우물 안 개구리


Ethnocentrism and the Origins of Korean Nationalism

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 3:18 pm Print

In the opinion pages of the 2007.09.17 issue of Chosun Ilbo, there is an article which discusses the nationalism (민족주의) of Korea’s “386 generation.” The main point of the article is to dissect and critique the “pro-North leftists” (친북좌파), laud the rise of the new cooler “post-386 generation”, and discuss the alternative visions offered by Korea’s New Right movement (뉴 라이트). The article opens, however, with a nostalgic visit to “Intro to Nationalism 101″ and a little bit of history.

Newright The first half of special is written by Shin Ji-ho (신지호), a self-declared former leftist activist who abandoned the revolution, went on to get a PhD in political science from Keio in Tokyo and become the president of what appears to be the institutional embodiment of the New Right’s political wing, the Liberty Union (자유주의의연대), the website of which is cleverly located at the appropriately post-386 internet location of 486.or.kr. Now, the Liberty Union should not be mixed up with the Korean Freedom League which is a distinctly “Old Right” organization that used to go by the name of the “Korea Anti-Communist League” and before that the “Asian People’s Anti-Communist League” (which should not to be mixed up with its sister organization, the World League for Freedom and Democracy based in Taiwan, which used to be known as the World Anti-Communist League). Indeed, as the English version of its website shows, the Liberty Union simply wants what, apparently, all Korean organizations with websites want: unpolluted skies, green fields, impossibly green trees, beautiful rainbows, blue butterflies, and cute children holding flowers.

Shin’s article is faithful to the stated principles of neo-liberalism of his organization, but he also makes the case for a form of “patriotic globalism” (애국적 세계주의) which is based on a pride in a country which protects freedom and champions republicanism. As he explains it:

진정한 애국은 동일한 혈연, 언어, 문화에서 나오는 선천적, 생래적 감정이 아니라, 개인의 자유와 번영을 보장해주는 국가공동체에 대한 후천적, 인공적 열정에서 비롯된다. 고로 자유공화국만이 진정한 애국의 대상이 될 수 있다. 이것이 바로 ‘공화주의적 애국’이며 ‘민족주의 없는 애국’이다.

There is material to work with here, but the real clash between post-nationalists of different political leanings is not so much on the technical details of what we should call the cosmopolitanism of the future, but how it will address social injustice and whether it will embrace unfettered market liberalism. Not a debate I want to bring up here.

However, it is very interesting to me to see in articles, like these, how easily the “New Right” can expose the hypocrisy and backwardness of the nationalism of Korea’s mainstream left, and champion, with apparent ease, the forces of tolerance, international cooperation, and cosmopolitan identities. There is much in common here between the cosmopolitan conservatives of Korea and those within Taiwan’s (now ironically named) Nationalist party (國民黨).

Now the real reason I wanted to bring up this article was to point out something from Shin’s opening “Intro to Nationalism 101″ which goes like this:


The 30-second tour of historical Pukchon

Filed under: — Owen @ 7:28 am Print

When I was in Korea last month I stayed at a lovely place in the area of Seoul known as Pukchon or ‘North Village’ that lies between the two big palaces. It’s actually an area made up of many small neighbourhoods (tongs) that was once favoured by yangban aristocrats and now by the the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. It’s been discovered as a tourist area and parts of it have been ‘conserved’ while others have come to have a distinctly up-market feel with trendy cafes and so on. Having said that, not everyone there is convinced that what is being done to conserve and promote the area is actually in its best interests, as this site run by a British expat recounts.

While staying there I happened to notice a few sites of historical importance that might be overlooked on your average tour, and they are all conveniently within a few metres of one another and a stone’s throw away from the walls of Ch’angdokkung Palace in Kye-dong. None of these sites are anything to look at, as you will see from my pictures, but they should have some significance to anyone interested in the history of Korea with about half a minute to spare. So, I proudly present my 30-second tour of historical Pukchon:

Starting out from the front gate of Ch’angdokkung, take the small road up the left-hand side of the palace wall, passing the big Hyundai buildings on your left. When you come to the first left turning take this, going up a short hill. Just over the top of this on the right-hand side of the road is my first site: an engraved stone marking the site of Yŏ Un-hyŏng’s house:

Site of Yo Un-hyong's house
I’ve written something on my own site before about Yŏ Un-hyŏng, a moderate leftist nationalist who found himself in the way of Kim Ku in the late 1940s and was assassinated not that far away from Pukchon, on the other side of Ch’angdokkung, in Hyehwa-dong. Yo was one of those important historical figures who has been somewhat swept aside by history – he had apparently met Lenin when he visited Moscow in 1922, had worked for Chiang Kai-shek and was one of the founders of the short-lived Korean People’s Republic in 1945.

Moving a little further down the street and a building that might be mistaken for a large house turns out to be the offices of the Yŏksa Munje Yŏn’guso (Institute for Korean Historical Studies):

Yoksa munje yon'guso
In some ways this is an organisation that has historical importance in its own right as the main left nationalist history association to emerge from the political turmoil and radicalisation of the 1980s in South Korea. This is the organisation that founded the Yoksa Pip’yŏngsa (Historical Criticism) publishing company whose books will be found on the shelves of any historian of Korea and which publishes the important historical journal Yŏksa Pip’yŏng. The views associated with this organisation and its members are generally regarded as having achieved the status of historical orthodoxy in the Korean academy, although these days they are being challenged by new trends such as ‘postnationalism‘ and quantitative history.

Finally, if you retrace your steps a little and take the first turning on the left up a narrow street, a signboard on a building on the left side of the street should catch your attention. It’s the headquarters of the Min clan:

Min-ssi HQ
It would be impossible to overstate the importance of this one family in the history of late nineteenth century Korea. Somehow though, its current manifestation seems inappropriately prosaic, especially with the little scooter parked outside.

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