우물 안 개구리


Korean (Gender) Studies at ASPAC

In spite of the lovely Korean Studies Center which headquartered the conference, ASPAC 2007 didn’t have a lot of Korean content. In fact, with the exception of one paper on a mixed panel, I think I saw it all.

AAS President-Elect Robert Buswell gave the keynote address at the banquet on Saturday night, speaking on “Korean Buddhist Journeys to Lands Real and Imagined.” Though it was a bit long and specialized for an after-dinner discourse, I found it thought-provoking. I didn’t however, take notes, so you’ll have to wait for the paper (I’m sure there’s a paper in the works) to get the details. I was struck by a few thoughts, though.

  • Given the frequency of Korean Buddhist travel as far as India, and the ease with which they navigated China in particular, I think we need to reconsider travel in Asian history. It’s clearly more of a norm than an exception, at least for certain categories of people. That means a great deal more integration among elites, more awareness of neighboring (and even distant) cultures than our traditional national-limited cultural histories suggest. It also means that western travellers like Marco Polo need to be considered a very small part of a much larger travelling and writing public; yes, I’m reconsidering Marco Polo, somewhat, because narratives like the ones Buswell described put his journies into a much more plausible context.
  • The “imagined” travelogues to legendary and/or allegorical lands constitute a rich fantastical literature which ought to be considered in comparison with work like The Odyssey and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.



Asian History Carnival #15

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 2:11 am Print

Korea Center Pavilion
Welcome to the Fifteenth edition of the Asian History Carnival! The picture is of the beautiful pavilion at the Center for Korean Studies at UH-Manoa, where ASPAC just met and I was elevated to the illustrious ranks of Secretary pro tem and Secretary-elect in a heady rush.1 I didn’t have the time to blog during the conference, so I’m doing my conference blogging afterwards, staring with South Asian issues (textbook controversies, identity, and a new South Asian Studies Conference).2 I’ve also been helping Ralph Luker with a little Blogroll Revision, so the non-US history blogs are much more accessible. Finally, there’s a new way to keep track of the History Carnival community: the History Carnival Aggregator, your one-stop shop for announcements! Well, enough about me, let’s see what the rest of the blogosphere’s been up to this last month!


  1. something about my neurotic tendency to write everything down seems to have swayed the electorate []
  2. I still have Korean and Japanese panels to comment on next week. Somehow I managed to entirely miss any Chinese panels. []


History ‘faction’

According to the Hankyoreh, historical novels are all the rage at the moment in Korea. This doesn’t really surprise me all that much as historical novels seem to be pretty popular everywhere at the moment, although in Korea there always seems to be something more of an overtly political aspect to the popular fascination with history.

Unfortunately the article doesn’t really provide any convincing answers to the question of why historical fiction is particularly popular the moment:

…few deny that historical novels have their own special appeal. Lee Myeong-won, a book critic, said the unusual popularity of historical fiction can be ascribed to the easiness with which novelists find things to write about, compared to the difficulty authors face when trying to grapple with what is transpiring now in current society. In addition, authors are able to ride on the interest surrounding historical events in which people tend to hold fascination.

I’ve brought up this subject before here, so I obviously have quite an interest in the relationship between academic history and popular history/historical consciousness in the form of books, TV series and films. Is the popular depiction of historical events and characters all about entertainment, or is it really about a subtle (and not so subtle) type of ideology formation? Or perhaps people’s desire to read and write about history (outside of the academic paradigm) plays a deeper, more constructive role in society?


The June struggle in the British newspapers

Filed under: — Owen @ 8:22 pm Print

Over at my own blog I’ve decided to mark the anniversary of the events of June 1987 in South Korea by following contemporary reports from the British newspapers on a day-by-day basis. Twenty years ago today, the real action of the June events was getting under way with serious violence on the streets of central Seoul, and the famous siege of Myŏngdong Cathedral began.

Personally I find something exciting about looking back at an event that happened within my memory (at least I have vague memories of the TV news reports) and seeing it as ‘history’. It is also interesting to see how perceptions of the event here and in Korea may have changed since the correspondents first filed their reports from the scene.

All the posts will be accessible from this link.

Meanwhile, at Japan Focus, Paik Nak-chung has an article on the June Struggle and its legacy.


Korea: The Uniqueness

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 12:31 pm Print

Over at my own blog Muninn I have posted an entry talking a bit about the portray of Japan and Korea in the “Hall of Asian Peoples” in New York’s Museum of natural history.


… and then they came for Taekwondo

Filed under: — Owen @ 11:21 am Print

Another sign of Korea’s increasing sense of insecurity in the face of rapidly growing Chinese economic and political power, or another sign of China’s aggressive attitude toward Korean cultural heritage, designed to assert cultural hegemony and keep its ethnic minorities in check? This time the Chinese have apparently got their sights on Taekwondo:

Concern is rising among Korean officials that China might try to assert taekwondo as its own homegrown sport.

Ko Eui-min, chairman of the World Taekwondo Federation Technical Committee, said, “China is doubted to have been adopting its Northeast Asia Project in taekwondo.”

Northeast Asia Project is an attempt to distort ancient Korean history in the northeastern territory of what is now China, including the Koguryo Kingdom (37 B.C.-A.D. 668) and the Palhae Kingdom (698-926).

“I was really upset to hear that the broadcaster at Changping Stadium in Beijing said taekwondo is a Chinese martial art, during the 2007 World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) Championships,” he said.

On the first day of the biennial competition, he introduced taekwondo, saying, “Taekwondo originated from Korea, combining Japanese and Chinese martial arts.”

The paradox is that Taekwondo is both a highly nationalistic subject in South Korea and perhaps Korea’s most well-recognised international cultural export. Can something like this be globalised and at the same time so firmly embedded in nationalistic discourse? The next paragraph in the above-linked article actually brought a wry smile to my face (my emphasis):

“I feel really sorry that we have not tried to protect taekwondo while China is preparing for the event. Although many renovations have been under way inside the taekwondo governing body after new leaders like the president and general secretary took office, we still have a lot of things to do,” said the 68-year-old taekwondo master, who resides in Germany.

It is a bit unfortunate that this blog hasn’t covered the whole Koguryŏ history controversy in much greater detail. Fortunately though, the subject has produced plenty of good English-language commentary over the last six months or so. The stand out examples are Andrei Lankov’s piece at Japan Focus; Yonson Ahn’s article at History News Network; Andrew Leonard’s introduction at Salon.com; and Choe Sang-hun in the International Herald Tribune. If you still want some more, I’ve managed to collect a variety of related internet resources in my del.icio.us links tagged Koguryŏ.

Powered by WordPress