우물 안 개구리


History news round-up (brought to you by the Korea Times)

For some reason the Korea Times seems to be quite a decent source of history news these days, so in the absence of a more heavyweight post, here’s a round up of articles I’ve come across in the last week or so:

A couple of weeks ago the Korean Supreme Court released a bundle of court rulings from the early colonial period for the first time. The rulings date from 1912-1914 and the article notes how at that time custom still had an important influence on how the law was executed:

The court acknowledged concubines and gave supreme rights to the eldest sons of families. A person’s legal capacity was decided not by his or her age but by whether he or she had the intelligence to determine gains and losses.

Last week it was announced that a number of Chosŏn royal seals are missing, having been lost by various Korean museums. This is really not good for Korean museum PR:

The Board of Audit and Inspection also said that the surface of a royal seal made for the concubine of King Sonjo rusted away and a turtle-shaped seal, made of jade for the wife of King Sonjo, had been destroyed.

They said that every one of the of 316 seals owned by the National Palace Museum of Korea had been damaged in some way.

Two wooden ships found off the coast of China last year have turned out to be extremely rare examples of Koryŏ flat-bottomed wooden ships.

“It provides evidence that flat-bottom ships could sail as far as Shandong Province. Flat-bottom is a unique feature of ancient Korean ships unlike Chinese ships that had relatively pointy-shaped bottoms,” Choi Hang-soon, professor at the Department of Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering at Seoul National University, told The Korea Times.

“It seems the Koryo ships arrived in the Chinese port, and had some big repairs there,” said Choi, who participated in the international academic conference on the ancient ships last week in Penglai.

And finally… A KT student guest columnist lauds the philanthropic attitude of Chosŏn dynasty sŏnbi (Confucian scholar-officials). This is something that interests me a lot as I’m planning to do some research on the ‘gift economy’ in Chosŏn Korea. However, I must admit that I can’t help being a bit put off an article when I see empty catchphrases like ‘sŏnbi spirit’ being thrown around and I’m not entirely convinced about the idea of seeing members of the exclusive and exploitative yangban class as moral models for our age, however philanthropic they may have been. Actually I could criticise numerous aspects of that column, but that would seem rather misanthropic of me…


English craze as a modern Korean tradition

Filed under: — noja @ 6:06 am Print

Even having seen for around 15 years how one’s ability to follow the CNN anchors’ pronounciation habits functions in South Korea as the modern equivalent of the old treasured skills of Chinese poetizing, I still often feel baffled by the degree that the English craze has reached. On one plane, you have badly informed moms having the tongues of their kids operated on so that they can ideally conform to global standards; on another plane, my old Korean alma mater proudly proclaims that it will switch 60% of its teaching to the most scientific language in the world in 5 years. Korean history isn’t going to be exempt from this new duty of linguistic globalization , and it really feels eerie – after all, it was permitted to teach 조선사 and 조선어 in Korean even in during colonial times when Japanese remained the principal language of teaching, after the Law on Korean Education was revised in 1921-22 in what is considered one of the Government-General’s main concessions to the nationalistic spirit shown by the March 1, 1919 events. Although that too changed after the mid-1930s in many good schools, and I remember having seen the notes for Ewha lectures prepared by the later Prof. Yi PyOngdo (이병도) during that time – they were all in Japanese, of course. Anyway, it looks as though in these times cultural self-colonization may be much more thorough and destructive than anything forced from the outside by the classical “gun-boat” imperialists.

However, whatever I might have felt looking 7 years ago at my Kyunghee students making “study circles” for the collective reading of Newsweek (for me, it sounded like making a voluntary association for studying Pravda in the good old Stalinist days), I guess we have to acknowledge the enormous importance of English learning is a part of what may be called Korea’s “modern tradition”. It is quite obvious for the pre-colonial and post-colonial periods, and less obvious, but no less true for the colonial days. For pre-colonial and colonial Korea, building one’s cultural and social capital by learning English was by no means simply a feature of the life-stories of missionary school graduates like Yun Ch’iho and Syngman Rhee: what is really interesting is the role English played in the lives of the members of the fledgling modern elite who had no Christian connections.

