우물 안 개구리


Into the archives

Major source material publication projects for premodern history

A bit of a change of pace here, but I thought I’d share a bit of the information I’ve gathered from working on cataloguing Korean books in the library here at SOAS. Of course if you are uninterested in premodern Korean history or have a low boredom threshold this would probably be a good time to click away.

I’ve posted before about accessing the major Chosŏn dynasty annals online. These have formed the backbone of studies on premodern Korean history during the last few decades, but now it seems the emphasis is moving toward more detailed research using archival sources. What I mean by archival sources are all the surviving public and private documents from the Chosŏn period that tend to be called komunsŏ (古文書) in Korean. These sources are becoming increasingly available to researchers through a number of massive compilation and publication projects being carried out by some of the main organisations in Korea responsible for promoting the study of Korean history: namely the Academy of Korean Studies (韓國學中央硏究院); the National History Compilation Committee (國史編纂委員會); the Kyujanggak library of Seoul National University (奎章閣); and the Korean Classics Research Institute (民族文化推進會).

Below I will look in turn at the collections that each of these institutions is publishing and what they offer for historians. If anyone knows of any important ones that I have missed out, please feel free to let me know in the comments.

>>Academy of Korean Studies:

Komunso chipsong
Komunsŏ chipsŏng 古文書集成 (76 vols)
A very impressive collection of archival materials, often from the archives of individual clans/families, now at volume 76 and counting. It includes mainly facsimiles of the originals but also some transcribed versions too.

Han’gukhak charyo ch’ongsŏ
Han’gukhak charyo ch’ongsŏ 韓國學資料叢書 (36 vols)
Another very important collection which seems to have reached volume 36. The materials appear to be similar to those in the Komunsŏ chipsŏng collection but I think in this collection there is a greater preponderance of reprinted old books and diaries rather than komunsŏ as such. Among recent volumes are two covering the archives of the Pak family of Matjil village in Kyŏngsang province upon which the groundbreaking book ‘The Farmers of Matjil Village’ (맛질의농민들, 2001) was based.

Hanguk kanch'al charyo sonjip
Hanguk kanch’al charyo sŏnjip 韓國簡札資料選集 (6 vols)
A series of volumes of collected letters including quite a lot written in han’gul (called ŏn’gan 諺簡) which could be very interesting for research into Chosŏn social history. Seems to have reached at least volume 6.

>>National History Compilation Committee:

Hanguk saryo ch'ongso
Han’guk saryo ch’ongsŏ 韓國史料叢書 (47 vols)
This collection appears to be quite a diverse collection of historical documents, including many that are kept in collections outside of Korea. It turned out to be very useful for me as I discovered a whole new cache of documents relating to the topic of my thesis in one of the volumes dedicated to materials kept in Japan. It is also particularly great because most or all of these materials seem to be available online here.


Komunsŏ 古文書 (29 vols)
Straightforwardly enough, this is a series of collections of komunsŏ from the Kyujanggak archives. As one might predict, considering this was once the royal library, about half of them consist of collections of government documents. You can find some more information about the contents of the volumes here.

Kyujanggak charyo ch’ongsŏ I & II 奎章閣資料叢書
Another couple of volumes of materials from the Kyujanggak archives.

>>Korean Classics Research Institute:

Hanguk munjip ch'onggan
Han’guk munjip ch’onggan 韓國文集叢刊 (301 vols?)
I’m not sure whether this one really fits in this category, but it is certainly a publication mega-project that dwarfs the others, being a comprehensive collection of the collected works of Korean literati, or munjip. On the basis of the holdings in our library it seems to have reached volume 301, but it may have got further than that by now.


