우물 안 개구리


Seasonal treat for Koreanists

It has been brought to my attention that historians of premodern Korea have a very special Christmas treat in the form of the annals of the Chosŏn Dynasty (Chosŏn Wangjo Sillok / 朝鮮王朝實錄) now available on the internet, in its entirety. This must be one of the largest ‘books’ in human history and it is now available online in both original hanmun and modern Korean translation. And it’s keyword searchable too.


History Carnival #22

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 7:07 am Print

History Carnival Button

Welcome to History Carnival #22, the final edition of 2005. I’m deeply grateful to Sharon Howard for starting this whole thing off eleven months ago, and take some pride in the only other person (besides herself, for the time being) to host this carnival twice. (oops. see comments)

In the past I’ve inflicted some odd arrangements on carnivals which I’ve hosted. This time I’ll try to be reasonably clear and straightforward, not least because I, like so many of you, am still in the middle of grading final exams and papers. Since we can all use some comic relief and light reading at this point…


Demands of the Tonghak Rebels

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 1:42 am Print

Some fifteen years ago in a Journal of Korean Studies article entitled “The Conservative Character of the 1894 Tonghak Peasant Uprising” Lew Young Ick argued that the famous Tonghak Peasant Uprising of 1894 was not in fact an “anti-feudal (social) revolution” but had strong traditional and Confucian characteristics. The article focuses primarily on a discussion of the background of one of the uprising’s most important leaders, Chŏn Pongjun, and argues that 1) Chŏn consistently identifies himself as a Confucian scholar-gentry, has a Confucian background and education and cultivated ties with the highly conservative Taewŏn’gun 2) Chŏn’s writings during the rebellion uses strong traditional Confucian language and 3) Rebel documents from the uprising use similarly traditional language, and it is difficult to detect any “anti-feudal” or egalitarian language in these documents. Instead the rebels are dedicated to the Yi political order and uses the kind of language, common in many previous rebellions, arguing against specific taxes and widespread corruption, albeit imbued with a strong anti-foreign element.

There are several ways one might argue against this article, which is not the point of this posting. One might, for example, argue that focusing on Chŏn or even the official documents of the rebel goals which were presented to the government doesn’t get you far in rejecting the thesis that the strong egalitarian elements of the Tonghak religious movement, especially after Ch’oe Sihyŏng takes control of it, and other ideological elements among the peasant supporters are important factors in mobilizing support for the rebellion. I’m simply not in a position to argue either way in this debate.

However, one thing of interest which Yew objects to is that “Post-1945 historians almost universally cite” (166) a twelve point document declaring the goals of the rebellion as evidence of its “radical or revolutionary nature”:

1. Eliminate the long-standing mistrust between Tonghak believers and the government in dealing with problems of administration.
2. Investigate the crimes of venal and corrupt officials and punish the guilty severely.
3. Punish men of wealth who owe their fortunes to high-handed extortionate practice.
4. Discipline those yangban in or out of office whose conduct is improper.
5. Burn all documents pertaining to slaves.
6. Rectify the treatment of those engaged in the “seven despised occupations”…and free the paekchŏng outcasts once and for all from the wearing of their distinctive “P’yŏngyang hat”
7. Permit the remarriage of widows.
8. Ban all arbitrary and irregular taxes.
9. In employing officials, break the pattern of regional and class discrimination and appoint men of talent.
10. Punish those who collaborate with the Japanese
11. Cancel all outstanding debts owed to government agencies and private individuals.
12. Distribute land equally for cultivation by owner-farmers (Lew 165-6)

This is some great material! It is full of progressive and modern enlightenment propositions. The problem is, says Lew, that “this program cannot be regarded as authentic.” (166) It comes from O Chi-yŏng’s authobiographical memoir published in 1940 and Lew refers to it as something of a “historical novel” written in the late 1930s when there were strong socialist ideas popular in colonial Korea. More importantly, the rest of the article shows other important rebel documents contemporary to the uprising which bear little or no resemblance to this document.

In an introductory text on Korean history (that I’m reading in order to improve my horrible Korean) called 함께 보는 한국근현대사 and published by the 역사학연구소 just last year in 2004, I found this morning that the only document which is quoted in its description of the Tonghak rebellion has this very familiar looking list of twelve demands:

1. 도인과 정부 사이에는 묵은 감정은 씻어 버리고 서정에 협력한다.
2. 탐관오리의 죄목은 조사하여 하나하나 엄징한다.
3. 횡포한 부호들은 엄징한다
4. 불량한 유림과 양반들은 징벌한다.
5. 노비문서를 태워 버린다.
6. 칠반천인의 대우를 개선하고 백정 머리에 씌우는 평양갓을 벗게하다.
7. 청춘과부의 재혼을 허락한다.
8. 무명잡세는 모두 폐지한다.
9. 관리 채용은 지벌을 타파하고 인재 위주로 한다.
10. 외적과 내통하는 자는 엄징한다.
11. 공사채를 막론하고 지난 것은 모두 무효로 한다.
12. 토지는 평균으로 분작하게 한다. (역사학연구소 ed. 51)

If the document is highly problematic (in a memoir from 1940) and there are other documents contemporary to the rebellion, why is this still being used (this book’s introduction claims to incorporate “new trends” in the historiography, although I really know little about it or the authors, I picked it up almost at random in a Seoul bookstore)? Some of these other documents, of course, show almost none of these enlightenment features, but speak of “fulfill[ing] the duties of loyalty and filial piety” and of “strengthen[ing] moral relationships, rectify[ing] the names and roles, and realiz[ing] the teachings of the Sages.” (167) Another document cited by Lew focuses almost entirely on eliminating corruption and addressing very specific tax and economic related concerns – features common to many pre-modern rebellions around the world. (171)

If the progressive and/or revolutionary egalitarian aspects of the important Tonghak uprising can be shown with other evidence, perhaps the mention of the uprising goals in these official documents should be dropped entirely?