It is largely unknown, but even early modern Korea’s greatest opponent of “동화적 모방” (‘assimilational imitation’ – that is how the “exclusion of national spirit from the modern education” was termed in one of Taehan Maeil Sinbo’s awe-inspiring editorials), Sin Ch’aeho, learned English on his own in the mid-1910s, while in China – and read Carlyle’s opus on hero worship, as well as Gibbon’s meditations on imperial declines and falls (“decline and downfall” being only too timely a topic for a militant nationalist like Sin 3-4 years after 1910), in their originals (변영로, “국수주의의 항성인 단재 신채호 선생”, – < 개벽>, 62호, 1925). Then, there is the inspiring story of the three Pyŏn brothers, Yŏngt’ae (변영태: 1892-1969 – Prime-minister in 1954-56, by the way), Yŏngno (변영로: 1897-1961) and Yŏngman (변영만: 1889-1954). All three – no conversion story involved, to my knowledge – began learning English by themselves, although Yŏngno was greatly helped by the YMCA services, and Yŏngman owed a debt to the pre-colonial School of Law Officers (법관 양성소). And all three were talented to the point of linguistic – and literary – genius. Yŏngno wrote his first English poem in 1914, and Yŏngman tried hard to create a new, novel genre of Chinese classical writing, influenced by European, primarily English literature.

Interestingly enough, English was also an OBLIGATORY subject in the colonial Advanced Normal Schools after the 1922 reform – it was taught 5-7 hours a week on average, while Japanese was taught 6-8 hours (강내희, “영어 교육과 영어의 사회적 위상”, – 공제욱, 정근식 편, < 식민지의 일상: 지배와 균열>, 문화과학사, 2006). So, lots of modern English loan words in Korean entered the language, in fact, much before 1945, although their spelling varied greatly. All this may provide, in fact, some interesting food for thought concerning the relationship between a global subsystem called “Japanese Empire”, and the British/American-dominated world-system as a whole…


James B. Palais (1934-2006)

Filed under: — Owen @ 7:30 pm Print

I was very saddened to hear that Professor James Palais has died. Everyone in the world of Korean history will have heard of him and anyone who has read any of his books and papers will know that his scholarship was at a level that leaves you in awe just a few pages in. Unfortunately, many of us at a relatively early stage in our studies will never have the opportunity to meet Professor Palais.

There is a rather perfunctory obituary from Yonhap. Hopefully there will be something more substantial soon via the Korean Studies discussion list which I will post here.

Obituary from the Northwest Asian Weekly
Obituary in the Seattle Times

In the spirit of cross-linking, back-linking or something like that, here’s Antti’s post on the death of James Palais, which links here and also includes more interesting links to obituaries and the personal reflections of people that knew him.

Below is a probably rather incomplete bibliography for James Palais, gleaned from the Korean History Bibliography:


Asian History Carnival #6

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:15 am Print

Welcome to the sixth Asian History Carnival with some of the great blog postings related to Asian history from around the past month.


EastSouthWestNorth is one of the best blogs online covering the Chinese media in English and often offers full translations of Chinese media articles with commentary. In a recent posting, complete with an article translation, we learn of an example of what happens when massive numbers of online gamers respond to rumors of a pro-Japanese conspiracy on the part of the game’s designers. A flag looking suspiciously like Japan’s found in the online historical/fantasy setting of the game gets a closer evaluation in the posting.

Matt from Blind Man and the Elephant discusses Lydia Liu’s Translingual Practices and the work of American missionary Arthur Henderson Smith, especially his work Chinese Characteristics in his recent posting Arthur Smith and Chinese Characteristics

Dave and Stefan over at Blogging…Walk the Talk continue to post wonderful Hong Kong related historical articles based on contemporary historical documents and media. One recent posting looks at local resistance to British on April 1st, 1899, when the flag was to be hoisted in the New Territories leased from China. Another entry looks at Immigration and the Sanitary Laws of Hong Kong in the 19th century, especially during the outbreak of a plague in 1894-5.

Dave and Stefan also bring up the Kowloon-Canton Railway, its controversial status in 1899, and the uses of railway lines to increase imperial power – drawing a direct connection to China’s Tibetan line today.

Alan Baumler at Frog in a Well: China also wrote a posting about the Tibetan rail line and Sun Yat-sen’s earlier dreams of a similar railway in the aftermath of the 1911 revolution.

Our newest member at Frog in a Well: China Scott Relyea has posted about two illustrations he came across from Chengdu in 1912 and what we can learn about the growth market economy and crony capitalism in China.

