우물 안 개구리


RG242: Foreigners in North Korea

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:29 pm Print

There are all sorts of interesting materials in the National Archives collection of Captured North Korean Documents in record group 242 that I introduced in an earlier posting. While I’m looking through files most likely to be of use in my own dissertation research, I can’t help coming across materials that are of little use to me but which might be a great starting point for research on other North Korea related topics.

DSCF0022 For example, if you wanted to do research on issues such as migration to and from North Korea, the captured records collection includes many lists and individual files on many hundreds of foreigners (overwhelmingly Chinese and some Japanese in the files I saw) kept by North Korea’s internal affairs ministry (내무서). The files I looked through last week were mostly dated from the middle of 1947 but there appear to be a lot of files from 1949. These lists of foreigners also come from different counties throughout North Korea. They list foreign residents over the age of 18 but the files also often list family members.

A Chinese Farmer (Named is Blurred to Protect Privacy)I flipped through one pack of these internal ministry files, with perhaps around a hundred individual files in it, all of them of Chinese residents.1 Each file contained a range of information including the resident’s name, citizenship, current address, place of origin, date of entry into Korea, occupation, religion, family members, and how well they are doing (生活狀態 생활상태) with their condition being described with such words as good (良好 양호), not so good (下 하), or suffering difficulties (困難 곤란).

Not so happy Chinese farmerThe files usually had pictures as well, but over time, the pictures that had been glued to their file often became stuck to the next file and/or smudged. Those pictures I could see clearly often showed less than happy faces. The vast majority of the Chinese listed in these 1947 files I looked at were listed as farmers, and almost all of them came from Shandong province, with just a few coming from Hebei. They mostly came to Korea in the 1930s and wartime 1940s, with a smaller cluster of files with entry dates from 1917 and another group who came in during the 1920s.

Anyone interested in doing research on migration to/from Korea in the 20th century, especially those interested in Chinese and Japanese who stayed behind in North Korea, at least for the first few years, can find a great deal of useful information in these files given the considerable quantity of them. Though I have only looked at one of these file packets, there are many of them in SA 2005 all throughout box 9 (remember, this original SA box number does not correspond to any actual box number in the national archives), including items 9/3 (100pp), 9/4 (which I looked at), 9/6 (100pp), 9/13 (684pp), 9/14 (148pp), 9/15 (4pp), 9/16 (640pp), 9/18 (1300pp), 9/24 (8pp), 9/27 (188pp), 9/35 (56pp), 9/39 (278pp), and 9/43 (150pp), all of which include such files of Japanese and Chinese residents in North Korea according to the microfilm index of the collection.

  1. RG242 Captured Korean Documents SA 2009 9/4 (in Box 161) []


AHC #13

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:03 pm Print

The Thirteenth Asian History Carnival is now up over at my personal weblog Muninn! In addition to the usual selection of blog postings I have added a section to the carnival introducing a few online resources or references that might be of use to those with an interest in Asian history.


Asian History Carnival

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 1:35 pm Print

I will be hosting the thirteenth installment of the Asian History Carnival at Muninn on the evening of April 21st. Please make your submissions by noon the 21st, US Eastern time. See the carnival’s homepage for more information. You can nominate postings here or simply tag them with the Delicious tag: http://del.icio.us/tag/ahcarnival/


Sea Devils (revisited)

Filed under: — Owen @ 12:11 pm Print

Professor Gari Ledyard of Columbia University has left a couple of extremely good posts on the Korean Studies Mailing List that deserve to be shared here. They also put a somewhat different perspective on the article I noted here about African mercenaries fighting alongside Ming troops during the Imjin Wars (1592-1598). His posts are in response to a question about whether Portuguese soldiers were fighting with the Chinese in late sixteenth century Korea. The first one looks at the source of the notion that Portuguese were in Chosŏn and includes an excellent translation of the relevant passage from the Sŏnjo Sillok (Veritable Records of King Sŏnjo). The second posting on the same subject deals with another passage from the Sillok regarding the ‘Sea Devils’ and also the claims about early visits to Korea by Spanish Jesuits in the late sixteenth century.

