우물 안 개구리

9/2/2012

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 []

8/7/2011

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.

5/18/2010

South Korea and Thailand–(Comparative) Developmental Contexts

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

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.

5/13/2010

The Will of a Traitor

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 12:20 am Print

In The Will of a Traitor, posted next door at 井底之蛙, I write about the controversial will of China’s most famous collaborator, and an interesting English translation of the text by Kim Bonggi, one of the founders of a newspaper that eventually became today’s Korea Herald.

2/15/2010

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~

7/7/2009

North Korean Propoganda Posters

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 8:44 am Print

Thanks to Adam at Mutantfrog for pointing me to these North Korean Propoganda posters. I think this is my favorite but the whole group is worth a look.

5/16/2009

“Catching up”–conferences & SE Asia highways

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

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?

5/11/2009

“Prosthetic Memories”

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 10:10 am Print

Seungsook Moon at Japan Focus has an interesting historiographical essay about the contested life and legacy of Park Chung Hee, who led Korea through the 60s and 70s. The debate is particularly interesting because it parallels discourses which are ongoing in other post-dictatorial societies, including the debates about Stalin in Russia, Mao and Deng in China, Chiang Kaishek in Taiwan, etc. The history itself is fascinating, though I do wish Moon had spent a little more effort mediating some of the factual basis for the competing narratives.

1/22/2009

North Korea’s engagement with the world

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 8:05 pm Print

I remember the shocked look on my students’ faces fifteen years ago when I told them that we actually had no idea how decisions were made or leaders picked in North Korea, that it was more or less still a “black box.” I find it fascinating that we’re starting to get a better public picture of the internal processes of North Korea.

One of the reasons is the steady stream of refugees. In the Financial Times, Matthew Engel reports on a Korean enclave in the SW London suburb of New Malden. The relatively closed and self-reliant society is mostly middle-class, “bourgeois,” but among “the beginnings of an underclass” are North Koreans. I get the impression from the article that many of them are illegal immigrants, and their “underclass” status comes both from their lack of professional skills and their desire to remain outside of official notice.

Mitchell Lerner, at Ohio State University, believes that he’s found the key to understanding the Kim dynasty of North Korea: juche. And when “self-reliance” is slipping, domestically, they bluster internationally to bolster their credentials as strong and independent leaders. It’s counterintuitive: when they need help the most, they can’t get it. But their legitimacy as rulers is based on juche. He writes

In the political realm, it called for chaju (independence), in which North Korean leaders governed without constraint from outside pressure or internal challenge. Economically, juche called for charip (self-sustenance), which required a largely self-contained economy based on domestic workers using domestic resources to satisfy domestic needs. In international relations, juche advocated chawi (self-defense), a foreign policy based on complete equality and mutual respect between nations as well as the right of self-determination and independent policymaking.

Juche, simply, demanded the people subordinate themselves to the state, and the state in turn would advance their collective interests in accordance with the uniqueness and majesty of Korea, and always in pursuit of greater economic, political, and international independence.

By justifying the position of the suryong (single leader) and uniting the people behind him, juche successfully advanced Kim’s interests.

I’d call that a fairly textbook kind of fascism: emphasizing the independence of the nation, the subordination of the people to the nation, and the fuhrerprincip — the leader who embodies sovereignty. Even the reliance on the US as a hobgoblin echoes the “we have been denied our rightful place in the world” rhetoric of the early 20c fascist regimes. The only thing that distinguishes North Korea from them, really, is the longevity of the Kim dynasty. The Kim refered to in the above excerpt is Kim Il Sung, the founder of the DPRK; his son, Kim Jong Il, is one of the only examples I can think of of a successful fascist succession.

However, by closely associating the government’s legitimacy with its successful pursuit of juche, Kim had opened the door to potential disaster. When he triumphantly achieved juche, North Koreans would perpetuate and even embrace his rule. But if the pursuit was unsuccessful, the most fundamental justification for the regime would appear violated.

Legitimation of a government is always a double-edged sword. Some forms of legitimation have a sharper back edge than others: the Confucian Mandate of Heaven is like this, as well.

