우물 안 개구리


Duelling histories? part 3

Filed under: — Owen @ 7:57 pm Print

I thought I would revive this title once more and add another post to the series on recent historiographical clashes in South Korea since I recently came across another interesting example that actually fits rather nicely with some of the posts made here by Jiyul and Noja.

I came across this report on a debate on the Park Chung-hee era between Im Chi-hyŏn and Cho Hŭi-yŏn in the pages of the Donga Ilbo newspaper. Apparently the debate between the two has been going on since 2004, particularly in the pages of the journal Historical Criticism (역사비평) and the Professors’ Newspaper (교수신문).

Basically, the main protagonist, Im Chi-hyŏn, argues that Park’s rule was an example of a ‘mass dictatorship’ (대중독재), in other words, the idea that Park was able to rule by creating some degree of consent for his dictatorship. Cho counters that “the mass dictatorship theory is problemmatic because it expands the accommodating silence of the masses into a general and active agreement with the dictatorship, thus justifying it.”

Im on the other hand responds that “Cho’s understanding makes the people into heroes and demonises the dictator, creating a moralistic duality. If we are to prevent a new dictatorship from arising we need to go beyond moralistic dualism and provide a dispassionate analysis.”

Going a bit further, Cho argues that both Im Chi-hyŏn’s views and those of Yi Yŏng-hun (who edited two recent books I’ve mentioned here: 해방 전후사의 재인식 and 수량경제사로 다시 본 조선후기) are part of a general attempt to create a revisionist history that takes advantage of the current crisis of ‘democratic progressive discourse’. He argues that while Yi’s critique comes from the viewpoint of the so-called ‘New Right’, Im’s comes from a postmodernist (탈근대적) position. Funnily enough I’m planning to translate a review of 해방 전후사의 재인식 by a Korean Marxist historian whom I rate highly, who makes almost exactly the same point, titling his review: ‘A reactionary duet between the right and the postmodernists.’ When I actually have some time to do the translation I’ll be sure to make it available to readers here.

More on the debate here at the Chosun Ilbo. And something in English I found here on Im’s theory of mass dictatorship.


Popular Gusts on the turn-of-the-century Japanese spin operation

Filed under: — Owen @ 6:58 pm Print

Matt of the blog ‘Gusts of Popular Feeling‘ has produced two excellent posts in a row on apologist views of Japan’s colonisation of Korea. The latest one specifically concerns Japan’s ‘cultivation of foreign apologists’ during its bid to gain control over the Korean peninsula, using what one contemporary commentator called a “carefully organized [...] claque in Europe and America, especially in America.”

It’s a fascinating look at what the Japanese government were up to that raises one particular question in my mind: how did they learn so quickly to be masters of spin and successfully develop an influential lobby in the ‘West’. (Arguably, Japan still manages to benefit from a certain sort of untouchable ‘cool’ status among many people in Europe and the US, although not so much the generation that remembers WWII). I guess that one answer to this question is that the arguments used by the Japanese government and promoted by their foreign friends were the exact same ones being used by European governments about their colonial possessions or by the US about the Philippines (ie the natives can’t look after themselves and must be saved by us). It wasn’t hard to find a model for propaganda and it wasn’t hard to convince people in other parts of the world of its rightfulness as they already believed it.


Recent Downtime

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:44 pm Print

I want to apologize for the recent few days of instable contact with Frog in a Well and some downtime. I’ll expand this post with more of an explanation later but in the meantime, I hope that things will gradually get back to normal around here. We have moved web hosts and I’m still ironing somethings out. Leave a comment here or email me at konrad [at] lawson.net if you continue to have problems with some feature of the weblogs here, I will try to work out any remaining issues this weekend.


Monumental Repatriation

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 6:01 pm Print

A Korean stone memorial commemorating victories over Hideyoshi’s armies has been returned [via]

After decades of negotiations, the Bukgwan Victory Monument was driven through the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas on its circuitous journey back home. Because communist North Korea does not have formal relations with Japan, South Korean diplomats secured its return and then turned it over to their estranged neighbor.

