우물 안 개구리


Korean War Criminals in the Movement to “Set History Straight”

Filed under: — Sayaka Chatani @ 1:54 am Print

Frog in a Well welcomes a guest posting from Sayaka Chatani on the issue of Korean War Criminals and the difficulty Korean historians have found in addressing them in modern Korean historiography. Sayaka is a PhD student in the History Department of Columbia University. Her research interests are in the transnational history of early to mid-twentieth century East Asia, mainly focusing on the colonization and decolonization of Korea and Taiwan.


Colonial legacies are one of the most hotly debated political issues in South Korea. The phrase “legacies of Japanese imperialism (ilche chanjae)” is ubiquitous in newspapers and in bookstores, and the topic not only triggers controversies among academics, but inspires social movements, and leads the government to adopt policies to resolve the remnant problems.

Among the many controversies surrounding the history of Japan’s colonial rule in Korea, much attention has centered on the question of collaborators. Many Korean historians argue that former pro-Japanese collaborators subsequently prevented Korea’s unification and brought about significant harm to South Korean society. They see punishing them as a prerequisite to restoring a healthy society.1 In the context of ‘setting history straight,’ The South Korean government has confiscated the property of descendants of nine collaborators.2 A presidential fact-finding panel has finished its second investigation to identify the names of pro-Japanese collaborators, and continues working on a third investigation.3

In contrast to their excitement over the issue of collaborators, historians have only given very limited attention and analysis to the issue of Korean war criminals despite the significant number of Koreans put on trial and executed as Japanese prison guards. When a few Japanese and Korean historians do face the issue, they tend to simplify the complex experiences of Korean war criminals to fit the dominant minjung discourse that blames a distinct group of collaborators for betraying the majority of Korean people. The fact that Korean war criminals were both victims and victimizers makes it difficult for nationalist historians to openly discuss the issue.


  1. For example, Ahn Byung-ook, “The Significance of Settling the Past in Modern Korean History,” Korea Journal, Autumn 2002, pp.7-17, and Chung Youn-tae, “Refracted Modernity and the Issue of Pro-Japanese Collaborators in Korea,” Korea Journal, Autumn 2002, pp.18-59 []
  2. New York Times, “World Briefing, Asia: South Korea: Crackdown On Collaborators” May 3rd 2007. []
  3. The Korea Times, “202 Pro-Japanese Collaborators Disclosed.” September 17, 2007 []


檀紀 Conversion Dashboard Widget 1.0

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 11:06 am Print

Here at 우물 안 개구리 we are delighted today to bring you an amazing new tool that will revolutionize your life. Well, at least if you are reading Korean texts or newspapers which put all the dates in 檀紀 years. And you are so mathematically challenged you can’t take a number and subtract 2333 in your head. And you haven’t bothered to memorize the 檀紀 years for the period you are interested in. And you have a Mac with OS X installed. And you can’t be bothered to do the calculation on paper.

Ok, maybe it won’t revolutionize your life, and the potential beneficiaries of this wonderful new product may not earn me a whole lot of karma, but I’m happy to announce the results of 1.5 hours of fiddling with the “Dashcode” developer’s application on a slow Friday night:

The New Frog in a Well 檀紀 Dashboard Widget


It is a thoroughly amateurish job, but if you install this widget, enter the 檀紀 year and press return, it should give you the year in a more familiar form.


Comparing Police Crime Statistics in the 1940s

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 8:58 pm Print

Matt over at Gusts of Popular Feeling has two wonderful postings (1, 2) based on his reading of Agnes Davis Kim’s I Married a Korean.

In the second posting, a considerable amount of the quoted passage given from the book talks about the widespread crime in the early postwar. For example this passage:

But when we arrived in Korea after World War II, everything was different. Through years of hunger and privation, the very nature of Koreans seemed to have changed. The calm dignity and courtesy which had marked them as a gentle people had given way to a defensively aggressive attitude that was often discourteous. Instead of a peaceful, law-abiding atmosphere in which everyone felt secure, the people lived under a constant threat of being robbed of what little they possessed. At night, a man might load his “jiggie” or cart with farm produce to take to market in the morning, only to find it was gone when he awoke and prepared to leave with it. Jars, pans, clothes left on the line to bleach, or anything removable what was left out at night, might be gone in the morning. This was almost unheard of happening during the pre-war days.”

However, the author doesn’t blame this on the disappearance of an orderly Japanese colonial master, but rightly notes one of highly disruptive causes for social instability:

The large amount of thievery which went on was not surprising however. During most of the time we were there under the United States occupation refugees from North Korea came into Seoul at a rate of about three thousand a day. These were people dispossessed of everything except the clothes they wore and what they could carry. So great was the refugee problem that relief facilities could not cope with it.

