우물 안 개구리


Asian History News Dump, March 2007

This is a “dump”: all the Asia related stuff I’ve saved over the last…. two months? Anyway, nobody else has blogged about it, so I thought I’d toss it out there. I hope to resume more … measured blogging soon.
[Crossposted at all three Frog Blogs; sorry about the irrelevant stuff.]

Remixing Tagore

Filed under: — Owen @ 8:15 am Print

This story in the Korea Times about Rabrindranath Tagore’s poem ‘The Lamp of the East’ caught my eye. In the South Korean nationalist imagination this poem has a remarkably important position as a sort of ‘external legitimator’ for Korean independence. But according to the KT, the version that appears in many of the nation’s high school textbooks has, shall we say, been remixed and enhanced:

…the poem titled “The Lamp of the East” seems to have been over glorified to the point where it has taken on a life of its own, spawning hundreds of different versions with stronger words and longer passages to boost nationalistic sentiment.

More specifically, it seems that an unrelated passage has been taken from Tagore’s poetry collection Gitanjali and added to his original poem about Korea published in the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper in 1929:

“The version of the poem that combines excerpts from Gitanjali has been widely spread for a long time and it is often mentioned by politicians and even newspaper columnists. There are even some literary schoolbooks that list the variation as the original version of `The Lamp of the East,”’ a high school history teacher in Seoul, who asked not to be named, said.

According the Wikipedia article about him, Tagore himself was not exactly the model independence fighter and was almost killed by Indian expatriates while staying in San Francisco in 1916 because of his apparent lack of devotion to the cause of Indian independence. In fact, from a strictly nationalist point of view you could say that he sounds a bit like Yi Kwangsu – a mixture of the good and the dubious. Interestingly enough the very comprehensive article doesn’t mention Korea once, so it would seem that the significance of Tagore for Koreans is not necessarily matched by the significance of Korea to Tagore and his legacy. Actually, one wonders whether it was in fact the strong impression made by the Koreans that Tagore met in Tokyo (Dong-A bureau chief Yi T’aero and poet Chu Yohan) in 1929 that moved him to write his famous-in-Korea poem as much as his feelings about a country he was never able to visit.

There are many fascinating aspects to this literary-historical episode: the creation of historical memory and national identity; the fundamentally non-self-contained nature of nationalism and its need for external legitimation; and questions concerning the malleability and authenticity of a literary text (especially when in translation). But perhaps what intrigues me most of all, is who actually came up with the idea of remixing Tagore’s poem in the first place, and why did they feel the need to do so.

In case people are interested, I’ve transcribed below the original text (with original han’gul spellings and hanja preserved – the jpeg was not too clear so I hope I’ve rendered the spellings correctly) of Chu Yohan’s translation of Tagore’s poem that appears in the picture of the Dong-A article provided by the Korea Times:

일즉이 亞細亞의 黃金時期에
빗나든 燈燭의 하나인 朝鮮
그 燈불 한번다시 켜지는 날에
너는 東方의 밝은 비치 되리라

English original:

In the golden age of Asia
Korea was one of its lamp-bearers
And that lamp is waiting to be lighted once again
For the illumination in the East.

For the sake of comparison, the extra 11 lines added from Gitanjali song 35 and included in the version of the poem known to many Koreans are below the fold.


A Few Small Changes

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 4:33 pm Print

While doing a regular WordPress software upgrade at Frog in a Well, I have made a few small technical changes to the three blogs:

1) In the list of Frog in a Well contributors to the right, the names now link to a list of postings by that contributor, along with a contact address where you can reach them, and a web page link, if they have one.

2) Each Frog in a Well weblog now has the “Next Page – Previous Page” navigation links at the bottom of the page.

3) I have changed the font to a slightly larger Georgia font.

Hankyoreh opens up the world of Korean convicted war criminals

Filed under: — Owen @ 8:49 am Print

At the risk of attracting more trackbacks from the lovely people at Occidentalism, I thought I’d bring people’s attention to this really fascinating piece on Korean convicted war criminals translated from Hankyoreh 21. Here’s a sample:

“I cannot deny that the prisoner camp conditions were deplorable,” said Lee. Food, medicine, and clothes were not properly provided, and many forced laborers lost their lives due to wounds and diseases that went untreated. In the month of March 1943 alone, a full quarter of the 800 Australian prisoners were hospitalized. One hundred died. For good reason, the Australian military prosecutors could not forgive the Japanese for putting their men through hell on Earth. They were eager to pursue those responsible for the deaths of their comrades, but in their fury were not about to lend an ear to the plight of a youth caught up in the gears of the imperial war machine.

