우물 안 개구리

Postings by Jonathan Dresner

Contact: jonathan [at] froginawell.net
URL: http://dresnerkorea.edublogs.org

Things I don’t know about Korea, part 3

One of the things that I noticed about the materials I used last time I taught Korean history1 is that the texts I chose for my course did not mention, much less discuss in depth, the recently departed Moon Sun Myung‘s Unification Church. The global reach of this uniquely Korean Christian sect would seem to make it a natural topic for discussion, but even works that look in some detail at the religious changes of modern Korean history didn’t address this sect.

The absence was so striking, that I started to wonder if there was some sort of political minefield or cultural taboo at work, or if I had grossly misunderstood the scale and impact of the movement. I haven’t been looking all that hard for answers one way or the other in the two years since, but I certainly would like to have some better sense going in this time.

  1. and I’m scheduled to teach it again in the Spring, in parallel with my Modern Japan course, so it’s on my mind. I’m thinking of adding some literature to the syllabus []

Diaspora And Diplomatic Communities Memorialize Conflict

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:47 pm

A memorial plaque was dedicated in a park in Palisades Park, New Jersey in 2010 which reads

In Memory
of the more than 200,000
women and girls who were
abducted by the armed forces of
the government of Imperial Japan
1930′s-1945
known as “comfort women,”
they endured human rights
violations that no peoples should
leave unrecognized.
Let us never forget the horrors
of crimes against humanity.

Two things struck me about this article from the NY Times. The first is in the headline: “New Jersey Town’s Korean Monument Irritates Japanese Officials.” There have apparently been two official attempts to convince Palisades Park to remove the monument, presenting two very different approaches. The first emphasized Japan’s past apologies and attempts to stage reparations as justification for de-emphasizing the sexual servitude issue:
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Announcements and Encouragements

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 1:12 am

While the discussions on the Asia lists have been a bit wooden for a while, other H-Net communities are lively and thriving, and the book reviews are a fantastic resource. Moreover, I know some of the current leadership of H-Net, and I have great confidence that they’ll take it in interesting directions with new technology and new paradigms. That said, though the leadership, editors, reviewers and participants are all volunteers, they still need money for technical support, infrastructure and other expenses, and we can’t rely on state institutions of higher learning for this sort of thing. Donate!

The 2010 Cliopatria Awards for History Blogging nominations are open through November, so there’s still two weeks to riffle through your archives and pick your best work, and your friends’ best work, and the best stuff off your RSS reader. The categories are, as in the past, Best Individual Blog, Best New Blog, Best Group Blog (which we won back in ’05), Best Series of Posts, Best Single Post, and Best Writer (which Alan Baumler won in ’06). I’m judging Best New and Group Blog, so we can’t win that again this year; otherwise, the field for Asianists is wide open! Nominate!

The 2011 ASPAC Conference will be a joint event with the WCAAS Conference, to be held at Pomona College, June 17-19, 2011. In a remarkable feat of organization, the Conference website is already live and accepting paper proposals, though the deadline isn’t until mid-March. The theme is “Asia Rising and the Rise of Asian America” but proposals on all topics in Asian studies are welcome. Submit! (and let me know if you’ll be there; we’ve never had a blogger meet-up at ASPAC before!)

Cultural Consumption and Comprehension

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 8:39 pm

There’s an interesting article up at Japan Focus this week, “Disarming Japan’s Cannons with Hollywood’s Cameras: Cinema in Korea Under U.S. Occupation, 1945-1948” by Brian Yecies and Ae-Gyung Shim. For the most part, it’s a pretty conventional occupation history, done with official USAMGIK sources, Korean newspapers, plus some secondary sources on the early occupation period, and reveals that USAMGIK used cinema, especially Hollywood imports, as a way to reeducate the formerly colonial subject population. Nothing too surprising there: US efforts to use American media to engineer democratic and capitalist cultures is pretty much a universal story in the post-war.

