우물 안 개구리


African mercenaries in Chosŏn

Filed under: — Owen @ 9:35 am Print

I meant to post a note on this interesting piece at the Oh My News website a couple of weeks ago, but other things intervened. It recounts the story of the black mercenaries who fought with the Ming troops in Chosŏn during the international war of the late sixteenth century (known as the Imjin waeran 임잔왜란 in Korea). Well worth having a look if you can read Korean.

While I have to say that I felt a little uncomfortable about one or two of the author’s somewhat narrow-minded observations (eg that Black people are renowned for their physical strength) this is still an informative piece of popular history writing about a little-known part of Korea’s history. It is also the second part of a series by the same author that may be worth following. Part one is here.


Korea Studies Review 2006

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:14 am Print

Stephen Epstein posted a message on the Korean Studies email list with links to some new reviews of books related to Korea. You can find the full index of books reviewed so far here. The latest books reviewed and the links to those reviews are below in no particular order:

Laying Claim to the Memory of May: A Look Back at the 1980 Kwangju Uprising. By Linda S. Lewis, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, Center of Korean Studies, University of Hawai’i, 2002.

Korea’s Divided Families: Fifty Years of Separation, by James Foley. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003

Korea and Globalization: Politics, Economics, Culture, edited by James Lewis and Amadu Sesay. New York and London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2002

A Distant and Beautiful Place , by Yang Kwi-Ja (trans. Kim So-young and Julie Pickering). Honolulu: Univ. of Hawai’i Press, 2003


Korean Society for Cultural Anthropology 2006 Conference

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 8:02 am Print

Thanks to Antti for making note of the fact that all the papers for the 2006 annual conference of the Korean Society for Cultural Anthropology are available online as PDFs.

While I’m mentioning Antti, whose weblog is a must read for anyone interested in Korea, readers here might be interested in a number of his recent postings including one on Korean name romanizations, the claim that Pak Hon-yong’s reputation has been reinstated in the DPRK , on “defensive nationalism” in Jo Jung-rae’s new novel, discussion of some photos of Seoul in the early 1970s and the Daeyeonggak hotel fire, and an interesting a discussion of the history of Noraebang in Korea.


Patriotic School Athletics – under the Japanese and After

To observe that modern “physical culture” (athletics) training in the compulsory schooling system is something closely linked to the conscription system and a general culture of militarism, represents no new scholarly achievement. In fact, if you were born in the right (?) place and time, you don’t even need to be a scholar to make it into your working hypothesis: I, for my part, vividly remember the “physical culture” lessons of my Soviet childhood, which included a good deal of marching, throwing of fake “grenades”, and lots of pep talks, which all boiled down to this: “Boys, learn it here and now, unless you wish to become pariah when you are eventually called up”.

It was an unquestioned assumption that every “boy” was going to be called up at some point. And it was not the “enlightened West”, at least before WWII, which served as an inspiration for fledgling anti-militarists like me: in the British schools from the 1880s, from what I understand, physical education, compulsory as it was, was often the domain of retired military men, and took the form they knew best, namely that of the drill. And of course, I already knew in the mid-1980s, that the main model for Soviet’s aggressively militaristic “Young Pioneers Organization” were Baden-Powell’s Scouts, their underlying ideology being an omnipresent Edwardian Social Darwinism, with its talk of the imminent “decline” (of Britain, West, and whatever else – you are surely in decline unless you are constantly training yourself to kill others…), and the desire to culturally colonize the working classes by importing them into the bourgeois/aristocratic “athletic patriotism” (John Springhall, “The Boy Scouts, Class and Militarism in Relation to British Youth Movements, 1908-1930″, – Review of Social History, Vol. 16, 1971).

When I first came to South Korea in 1991, I quickly understood that all the demons that haunted us, were already here as well: the “physical education” (체육) lessons based marching and command, the assumption that schoolboys are future conscripts to be drilled in advance in school. In their criticisms of the ways “physical education” was built up in the Korean schools, the anti-systemic dissidents of the 1980s often ascribed the blame to the “legacy of the Japanese imperialism”, and especially to the militaristic craze of the Pacific War time (see, for example, 고광헌’s excellent 스포츠와 정치, printed by 푸른나무, 1988). But there was very little concrete research about how, in detail, the school physical culture was militarized from the late 1930s onward.

And now, at last, this vacuum is starting to be filled – 신주백, one of the most promising historians of the colonial/early post-colonial period, has at last published a thoroughly scholarly paper dealing with the issue: “체육 교육의 군사화와 강제된 건강” (The Militarization of the Physical Education and the Forced Healthiness), in 정근식 (ed.), 식민지의 일상: 지배와 균열, 문화과학사, 2006. From this fascinating piece we learn that the Government-General, in preparation for the introduction of conscription in Korea (which began ultimately in 1944. Once introduced, such things tend to stay for a very, very long time…), surveyed the physical condition of around 60 thousand Korean male youths in March 1942, and from this ascertained how much improvement was needed.