Lee served as a supervisor of the prisoners at Hintok. As a civilian hired by the Japanese military, he was lower down on the chain of command than a private. However in the trial proceedings, he had somehow been transformed into the “Camp Commandant.” The reason for this was that the military prosecutors took the testimony of the prisoners at their word, without an objective investigation into the situation. Most of the Australian prisoners did not know Lee’s Japanese name. Instead, they gave the various guards nicknames, which in the case of Lee was “lizard.” The origin of this name is unknown.

Hankyoreh also has a more analytical piece on the subject here, which includes this succinct description of the catch 22 in which the former war criminals found themselves once they were released:

Even upon release, however, the convicted war criminals were left in a difficult position. Though Japan enforced the prisoners’ Japanese citizenship during their prison term, the newly freed men were not given the according financial support afforded to other veterans of the Imperial Army. “It’s absurd,” lamented the director of the Committee for Reparation to Victims of the Pacific War. “They were punished for being Japanese, but were rejected aid for not being Japanese.” The war criminals were also denounced in Korea as pro-Japanese collaborators. Upon liberation, most were in their mid 30s. Succumbing to depression, two committed suicide.

It’s quite likely that I’m barking up the wrong tree here, but the name of the support organisation founded in the fifties by the convicted Korean war criminals – Dongjinhoe (同進會) – sounds remarkably similar to the name of the early twentieth century pro-Japanese organisation called the Ilchinhoe (一進會). I suppose it’s possible that since they were operating in Japan they chose a name that might be amenable to the Japanese authorities.


Korea Journal Blog

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

The Korea Journal, which has for some time provided online access to its articles in PDF format has now added a weblog. The Korea Journal Blog has just started and Michael Hurt, of Scribblings of the Metropolitician fame, appears to be involved in the project. I hope that other journals do something similar, taking advantage of a medium which can help reach a much wider audience and encourage greater dialogue between the academic world and others interested in the study of Korea.


Getting Out the Vote

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 10:56 pm Print

In the weeks leading up to May 10th, 1948, the United States run interim Military Government in southern Korea was busy preparing the national assembly elections that create the first legislature of a soon-to-be independent Republic of Korea. Things were not going well, however, for America’s trusteeship in Korea. A general strike broke out in February, a rebellion erupted in Cheju-do in early April, and the only two major alternatives to the aging future president Rhee, Kim Ku and Kim Kyu-sik, frequently voiced their opposition to the elections and went north to Pyongyang to participate, or at least, hang around the entrance of, a political conference in North Korea designed to condemn the separate elections in the south and argue for the creation of a united “democratic” Korea. While much greater violence was to come, several hundred Koreans died in political violence in the first few months of 1948.

Meanwhile, in civil war China, the country’s ruling GMD nationalists were in steep decline, suffering major defeats in the summer of 1947 and as a Communist offensive in September of that year got underway Lin Biao and other commanders of the CCP began to make serious progress in destroying nationalist opposition all over the northeast of China. The partition of India in August of 1947 sparked massive ethnic and religious violence in the migrations that followed. In January 1948, however, both of these countries would have delegates in the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea (UNTCOK) set up to monitor the May election in Korea (They may have been a Y. K. or a Y. W. Liu for nationalist China and K. P. S. Menon on the India side).

The US Military Government had its hands full with everything from designing ballot boxes (I found nice diagrams of them in State department archival documents), fixed the rules for post-election review procedures, releasing thousands of political prisoners (some half of the political prisoners that UNTCOK expressed concerns about) in an amnesty, and launched a massive public relations campaign to encourage voter registration (including the dropping of at least a million leaflets from the air). The election date was even moved from May 9th to May 10th on UNTCOK Liu’s recommendation because the solar eclipse on that day was seen as a bad omen by some. However, there were several very serious concerns that seem to dominate US discussion about the election in documents from April and early May: 1) A fear of low voter turnout 2) Concerns about Communist and leftist anti-election protests and violence in the lead up to the election 3) Violence and intimidation tactics by the many right-wing “youth groups” around the country (A “Youth” conference which representatives of many of these groups attended was held in late March and US representatives did their best to encourage responsible behavior. They also urged “youths” over 25 years in age to join organizations for grown-ups) and 4) Concerns that Korea’s police officers, whose propensity for random violence and brutal torture somehow reflected, to quote one US report, “oriental ideas about policing” would be a major obstacle to a free and fair election come May.