A letter from the headman of Taech’uri Village, currently in detention

Filed under: — noja @ 9:39 am Print

Dear friends,

I guess I should share with you the English text of a letter sent by Mr. Kim Chit’ae (Ji Tae), the headman of Taech’uri Village, which is struggling currently against a concerted encroachment by the American military and Korea’s own government. After more than 15 thousands (!) of police, military men and gangster-like types usually hired by the removal companies (철거깡패) invaded the village on May 4th, Mr. Kim went to prison, together with several other resistance leaders. The letter, written in prison and then translated into English, was sent to me by Mrs. Serapina Cha (차미경), head of the Friends of Asia, a NGO involved in the work with “illegal” labour migrants. What is really interesting in this struggle from the viewpoint of the history of ideas, is the way how the concept of “patriotism” is being reconsidered and remade by the resistant peasants. They are no longer any sort of patriots of the South Korean state, which is throwing them from their land – they have burned down their citizen registration cards and officially announced that they would like to have their South Korean citizenship revoked. But they are the patriots of their land, their place – obviously wishing to solidarize with those living around them, and having no wish to see their mountains and fields being turned into a starting grounds for the WWIII. It reminds in some way of Zapatistas, with their attachment to Mayan land and legacy.

Here is the letter:

The Village Headman’s letter to Korean People

Dear my fellow citizens,

As the headman of the Daechuri village, I apologize to Korean people for being a clamorously controversial problem in the nation.
I have lived here with my old parents to be a farmer for 20 years. I also have been happy with my wife and two sons.
The peaceful life of villagers including my family has been destroyed since in 2003 the news came to us that many of the US military bases in South Korea would be relocated to get together here in Daechuri.
That news was a real shock to us, for the generation of my parents underwent migration forced by the Japanese colonial army and later we were forced to move by the US army. Now, are doomed to leave this place forever for the 3rd time?
Recognizing that what is called the “national project” of the consolidation move of the US base resulted from the unfair and undemocratic relation between Daechuri residents and the Korean government, and between Seoul and Washington, we sent tens of protesting letters to the Ministry of National Defense, the Ministry of Diplomacy and Trade, and US Embassy before the parliamentary ratification in 2004. They did not respond to us. We sometimes received letters of reply merely saying that we must understand that it is “a national project.”
Even though the government just disregarded Daechuri residents, we were not daunted and persisted in struggling against the government. For we knew what the truth was. More and more people began to support us.
The government sometimes pretended that they wanted to have “a dialogue” with residents. At the same moment that they proposed a dialogue with us, they encircled our farm with barbed wires and destroyed Daechu primary school, which also played a role of our community house. That is what they meant by “dialogue”. The Minister of National Defense and the Prime Minister, whoever they may be, frequently had the press conference and then the major newspaper and broadcasting companies just relayed what they said to the mass, as if it had been true.

The government must let people know what is all about the relocation of the US base. There must be nothing left behind the screen. Then, there must be taken a more democratic procedure, whether it may be a poll or a national referendum.

We want more people to visit our homepage ( www.antigizi.or.kr ) to satisfy your curiosity about what is really going on in this small village. We also suggest to the government that it kill and bury us here in our own land rather than having “a dialogue” only to talk about compansation money and the expansion of the US base, which do not interest us at all.

Lastly, we have one thing to say to our fellow citizens. Whether you support or oppose us, we believe, you are all patriots loving this country. Without the passion for the love of our nation, you would just have had an apathy to us. What we do want to say to all of you is that you must think over whether there were sufficient legal grounds for all the processes involved with the move of the US base and over the true nature of more than 600-day-length of candle demonstration. It is not only then before you suppose or oppose us. We will accept and follow the will of Korean people.

We will fight to the last. ”


Manifesto from the Suyu Research Institute on the S.Korea-USA FTA plans – The Twilight of Empire?

Filed under: — noja @ 5:07 am Print

Dear colleagues,

Below I put the English text of the manifesto penned by two of the most promising post-nationalist scholars I know in South Korea, namely Dr. Ko Byeong-gweon (고병권) and Prof. Yi Jin-gyeong (이진경), both affiliated with Suyu Research Institute – an autonomous community of post-nationalist scholars, many of whom are working on the early modern period. The manifesto, dealing with the pressing issue of the planned conclusion of the FTA (Free Trade Agreement) between ROK and USA, raises questions, which are of great significance for the whole “progressive” (use this word for the lack of a better term) movement in South Korea (and elsewhere). What is the real strategy beyond promotion of the FTA by the empire in (arguably, terminal) decilne? Why does the ruling bureaucracy in South Korea prefer to ally itself economically, in the form of FTA, with the “old”, declining hegemon, instead of making the best out of its growing interdependence with the new, regional hegemonic force? Will the logic of almost unconditional support for Pres. Roh’s camp, simultaneously pursuing the strategy of co-optation of North Korean bureaucracy and following the imperial agenda on the FTA issue, divide and split the left-nationalist camp into “unification activists” (playing down their anti-US sentiments so far the USA does not harm Pres. Roh seriously) and an “anti-American group”? I personally do not agree with some of the theses proposed by Dr. Ko and Prof. Yi, but the manifesto is an interesting and thought-provoking reading, showing very well the directions of “progressive” thought in S.Korea today.

