우물 안 개구리


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.


Cultural Consumption and Comprehension

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 8:39 pm Print

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.


Candy and School Lunches

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 5:31 pm Print

In the New York Times yesterday there was an interesting article entitled, “Is Candy Evil or Just Misunderstood?” In particular it discussed the relationship between candy and children, their concerned parents, and schools with some reference to the work of candy historian Samira Kawash.

I thought of this article when I came across a rather different attitude taken to candy by the US forces running Korea just after the collapse of the Japanese empire. In the October 1946 summary report put out by the military government, we find the following little nugget:

The Department of Education received an allocation of 669,269 pounds of candy which will be sold at cost to all the elementary schools of South Korea with the suggestion that it be utilized to supplement school lunches. Distribution of the candy was begun in late October.1

  1. U.S. Army Military Government Activities in Korea 13 (October, 1946), 78. []


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 Print

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.


Korean War in art

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 7:27 pm Print

"Crimson Harvest" by Gobau
Japan Focus has an article detailing and displaying Gobau’s Korean War art which has a plethora of arresting images. Gobau worked from the Republic of Korea side: North Korean forces are not shown in a good light, but South Korean forces don’t get a pass on their purportedly anti-communist atrocities.


Cholera: Disease, Nation, and Identity?

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

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 Print

     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.


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)

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