Lew, Young Ick. “The Conservative Character of the 1894 Tonghak Peasant Uprising: A Reappraisal with Emphasis on Chon Pong-jun’s Background and Motivation.” The Journal of Korean Studies 7 (1990): 149-180.


Continent, Peninsula, Islands: notes on the theory of uneven and combined development and its possible application to northeast Asian history

Filed under: — Owen @ 11:42 am Print

A few weeks ago I attended the conference organised by Historical Materialism journal at SOAS on the theme ‘Towards a Cosmopolitan Marxism’. There was one session in particular that I wanted to attend: one of my favourite historians, Neil Davidson, discussing the theory of uneven and combined development with Colin Barker. The session didn’t disappoint. Neil Davidson’s paper looked at the intellectual history of the idea of uneven development going back to enlightenment thinkers such as Leibniz and tracing it through to its more developed form in the writings of Trotsky, such as his History of the Russian Revolution (although even here it is not really systematically developed as a theory). Here is the classic passage from the introduction to that book, quoted by Davidson:

The privilege of historic backwardness – and such a privilege exists – permits, or rather compels, the adoption of whatever is ready in advance of any specified date, skipping a whole series of intermediate stages.

And here is Trotsky’s passage on combined development:

From the universal law of unevenness thus derives another law which for want of a better name, we may call the law of combined development – by which we mean a drawing together of the different stages of the journey, a combining of separate steps, an amalgam of archaic with more contemporary forms.

Colin Barker on the other hand asked whether it might be possible to extend the theory in two directions: into the study of pre-capitalist history and beyond the national level to an understanding of global combined development. I won’t deal with the latter idea here, but the idea of the application to the history of pre-capitalist societies did give rise to some thoughts that I’d like to jot down here.


Lee hang-bok’s Travel – 무술조천록(戊戌朝天錄)

Filed under: — yuna @ 10:05 am Print

이항복(李恒福 1556~1618)은 조선 중기의 인물로, 군사상, 정치상으로 상당히 활약을 했지만, 오히려 어린 시절의 그를 소재로 한 민담이 더 유명한 인물입니다. 이 자리를 빌어 학술적이라고 하긴 어렵지만 재미있는 이야기를 하나 소개해볼까 합니다.

임진왜란이 거의 끝나갈 즈음인 무술년(1598)에 정응태(丁應泰)의 무고 사건이 있었다. 일전 명나라의 찬획 정응태가 양호(楊鎬)를 탄핵했을 때, 조선은 그를 변호하는 글을 올려 양호를 유임시켰는데, 이 일로 유감을 품은 정응태는 조선을 무함하는 상주를 올렸던 것이다. 조선왕조실록(朝鮮王朝實錄)에 정응태가 올렸다는 상주문의 일부가 남아있다.

“조선에서는 대대로 일본인이 사는 집을 지어놓고, 여러 섬의 왜노(倭奴)를 불러다가 전쟁을 일으켜서 중국을 침범하여, 요하(遼河)의 동쪽을 빼앗아 옛땅을 찾으려고 한다.”

여기에서 말하는 일본인이 사는 집이란 일본 사신이나 상인들이 머무르는 왜관을 뜻하며, 옛땅이란 말은 원문에는 고토(古土)라 되어있다. 또 하나 문제가 된 것은 세종(世宗) 때의 신숙주(申叔舟)가 저술한 《해동제국기(海東諸國記)》였다. 일본이나 기타 나라들의 사정과 풍습을 기록한 일종의 지리지였는데, 일본 사신을 접대한 내용 역시 문제가 되었다. 이같은 정응태의 상주문은 당시 중국 내의 정치적 상황 때문이었지만, 아무튼 조선으로서는 곤란한 지경에 놓였고, 이에 사정을 해명하고 입장을 표명하기 위해 사신을 파견했다. 이 때 사신으로는 처음 유성룡이 내정되었다가 파직되었고, 이항복이 대신 사신으로 파견되었다. 이정구(李廷龜)와 황여일(黃汝一)이 동행했고, 정사(正使)는 이항복이었고, 부사(副使)는 이정구였다.



Asian History Carnival 2

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 11:22 pm Print

The 2nd installment of the Asian History Carnival is coming next week, December 12th. The announcement is out a bit late but send your nominations to konrad [at] lawson.net. I’ll be hosting the carnival at my own Muninn.net

See the full details on submission in the official announcement. If you missed the first carnival, take a look here. Also, pass on the word! Unlike the excellent bi-weekly History Carnival, our own bi-monthly carnival is just getting off the ground! I hope Frog in a Well readers will take a moment to make a nomination or two of good Asian history related postings by midnight December 11th EST.

UPDATE: The new Asian history carnival is now up over at Muninn. The next carnival will be February 2nd, 2006. Please contact me at konrad [at] lawson.net if you are interested in hosting the third installment of the Asian History Carnival.

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