우물 안 개구리


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.


Japanese Publications on Colonial Bureaucracy

Filed under: — Sayaka Chatani @ 11:13 pm Print

I would like to introduce two recent publications on colonial bureaucrats here. One is Okamoto Makiko, Shokuminchi kanryô no seijishi (岡本真希子『植民地官僚の政治史:朝鮮・台湾総督府と帝国日本』, Politics of Colonial Bureaucrats)Sangensha, 2008, and the other is Ôtomo Masako, Teikoku Nihon no shokuminchi shakai jigyô seisaku kenkyû (大友昌子『帝国日本の植民地社会事業政策研究』, A Study of Colonial Social Work Policies of Imperial Japan)Minerva, 2007. Their works are both impressive in the scope of research and their ability to compare the nitty-gritty of colonial rule in Taiwan and Korea. From research of Sheldon Garon and many others, Japan’s historians all learned that government officials, especially those in the famous Home Ministry played a huge role in promoting social reforms and modernization and that their power permeated many aspects of people’s everyday life. There is no reason to believe that it was very different in the colonies. Despite the reasonable guess about the role of colonial bureaucrats, we did not have a good grasp of basic facts about them until these publications came out.

There is so much information in Okamoto’s thick volume and I would highly recommend that anyone who studies anything about colonial Korea/Taiwan use this as a reference book. Okamoto did an excellent job in departing from the concentration, in previous scholarship, on personal networks (“who knew whom” etc.) and focused instead on the system, laws, and principles that regulated the flows of people. I learned so much about the differences of status between the Government-General in Korea and the Government-General in Taiwan — e.g. By 1919 when the Cultural Policy was implemented, there was a wide consensus among Japanese politicians on the fact that the GGK had already established a semi-independent status unlike the GGT and the other colonies. The GGK and the GGT also diverged in the recruitment of local populations into the colonial bureaucracy. While the number of Korean officials increased, that of Taiwanese officials remained extremely low. Okamoto also elaborates upon how the GGK operated (or at least tried to operate) independently from the Japanese home government in many different ways. Her elaboration on how the quickly changing political climates in Japan influenced the top personnel in the GGK and GGT, changing the relationships between the Japanese government and colonial bureaucracy, is also impressive.  We still have a long way to go in dissecting the work of colonial bureaucracies. But with her work, we can finally refer to the Government-General with more pluristic terms — as a group of people, rather than one monster-like control machine.

Ôtomo’s work on colonial social work probably enjoys a little more limited audience. Her empiricism is striking and it is quite refreshing to read details of social welfare laws and programs without once mentioning Foucauldian governmentality. Her main argument is to show how the colonial officials tried to regulate modernization in the colonies (「抑制された近代化」). That itself is not eye-opening but what interested me was how similar the social work techniques were between the colonies and Japan — the use of “方面委員 (district commissioner)” programs, the emphasis on moral suasion (教化)and local improvement, for example. Ôtomo tries to define “modernization” in a scientifically measurable way (the “levels” of labor policy, poverty, economic security etc), but her work more interestingly demonstrates how colonial officials defined “the direction” of modernization.


The Sideshow in Korea?

Yet the costly Iraq war must also be recognised as a sideshow in the Bush global counteroffensive against Islamist militancy, just as the far more costly Korean war was a sideshow to global cold war containment.

So says Edward Luttwak, in an extensive attempt to speed up the process by which History justifies and valorizes the policies of this administration. [via] He’s mostly engaged in a bit of dramatic post hoc, ergo propter hoc whereby a shift in government policies towards extremist Islamic groups is the result of Pres. Bush’s Trumanesque firmness, but the damage done to the success — military and diplomatic — of the initial Afghanistan campaign by the Iraq campaign isn’t taken into account at all.1 The Korean war — which I have a lot of trouble seeing as a “sideshow,” given the direct involvement of Chinese and Russian forces and a lot more actual shooting than in Europe — advanced the cause of anti-communism. It was a success, in the sense that it preserved South Korea as a non-communist state and it was the last full-scale conflict between the great powers for some time. The only sense in which Korea could be called a “sideshow” is that Truman’s containment policy engaged a lot of other parts of the world as well.