Dan Harris over at the China Law Blog confesses his pro-capitalist views and sympathy for David S. Landes’ explanation of Why China Stagnated in some of his recent writings.


Gerry Bevers over at Korean Language Notes has continued his now 13 chapter long examination of the history of Ulleungdo for the purpose of challenging Korea’s claims to the controversial Dokto/Takeshima islands. His thirteen postings include clippings of the royal annals in the periods discussed in Classical Chinese, modern Korean, and English translation. His first posting on the topic, in May of this year, can be found here.

Over at the Sanchon Hunjang, there is an interesting posting about a memorial table in a Seoul park, the author Taemin’s attempt to understand the tablet, some of its more interesting features, and questions one might raise about the nearby explanations provided on site. Read Owen Miller’s comments on the posting here at Frog in a Well.

Here at our own Frog in a Well: Korea, Pak Noja (Vladimir) has been busy posting some English summaries and comments on recent Korean historical works he has been reading. See his postings on South Korea’s welfare policies in the 1960s, Patriotic School Athletics in the colonial period and after, and South Korea’s War on Rice (or the “쌀밥 전쟁”)

Asia All Around

I have put other postings on regions which didn’t merit their own section this time below:

In a posting by Matt at No-Sword there are some interesting quotes from and comments about the English writing of two famous Japanese writers (Natsume Sôseki and Dazai Osamu). While your visiting No-Sword, which often has postings on Japanese language, literature, and pop culture, don’t miss Matt’s own translations of Japanese literature in the links at the left.

Joe Kissell writes a posting about the history of the Indonesian language and contests the simplistic claim that the language is nothing more than an “artificial language”

Michael Turton from The View From Taiwan posts a summary of a July Meet Up on the history of martial arts in Taiwan. In includes something of an outline of points from each period which might be worth further discussion, with perhaps reference to Craig Colbeck’s posting on Karate and modernity over at Frog in a Well: Japan.

Resources and Articles

Mutanfrog links to a scanned online wartime comic which claims to show Americans how to accurately identify their enemy.

Owen here at our own Frog in a Well: Korea wrote a posting about the Glossary of Korean Studies.

In a separate recent posting, I noted that Yun Chi-ho’s Diary can be viewed online at history.go.kr.

Jonathan Dresner has pointed to some of the gems at the Korean Heritage Library in his posting here.

Read about UC Berkeley’s Japanese Historical Text Initiative announcement here.

T. Mills Kelly has written an interesting article on the Role of Technology in World History Teaching at World History Connected.

Check out this wonderful collection of Chinese propaganda posters at Maopost.com. The collection is being constantly updated and includes translations of the text.

After being down for a short period of time, Japan Focus is up and running again with a new design.

Alan Baumler points to an online biography of Western Language Publications on Chinese popular Religion.

Thanks to everyone for their submissions! The next Asian History Carnival will be hosted at the Mutantfrog Travelogue on September 9th.


African mercenaries in Chosŏn

Filed under: — Owen @ 9:35 am Print

I meant to post a note on this interesting piece at the Oh My News website a couple of weeks ago, but other things intervened. It recounts the story of the black mercenaries who fought with the Ming troops in Chosŏn during the international war of the late sixteenth century (known as the Imjin waeran 임잔왜란 in Korea). Well worth having a look if you can read Korean.

While I have to say that I felt a little uncomfortable about one or two of the author’s somewhat narrow-minded observations (eg that Black people are renowned for their physical strength) this is still an informative piece of popular history writing about a little-known part of Korea’s history. It is also the second part of a series by the same author that may be worth following. Part one is here.


Yun Chi-ho’s Diary Online

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 8:45 am Print

Owen has posted some great links on the study of pre-modern Korean history. In one of his postings he mentioned the National History Compilation Committee (국사편찬위원회 國史編纂委員會). I poked around the site when Owen linked to it but had no idea they had great modern materials as well.

A Japanese friend of mine just returned to Japan and Waseda after spending a week here collection some colonial period materials. He was hoping he could buy a copy of Yun Ch’i-ho’s original Chinese/English diary while he was here which he had heard was out of print and only now available in Korean. I went used book shopping with him but we had no luck. However, after his return, he discovered—and was kind enough to tell me—that the entire diary is online via the 국사편찬위원회 website.

