우물 안 개구리

1/25/2008

The Stranglehold of Foreign Films in Korea 1948

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 4:57 am Print

The impact of foreign films on the Korean movie industry is frequently addressed in the Korean media. The Korean government, media, and the industry itself have long debated how many foreign films should be shown in domestic cinemas and the degree to which Korea should or should not open up to cultural products from Japan.

These concerns go back further than I had imagined, as you can see from this cartoon found in The Korean Free Press (자유신문 自由新聞) from Christmas Day, 1948:

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In the cartoon the Korean film and theatrical industry is being strangled by “Foreign Movies” and stepped upon by a 10% tax rate.

On the day before this cartoon was published, in the Christmas Eve issue, you can see an advertisement for one of the offending foreign films, the 1946 English movie “The Captive Heart” which opened on that day.

Dscf3385

On the day after this cartoon was published, December 26th, the following advertisement for the Korean play “임 오시는 길”, opening at 동양극장 on that day is found alongside a smaller advertisement for the Universal pictures movie, “독개비騷動” (독깨비 소동) which I think is the 1948 film “Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Dscf3386

The same page of the Christmas Day issue which carried the initial cartoon also has two other articles more representative of the kinds of issues of the day:

拷問致死事件證人尋問繼續 (Questioning of Witness Continues in the Incident of a Death Resulting from Torture) – Articles on police torture of suspects are found frequently in both conservative and more moderate newspapers in 1948, and are also common throughout the newspapers of the 1945-1949 period I have been looking at.

暴動未然防止:市民은警察信賴하라 (Prevent Violence Before it Happens: Citizens, Trust the Police!) – Articles pleading for people to trust the police are very often found on the same page as articles covering police torture, police corruption, or other problems of police quality (악질경찰 惡質警察).

1/16/2008

Done in by a Tangerine

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 12:40 pm Print

In the memoirs of Tsuboi, Sachio, an official in the Japanese colonial police, the author goes into some detail about Korean-Russians who infiltrated Korea to work as spies based on what he learned from suspected spies that had been arrested and interrogated.

He recounts the thorough training that the spies had to undergo before being dispatched to Korea. The majority were university students and usually entered Korea from the Soviet Union by an ocean route, landing on the beaches of Kangwon-do where police surveillance was thought to be relatively weak. They all went through a rigorous training regime on the outskirts of Moscow, under both Russian and Korean instructors which consisted of learning encryption techniques, operation of wireless radio sets, as well as learning the “Korean customs and common knowledge” of the day. This included making all of the spies memorize the oath known as the 皇国臣民の誓詞, recited at public events in colonial Korea, and the practice of showing a minute of silence for spirits of dead soldiers (英霊). When the spies entered Korea they carried nothing but Korean and Japanese made objects, usually used materials, and made to look as inconspicuous as possible.

However, Tsuboi claims, sometimes it was the little things that gave away the spies when they arrived in Korea:

以外のところに落とし穴があるのである。朝鮮では日本内地から比較的安いミカンが移入され、田舎の市場でも売られていて、庶民も日常の食べ物としてめずらしいものではなかった。だが、当時のソ連では、一般の者は温州ミカンを見たことがないらしく、入鮮したばかりのソ連スパイが取調べ中にミカンを提供され、リンゴを食べるようにいきなり皮のままかじりついたことがあった。

Traps can be found in unusual places. In Korea relatively cheap imported tangerines from the Japanese mainland were sold, among other places, in the markets of the countryside and it was not unusual for the common people to eat them as an everyday food. However, in the Soviet Union at that time, apparently the average person had never seen a Wenzhou tangerine1 (温州ミカン) before. There was a case of a Soviet spy who had just entered Korea that, when being questioned, was offered a tangerine. The suspect bit into the fruit with its peel intact, as if one was eating an apple. 2

While this story could well be apocryphal, perhaps passed around the office with a laugh in the way we circulate such stories by email today (but under far less sinister circumstances), it is an example of how incredibly challenging it can be prepare a spy for all eventualities. I have heard similar stories of Russian and North Korean spies being exposed for equally unexpected reasons despite having been given an incredible amount of training.

Tsuboi is understandably completely silent on issues of interrogation techniques and what sentences were given to convicted spies when their cases went to court but devotes a whole chapter to describing and justifying the widely used “illegal” technique of turning (逆用する)spies and using them to undercover a whole intelligence network.

  1. Another word for tangerine in Japan. Read more here. []
  2. in 坪井幸生『ある朝鮮総督府警察官僚の回想』草思社, 2004. p114 []

Korean history talks: January-February 08

Filed under: — Owen @ 11:30 am Print

Some very interesting Korean history talks coming up in the next few months. Obviously to attend them all one would need the sort of jetsetting lifestyle that is beyond most of us, or possibly even a time machine. But hopefully there will be something good near to you. Please feel free to make corrections or suggestions for additions to this list in the comments section.

