우물 안 개구리


Gyewon Kim: Self-Introduction

Filed under: — Gyewon @ 8:33 am Print

To begin with, I’m very pleased to be involved in this weblog. Thanks, 미치 (K. M. Lawson)!
My name is Gyewon Kim. I’m doing my PhD in art history in McGill University at Montreal. I recently completed all of my course work and exams last semester and may now begin with my own research. (What a relief!) I’m interested in discourses and practices of landscape in the Meiji period. In particular, I’m examining maps and photographs produced by Japanese geographers by addressing their workability in the creation of a particular geographical imagination in colonial Korea.

My academic background is bit complex. I did my BA in Education at Yonsei University, and continued to do my MA in the history of photography at Chung-Ang University (and now in art history ^^;;). I used to take a lot of my own photographs but now prefer to look at them and talk about aspects invisible on the surface level: the complex web of social contexts, histories, political struggles, power relations, etc. As Park Noja sunsaengnim said to me, the contents of art history is not as bloody as that of history more generally speaking. However, I think images are always already entangled with ideological conflicts, something I find difficult but interesting when I face the images myself. Perhaps I can address some aspects of this with examples in my next posting. In addition to my research in art history I’m also currently studying Japanese quite intensively. It’s really interesting! とても面白いですよ! These days, however, I’m doing my archive research at Seoul National University almost every day. I have a personal blog, too. You can find it here. I use the blog for academic purposes, so it might or might not be interesting to you. Hope that we can meet up somewhere in and out of the internet space. じゃ、またね!★


Korea University: 2nd International Forum on Korean Studies

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 12:20 am Print

Last week I attended (actually, I think the word “crashed” is more accurate) the 2nd International Forum on Korean Studies held by Korea University. The conference featured a number of interesting speakers from different fields related to the study of Korea, was extremely well funded, and gave me an opportunity to meet many interesting scholars and students in the field, including someone who I believe will soon be introducing themselves as a new contributor here at Frog in a Well – Korea. It also featured a number of speakers and commentators who focus mostly on Japan but were willing to make the forage into the field of Korean studies, including Naoki Sakai and a truly inspiring young professor I had a chance to study intellectual history with at Waseda University: Umemori Naoyuki. One of our fellow contributors here at Frog in a Well, Vladimir Tikhonov (Pak Noja) also participated as a discussant.

I was going to give a short overview of some of the papers that were presented but it appears as though they are all available for download at the official homepage for the event: 2nd International Forum on Korean Studies.


Japanese War Related Survey and its Results

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 11:17 am Print

Sasaki Kei, one of our contributors at the Japanese history blog here at Frog in a Well pointed out some results of a survey recently released in the Japanese press (Mainichi article here). I summarized the results he discussed in English over in a posting on the survey at the Chinese history weblog here at Frog in a Well.

Prof. Yi Hŏnch’ang (이헌창) and his “Outline of Korean Economic History”

Filed under: — noja @ 8:56 am Print

A couple of days ago, I had the happy opportunity to meet Prof. Yi Hŏnch’ang (이헌창, 고려대), one of Korea’s leading economical historians. The meeting took place at a conference, which, frankly, resembled more a sort of diplomatic event, but for me, talking with Prof. Yi was enough of a reward.

I was presented with his mighty volume, “An Outline of Korean Economic History” (한국경제통사, 제3판, 법문사, 2006), and, a complete profane in the field of economic history as I am, I became completely immersed in the reading! The secret of the appeal of this book is its ambitious goal – namely, to get a consistent picture of socio-economical developments in the country from ancient times up to the neo-liberal epoch from a sort of long-term perspective. You do not have to be an economic history specialist to appreciate this kind of approach. And the last chapters, on Korea’s industrialisation and all the concommitant issues, written from a seemingly “neutral” position, but using of a wealth of data and analythic methods, offers a historisised perspective on what is happening in the country now.

For example, the unabashed ferocity which Roh Moo-hyun’s government demonstrates in sacrificing agriculture to the FTA deal with the USA seems to be partly explained by the fact that, as Prof. Yi shows, “underprioritising” agriculture has been Korea’s rulers main unstated policy ever since Park Chung Hee’s regime. On the surface, the “New Village Movement” provided the regime with a good “popular” face and village infrastructure was significantly improved (the area under irrigation jumped by around 80%, new sorts of rice were introduced, the amount of chemical fertiliser used for 1 ha jumped from 92 to almost 400 kg, etc.). But in reality, the main use Park Chung Hee saw in the villages was their workforce, which was constantly pumped into the cities by the enormous and widening income gap.

The real amount of investment in agriculture was disproportionately low, and Korea steadily became an agricultural product importer – the ratio of import dependence in agriculture being 6% in 1965 and 71% in 1995 (I understand it, it is around 80% today). The villagers became heavily divided into a minority of successful agro-businessmen and a large mass of either relatively or very poor peasants – the tenancy ratio was 28% in 1990, and is growing. By the way, many of the evicted peasants in Taech’uri, P’yŏngt’aek, are in fact tenants, who get very little compensation from the government (since, legally speaking, they owned nothing in the village) and have literally nowhere to go.