The twist here: a steady theme running through the article highlighting the disconnect between the values depicted on screen (intentionally or unintentionally) and the culture of the audience. Again, there’s nothing terribly new there: if the Koreans were already democratic pro-American capitalists, then the program wouldn’t exist in the first place. But the authors offer no obvious evidence either regarding audiences’ comprehension or tension with the material presented and make claims for the effects of the program which boggle the mind. This seems to be the result of conflating vocal conservative voices with popular reception. For example, this early passage sets the stage for a lot of the rest of the article:

Generally speaking, Koreans had had long-standing Confucian traditions that required physical separation between noblemen and commoners on the one hand, and men and women on the other hand. Confucianism provided the foundational social, moral and legal guidelines and customs between people of all ages. Not only did cinema-going in this era enable all walks of life to mingle together in ways that were different from traditional Korean moral values, but the images, themes and motifs presented in the onslaught of spectacle Hollywood films, which was not a new phenomenon, did continually present ‘American’ situations that shook the roots of traditions and worried traditionalists.

This rings rather false to me. First, the conflation of social customs with Confucianism and the conflation of conservatives with tradition, but more the idea that modern egalitarian ideas were new to most Koreans in the post-colonial age, after a third of a century of Japanese modernization – industrialization, migration, education and other changes. There is some discussion of “a formal survey of local attitudes in Korea” but it’s not clear to me that an American survey of attitudes at that point would produce results other than confirmation of American attitudes.

Worse, the evidence offered in the article about the surprising popularity of movies with untraditional and complex moral presentation suggests that the movies weren’t disturbing their audiences at all. They write “Almost immediately, these first Hollywood films made a splash in the marketplace as audiences lapped them up with enthusiasm,” but they can’t stop there. They finish that sentence with an unsourced and unsupported, “whether of not they understood them or appreciated the cultural values they contained.”

In the conclusion, Yecies and Shim suggest that the success of Hollywood and other movies in the 60s is a result of the acculturation to such fare in the ’40s. In fact, they credit the movie program with success beyond any reasonable expectation: “USAMGIK’s aim of reorientating Koreans away from the legacies of the former Japanese colonial regime was achieved with surprising ease by allowing hundreds of Hollywood spectacle films back into the region.” If the USAMGIK program was a success, then it couldn’t have been too far out of the mainstream. They discuss the pre-’45 movie scene, which sounds quite lively until the wartime rationing kicked it, but seem to dismiss it as a factor in their post-war discussion. It’s as though pre-liberation Koreans were nothing more than pre-colonial traditionalists with an overlay of colonial ideology, reeducated with great discomfort through the power of Humphrey Bogart and Roy Rogers. I suppose there must be more to this story, but the evidence presented here is grossly inadequate to prove the rather astonishing assertions being made.

On the plus side, one of the other articles at Japan Focus this week is Mark Caprio’s expanded version of the talk he gave at the AAS Conroy panel, in which he takes a contemporary right-wing revisionist discourse on Korean annexation and exposes the ahistoricity of it in great detail.

AAS 2010 Blogging: Annexation Centennial

Final exams crash onto my desk tomorrow, but I’m as organized as I can be in advance, so I thought I’d do a little belated AAS blogging, especially about the pair of panels on Saturday commemorating the centennial of Japan’s annexation of Korea and the 50th anniversary of Hilary Conroy’s groundbreaking study of same.
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Things I don’t know about Korea, part 2

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 11:05 pm

I’m having great fun with this class, but I’m still discovering vast areas of ignorance as we move along:

  • Eunuchs: The Kabo reforms abolish the office of Eunuchs, but how many were there and how important?
  • Seven Day Week? By 1896 there clearly is a seven day week in place, but when was that put in place? Is it part of the Kabo calendrical reforms?
  • The books I’m reading don’t refer to Tonghak and to early Progressives (or conservatives) as “nationalist”: They call them “incipient” and “proto” but won’t actually admit to modern nationalism until 1905 or 1910. Do they think ‘nationalism’ only exists in a modern context, and Korea’s context isn’t modern until some kind of political transition? This seems arbitrary: though Korea may not be modernizing effectively in the 19c, I find it hard to see how Korea’s not pretty well enmeshed in a modern context by, say, 1880. I suppose you could have the ever-popular “is anti-imperialism really nationalism” debate all over again (it’s kind of fun to do with the Boxers, once), but it seems unnecessarily fussy to me, at least on first reading. I don’t see what distinction they’re making and they’re not explaining it, either. We shouldn’t use jargon unless we’re willing to explain it.

Tonghak and Taiping

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 11:44 pm

I was struck, preparing for class yesterday, that the Tonghak and Taiping faiths were surprisingly similar and arose nearly simultaneously: Syncretic monotheistic faiths drawing on Confucian, Christian and indigenous magical traditions, with anti-foreign reformist programs and a counter-cultural ethos of equality.1 There are obvious differences, too, in teachings and in the leadership, but the structural similarities raise some interesting possibilities for research and teaching.

I’m not the first person to have this insight apparently, though it doesn’t look (from what little I can tell from these links) like there’s any hint of direct connection between them. I’m a little surprised, frankly, that World History textbooks (which love those kinds of parallel moments) haven’t picked up on it. Of course, Korea’s place in World History textbooks overall is pretty pitiful at the moment and the Taiping movement rarely gets more than passing mention in an already busy and traumatic Chinese 19th century. With the rise of religious history, it seems likely that these issues might come closer to the forefront, though, and I’d be curious to know if anyone else out there does something with this confluence.

  1. The Japanese “New Religions” of the 19th century are very heavily Shinto-influenced, with some Buddhism and almost no Christianity, nor did any of them become political movements. It’s not the same. []

Things I don’t know about Korea, part 1 of many

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 1:38 pm

Now that I’m teaching my Korean History course I am, of course, running into questions I cannot answer. I’m going to post them here periodically:

  • Though the Choson-era Korean Army (in its various commanderies and provincial forms) was conscripted from peasantry (and officered, it appears, by military Yangban), where did the Navy get its personnel? You can’t just conscript a peasant and put him on a ship and expect him to be useful: did they recruit from fishing communities, or was there a training process?
  • What’s the numerical breakdown of Choson society? I’ve seen suggestions that as much as 20-30% were in the unfree categories at the bottom of the social scale, but I can’t seem to get a handle on the Yangban and Chungnin classes, either in total population or (as one of my students asked) rate of shedding members to lower classes.
  • Who was the aged, deeply bearded gentleman depicted on the Japanese colonial-era Korean bills? (See below)

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Once more, dear friends, into the breach….

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:26 am

Korea Center PavilionIn my first post here I said that I was going to be teaching a Korean history course for the first time: I lied. Or rather, I was scheduled to teach it, but the course didn’t make its minimum enrollment. However, the time has come to try again.

The last time I did this, I was going to focus it on upper-level undergrads and make it as much about primary sources as possible. The only four books I’d ordered were Korea Old and New: A History (Eckert, Lee, Lew, Robinson, Wagner), The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Korean Poetry, and the two volumes of the new Sources of Korean Tradition from Columbia.1 Ambitious and, apparently, off-putting in the extreme.

I’m torn, really, on the question of whether to teach a “Rice Paddies” style course — all of Korean history in a single semester — or break it up (as I have my China and Japan courses) into pre/post 1700 (and start with the later one, which should draw more students at first). If I teach the whole history, I might well keep the poetry — I do poetry in my China and Japan courses, and the Korean stuff is lively and diverse — but I can’t see using the Sources sets as-is. This time I want to pitch the course much more broadly, and draw in some of the business and language students — Koreans actually make up one of our largest groups of foreign students, and our business department has a long-standing interest in Korea — so that the course really does reach critical mass. So I’m thinking that the heavy dose of Columbia primary materials is probably not a great idea. That said, I prefer to have students read primary materials as much as possible, or ethnographic-style observations, or historical scholarship which evokes a clear and detailed recreation of a moment or era.