In the issues of “The Democratic Policeman” (民主警察) that I have been looking at the past few days there are all sorts of, often contradictory, statistics regarding crime in the early postwar period. You can also find wonderfully colorful charts and statistics in US military government publications for comparison.

The second issue of 民主警察 in the summer of 1947 opens with this overview of the crime fighting of the police for crimes including violations of US military orders, fraud, embezzlement, theft, and “other”:

1945.8 – 1945.12:
14,779 cases, 10,088 arrest cases, 12,607 people arrested 69.9% arrest rate reported
101,323 cases, 78,021 arrest cases, 108,793 people arrested 77% arrest rate reported1
36,168 cases, 27,284 arrest cases, 43,507 people arrested 75.4% arrest rate reported2

The rise in the number of cases when extrapolated is, of course, at least partly due to the fact that the Korean National Police, a very sizable number of whom were colonial period police who had fled their posts at liberation in the wake of violence and threats against accused collaborators. They were often only brought back to the job after the US forces arrived in September and were not fully functioning during the first months after August, 1945. In a letter, published in the journal, that the US advisor to the national police, Lt. Col. Harry E. Erikson, wrote to the head of the military government John R. Hodge with an accompanying new issue of the journal, Erikson asks Hodge not to be alarmed at the huge increase in the crime statistics because this merely reflected the “increase of efficiency” in crime reporting by the police.

However, Agnes Davis Kim’s report of the general state of crime and huge flood of refugees should be added to the fact that things were in fact, anything but stable, at least until after the suppression of the people’s committees throughout Korea after the uprisings of autumn, 1946. The starvation and poverty that contribute to the crime rate was also compounded by the division between North and South, US agricultural policies in South Korea, the loss of the Japanese market and supplies, etc.


  1. Note: The 1946 statistics explicitly excluded crimes associated with “large incidents” – Here clearly referring to the hundreds of incidents of burning, looting, and brutal killings associated with the 1946 autumn uprising from late Septebmer to December. []
  2. 民主警察 1.2, in the opening article “해방이주년기념일를맞이하여:國內의治安基礎는鞏固” []


Common Knowledge Test Questions for Korean Police 1947

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 7:41 pm Print

This week, I’m reading through some fascinating issues of the journal of the Korean National Police from 1947-1949 (民主警察). I’m finding its articles to be really useful for my topic and was surprised to see that its pages included contributions by Horace Underwood, Kim Ku, John R. Hodge, as well as leading American military and civilian advisors to the Korean police during the US military occupation in early post-liberation Korea.

There are also some some fun sections that are less directly useful to my dissertation research. Some issues have a section at the back with practice test questions for police officers (the police academy entrance exam or qualifying exam? I didn’t look closely enough to determine what the questions are for).

Here are some of the test questions in the “common knowledge” (常識) section:

Define the following:

貪官污吏 – corrupt officials (UPDATED – see comments)
잔 알 하-지
朝鮮五大島 – the big islands, not the small controversial ones
칼 맑스

Write the Hanja for these words and then define them:

음모 (陰謀) – As in, Communist conspiracy
인류애 (人類愛) – As in, don’t torture your suspects.
전평 (全評 = “全國勞動組合評議會의略稱으로 世界勞聯에加入한左翼勞動團體의一이다”)
훈민정음 (訓民正音)
리(이)순신 (李舜臣)
반탁운동 – The anti-trusteeship movement, protesting US and Soviet trusteeship over Korea active late 1945-1948
배은망덕 (背恩妄德)


Three thoughts on Visibility

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:19 am Print
  • My favorite new blog Photoshop Disasters has a Korean Basic Instinct 2 poster in which Sharon Stone’s head has been altered from the US version: Cosmo7 cites the fact that the hair is wet, which is the photoshop ‘tell’ but can’t explain why they would do that. I suspect that the wet hair is a side-effect of needing a head shot that was oriented differently, that they wanted to shift Stone’s gaze away from the viewer, make her less …. well, here’s where my complete lack of exposure to Korean media becomes a liability. Either they want her to be less aggressive (which doesn’t entirely make sense, given the movie) or more aloof.
  • Dr. Virago and Dr. Crazy (Dr. Crazy’s analogy to Star Trek/Lost In Space/Heroes is worth the price of admission) among others, are having an interesting discussion about how scholars achieve “visibility” and “impact” both within their subfields and in the discipline. Their discussion doesn’t directly touch Asian Studies, but it does have some thought-provoking ideas for both young and feeling-marginalized scholars.
  • I just got my current Journal of Japanese Studies in the mail, and two of the three articles are about Korea: one about the development of the Korean Civil Code under Japanese protectorate and the other about middle-class Koreans in 1930s Japan. The latter is by an old grad school friend, Jeff Bayliss, who’s teaching a course combining Korean and Japanese history which is exactly the kind of thing I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I’m a little jealous, yes, but mostly I’m thrilled to see the crossover scholarship being taken seriously.

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