It marks the first time that Seoul has formally intervened on Pyongyang’s behalf to recover a cultural relic, and could set a precedent for the future.

It’s good to see a cultural icon returned, but it raises all kinds of interesting and troubling issues. First, of course, is the location of the piece

Although the stone tablet was less valuable than some other artworks, its presence at a shrine that honors the souls of 2.5 million military dead including those convicted of war crimes was particularly rankling to Korean activists. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun took up the cause during a meeting last year with Japanese President Junichiro Koizumi.

“There were a lot of psychological factors with this monument. It was about an embarrassing and humiliating defeat for the Japanese, and I think they wanted it hidden away,” said Kang Kyung-hwan, director of the Cultural Heritage Administration’s international division.

Toshiaki Nambu, the head of Yasukuni Shrine, told the media that his board never contested the return of the monument. “The monument is not ours. We are only keeping it temporarily and planning to return it,” Nambu was quoted as saying

Which has to qualify as one of the most bald-faced lies ever uttered, given that Koreans have been trying to arrange repatriation for 27 years. This is not the end, though,

This is only the starting point for a national movement to recover all that they stole from us,” said Choi Seo-myeon, the scholar, now 76, who found the pilfered monument at Yasukuni after a lengthy search.Choi and his fellow Korean scholars say the Japanese were as bad as the Nazis in Europe: Imperial forces plundered treasures during an occupation that ended only with Tokyo’s surrender to the Allies in 1945.

The items range from the exquisite — celadon vases, bronze Buddhas, gold jewelry — to the macabre. Among the latter are as many as 100,000 noses and ears that Japanese samurai sliced off Koreans as trophies during a brutal 7-year war in the late 16th century. The body parts were buried in a mound in Kyoto.

When Japan and South Korea normalized diplomatic relations in 1965, the Japanese returned more than 1,300 items. About 1,700 more have come home through private negotiations. Korean collectors have bought back some pieces on the open market, and some Japanese citizens have donated pieces. But Koreans say it is only a fraction of what remains missing.

One of the interesting questions at this point has to be whether there might be distinction, on repatriation, between items taken by governments (and their agents) by force or by seizure laws later deemed illegitimate versus those held in private hands and acquired through purchase, even under adverse economic conditions. If the latter distinction isn’t made — and the legal situation now is considerably less friendly to the export or purchase of culturally significant achaeological finds — then there will have to be a massive global repatriation out of Western museums. I’m thinking, for example, of the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, which has some astounding collections based in no small part on purchases made in the 19th century, when Japan was at an extreme economic disadvantage to the West.

[Crossposted to Frog In A Well: Japan]


Supply Drops for Prisoners of War

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 12:10 am Print

The Japanese emperor’s famous surrender announcement came at noon on August 15th, 1945. However, for Korea (and Manchuria) the date is of limited use, despite its symbolic importance today. Japanese troops did not formally surrender on the ground in the southern half of Korea until the 9th of September. August 15th also did not bring the immediate release of prisoners of war held in Japanese camps in Korea. There is, however, plenty of mention of them in US military documents from this early transition period. Before the prisoners were liberated, indeed, before US soldiers had landed in Korea, the US military began to drop food and supplies on the camps. The drops were important for morale, but also apparently reached the prisoners of war in large enough quantities that when medical inspectors evaluated the condition of the prisoners, they had difficulties in estimating the wartime nutritional conditions in the camps. Though they suffered from all manner of diseases and conditions were horrible in some camps, most prisoners (it is important to note that the only prisoners mentioned in the documents I have looked at so far are Western prisoners) had gained as much as 20 pounds from a recent deluge of supply drops and Red Cross packages and the special medical unit brought for their benefit was judged as unnecessary.