He then goes on to mangle Chinese history — Tang, Song and Ming dynasties never conquered anyone, right? — and to cast the future of Asia in binaries (China: convergence or communist collapse? India: corruption stagnation or “traditional” good Brahmin governance?), as well as giving the administration credit for North Korean disarmament instead of noting their years of footdragging on same which have exacerbated the proliferation problem.

Truman deserves better.

  1. He’s also assuming that al Qaeda’s “call to action” attacks were likely to inspire imitators rather than revulsion in the short run, which seems like he’s taking their own rhetoric way too seriously. Romantic nihilists have been claiming that “the masses are on the brink of revolution” and “dramatic action will awaken them” for over two centuries now. []


Gregory Henderson Reporting on a Massacre

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 3:04 am Print

I’ve recently been looking through 한국전쟁과 집단학살 (Organized Massacres and the Korean War) by 김기진. The work focuses primarily on crimes against civilians carried out by United States forces or Korean forces and has a large section which reproduces, in a regretfully somewhat badly edited form, a lot of US archival documents found at the National Archives.

My impression, and that is all this is since this is not my area of expertise, is that the documents themselves don’t really reveal anything earth-shatteringly new. A lot of the documents included reproduce contemporary media reports of atrocities and consist of internal debates about investigations into whether the accusations are true, or are responses to letters by the UN or the International Committee of the Red Cross.

I was interested in these conveniently collected documents for a number of reasons, but one of the documents in the collection that may be of interest to readers here was responding to a report submitted by Gregory Henderson on an alleged atrocity against forty captured “Communists” many months before the opening of the most violent stage of the Korean War in June of 1950.



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)


Thought Crime Arrests 1928-1944

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 5:07 pm Print

I spent a beautiful Saturday hanging with the old folks in 효창공원 near my place. This small park is full of interesting things including an anti-Communist memorial, the graves of various nationalist heroes, and includes the grave, museum and library for the man himself, Kim Koo (백범기념관). I spent my time in the park reading the first volume of 『해방 전후사 사료 연구』and thought I would share a chart from a chapter on late colonial historical materials by 이완범.

After listing some of the available materials and lamenting the general lack of good historical sources for the late colonial period (1937-1945), most of the chapter is dedicated to using statistics to look at the period, or more specifically, independence movements during the period.1

I’m sharing two of his tables, merged together below2 which contain statistics on arrests for thought crimes in colonial Korea from 1928-1944.

Thought Crime Arrests 1928-1944
Ave. Persons Per Case
1928 227 1592 7.0
1929 253 1743 6.9
1930 397 4025 10.1
1931 436 3659 8.4
1932 345 4989 14.4
1933 213 2641 12.4
1934 183 2389 13.1
1935 172 1740 10.1
1936 167 2762 16.5
1937 134 1637 12.2
1938 145 1344 7 (9.3)
1939 95 1042 6.9 (11)
1940 103 1193 10.1 (11.6)
1941 232 861 8.4 (3.7)
1942 183 1142 14.4 (6.2)
1943 322 1002 12.4 (3.1)
First half 1944 132 337 13.1 (2.6)
Total 3,739 34,098  
Average 225.43 2,110.06 12.2 (9.4)

Note: The averages in 이완범’s chart for people per case seemed off from 1938-1944 and I can’t find any note of a change in his method of calculation or source for his numbers (anyone have a guess for where he is getting the numbers from?). Thus I have put my own quick calculation in parentheses for these years.

Cases Per Year Peopleperyear-1

Note: Though I’m sure there is a better way, in these charts I have simply doubled numbers from first half of 1944 for the 1944 entries.

Numbers can be so much fun and feel so meaty (especially when accompanied by colorful charts), but what can these numbers tell us by themselves?

  1. It is unfortunate that, with the exception of the first chapter on materials related to wartime mobilization, everything in the first volume of such a general title focuses on independence movements. Volume two discusses mostly the postwar period, with materials related to education, political history, North Korean publications and US archival materials on the North Korean economic policies. []
  2. 『해방 전후사 사료 연구』p88 and p91. 이완범 takes the material from 朝鮮総督府警務局(編)『最近に於ける朝鮮治安状況』for materials up to 1939 and 近藤釖一(編)『太平洋戦争下終末期朝鮮の治政』 for the years therafter. The footnotes for the chart notes some discrepancies for the 1934 and 1945 numbers between the 1936 edition and his 1938 edition and an alternative lower case number of 74 for 1939 in a different source published in 1940, but it may not have been stats for the full year. []


History ‘faction’

According to the Hankyoreh, historical novels are all the rage at the moment in Korea. This doesn’t really surprise me all that much as historical novels seem to be pretty popular everywhere at the moment, although in Korea there always seems to be something more of an overtly political aspect to the popular fascination with history.