Vladimir (Pak Noja)



The Marijuana Crisis of ’75

Filed under: — Owen @ 1:37 pm Print

I’ve been dipping into an excellent book on the history of Korean popular music now and then (이혜숙 & 손우석 – 한국대중음악사) and came across a fascinating passage on Park Chung-hee’s use of drugs scares to suppress the emerging youth culture that he found threatening. Here’s an excerpt (my rough translation):

After the defeat in Vietnam Park Chung-hee set about strengthening his dictatorship by stressing an external policy of self-reliant defence and an internal policy of ‘defending the system’. To that end, the possession of nuclear weapons, national harmony and traditional culture were all emphasised. However, the imitation of the Western youth culture of jeans, long hair, [folk] guitar and pop songs was widespread. At a time when it was necessary to defend the system and achieve national unity and a self-reliant defence it was impossible to remain indifferent to this degenerate Western youth culture. It was necessary to tighten social discipline. In the view of Park Chung-hee the base and degenerate culture of the West appeared in two forms: one was the folk guitar singers and the other was the entertainers who had originated in the [clubs frequented by] US Eighth Army soldiers. A crackdown on these people was urgent. He began by banninglarge numbers of pop songs and kayo and then moved on to a crackdown on marijuana. On December 2nd, 1975 a huge number of entertainers were banned completely from working in the so-called ‘marijuana crisis’ (대마초 파동). [한국대중음악사, p86]

The book goes on to quote Park Chung-hee himself on the marijuana problem:

“At this grave juncture that will settle the matter of life and death in our one-on-one [struggle] with the Communist Party, the smoking of marijuana by the youth is something that will bring ruin to our country… You must pull up by the roots the problem of marijuana smoking and similar activities by applying the maximum penalties currently available under the law.” [Chosun Ilbo, 3 February 1976, quoted in above book, p88]

There was a little bit more to this story, because the president’s own son, Park Ji-man, had smoked marijuana and been influenced by hippy culture. As the authors of the book point out, this was possibly further motivation for Park’s crackdown.

Of course there exist semi-conspiracy theories as to why marijuana is prohibited throughout the world and how it came to be prohibited in the first place. We can also ask the broader questions about why states would want to outlaw commodities for which there is a clear market and which could be so lucrative to both capitalist entrepreneurs and government tax revenues (David Harvey has some good passages on the limits of commoditisation in his recent book on neoliberalism).

This is probably not the place to get into all the historical reasons why this particular commodity happens to be prohibited. But the history of controlled drugs all over the world shows that social control is often one aspect in the calculations of governments enforcing prohibition laws. Korea was and continues to be a good example of this. The fact that illegal drug use is very low in Korea by world standards did not and does not stop the authorities from stamping down on the merest hint of usage, particularly when it comes to people in the public eye. As I’ve mentioned in a post before at my blog, there continue to be periodic scandals with prominent Korean entertainers being busted and sometimes having their careers ruined. And this is not confined to the world of pop singers or TV hosts – one of Korea’s most talented traditional musicians, percussionist and dancer Yi Kwangsu, has been in and out of jail a number of times as a result of his fondness for the odd reefer.

Of course, as a fibre crop hemp was crucial to the economies of both Korea and Japan for hundreds of years. But that’s another story…


Asian History Carnival #4

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 10:05 pm Print

Big thanks to Katrina for putting together our fourth Asian history carnival. You can find it at Miscellany.


World Congress

Filed under: — Owen @ 1:20 pm Print

Antti has already got there first and flagged this up at his site, but for those people not on the Korean Studies list or regular Hunjang visitors, the Academy of Korean Studies have today announced the 3rd World Congress of Korean Studies (that’s the 3rd World Congress, not the Third World Congress). I’ll post the details below.