January 18, Centre of Korean Studies, SOAS, London
Staffan Rosen, Stockholm University
“Merit and Reward – The Imperial Korean System of Decorations 1900-1910 in an International Perspective”
Room G52, SOAS main building, 5pm
More info
*****************

January 25, Fulbright Forum, KAEC Building, Seoul
Richard D. McBride, II
“When did the rulers of Silla Korea become kings?”
6th floor conference room, 7pm (R.S.V.P. by Monday, January 21st)
More info
*****************

January 28, UCLA Asia Institute, Los Angeles
Keun-Sik Jung, Seoul National University
“Colonial Censorship and Japanese Publication Police System”
10383 Bunche Hall, 3pm
More info
*****************

February 6, UCLA Asia Institute, Los Angeles
Dr. Yongwook Yoo
“Palaeolithic Settlement of the Korean Peninsula: A Research Before the History of Korean People”
11377 Bunche Hall, 12pm (talk in Korean)
More info
*****************

February 8, Centre of Korean Studies, SOAS, London
Gina Barnes, Professorial Research Associate, SOAS
“Cross-straits relations between Korea and Japan in the mid-4th to 5th centuries”
Room G52, SOAS main building, 5pm
*****************

February 21, Comparative Histories of Asia Seminar, Institute of Historical Research, University of London
Vladimir Tikhonov (Pak Noja), University of Oslo
“Sin Ch’aeho’s (1880-1936) Metamorphoses: Confucian Scholar, Social-Darwinist Nationalist and Anarchist”
Room NG15, Senate House Building, 5pm
More info
*****************

February 21, Harvard Korea Colloquium, Cambridge Mass.
Rachel Chung, Columbia University
“Sông Hyôn’s Model for Study of Music: Neo-Confucian Philosophy of Music in 15th Century Chosôn Korea”
Room S250, CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge St., 4pm
More info
*****************

February 22, Centre of Korean Studies, SOAS, London
Vladimir Tikhonov (Pak Noja), Institute of East European and Oriental Studies, Oslo University
“To beat or not to beat: discussions on pedagogical ideals, corporal punishment and military training in colonial Korea”
Room G52, SOAS main building, 5pm
*****************

1/13/2008

Korea: Better than Vietnam, anyway

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 2:58 pm Print

Thomas C. Reeves, perhaps my least favorite HNN blogger, is arguing that the success of South Korea justifies our Middle East policies, especially Iraq. The comparison of Bush to Truman is nothing new, nor is the analogy of Iraq and Korea. But this particular one is quite egregious, and I can’t let it pass without comment. Reeves’ main point — that South Korea is better off than North Korea and that the US had a hand in that — is true, but in such a shallow manner as to be empty rhetoric. His larger theme — that the support for freedom and opposition to tyranny are worthwhile even when unpopular — is also true, but the use of the Korea and Truman raise serious questions.

First, of course, is the sheer hubris of attributing the difference solely to “American influence and protection.” The Korean War was initiated by North Korea in direct action against US/UN troops, not by a US invasion. The US was already in Korea, for good reason, but ham-handedly refusing — as was the Soviet Union — to allow Koreans to determine their own post-colonial path. US involvement in South Korean politics over the quarter-century after the Korean War delayed progress towards democracy, did nothing in particular to promote religious tolerance (unless you count supporting Christian missionaries, which seems a bit self-serving), and I’ve never seen anyone argue that US involvement was particularly good for the Korean economy, either.

The attempt to tar opponents of Bush Administration policy as new McCarthyites — well-intentioned, perhaps, but short-sighted, partisan and hypocritical — ignores literally years of critics saying “it would be good for everyone if we could proceed in a responsible and effective manner.”1 Instead, Reeves pulls out the middle ground, leaving only support for the Administration (who are, according to Reeves, more Trumanesque than Johnsonesque or Kennedyesque or Rooseveltian or Wilsonian….) or “appeasement and retreat for mere political gain.” It’s a short step from this kind of manicheanism to “stabbed in the back” revisionism.

Ultimately, this is a classic case of the political rhetorical use of historical analogies: pick the one which has the most obvious parallel for the result you want to see, and ignore differences.2 It’s irresponsible for a historian to trade in these facile arguments.

  1. e. g. []
  2. Reeves waves it away with “Yes, of course, there are many differences between Iraq and the Middle East today and the Korean peninsula of more than a half century ago.” My students wouldn’t be allowed to get away with that! []

1/11/2008

Exhibition: 벽(癖)의 예찬, 근대인 정해창을 말하다 2007.11.09 – 2008.02.03

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 1:42 am Print

There is a wonderful photo exhibit, 벽(癖)의 예찬, 근대인 정해창을 말하다 at the Ilmin museum of art right next to 광화문 station of the works of 정해창, whose 1929 exhibition was the first private photographic art exhibit in Korea. The exhibition is both artistic and in a sense historiographical as it also displays a number of photos of the 1929 and other exhibits by 정해창.

I visited the exhibit with two friends, including 우물 안 개구리 contributor Kim Gyewon, who was briefly in Seoul. Gyewon is much better qualified to speak about the content of the exhibition, but I will just note that it was fascinating to see the selection of subjects and the range of styles of photography used, as well as snapshots of colonial period lives in Korea.

You can read more about the exhibition and 정해창 at the Ilmin museum linked above and in some of these articles and postings (1, 2, 3)

Brochure blurb below:
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