Unfortunately the article doesn’t really provide any convincing answers to the question of why historical fiction is particularly popular the moment:

…few deny that historical novels have their own special appeal. Lee Myeong-won, a book critic, said the unusual popularity of historical fiction can be ascribed to the easiness with which novelists find things to write about, compared to the difficulty authors face when trying to grapple with what is transpiring now in current society. In addition, authors are able to ride on the interest surrounding historical events in which people tend to hold fascination.

I’ve brought up this subject before here, so I obviously have quite an interest in the relationship between academic history and popular history/historical consciousness in the form of books, TV series and films. Is the popular depiction of historical events and characters all about entertainment, or is it really about a subtle (and not so subtle) type of ideology formation? Or perhaps people’s desire to read and write about history (outside of the academic paradigm) plays a deeper, more constructive role in society?


Unity is Almost Always a Myth

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:53 pm Print

In an otherwise interesting discussion of North Korean defector readjustment and North-South relations in the Washington Post, Samuel Songhoon Lee drops this

In South Korea, a country that withstood centuries of invasions from its Chinese and Japanese neighbors, unity defines survival. And without ethnic diversity or a history of immigration, unity means conformity. When something becomes fashionable here, it can have significant consequences. For example, South Korea has the world’s highest ratio of cosmetic surgeons to citizens, catering to the legions of girls who receive eyelid surgery as a present for their 16th birthday. … The lack of diversity at school makes the young defectors instant standouts — subject to 15 minutes of fame and adulation, then an enduring period of isolation. When their peers ask about their accent — noticeably different from what’s common in Seoul — most students say they’re from Gangwon Province, in the northeastern part of the country.

My second reaction was to note the self-contradictory nature of the paragraph: if conformity is so ubiquitous and nationalized, how can strong regional accents survive? In fact, this is something which I’ve noted with regard to Japan as well: to a large extent, parochialism and immobility (geographic and class) mask diversity because most people don’t experience it within their own society. There’s another factor which is similar between Japan and South Korea: the domination of the media by media created within a single mega-urban community, which tends to assume its own experience and views as “normal.”

But it’s the historical early section which piqued my interest in the first place, of course. Maybe it’s just a word choice thing, but I’d be much more comfortable with the idea that Korea “endured” invasions than “withstood”: the latter implies that they successfully resisted. They didn’t repel the Mongols: they waited until that empire had collapsed elsewhere before rising in revolt. They didn’t repel the Japanese in the 1590s without considerable assistance from China. They were in no condition to repel the Qing, thanks to the Japanese, though they retained their independence. They didn’t repel the Japanese in the modern period at all, though they enlisted the aid of their largest, most powerful neighbors. In one sense — the continued existence of an entity which eventually became the modern Korean states — the term “withstood” is tolerable, but it still implies that Korea was largely unchanged by the experiences, and that wasn’t really true, either.

Then there’s the “unity defines survival” question: for most of Korea’s history there was a pretty sharp divide between aristocratic and commoner, as well as pretty significant unfree populations. I suppose you could argue that it was the unity of Korean elites which defined the cultural survival of Korea, but that still requires believing in some essential element persisting and also that Korean elites were actually unified, which seems quite questionable, especially in periods like the Koryo.

Finally, there’s “unity means conformity” which just makes my skin crawl. I’ll freely admit that it’s an American bias, but it also seems a long way to me from fashion conformity (which is fleeting and faddish) to national unity (which ought to be enduring and based on some kind of fundamental principles). The concept of the nation as sharing culture usually refers to an historical tradition; the idea of the nation as people who share fads is a significant degradation of an already questionable concept.

Addendum: The author of the Post article contact me, as he has everyone who’s blogged about his article, to alert us to a problem, namely that he’d neglected to use pseudonyms and alter identifying information for his students. This raises safety issues for their family members who are still in North Korea, and consequently he is asking that anyone who blogs about the article be careful to avoid identifying his students.