When considered within this framework, Kim’s tendency to behave more aggressively when he seemed to be at his weakest makes sense. Unable to deny economic and political instability that suggested his government was not acting in accordance with juche principles, Kim redoubled his efforts to demonstrate his strength and independence in the third juche realm, foreign policy.

He does a nice job fitting the periods of economic trouble with the eras of international tension. He also does a good job illustrating the claustrophobic environment — the limited, controlled media, the cradle-to-grave indoctrination, the purges, etc — which makes North Korea such a surreal place.

Update: Speaking of Surreal, Curzon has a post on Reverend Billy Graham’s relationship with North Korea, starting with his missionary ancestors. [via

7/27/2006

“Mass-based dictatorship”? A little info on S. Korea’s welfare policies in the 1960s

Filed under: — noja @ 10:59 am Print

In South Korean academia, one of the most long-standing and productive discussions (I have been following it for around 3 years now, but it may have begun even earlier) is that between Prof. Lim Chihyŏn (임지현, 한양대학교), who maintains (to make a very complicated story as simple as possible) that Park Chung Hee’s regime was a “mass-based dictatorship” (대중 독재), which managed to obtain quite active consent from the mass of the ruled by showing the results of economic growth and cleverly manipulating them with nationalist rhetoric, and his opponents (prominently, Prof. Cho Hŭiyŏn 조희연, 성공회대학교), who view Park’s regime as primarily an oppressive one (without denying the fact that it used the Bonapartist tactics of socio-political maneuvers).

If we accept Prof. Lim’s views, it will basically mean that Park’s regime should be perceived as identical to, say, the fascisms of the 1930s in the more or less well-developed European countries, for example, Germany or Italy, where (not really that generous) welfare packages were supposed to placate the working classes deprived of any opportunity to pursue their own politics. Or otherwise, if we follow Prof. Lim’s line of reasoning, we will begin making analogies with the post-1956 Stalinist dictatorships of Eastern Europe, where workers were much more thoroughly co-opted by “free” housing, pension benefits and some prospects of upward mobility for the most talented and conformist minded. Of course, that Park employed some state capitalist methods with close analogies from the Soviet experience, is quite undeniable. But when it comes to the relationship with the ruled, I begin to seriously doubt whether any “cooptation by welfare” ever took place in the stone jungles of Kuro and Yŏngdŭngp’o in the 1960s and 1970s.

Look, for example, at the data given in a very interesting article by Pak Chunsik (박준식), entitled “1960년대의 사회환경과 사회복지정책” (in 1960년대의 정치사회변동, 백산서당, 1999). He shows that, for one thing, the real wage in manufacturing, although it did grow, was growing painfully slowly for workers in the 1960s – it reached a level matching the minimal monthly expenses for food (월별 최저 음식물비: 9390원) only at some point between 1968 and 1969. It was possible to pay these below-survival-level wages because there was still an enormous pool of “excess” labour – the unemployment rate in the non-agricultural sector was 16% in 1963, and still around 8% in 1971. The huge “informal” sector remained a part of slum and semi-slum life in the early 1970s, and around 15% of all formally employed were hired on a daily/short-term contract basis – a very precarious sort of life in a semi-starving society. The real wages (adjusted for inflation) grew at an annual rate of 8.5% in the late 1960s, but labour productivity grew much quicker – at a rate of 16%. If we add that prices grew at 15% annually, the picture of quite a vicious over-exploitation becomes very clear.

Since much of the Labour Standard Law (근로기준법) sounded like stories from the Arabian Nights against the backdrop of what really took place on the ground, the only tangible form of welfare was probably the workplace accident insurance – still company-based, and it applied only to 7% of all workers in 1971. State servants and army officers got their separate state pension systems in 1960 and 1963 respectively, but for the toilers of Kuro that was a story from another world. So, was Park’s kingdom really that “mass-based”? I suggest that passive (and very passive) consent was “obtained” through a combination of repression, all-out militarization, nationalist demagogery (helped by the spread of TV-sets and very high literacy by the end of the 1970s) and some limited opportunities for individual upward mobility through education in a rapidly expanding economy. The last feature does resemble the really “mass-based” Soviet model of the 1960s-70s, but the Soviet-type welfare was nowhere in sight. And the degree of the viciousness of repression was incomparable with Eastern Europe – much closer to the Latin American experience.

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