The upshot of all this is that the Sillok passage on which the article about ‘African mercenaries’ seems to have been based is rather ambiguous. While it appears unlikely that it refers to Portuguese soldiers, there is also nothing to show positively that it is talking about Africans – Gari Ledyard points out that the soldiers could be from a number of areas in south and southeast Asia as well as Africa.

Below is the translation of the passage from the Sŏnjo Sillok, reproduced with Professor Ledyard’s kind permission.


National Archives: Captured North Korean Documents

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 6:57 pm Print

I returned last week from the second of what will be four trips to the National Archives before I leave for Korea in June. On my first trip I had only two days and decided to stick to easily accessible microfilms of early postwar South Korea related State Department documents that were not available in published reproductions in the Harvard-Yenching library. My second trip however, and in other trips to come, I have been focusing entirely on North Korean documents captured by the United States during the Korean War found in Record Group (RG) 242.

A lot of the best research related to the early postcolonial history of northern Korea and the first years of the North Korean regime to come out in recent years has made use of RG242 material. The captured North Korean documents only make up a tiny fragment of RG242, a record group which is primarily made up of the vast ocean of captured documents from World War II Germany, but is still said to consist of more than 1.6 million pages of wonderful material.

There are some articles floating around in English about the archive1 and I understand that there are several papers and a full length index of the collection available in Korean. In his book on the North Korean Revolution, Charles Armstrong has a great appendix dedicated to these sources, and also reports that many of the documents have been reproduced in a Korean source collection that I hope to get a look at when I no longer have easy access to the originals in Washington D.C.

So what is to be found in this collection? Well, just about every sort of document you might imagine, though the majority of what I have seen dates from 1946-1950. For a short time during the Korean War the United States was in control of large proportion of North Korean territory and the fleeing North Korean forces certainly weren’t able to burn or evacuate documents fast enough to prevent many materials from falling into the hands of US/UN forces. A lot of this material, however, clearly seemed to be of a normal published nature. Many of the documents, photos, books, newspapers, and magazines found by troops in North Korea were put together, organized by date and location of capture and sent back to the US divided up into a collection of boxes grouped by Shipping Advices (SA). A few items appear to have been removed from the collection during and after the Korean war for “local exploitation” and not all of these items were returned to the archive. Most of this material was declassified in the late 1970s and I only saw a handful of items in the index blanked out and accompanied with a sheet designating an item as restricted.2

You can find a hundred page handbook on swine-raising for farmers3 listed in the same original shipping box with three thousand pages or so run of a journal on Korean linguistics.4 You can find a book of military songs5 in the same original shipping box with the minutes of a Peasant League Committee on village defence.6 You can find applications to join the North Korean Democratic Boy Scouts7 or a bunch of handwritten reports on education in Christian sunday schools8. There are long lists of Chinese and Japanese residents in various counties throughout North Korea9 or a handwritten “table of truant school children.”10 There are trial records, police records, financial records, salary receipts, student lecture notes and idle doodles, propaganda books, election posters, literature, folders full of photos, political cartoons, thousands of pages of newspapers and journals, lots of speech compilations and meeting minutes. It is, in a word, overwhelming.

I spent an entire day at the National Archives just going through the large English-language index to the collection available on a single reel of microfilm which allowed me to locate potential items that are of interest to me in my own research. This index divides the RG242 captured North Korean materials up by SA (2005-2013, and 10181), Box number, and Item number. It shows the date and location of capture for each box. Each item has a one or two line description in English of what it contains. However, I have learnt to treat this information with caution, because occasionally what you actually get when you request the material is more or less, and sometimes somewhat different from what this index shows. I sympathize with the monumental task the indexers faced, however, because many “items” consist of a vanilla folder which contains a pile of sometimes completely unrelated handwritten documents.