Asian History News Dump, March 2007

This is a “dump”: all the Asia related stuff I’ve saved over the last…. two months? Anyway, nobody else has blogged about it, so I thought I’d toss it out there. I hope to resume more … measured blogging soon.
[Crossposted at all three Frog Blogs; sorry about the irrelevant stuff.]


Google Books: PDF Download Feature

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 11:13 pm Print

The Google Books project is an exciting new chapter in the world’s digitization of printed materials together with the Gutenberg project. I have blogged at Frog in a Well – Korea about some old English-language works on Korea that are available for download in text form from the latter. On my own weblog I have expressed some frustration with the limits imposed by Google Books on the viewing of works which are not protected by copyright here.

There has been a recent piece of news about the Google Books project which was announced on the Google Books own weblog here at the end of August. Many books that can be found on Google Books, which are out of copyright (or rather, which Google has decided to treat in that manner), can now be completely downloaded in PDF format.

Some notes about this feature:

1) The downloaded work is an image PDF, usually 1-15MB in size. The text metadata for each book is not in the downloaded document. This means you cannot search for text within the document once it is downloaded, but must return to Google Books in order to search the contents.
2) Some books which a) are no longer protected by copyright b) Google recognizes as no longer being protected by allowing you to browse an unlimited number of pages from the work are strangely not available for download. For example, Miyakawa, Masuji’s My Life in Japan, published in the United States in 1907 can be fully viewed online and is not protected by copyright, cannot be downloaded as of today.
3) Many of the old books, especially those which cannot be downloaded despite their lack of copyright coverage, have huge “Image Not Available” error messages where the pages should be. Strangely, you can still search the text metadata for these books and return results. Clicking on the search result pages, however, will simply show “Image Not Available.” Other books have some pages missing but some showing.
4) As I have discussed elsewhere, some books which cannot possibly be covered by copyright are only shown in “snippet mode” and in some cases, searching their contents returns completely unexplainable and mistaken results. For example, the 1910 Highways and Homes of Japan by lady Kate Lawson is bizarrely shown only in snippet mode and as this snapshot shows, searching for “Japan” within the book gives completely wrong results.
5. The page images for tables of contents are in many cases hyperlinked. You can click directly on chapter titles in the table of contents to jump to that chapter.

How to search for books related to Korea that are out of copyright:

The easiest way is to search for something specific on the Google Books web site. However, that will return mostly results that are still protected by copyright. See this excellent summary of copyright protection at Cornell for how to determine roughly if something is protected that was published in the United States. All things published in the United States before 1923, regardless, are now in the public domain, no exceptions. There is no reason Google should restrict access to those materials insofar as it assumes visitors are viewing the content in the United States (its website says as much in its warning to those outside the US).

IN TITLE – If you want to search for something in the title, either use the “Advanced Search” link or simply precede your search with “intitle:” For example: intitle:Korea or intitle:”Korea and Her Neighbors”

BY DATE – To restrict yourself to the period when all books are in the public domain, you can specify a date year range using “date:” So for example: date:1800-1922. You can also specifi “Full view books” in the advanced search page to see only results in books that can be fully viewed.

So searching for books with Korea in the title, published from 1700-1922 can be found by entering: intitle:Korea date:1700-1922

Some examples of books that can be downloaded, found merely through searching for Japan in the title, some of which you might recognize:

Korea and Her Neighbors: A Narrative of Travel, with an Account of the Recent Vicissitudes and…
By Isabella L. (Isabella Lucy) Bird 1905 (quoted frequently in the series of postings here at Frog in a Well starting here)

Korean Tales: Being a Collection of Stories Translated from the Korean Folk Lore, Together with…
By Horace Newton Allen 1889

Problems of the Far East: Japan, Korea, China
By George Nathaniel Curzon 1894

Glimpses of the Orient, Or, The Manners, Customs, Life and History of the People of China, Japan…
By Trumbull White 1897

Terry’s Japanese Empire, Including Korea and Formosa: With Chapters on Manchuria, the Trans-Siber…
By T. Philip (Thomas Philip) Terry 1914

List of Korean Geographical Names, Forming an Index to the Map of Korea: Published at Gotha, and…
By Ernest Mason Satow (mispelled Satorv) 1884

The Diseases of China, including Formosa and Korea
By W. Hamilton (William Hamilton) Jefferys 1910

Ewa: A Tale of Korea
By W. Arthur (William Arthur) Noble 1906

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