One despatch to the State department noted approvingly that on March 2nd, 1948, National Police director Cho Pyông-Ok gave a speech arguing that South Korea was not a “police state,” that Korea’s “young” police force was coming along nicely in its development and they would all work to play a helpful and constructive role in the election to come. The very next despatch in the microfilm I was reading through in the National Archives yesterday offered something a little less optimistic in its tone. It was a summary of one side of a conversation between the then Seoul Metropolitan police chief (and often a political rival to Cho), Chang T’aek-sang and America’s military commander in Korea, Lt. General John R. Hodge on March 22nd. Chang opened up and gave his appraisal of the situation:

I speak to you unofficially. I am expressing my private opinion but it is an honest one. Perhaps I am a pessimist but I have become convinced that Korea is doomed. Financially, spiritually, and morally Korea is bankrupt. People speak of emancipation. Emancipation from what? Korea is divided and caught between the Russian-American struggle. She can only be united by one of two ways – turning the country over to the communists or through a Russo-American war. The UN can never unite Korea. The Commission they sent to Korea does not care what happens to Korea. They are here only to hold an election but they can’t even do that without causing confusion. They insist upon “free atmosphere” and blame the police because it doesn’t exist. What is “free atmosphere”? The right to allow communists to burn, plunder, and kill whenever the urge strikes Stalin? Today, three police boxes were burned by the communists. Does the Comission know how many Koreans have been killed by communists since UNTCOK’s arrival? If the police try to prevent such action the UN bellows about infringement upon political freedom. Two-thirds of China is overrun by communists yet that ‘son of a bitch Liu’ is trying to solve Korea’s problems. And as for that Indian Delegate, why, more people are killed in India in one day than in many years in Korea! El Salvador has a population smaller than the City of Seoul. These are the representatives they send to solve our problems.

In my honest opinion no more than 25 to 30 per cent of the eligible voters will vote in the coming election. Americans fail to realise that 80% of the Koreans are illiterate. Will they walk many miles with a lunch box under their arms to vote for someone they don’t know or care about or for his political program which they will never understand? How does General Hodge think we manage to fill the stadium every time a demonstration is held? Those people didn’t go there willingly nor will they vote willingly. If the police don’t force the people to turn out for election day the government elected will never be recognized by the General Assembly. A government elected by 25% of the people will make nice propaganda for the Soviets and poor propaganda for the Americans when it is declared void by the General Assembly. It is necessary that the police ‘interfere’ in the election or the majority of the Korean people, who are little more than animals due to their educational deficiencies will sit in their ‘bloody, stinking rooms’ and not budge one foot to vote. The police should not attempt to tell the people how to vote but if they are not forced to the polls the Americans are due to be greatly embarrassed. (National Archives RG59 Department of State 895.00/3-29 49, p2)

It is hard for me to judge how much of this is a version of Chang’s views or Chang’s ideas mixed up with Hodge’s own similar hard-nosed pragmatic anti-communist views. Just as interesting in my view is the fact that the record of this meeting said nothing whatsoever about Hodge’s own replies to Chang. How did the US respond to this Seoul police chief’s plea to allow his men to engage in a massive herding of people to the polls—though without, of course, making any suggestions about who the people should vote for?

On May 10th, about 90% of the registered voters cast their ballots. Despite non-trivial election violence, an election boycott by many on the left and some other parties, localized irregularities and plenty of accusations, both the United States and at least some of the delegates UNTCOK were pleased with the results. Other delegates in UNTCOK voiced serious concerns about the election, including the high turnout, but did not launch any significant challenge to the election’s legitimacy in the aftermath. Since Kim Ku and Kim Kyu-sik did not participate in the election and had suffered a considerable blow to their popularity upon their return from the pre-election anti-election and pro-unification conference in North Korea, two of “the big three” found themselves quickly marginalized and Rhee continued his bumpy political rise towards authoritarian rule. The 1948 election is now remembered mostly as one big step on the road towards a permanent division of the Korean peninsula. In my next posting here, I’ll post some more contemporary views about the degree of “free atmosphere” in pre-invasion South Korea.

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