우물 안 개구리

Postings by John P. DiMoia

Contact: dimoi [at] froginawell.net

Politics of Health / Medicine, post 1945

I’ve been thinking again about the broader issue of beginning to approach the South Korean post-colonial state and post-1945 medicine, recognizing the immense problems that this presents.

Even leaving aside lengthy traditons of shamans and religious healers of varying persuasions, if we restrict medicine to two loose clusters–한의학 and biomedicine–then minimally this leaves us with the need to consider at least some of the following:

a) W. Medicine as brought / conveyed by misssionaries;

b) German academic medicine / biosciences of the mid to late 19th century (esp. maybe Virchow?);

c) German academic tradition as conveyed through colonial Japanese medicine, public health, and parasitology (Meiji, Taisho, and Showa);

d) USAMGIK / 미군정 (especially the CATS lectures prepared by Winslow); also here–pre-Korean War visits by Rockefeller in the form of prominent American demographers / social scientists–among them Taeuber, Notestein, Balfour;

e) military medicine and psychiatry (here meaning the ROKA and its own internal public health practice, starts even prior to independence, allegedly);

f) Korean War era aid / efforts–UNKRA, WHO report, NORMASH, MASH, Jutlandia, etc.;

g) post Korean-War medical relief / aid projects / technical assistance: e.g., Minnesota Project, Scandinavian Teaching Hospital, CMB, AKF, KAVA, etc.;

h) Public health efforts tailored to specific endemic diseases;

i) Public health mobilizations of the Park period (FP, KAHP), including assistance from Japan’s OTCA, SIDA, and various university demography centers;

j) Vietnam War and once again ROKA military medicine (esp. 열대의학);

k) The incremental growth / provision of national health insurance (1963-1989).

This is only a partial list, but and within this diversity I have two basic generalizations:

1) Lots of continuity / overlap with previous forms of Japanese practice, especially in public health terms, that is, the large-scale mobilizations of 1960′s and 1970′s (FP, Anti-Parasite eradication).

2) Immense effort to link personal health to national welfare as related themes, especially with international aid in post-Korean War period, but even into the 70′s and 80′s.

More on this later, and for now, just recognizing the immense complexity of one little slice of time on these issues. I don’t work on the colonial period, but I suspect it’s equally complicated on issues of medicine / health, far more complicated than some would have it.

Nuclear Power in Korea / Domestic and International

Filed under: — John P. DiMoia @ 9:29 pm

Just a quick note, even as the Japan situation continues to unfold, to recall that (1) the current ROK government wants to prioritize nuclear exports in the coming years; and that (2) the domestic industry provides a significant portion of the nation’s energy (28 plants either in operation or under construction).

At this point, it would be unfair to make any sweeping generalizations or loose analogies with the Fukushima site, but it is not unfair to recognize similar types of actors (General Electric) and contractors dating to the late 1970′s, in roughly the same part of the world, and to ask some hard questions about those plants and their lifespans.

More on this later, but I have been surprised (although I suppose I should not be) about the press coverage from Japan, much of which has focused on TEPCO, and very little of it looking at the reactor origins and hardware.

South Korea and Thailand–(Comparative) Developmental Contexts

Filed under: — John P. DiMoia @ 7:53 pm

I’ve been playing with this image for quite some time now, and am still trying to build a “thick” context around it for a piece that should  (finally!) get submitted sometime later this summer.  Okay, so what do Thailand and South Korea–more specifically, Hyundai Construction–have to do with each other?

I’m interested in this more as a broad question of emerging diplomatic and economic relations between NE and SE Asia during the early Cold War, or to put it in other terms, new opportunities enabled by the passing from Japanese Empire to American Empire.

(1) This image, from the early 1960′s, displays a welcome banner put out for Mr. Pakorn Angsusingha (I’ve also seen a transliteration of his name as Pakon Angsusing), a Thai academic and bureaucrat, by Hyundai Construction, presumably outside their Bangkok offices, circa 1965.  He’s (Angsusingha)  involved in a lot of social work and community development projects for Thailand, with community development being a Thai priority (1958-1961), prior to the nation-wide focus on ARD (Accelerated Rural Development) in the mid-1960′s.  Essentially these are large nation-buidling projects, getting villages to identify with Bangkok, and they have a strong anti-Communist component.

