the late 10th C. (and on very small scale) – compared with Japan’s 7-8th C. coins production and China, which had coins already for almost a millenium to that point. In fact, various Chinese coins seem to have been used by the proto-Korean state already in the ancient Chosŏn time – but mostly for external exchange and/or prestige purposes. The media of the internal exchange in Unified Silla seems to have been either rice or textiles: the markets in the capital were managed by the state (kwansi) and most of the high-level artisanship in the capital was concentrated in state workshops. State was the biggest actor in these commercial transactions, which still took place – buying, for example, lots of paper for the sutra-copying at the state-run temples (we have mokkan materials on these transactions). Private external trade started to flourish when central controls weakened in the late 8th – early 9th C. – but powerful merchants like Chang Pogo were more interested in acquiring state power than in the development of the purely commercial side of their enterprises. So, shouldn’t we conclude that “early feudal” (to use M. N. Pak’s term) Korea really largely lagged behind in the terms of market economy development, compared to its neighbours – the state both controlling the existing (internal) market operations and largely substituting the market with its own production/distribution network?


Self-introduction: Vladimir (Pak Noja)

Filed under: — noja @ 2:55 pm Print

I am working with Oslo University (Norway) currently teaching a strange combination of undergraduate and postgraduate courses, which include East Asian religions and philosophies on one extreme (?) and something called “East Asia: Capital and Labour”, and mostly dealing with the relationship between corporate capital and unions in South Korea and Japan, and the rising current of labour militancy in China, on the other. I used to teach Korean language as well, having proudly produced around 6 graduates in 5 years. I have thought before that the University of Oslo must be the only place in the world where three teachers (me and two colleagues working part-time) teaching two students a language no business around might demand, would be tolerated and left in peace. Well, it was a naive illusion – Oslo University is following the same “party line” as elsewhere, and the teaching of Korean is going to be terminated next year, at least for the time being.

My academic trajectory (?) is odd enough to doubt its seriousness. I began with Kaya studies, when I was MA student and then PhD candidate – for those sane enough not to jump into the abyss of the ancient history, I can just explain that Kaya proto-states (they stood somewhere between a well-developed chiefdom and an early state) controlled a large part of the Naktong River valley and the southern coast of what is KyOngsang Province now, until being eaten up by Silla in 562 (http://www.gayasa.net/). I wrote a PhD thesis on this, mostly using Nihon shoki (720) as my source material. I guess that is the only monograph written on Kaya in Russian – and it is likely to maintain its monopoly (?) for the time being, given the sad situation in the Russian academia. Then, I started to dabble in Korean Buddhism – after having been greatly surprised at sight of a reserve corps military uniform at one temple I frequented, and having understood how much practice might differ from theory. The last “side jump” was my love (or rather hate?) affair with Korea’s (and, by extension, China’s and Japan’s) Social Darwinism, which began around 5 years ago, and still fails to end. I am still struggling to understand in which ways and to which degree Social Darwinist consciousness contributed to the making of Korea’s nationalism in the 1880s-1900s, and what was the logic behind the Social Darwinist conversion (?) of many intellectuals who might have espoused different dreams as well – reformist Confucians, Christian converts, and some younger Buddhists.


Finding Korean journal articles online

Filed under: — Remco Breuker @ 4:42 am Print

Following up on Owen’s very useful posts, I’ll write a few words on finding Korean journals online. I have used the RISS site a lot and they do have an option for foreigner users now, but there is a snag if you want to download articles for which you have to pay. This used to be possible by using a credit card and the prices were reasonable, between 2ooo to 4000 won per article, depending on length, journal and newness. About a year ago, however, when the site became more friendly towards those unfortunate souls without a Korean ID number, it also became impossible to pay with foreign credit cards. I don’t think the site itself has any control over this, because they use a widely used plug-in from a large electronic banking company. Anyway, it has become impossible to charge non-Korean credit cards. The last time I tried was about four months ago. As for obtaining articles for which you should pay, the best way is still to ask someone on a Korean campus. As most Korean universities are subscribers of journal article databases, anybody with a campus ID address can download any article they require. This is probably also the best way to get hold of unpublished MA and Ph.D. theses, although for those you need to have an ID address of the university where the particular thesis you want was submitted. Complicated, but often worth it.

Western Perceptions of Koreans: Part V – The Korean Mind and other Characteristics

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 12:07 am Print

Before diving into some descriptions of the Korean mind and personality in the readings considered in this series of postings (Part I begins here), let me make a few observations.

In the postings I have written so far, the various generalizations made about Koreans tend to fall under two categories: 1) unqualified claims about the inherent features of Korean people and culture 2) Generalizations about Koreans which are more explicitly placed in the context of a narrative of contingent backwardness, oppression, and a “not yet caught up” state of barbarity.

A surprisingly large number of descriptions that I have discussed so far involve claims about the inherent character of the Korean people, with few or no qualifications. Koreans are said to have some feature by virtue of their distinctive culture, or, for lack of any explanation, as some kind of other racial or ethnically inherent characteristic.

To be fair, the most derogatory and frustrating claims about Koreans are often made in passing and, except when directly justifying Japanese intervention in Korea, do not form a central argument in that segment of the narrative. Thus it may be too much to expect the writer to carefully make qualifications for every claim in such writings, especially when they have emphasized the “future potential” for the development of Koreans elsewhere.