It is truly wonderful that any of us can walk into the National Archives, which is a short metro subway and bus ride from Washington D.C. at the College Park complex (Archives II), sit down in their wonderful second floor reading room, and look through these documents at our leisure. But how do you request this material? Below I offer a few tips for anyone who would like to look at this collection:

  1. Including Thomas Hosuck Kang “North Korean Captured Records at the Washington National Records Center, Suitland, Maryland,” in The Association for Asian Studies, Committee Asia Libraries Bulletin (Feb 1979). 30-37. []
  2. Classified materials appear to include SA 2009 1/31 “Handwritten sheet, titled “Roster of Informants” containing the personal history of ******* born on 5 Aug 31 and dwelling at MANSU-dong, INCHON city, dated 14 Sep 50, belonging to NAM-dong Police Substation, 1 p.” – withdrawn 3/10/77 because it contained “Otherwise restricted information” and an item in SA 2011 box number 8: “Handwritten and typewritten file of personal history of civilians living in Pusan, ROK August 1950 written by ***** pp. 45″ Also withheld for “Otherwise restricted information” 3/10/77. I did not try to request these materials so I don’t know if they are still restricted. []
  3. SA 2012 1/131 []
  4. SA 2012 1/24 []
  5. SA 2012 5/12 []
  6. SA 2012 5/145 []
  7. SA 2005 4/30 []
  8. SA 2005 4/41 []
  9. SA 2005 all over box 9, those interested in Japanese repatriation, Chinese minorities in Korea or in Korean-Japanese intermarriage could potentially find some great material here and I have no idea if this has been exploited yet []
  10. SA 2005 10/17 []


Unity is Almost Always a Myth

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:53 pm Print

In an otherwise interesting discussion of North Korean defector readjustment and North-South relations in the Washington Post, Samuel Songhoon Lee drops this

In South Korea, a country that withstood centuries of invasions from its Chinese and Japanese neighbors, unity defines survival. And without ethnic diversity or a history of immigration, unity means conformity. When something becomes fashionable here, it can have significant consequences. For example, South Korea has the world’s highest ratio of cosmetic surgeons to citizens, catering to the legions of girls who receive eyelid surgery as a present for their 16th birthday. … The lack of diversity at school makes the young defectors instant standouts — subject to 15 minutes of fame and adulation, then an enduring period of isolation. When their peers ask about their accent — noticeably different from what’s common in Seoul — most students say they’re from Gangwon Province, in the northeastern part of the country.

My second reaction was to note the self-contradictory nature of the paragraph: if conformity is so ubiquitous and nationalized, how can strong regional accents survive? In fact, this is something which I’ve noted with regard to Japan as well: to a large extent, parochialism and immobility (geographic and class) mask diversity because most people don’t experience it within their own society. There’s another factor which is similar between Japan and South Korea: the domination of the media by media created within a single mega-urban community, which tends to assume its own experience and views as “normal.”

But it’s the historical early section which piqued my interest in the first place, of course. Maybe it’s just a word choice thing, but I’d be much more comfortable with the idea that Korea “endured” invasions than “withstood”: the latter implies that they successfully resisted. They didn’t repel the Mongols: they waited until that empire had collapsed elsewhere before rising in revolt. They didn’t repel the Japanese in the 1590s without considerable assistance from China. They were in no condition to repel the Qing, thanks to the Japanese, though they retained their independence. They didn’t repel the Japanese in the modern period at all, though they enlisted the aid of their largest, most powerful neighbors. In one sense — the continued existence of an entity which eventually became the modern Korean states — the term “withstood” is tolerable, but it still implies that Korea was largely unchanged by the experiences, and that wasn’t really true, either.

Then there’s the “unity defines survival” question: for most of Korea’s history there was a pretty sharp divide between aristocratic and commoner, as well as pretty significant unfree populations. I suppose you could argue that it was the unity of Korean elites which defined the cultural survival of Korea, but that still requires believing in some essential element persisting and also that Korean elites were actually unified, which seems quite questionable, especially in periods like the Koryo.

Finally, there’s “unity means conformity” which just makes my skin crawl. I’ll freely admit that it’s an American bias, but it also seems a long way to me from fashion conformity (which is fleeting and faddish) to national unity (which ought to be enduring and based on some kind of fundamental principles). The concept of the nation as sharing culture usually refers to an historical tradition; the idea of the nation as people who share fads is a significant degradation of an already questionable concept.

Addendum: The author of the Post article contact me, as he has everyone who’s blogged about his article, to alert us to a problem, namely that he’d neglected to use pseudonyms and alter identifying information for his students. This raises safety issues for their family members who are still in North Korea, and consequently he is asking that anyone who blogs about the article be careful to avoid identifying his students.

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