In the meantime, I hope like Antti, that it’s more successful than the last one which suffered from a bit of a hiccup in the smooth process of North-South reconciliation and cooperation (which was incidentally and ironically the theme of the conference).

This time the theme is ‘Cultural Interaction with Korea – From Silk Road to Korean Wave’ which means, I expect, that many historians like myself will have to find ways of shoe-horning our rather parochial topics into a more cosmopolitan, interactive mold.


The 3rd World Congress of Korean Studies
Call for Papers
The organizing committee of the 3rd World Congress of Korean Studies announces call for papers to all academics and professionals in Korean Studies.

Cultural Interaction with Korea -From Silk Road to Korean Wave-

A new phenomenon of cultural exchange called the Korean Wave has recently emerged across the world. However, there has been a stream of cultural exchanges with foreign countries throughout Korean history indeed. Academic discussions in the congress are expected to deepen our understanding of the background, stages, patterns, and influence of the cultural interactions, which will ultimately contribute to the promotion of mutual understanding and collaboration in the global community.

Dates : October 27(Fri) ~ 30(Mon), 2006
Venue : Cheju National University, Jejudo, ROK
Language : Korean, English

Co-organized by
The Academy of Korean Studies(AKS), Association for Korean Studies in Europe(AKSE), Central Asian Association for Korean Studies(CAAKS), International Society for Korean Studies(ISKS), Korean Studies Association of Australasia(KSAA), Pacific and Asia Conference on Korean Studies(PACKS)

History — Sociology — Culture — Economics — Folklore — Law — Art — Political Science
– Literature — Education — Philosophy — Religion — Language — Science & Technology — Free topic sessions

Scholars, professionals, and students holding MA degree or above are encouraged to participate.

Important Dates:
Submission deadline : June 6, 2006
Acceptance notification : June 14, 2006
Final paper due : September 3, 2006

For more details, please visit our website at http://www.aks.ac.kr/eng_home or contact us at lovekorea@aks.ac.kr
International Support Division
The Center for Information on Korean Culture
The Academy of Korean Studies
Tel : +82-31-709-9843 / Fax : +82-31-709-9945

Petition to reinstate expelled Korea University students

Filed under: — noja @ 11:49 am Print

Dear colleagues,

What follows below is a petition for the annulment of the severe punishment meted out by the Korea University (KoryO taehakkyo) authorities to several students, written by Prof. Kang Sudol (Korea University, Economics and Labour Relations).

The students are being accused of forcibly detaining the leading managers of the university (mostly chiefs of various departments in the administration) of a professorial background during a demonstration. As The Korea Herald tells us in a recent article, “Earlier this month, nine professors at Korea University were forced by about 100 students to stay overnight in a school building. The protesters demanded that the students at the college of health, which the university acquired last year, be given voting rights in student council elections.” (http://www.koreaherald.co.kr/SITE/data/html_dir/2006/05/01/200605010005.asp).

Of course, it looks as if the students used extreme and unusual methods to press their demands. But what most mainstream newspapers in Korea conveniently forget to mention is that the students’ demand (voting rights to the college of health co-students) was not that unreasonable as such, while the tough line taken by the managers, who flatly refused even to accept the petition from the demonstrating students (and that led students to pressing their demand further through allegedly blocking exit from the building), appears to be unusually and humiliatingly authoritarian – from the viewpoint of the students, at least.

The punishment meted out to the seven “leading activists” is “permanent expulsion without any right of re-entry” (ch’ulgyo), which means that all their grades and credits earned so far are being cancelled. It has not been used at Korea University since the 1970s, even against the leaders of very violent demonstrations in the 1980s. It feels as if there are grounds to suspect that the “permanent expulsion” of the activists is just a way to supress the student movement on the campus, which hardly suits the ideals of co-determination and democratic participation in the management of the university. You can read a Hangyoreh article on possible motives for the sanctions: (http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/society/society_general/118925.html)

Against this background, I ask if any of our colleagues reading this blog would like to join the petition for the nullification of the punishment. Anybody wishing to join please, make contact with Prof. Kang Sudol (ksd@korea.ac.kr).

Full text of petition (in Korean) below.


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