To find this diary, simply go to the history.go.kr website, enter 尹致昊日記 or 윤치호일기 in the search box and you will find three hits. The first hit will lead you to a volume index, followed by a year and month index where you can read his entries directly online. Whoever compiled it was also nice enough to mark proper nouns as “People” or “Places.” If you are not sure what kind of thing one of the specially colored words are, simply hover your mouse over it and it will tell you whether it is a person, place, etc.


Finding historical riches

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 9:17 pm Print

A few items from the news, blogs, etc.

Korea Studies Review 2006

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:14 am Print

Stephen Epstein posted a message on the Korean Studies email list with links to some new reviews of books related to Korea. You can find the full index of books reviewed so far here. The latest books reviewed and the links to those reviews are below in no particular order:

Laying Claim to the Memory of May: A Look Back at the 1980 Kwangju Uprising. By Linda S. Lewis, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, Center of Korean Studies, University of Hawai’i, 2002.

Korea’s Divided Families: Fifty Years of Separation, by James Foley. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003

Korea and Globalization: Politics, Economics, Culture, edited by James Lewis and Amadu Sesay. New York and London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2002

A Distant and Beautiful Place , by Yang Kwi-Ja (trans. Kim So-young and Julie Pickering). Honolulu: Univ. of Hawai’i Press, 2003


Korea Foundation Cultural Center

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 7:35 am Print

IMG_2068.JPGYesterday I paid a visit to the Korea Foundation’s Cultural Center (한국국제교류재단 문화센터). The center features gallery space, seminar and movie rooms, and a lending library. I also noticed at the center a notice listing times for free Korean lessons. The library is a small but very nice place to visit if you are in Seoul, don’t have easy access to a large research library in the city, and want to read or check out works about Korea, especially in non-Korean languages. There are half a dozen seats, a long sofa, some computers to access the library catalog, and a few thousand volumes available. They also have a collection of recent journals related to Korean studies, a small reference section, a Korean music collection, and a small collection of DVDs of Korean movies.

IMG_2069.JPGFull members of the center can check out two books at a time from the library for two weeks (plus one renewal) and can take advantage of their inter-library loan system to get works they don’t have access to. However, in order to become a member you have to be in Korea more than a month, make a 10,000 deposit for the period of membership, and unfortunately cannot get membership immediately on your first visit. According to a librarian there, you have to wait two days or so for your membership to come through.

The cultural center also offers other regular events such as Korean and non-Korean movies, art and lecture events, etc. The website has a lot of this information and members get a newsletter. However, the library website is not well designed. If you are unfortunate enough to be using web browsers other than Internet Explorer or a non-Windows machine, you may have trouble signing up as a member through their online form (JavaScript Issues), and cannot easily access the library’s pages or their search engine. I hope the center will improve their website in the future and make it function under standard’s compliant browsers.

It is unfortunate that excellent resources like these are often not well known. I remember a very similar small-scale international library in Yokohama, located a dozen or so floors up Landmark Tower that had very few visitors. This made it an ideal as a quiet place to study and get internet access in the middle of the city and I often studied there while a student at IUC. I imagine that there are many visitors to Korea who might be staying or living in the country for some time who may not know that there are these kinds of resources available.

Location: 1st floor of the JoonAng Ilbo Building five minutes walk from Exit 9 of the City Hall Station on Line 1 and 2.
Opening Times: Monday to Saturday 10:30 to 18:00 (until 21:00 on Wednesdays)


Homer B. Hulbert Event

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 10:00 am Print

I made a visit to the foreigner’s cemetery located at on the Seoul Union Church grounds in Hapjeong. Today banners were hanging in several places around the station and church advertising a memorial event or 추모식 for this Friday (Click the picture for a zoomed in version of the event details) to be held at the church for Homer B. Hulbert who, according to the banner, “loved Korea more than the Koreans do.” The event has some big sponsors and might be interesting to attend if you are in Seoul and have the time to kill.

I only know of Hulbert (1863-1949), who was an important early missionary to Korea, from his brief political involvement in 1905, and his most famous work The Passing of Korea, written in 1906. However, he also published a history of Korea the year before and much earlier helped James Gale on A concise Dictionary of the Korean Language published in Yokohama in 1890. You can read more about him here (Korean PDF here).

UPDATE: Fixed English translation. I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that Hulbert loved the country more than its people. Sorry about that.

Next Page »

Powered by WordPress