There is another more problematic side to these supply drops – delivered by air at a time when hostilities had already ended. In the official military History of the United States Armed Forces in Korea covering the period roughly up to the Korean War, we find this telling passage:

“The B-29s came in at a low altitude. Many of the parachutes to which [sic] from 30 to 50 percent of the supplies were unusable, and the fast-falling packages did a certain amount of damage. At Seoul they killed a Korean woman. At Inch’on they crashed through the roof of the prisoners’ hospital, broke the leg of one of the prisoners, killed one Korean, and injured eight Japanese. In spite of these serious mishaps, the prisoners benefited greatly in body and mind from the flights and from the supplies that were salvaged. The morale effect of the planes was tremendous.”1

In addition to killing people with falling supplies and the huge waste involved in these drops, they also created tensions with Russian troops in some areas, as in the case of the drops around one camp:

“The story of the drops made over the camp at Konan is more involved. When the first drops were made, at about the same time as the drops over the Seoul and Inch’on camps, Russian troops were in the area. Some of the packages hit a building occupied by Red Army troops and narrowly missed a colonel, as the Russians later explained. This occurence brought an order from the local Russian commander that any planes that might come over in the future to drop supplies should be intercepted and made to land before delivering their cargo, in order to avoid any more accidents.”2

The story doesn’t end there. Later a B-29 tried to drop more supplies in the area and four Russian fighter planes tried to get the bomber to land on an airfield far too small for its size. The bomber tried to fly back without dropping anything, but the Russians fired on the plane as it went out to sea (the military historian speculates that they thought the plane was Japanese with Allied markings). 6 of the crew bailed up, to be picked up by Korean fishermen, while the other 7 crash landed the plane and were picked up by the Russians, with whom they made amends. Not knowing what to do with the soldiers, they delivered them to the prison camp where they stayed, after delivering the plane’s supplies by hand…

1. 駐韓美軍史 (HUSAFIK History of the United States Armed Forces in Korea) published by 돌베개, p344
2. ibid


Fuji Kawashima, 1938-2006

Filed under: — Owen @ 6:18 am Print

The Korean Studies mailing list has been full of people’s recollections of the the Koreanist Fuji Kawashima of Bowling Green State University, who died recently. If you are not on the list and want to read what people are saying you can look here. There is also an obituary here.

I did not know this important scholar or his work on the yangban society of Chosŏn, so I thought that for readers of Frog in a Well the most useful way to remember him might be to provide a list of some of his publications in English (taken from the Korean History Bibliography compiled by the Centre for Korean Studies at the University of Hawai’i):


Asian History Carnival #3 Is Up

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 7:29 am Print

over on the China side


The use “chunghung”

Filed under: — jiyulkim @ 5:22 pm Print

Does anyone have any thought or evidence on whether the use of chunghung (restoration/renovation/rejuvenation) during the Park Chung Hee years was generic or deliberate in an historicized way?

I refer specifically to the evocation of the term in the slogan “minjok chunghung” (national restoration) and the use in “munye chunghung (culture and art renovation) 5 year plan.”

I am wondering if it is possible to consider whether the use of the term chunghung was purposefully designed to evoke its deep Chinese/Confucian connection. Mary Wright’s book on the T’ung Chih Restoration (The Last Stand of Chinese Conservatism) provides a good chapter on the term’s significance in Chinese dynastic history. Andre Schmid’s Korea Between Empires has two mentions of the use of chunghung to refer to Kojong’s efforts with the Taehan jeguk (Kojong chunghung?). Bruce Cumings mentioned in a manuscript review that minjok chunghung was a term that has colonial origins (although by who and in what source I am not sure).

In an earlier brief discussion on the Korean Studies Discussion List on the term “yusin,” Prof. Ledyard talked about the Chinese/Confucian roots of that term and speculated that Park Chung Hee was very possibly aware and deliberately used the term with that connection in mind. Vladimir Tikhonov in the same discussion speculated that Park’s educational advisor Park Chong-hong would have known that historical significance and would have been in a position to advise PCH and that the evocation of the term/concept embedded in Chinese imperial ideology was “hardly accidental.”

I wonder if we can make a similar inference about chunghung. Better yet, does anyone have any evidence that can take us beyond speculation.

Jiyul Kim

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