I’d love to hear thoughts from our readers about what works and what doesn’t, what’s come out recently that’s good for students, and especially if there are better textbooks at this point.

Update: I just ran across Kenneth Robinson’s Korean History Bibliography, which looks like a great starting place.

  1. Vol. 1: From Early Times Through the Sixteenth Century ; Vol. 2: From the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Centuries []

Reflecting on “Giants”

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 7:31 am

Todd Crowell reports that Kim Dae Jung is seriously ill and reflects on his life and career as a “Giant of [Asian] Democracy”

For Kim achieving the presidency was the culmination of a lifelong struggle. After two unsuccessful attempts, he won his first seat in parliament in 1961, only to find the National Assembly building surrounded by tanks in the military coup that brought Park Chung Hee to power three days later. In 1971 he made the first of four bids for president — running against Park himself.

He engendered Park’s undying enmity by winning as much as 46 per cent of the vote. In that first presidential campaign he was hit by a car, perhaps deliberately, and suffered an injury that made him walk with a shuffle for the rest of his life.

In 1973 he was abducted by agents of the Korea Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) in Japan and brought back to South Korea forcefully. His political rights were restored shortly only after Park’s assassination in 1979. A year later Kim was accused of treason after students and residents of the southwestern city of Kwangju rose in a bloody insurrection.

In all, Kim spent five years in prison, seven under house arrests and two years in exile in the United States. Returning to Korea in 1985, he and his supporters had Aquino’s assassination two years previously strongly in mind. A couple of U.S. congressmen accompanied him to discourage any “copy cat” killings.

In the 1997 election Kim Dae Jung proved he was not only courageous but could also be shrewd, practical, even ruthless when he had to be. His comeback, which marked the first peaceful transfer of power from a ruling to an opposition party in South Korea’s history, was a masterpiece of political manipulation.

He made an alliance of convenience with the conservative Kim Jong Pil, the very man who had masterminded the coup that prevented him from taking his assembly seat more than 30 years before and the founder of the KCIA, the agency that had tried to kidnap him.

He leaked allegations that the sons of his main opponent, Lee Hoi Chang, had avoided military service. These revelations, damaging enough to Lee, encouraged the ambitious mayor of Inchon, Rhee In Je, to enter the race, thus splitting the conservative vote and allowing Kim to squeak into power with about 40 percent of the vote.

As president, Kim Dae Jung showed toughness in getting his way with the legislature and Korea’s large business conglomerates, but he also steadfastly held to his vision of reconciliation with North Korea, known as his “sunshine policy.” He was rewarded with the Nobel Prize for Peace for his summit meeting with Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang in 2000.

Some of the luster went off of that achievement when it was later revealed that he had arranged with several large business conglomerates to bribe the North with about $500 million in cash to hold the meeting in Pyongyang. There was personal sadness two when his two sons were accused of corruption.

These days the sun does not shine so brightly on the sunshine policy. A cold wind continues to blow from Pyongyang. The election of conservative Lee Myung Bak as president (another peaceful change of power) reflected growing disillusion in South Korea. Still elements, such as the Kaesong industrial zone across the Demilitarized Zone, remain in place.

I would emphasize something of that last paragraph: the second peaceful transition of power marks a significant step in the creation of a procedurally sound democracy and should be considered a triumph rather than merely a defeat. And the short-term failure of the “Sunshine policy” — and the need to bribe the North Koreans — I’ve always felt that more bribery, rather than less (see also) would produce better results, and I think Kim Dae Jung’s reputation will continue to rise rather than fall as things progress.

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