(2) When Hyundai begins to bid for road projects in Thailand, there are not yet strong relations between the two countries, but Thailand also has a strong military government, and was one of the first to support the ROK during the Korean War, even sending its troops.

(3) Both countries had ICA-funded projects in Public Administration, with the University of Indiana helping to build building the field in Thailand (at Thammasat University) and the University of Minnesota doing comparable work at Seoul National University.  These projects would not have been exactly the same, of course, but emerging Thai and South Korean elites were both learning a similar language of development and administration in the late 1950′s, early 1960′s.

So this sign, which precedes the Pattani-Naratiwat project (1965-1968), and which precedes Hyundai getting the bid (sometime in late 1965), does not place me in the context of the negotiations between Hyundai and IBRD / World Bank, but it does indicate that it should not be surprising that these two actors would meet each other: one with aid dollars to spend on building anti-Communist roads, and another with new expertise and American patronage interested in gaining more experience.  There are lots of interesting things going on with South Korea in SE Asia even prior to formal involvement with Vietnam, after all.

Generating Power–Electric, hydroelectric, thermal (coal), atomic

I’m back once again to this question of electricity and power in its various forms, as I think the long-term story of generating power in NE Asia (1880′s-present), and specifically on the Korean peninsula, sheds some interesting light on the transnational history of the contested region, this in distinct contrast to the individual national histories of power industries.  I would love to be able to link: (1)  electrification (late 19th century), to (2) the colonial period (especially the hydroelectric power plants in the North along the Yalu and Tumen), to (3) the electrical showdown / cutoff of May 1948 (North stops providing access following UN elections), to (4) the period of the war and reconstruction (temporary barges, and later thermal stations), to the (5) decision to pursue atomic power (late 1950′s, with a commercial industry by the late 1970′s).  For now, though, I’ll just briefly touch on the Bechtel project associated with the mid-1950′s, which covers #4.

I recently managed to get a copy of the Bechtel in-house report on the project, with three major thermal stations, completed between 1954 -1956, at Tangin-Ri, Samchok, and Masan (which was the image from my last post in August).

This map shows that the effort was an attempt to plug into the existing grid at various points in the country (roughly comprising a triangulation) in 1954.  What I don’t know, and would love to know, is how much of this grid predates 1948, as I suspect much of it does.

And below  is a letter of thanks from the Korean side, following completion of the project, although I have not had a chance to look this document over.

For now, this consists of little more than musing on the topic, but in the aftermath of the Recent awarding of the reactor project for the UAE (Korea and Hyundai won the bid as part of a consortium),  and Lee Myung-Bak’s mobilization of the ROK domestic nuclear industry, I really want to put together something more substantive: that is, to take a long look at the history of power from the standpoint of a thorough transnational history (involving the U.S , Korea, Japan, Canada, at the very least).  More on this later~

Electricity, Infrastucture: “Reconstruction”

Filed under: — John P. DiMoia @ 9:02 pm

Pacific Bechtel constructs thermal plant in Masan, mid-1950s, USIS image.
This image comes from a USIS publcity shot taken at Masan in the mid-  1950′s, detailing the work of electrical restoration undertaken prior to,  during, and in the aftermath of the Korean War.   A couple of quick  observations:

(1) The man responsible for putting together a pre-war group (with ECA  funding) looking into the problem, Walker L. Cisler, had also helped  restore the electrical grids of various European nations in conjunction  with the Marshall Plan.  With his connections to Eisenhower, Cisler would pop up again in the mid-1950′s (Summer 1956), this time trying to market the Fermi breeder reactor to South Korea.

(2) The electrical capacity of the South after the “cut-off” of May 1948 by the North was extremely low, as the mid-1950′s restoration work undertaken by Pacific Bechtel allegedly doubled the ROK’s capacity.

(3) The persistence of older models would continue in state  planning well into the late 1950′s, with both hydroelectric (along the Han) and tidal plants investigated as possible options, before settling on primarily thermal plants in the mid and late 1950′s.

All of this goes towards a simple point, that the disentanglement of infrastructure between North and South, a complicated issue in the 1945-1948 period, would continue into the post-war era.  The South would not resolve its electricity shortages until the 1970′s with the availability of commerical electricity from the first nuclear plant.