The ratio of debt to assets among Korean peasants is 12% for 2000 (only 0,7% in 1975), which is an astonishingly high figure, given the high land prices. So, Roh is now going to deal the final coup de grace to Korea’s peasantry, basically continuing Park Chung Hee’s strategic line – instead of, for example, following the example of Norway, where the import dependency ratio in agriculture is only 50%. What sort of ecological consequences the turning of some selected areas (like the metropolitan region) into huge industrial estates cum apartment villages, and making the rest of the country a sparcely populated territory will have, I can only guess….


Glossing over history

Filed under: — Owen @ 10:29 am Print

I thought I’d write a quick post about another web resource I’ve just started to use quite a bit recently. This is the online Glossary of Korean Studies put together by the Academy of Korean Studies. I’ll start with a gripe: the search function doesn’t work in Firefox. Ok, now that’s out of the way I can say that I think this is an absolutely wonderful resource – it’s massive and generally seems very well put together. The methodology that they have used is to rely, where possible, on a body of English-language books on Korean history mainly written or translated by Western scholars as their basic source material for translations of Korean historical terms. Specifically, the books that seem to have been most commonly used are Yi Kibaek’s A New History of Korea, translated by Edward W. Wagner; James B. Palais’ Politics and Policy in Traditional Korea; Martina Deuchler’s The Confucian Transformation of Korea and Han Woo-Keun’s The History of Korea. Obviously there are limitations to this approach – most of these books are now quite old and more recent works may have opted for other translations. But in general they seem like a pretty good selection particularly since they are very respected and established works that all undergraduates studying Korean history are likely to encounter at some point or another.

In general I think it is a good idea that we have standardised translations of Korean historical terms as well as standardised transliterations (actually the AKS glossary provides transliterations in both the current government system and M-R). It can certainly be confusing reading about the Ministry of Taxation in one book, the Board of Finance in another and the Board of Revenue in yet another (I’m talking about the Chosŏn dynasty central government institution called the Hojo 戶曺). Having said that, I would be wary of advocating in principle that all scholars use the same terms. Clearly people might have very specific reasons why they prefer one translation to another or they might want to challenge a particular translation on the grounds that it is not an accurate reflection of the meaning of the original (Sino)-Korean term.

An example that I can give you from my own research is that of the terms sijŏn 市廛 and yugŭijŏn 六矣廛. You will usually find these translated as ‘licensed store/shop’ and the ‘six licensed stores’ (as they are in the AKS Glossary). This takes the character 廛 to mean a shop, which is in one sense correct as the term sijŏn did indeed refer to the merchants’ shops that lined the streets of central Seoul during the Chosŏn period. However, in practice, the terms sijŏn and yugŭijŏn actually referred to the groupings of merchants arranged into guilds according to the products they sold. When government documents refer to the sijŏn or yugŭijŏn they are referring to these merchants’ organisations that actually interacted with the government on behalf of the individual merchants. Thus in my work I always use the term ‘guild’ to translate sijŏn and ‘Six Guilds’ to translate yugŭijŏn as I think the translation ‘licensed stores’ can be quite misleading to the modern reader.


The Korean Folk Village

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 6:59 am Print

A few days ago I visited the Korean Folk Village near Suwŏn. You can learn all about the village from the English version of its propaganda video, complete with the standard blonde white foreigner and his beautiful Korean guide.

The folk village was much larger than I expected it to be and does a wonderful job of providing entertainment for visitors of all ages. The various artistic performances, pottery village, and other craft displays are all very impressive, and considerably less cheesy than the kind of cultural showcases I have seen elsewhere. To take one recent example of what I mean by cheesiness, I knew things would get bad when I was greeted at by ninja-clad parking attendants during a trip to Ueno city in Mie prefecture, Japan in 2004. That turned out to be only the beginning. By contrast, the folk village at Suwŏn has a wonderful feel about it, and it was smart enough to separate out the restaurants, souvenir shops, and amusement park from the central area and placed them all on each of the edges of the village.

The folk village at Suwŏn was put together a few decades ago and features a large collection of reproductions of buildings from all over Korea. It includes the houses of farmers as well as those of yangban, magistrates, and more prominent nobles. Depending on which description of the folk village you are reading, these houses are either described as “a late Chosŏn village” or “traditional” houses, or as displaying the “architectural wisdom of the Korean ancients.”

I am not qualified to evaluate much of what is on display, and since my knowledge of pre-modern Korean history is quite limited, I have little more than the average tourist’s intuitions to offer. But offer them I will, because there are a number of curious things about the folk village that I think it would be interesting to bring up for discussion here.

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