This does not mean, however, that the second category, which emphasizes that the various vices and deficiencies of the Koreans are contingent features of a barbaric and as-yet unenlightened people are any less objectionable. As more than one generation of philosophers and historians have pointed out, there are many problems with a universal progressivism which happily divides the world between barbarity and civilization. It forms the very foundations of imperialism, the justification for countless forms of state aggression, and many claim that civilization has made a mockery of itself in the great and tragic wars of our century.

Let us not get distracted by such issues here, however, despite their central importance in any discussion of imperialism in Korea. For now, it will suffice to note the tension, in many of these writers, between expressions of sympathy or pity for an as-yet uncivilized or oppressed people who have not reached their “potential,” and the more dismissive and bitter claims about an essentially irredeemable Korean race.


Finding Korean journal articles online

Filed under: — Owen @ 11:12 am Print

One of the most difficult and frustrating aspects of studying Korean history while outside of Korea must be getting hold of the most up to date research in Korean. For quite a while I thought that it was impossible to get hold of Korean journal articles online if my university library didn’t hold them. Of course there are e-journal sites which libraries can subscribe to, but getting your library to sign up to access non-English language journals online is easier said than done in my experience.

That said, I have recently discovered that it is possible to get hold of quite a large proportion of Korean journal articles online in PDF form and completely free. Here is, hopefully, a failsafe guide to getting hold of the Korean journal article you need in four stages:

Stage One: Look for Korean journal articles on your subject. I would recommend using the history bibliography run by Hongik University called Korean Historical Connection. Alternatively, you can go directly to stage two.

Stage Two: Go to the RISS site (Research Information Service Something-or-other / 학술연구정보서비스) and register – they have a special option for foreigners or other people unfortunate enough not to have a Korean ID number (주민등록번호).

Stage Three: Now you can search for the articles you require at RISS. Many articles are free to download as PDF files, while others you have to pay for (I haven’t tried this option yet so I’m not sure how expensive it is). However, if the article you need is unavailable, don’t despair.

Stage four: If you couldn’t get the article you needed at RISS then there is another option. If you return to the KHC site you will find that they provide a special service to historians of Korea residing overseas whereby they will find and photocopy any article you require and send it to you, only charging for the copying and postage. Again, I haven’t ever needed to try this out, but it sounds like a good service and I’d be interested to know if anyone else has tried it.


Western Perceptions of Koreans: Part IV – Women

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 12:15 am Print

Underwood p49 Method of IroningAs one might expect, descriptions of Korean women in the writings by Western visitors that I have looked at tend to be completely dominated by the theme of pity. This goes both for the male writers and the two female missionary writings by Underwood and Bishop. Very rarely are women seen as having any power nor do they emerge in the writings as concrete individuals to whom the authors dedicate more than a few lines notice. I’ll mention a few of the important exceptions below.


Online resources for Chosŏn history: Government annals

Following the lead of Konrad I thought I might start off my posts with something about finding Korean history resources online. It is now actually possible to do quite a bit of research, even on pre-twentieth century primary sources without getting up from your computer (whether this is as interesting as searching stuff out a library or archive is quite another question). Of course the biggest advantage of these sources being online must be for people who are physically a long way away from a library that holds, say, a copy of the massive Sŭngjŏngwon Ilgi 承政院日記 (Daily Records of the Royal Secretariat). Thus, with a decent internet connection it should now be possible to live in Zanzibar and research 18th century Korean political history.

A second advantage is the ability to search for keywords within these massive texts. Some of the physical editions of the Chosŏn government annals do have indexes, but searching a text online is much quicker and more precise (bearing in mind that these books run into hundreds of volumes and looking things up from an index means continually pulling different volumes off the shelf).

So far, the site I’ve made most use of when searching pre-twentieth century sources is probably Seoul University’s Kyujanggak Library website. Here you can do a simultaneous search for keywords in a number of different categories of sources, including kodosŏ, komunsŏ, modern government records and two different Chosŏn government annals: the Ilsŏngnok 日省錄 (Records of Daily Reflection) and the Naegak Illyŏk (Daily Records of the Kyujanggak). The Kyujanggak site also has two further annals online in scanned form: Sŭngjŏngwon Ilgi and Pibyŏnsa Tŭngnok 備邊司謄錄 (Records of the Border Defence Command), through which you can browse but not search.

The National History Compilation Committee (국사편찬위원회) website does have a searchable digitised version of the Sŭngjŏngwon Ilgi online, which I’ve found to be quite easy to use. And the Korean Classics Research Institute (민족문화추진회) appears to be gradually uploading some sections of the modern Korean translations of the Ilsŏngnok and Sŭngjŏngwon Ilgi that have been coming out in book form over the last few decades. So far they have a few years of Chŏngjo’s reign for the Ilsŏngnok and years 1-35 of Kojong’s reign for the Sŭngjŏngwon Ilgi.

The Korean History Data Integration System (한국역사정보통합시스템) is supposed to be a way of bringing all these different online sources together in a single searchable database. I found it quite hard to use for a while, but it seems to have been improved quite a bit recently. Basically it allows you to search all the sources on the sites mentioned above and quite a few more sites besides.

One word of warning on all these sites: they don’t seem to be very Firefox-friendly and like some other Korean websites they can be messy to navigate and require you to download some piece of viewing software or other. Oh, and they seem to love pop-ups too.

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