I would love to know more about the South in terms of the necessary engineering expertise to run this kind of plant (above), and as for the northern case, Aaron S. Moore (ASU) is currently working on Japanese engineers in Manchuria and the North, looking at how they re-invent themselves as development specialists after 1945.

I recongize that none of this pertains directly to the previous two posts, but I think the passing of Kim DaeJung and the North’s presence at his funeral fits with this brief look at the electrical issue, thereby anticipating the nuclear issue.

“Catching up”–conferences & SE Asia highways

Filed under: — John P. DiMoia @ 11:39 pm

It’s been quite some time since I have posted (teaching two classes this semester has had that effect), but I wanted to catch up by mentioning several conferences that I’ve been to this spring, and to give a plug for one or two others that I’ve heard about.

  Two took place earlier this spring at NUS, “Emerging SE Asian STS” (January 2009) and “Toward a Trans-Asian STS” (March 2009), and the other was that traditional behemoth, AAS (Chicago 2009).

  I’m lumping these together collectively because I think there remains a lot to offer in terms of comparative work with South Korea and other emerging / new nations which received substantial aid in the 1945-1970 period, including the ROK, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Vietnam.   That is, I’m becoming more obsessed lately with the loose notion of “comparative developmental states,” rather than South Korea or post-war  NE Asia in isolation. 

  Specifically, I’m interested in the role of South Korea as an agent of international / US construction interests, looking at the build-up of expertise and funding by Hyundai.  Just to cite one quick example, Hyundai worked on the Pattani-Naratiwat highway project (Dec. 1965-March 1968) in southern Thailand (almost on the Malaysia border) for their first big international project, losing money and going beyond the time projection in the process.  But the project was mobilized as a success and Hyundai contruction subsequently gained access to the Vietnam market, winning bids through RMK-BRJ, a Texas-based consortium (Think “Friends of LBJ,” as Brown and Root funded his 1948 Senate run) that controlled many of the bids coming from the US Navy.  Lee Myung-Bak was there, too, and many Korean elites used this context (SE Asia, Thailand and Vietnam) to build their careers.    

  I’ll be working on this more later, but mention it now as I’m familiar with the military role played by the South in Vietnam, but am just beginning to recognize the infrastructural role, especially when present-days scandals about construction in Iraq are still emerging.  It’s also another area with overlaps between Imperial japan and Imperial America, with South Korea acting as an on-site representative in the latter case.

  That’s just a brief note for now, and wondering if anyone out there has anything to say about “Scientizing Korea’ at USC this spring (April), or the upcoming Japanese science workshop (May) at UCLA?

Cholera: Disease, Nation, and Identity?

Filed under: — John P. DiMoia @ 11:05 pm

I’ve been looking at disease patterns in the early stages of the USAMGIK occupation, focusing on the cholera outbreak of spring and summer 1946, covering roughly April to September of that year, and peaking with the summer rains in June and July. I’m still not certain that a single disease identity is the correct frame, as there was some question of translation in the Japanese context–this according to Crawford Sams, with GHQ PHW (Public Health and Welfare)–and a number of competing disease entities as well, typhus primary among these.

In any case, leaving the question of identifying a disease entity aside for the moment, the patterns of quarantine and policing established by both USAMGIK and GHQ contain numerous interesting overlaps with previous policy. For one, the movement of repatriated ethnic Koreans back to Japan for a variety of reasons in 1946 and 1947–family property left behind, seeking to return to work in Japan, allegations of black market activity–meant that this group, along with Taiwanese, rapidly became identified with the disease itself in the Japanese press. There’s already a good bit of scholarship on this point–e.g., both Tessa Morris-Suzuki and Christopher Aldous have published on migration controls and disease policy (typhus) in Japan–indicating that the outbreak of cholera tended to reinforce existing prejudices and beliefs about ethnic Koreans.

Within Korea, the disease created the conditions for a mobilization based upon the introduction of “Western” medicine to a greater extent than had previously existed. That is, food controls, restrictions of the use of “night soil,” controls over sources of potable water, survey of animal populations, and even restrictions regarding large public gatherings (including funerals) were all among the practices put into effect to try to limit the spread of cholera, generally passed along by contaminated food or water sources. I have yet to find any local medical records (still working largely from USAMGIK bulletins here and Korean newspaper accounts), but it’s fair to speculate that this general policy felt a lot like Japanese policy regarding public health for much of the 1920′s and 1930′s. And the use of “local area doctors” (USAMGIK’s term for certain groups of TKM practitioners, although again, the translation issue is not always clear) meant that practitioners of traditional Korean medicine were enrolled as a last line of defense in terms of reporting the spread of disease. As both Park YunJae (Yonsei) and Shin Dong-Won (KAIST) have written about the reliance upon traditional practitioners fifteen to twenty years earlier, there’s considerable room here for speculation about how these new policies were received.

Finally, the disease did not respect boundaries, and two further problems added to the complex situation. One, the movement of Japanese forces and ethnic Koreans, primarily from North (Manchuria) to South (the DMZ, with some destined for Pusan) across the border rendered the migrations controls ineffectual. This was also the case for Southern Japan, where individuals could cross by boat into Japan unorbserved. Two, the lack of reliable information and communication with the Russians / Northern representatives only exacerbated the situation.
I still don’t know exactly what to do with this information collectively, except to note that it has a lot to do with the “national style”–itself a problematic label–that South Korea would later adopt with respect to medical practice, and to recognixe that the polciing aspect of public health definitely continued beyond the colonial period into the occupation and the subsequent formation of new states.

BAKS 2008

Filed under: — John P. DiMoia @ 9:07 pm

     I just returned to SG this past weekend from BAKS (British Association Korean Studies) 2008, and wanted to post as the film panel in particular intersects nicely with something posted earlier this summer.  For those interested in a brief summary of the conference as a whole, please see Philip Gowman’s take at: http://londonkoreanlinks.net/2008/09/12/baks-conference-report-looking-forward-looking-back/.

     To return to the issue of film, the Tuesday afternoon panel (9 / 9) offered a number of interesting film clips, one of which featured two scenes from “Homeless Angels” /  집없는 천사.   To be fair, I would have to see the entire film to say more; but for now, I agree with a basic reading of the film which reads the placement of these Korean orphans in terms of a paternalistic Japanese state and ithe attempted formation of new imperial subjects through tutelage.  The scene I’m referring to specifically in making this claim comes near the close of the film, and features one of the characters saluting / reciting while the Japanese flag is being raised: in effect, the perfomative force of the scene is roughly equivalent to a recruitment pitch.

     The speaker / presenter also raised an interesting point in conjunction with this film–and I want to be careful, as I’m operating here on jet lag, and may be conflating points made across the entire panel–pointing to the recurring popularity of the trope of the displaced orphan, with (1) “Boys Town” featured as one of the earliest films approved and shown by USAMGIK, and with the subsequent appearance of (2) Douglas Sirk’s (1957) “Battle Hymn.” 

     While I’m not comfortable with making sweeping juxtapositions from the standpoint of history–would want to know much more about the circumstances underlying each of the three films before making any links–the loose observation in the previous paragraph does lend itself to some interesting comparative questions.  Namely, what were the economic / social / political / communitarian ideals informing the practice of dealing with refugees (particular orphans) during and in the aftermath of the Korean War?  I’m familiar with an overall take that places New Deal reformers, broadly construed, in Japan and Korea for the respective occupations, but does this suggest potentially that 1930′s American-style social welfare practices were simply mapped onto the issue of dealing with refugees and orphans?  Can we complicate this further with the recognition (see Dan Rodgers and Atlantic Crossings)  that much of the New Deal was informed by an eclectic set of borrowed practices from earlier European practices related to social welfare?

     What I’m fumbling at here, in a none too articulate fashion, are ways of comparing the social welfare practices adopted under USAMGIK (and during the subsequent Korean War), and the comparable practices mobilized under Japanese Imperial authority only a decade or two earlier.  In what ways were Americans attempting to form new subjects of Korean orphans (perhaps new “South Korean” subjects?)–if we put this to the same litmus test as the Japanese Imperium–and how were  American practices distinct / different?  My recollection of images of orphans from the Holt folks (see the historical introduction at the Holt International website, which links the 1955 founding of the organization to Holt’s viewing of a film about Korea) is that they were generally designated as “Korean,” but is this an innocent designation or does it assume a case where half of the peninsula subsumes the whole? 

I’m trying to do this kind of work for medicine now (looking at material and pedagogical changes in medical education pre and post war), and wondering what this might look like in a similar  context.  I also recognize that the question of distingiushing between categories and attributing sources of authority becomes almost hopelessly muddled, as what’s “Japanese” and “American” is rarely clear, and there’s a signficant difference between the offical rhetoric and on the ground practice.

South Korea As Seen from Singapore: The “Korea Boom,” “Korea” Mobilized~

Filed under: — John P. DiMoia @ 1:08 am

     I can’t resist adding this, my admittedly very superficial observations based on slightly more than two months of residence in Singapore: South Korea, and “Korea” writ large, are indeed a different place when viewed from the perspective of SE Asia.
     The label “Korea” carries with it / connotes at least three meanings here: (1) a small but growing expatriate community of South Koreans on the island (apparently they still retain ROK citizenship if they attain Singapore PR status), currently numbering in the range of 6,000 to 8,000 residents, with a corresponding cultural and material presence (food, DVD’s, business investment, and a shopping mall which has garnered for itself the designation “Little Seoul”); (2) the ongoing popularity of Korean dramas (esp. Choson and Samguk period pieces); and (3) an exotic travel destination, especially in terms of winter sports.   

Of these three, the latter two interest me the most in terms of prior encounters with “Korea Boom” related goods in Japan.  When I was auditing History classes (at Columbia) in 2004, there was a loose thesis circulating among member of one class concerning the popularity of Korean culture in countries with a large ethnic Chinese population, the appeal of watching a once Sino-centric / Confucian (using these very broadly here, I know, and not very carefully) culture undergo rapid change.  That is, the dramas and popular culture might serve as a model to places desirous of undergoing similar changes of their own (China, HK, Singapore). 

  I didn’t devote much thought to this until moving here, discovering that many Singaporeans hold the ROK in high esteem, seeing it as a successful EA nation comparable to their own.  That is, (1) both Singaporeans who desire change might seek to appropriate the ROK model (whatever that is) for their agenda; and likewise, (2) the Singaporean gov.–as well as others in the region–might mobilize a model of change that implies containment, relatively incremental change.  I leave it to the reader to consider here the permutations possible in terms of mobilizing another nation’s recent history for one’s own purposes.

  And this brings me to the third point, those “Dynamic Korea” (sveral years ago) and ‘Korea Sparkiling” ads that run as travel promotions.  They’re conspicuously present on television here–although I haven’t yet paid close attention to which channels, and when they air most frequently–and have succeeded in giving the ROK appeal as a travel destination, particularly in terms of Winter and Skiing.  Of course, these activities do exist as viable options for Koreans, but I never quite conceived of South Korea in terms of a “snow country” while living in Seoul.  I guess that’s partly a product of living just above the Equator . . .

  I’m off to BAKS (British Association Korean Studies) in early September, and looking forward to it as my only previous encounter with KS  in the UK was a 2007 conference at SOAS.


Filed under: — John P. DiMoia @ 6:01 am


I’m new to the blog, and just wanted to introduce myself.  I just completed a Ph. D. in the History of Science (2007) on the formation of “state science” in the ROK. 

I’m primarily a Historian of Science / Medicine, with a significant investment in East Asia (South Korea and Japan). I recently started at NUS (National University of Singapore), and will be teaching in the former area (Social History of Disease), while assisting with the latter as we offer our first Korean History classes in Spring 2009. NUS also hired two language lecturers for Korean, and appears to be quite motivated about getting involved with Korean Studies.

In terms of interests, this translates into spending a lot of time in hospitals, and I’m currently working on a book project about the formation / tranformation of a South Korean health care system following the war (1945-1972).

I’m also interested in the messy “in-between” years of about 1945-1965 in terms of the transformation of Korean technology and material culture (engineering, agriculture, the transition from the electrical grid to nuclear power by the late 1970′s), but run into frequent limitations here in terms of a lack of documents.

In any case, I’ll be posting again soon, and look forward to participating–you can also find me at:



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