About 97% of those called up for the survey complied. This is a very high level of the administrative efficiency for a colony and was mainly achieved by mobilizing the “neighbourhood patriotic associations” (애국반 – they became 반상회 in South Korea and 인민반 in North Korea from the 1950s) and making the families collectively responsible for the compliance of the young males. Then, from 1942, the “physical culture” lessons in the schools practically mergered with military drills. Around 600 hours of the drills a year were supposed to be provided for all Korean males above the primary school level, and the militarized Korean Sports Promotion Association turned athletic tournaments into places where the “Imperial Army Spirit” was to be demonstrated in action. However, the “Kokumin Tairyoku ho” (National Law on Physical Strength, 1940) from Japan proper (more  here)was never fully implemented in Korea, and the physical fitness of all these Korean males of constription age were never tested in full. Korea needed Kim Il Sung and Rhee Syngman to turn the sado-masochistic dream of checking and grading the ability of every young male to throw grenades and march into the sort of grim reality we are still facing here….


Kim Hwanp’yo and his “Ssalpap chŏnchaeng”

Filed under: — noja @ 9:03 am Print

Several days ago, I was happy to be presented a newly published book by the publishers who had also earlier printed two of my own books – that is, by Seoul-based Inmul kwa sasang (인물과 사상). The book is entitled “Ssalpap chŏnchaeng” (쌀밥 전쟁: “War for rice”, or how should I translate it?), and written by certain Kim Hwanp’yo – a non-academic, obviously from the circle of Prof. Kang Junman (a Chŏnbuk University media scholar and famous social ciritic, well-known for his habit to “name names” while criticising people and institutions – a dangerous thing to do in our position, I would add…), who previously co-authored several essay collections of political and “cultural criticism” including one on the history of S. Korea’s official ‘anti-communism.’

This new work, a surprisingly detailed and professionally written account for somebody who is seemingly neither a historian nor a specialist in the field of agricultural economy, deals with the story of S. Korean rice agriculture, and mainly in 1960s-70s. The picture which emerges from reading it is helpful in understanding what is going on in North Korea in a sort of wider historical perspective—you get to know that S. Korea achieved self-sufficiency in rice in 1976, when it harvested 36 million sŏk of rice, and that this achievement was, in fact, quite shaky. S. Korea had to resume rice imports in 1980, when it harvested only 24 million sŏk due to a large-scale crop failure. It was happy enough to do so as it had enough currency at the time, and then became a stable client of the Californian rice cultivators – who were politically well-backed enough to press Chŏn’s dictatorship to buy their wares throughout the early 1980s, even when S.Korea did not really need them.

N. Korea, with its depleted foreign exchange reserves and without cheap Soviet fuel and fertilizer, did not manage in the mid-1990s to escape the same plight which Southerners barely escaped in 1980. The way to rice self-sufficiency under Park was a bumpy one, and involved lots of disciplinary action taken in a good Japanese imperial spirit—of the kind the Western public would probably more readily associate with North Korea. It included designating special “no-rice days” (무미일 – no rice to be sold anywhere, and presumably no rice to be eaten in home dining-rooms, although this part probably was not really well-enforced), ordering in 1963 that all rice merchants to blend 20% non-rice cereals (잡곡) into their wares, and ordering restaurant owners to do the same with the rice they served. More resembling the good old imperial days—as well as the realities of the North Korean situation—were housewifes’ “public meetings for the sake of encouraging flour-based meals” (분식권장궐기대회), which were supposed to force home kitchens to comply with the governmental policy of “분식의 날”—bread and noodles only, none of that luxury good called ‘white rice.’ These housewives who were deplorably ignorant about the ways of making good food without rice, were taught to do so in special “flour-based meal consultation centres” (분식상담소), run from 10.00 to 16.00 every weekday by the “National Reconstruction Movement” (재건국민운동본부). And they had to study assiduously. If the share of white rice in the lunch boxes of their children exceeded prescribed norm, and this heinous crime was uncovered during the regular “lunch box checks” (도시락 검사), the punishment (that is, the corporal punishment for the children) would be severe, and their children’s grades for behaviour might suffer.

This “rice economizing movement” (절미운동) ended only in the late 1970s—and the age in which newspapers explained that the high intelligence of Westerners was precisely thanks to the fact that they ate bread and not rice, became just an (unwelcome) part of the collective memory. It all shows something about the nature of post-colonial statehood on the Korean Peninsula – but the Western media did not try that much to poke fun at Park Chung Hee’s ways to discipline and punish his subjects, while very similar things (on a much worse scale, I have to acknowledge) done by Kim Il Sung, were always mocked in very good humour, were they not? I always wonder what proportion of Western—and non-Western—consumers of Samsung products are aware of what would happen to any Samsung employee who tried to unionize his/her company?


Books on Korea Available from the Gutenberg Project

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:34 pm Print

A few recent messages on the KoreanStudies email list pointed out that the Gutenberg Project has a few old Korean books online. They are a wonderful resource to learn more about how past generations have viewed and described Korea and often contain small tidbits of information not available elsewhere (especially to students who may not read any Korean).

You can read recent KS messages from July here. They include discussion of an ongoing effort to create a digitized version of Isabella Bird Bishop’s Korea and Her Neighbours and a draft of the 2nd volume, which still needs proofing, has been posted by Thomas Duvernay in his posting here. In a separate posting Brother Anthony at Sogang University pointed out that several of Bishop’s other books are already available for download in the Gutenberg collection.

Here are links some currently available books mentioned on the email list or which I found myself on Gutenberg’s site (Tip to Brother Anthony for pointing these out):

Korea’s Fight for Freedom by F. A. Mckenzie (1920) – Not his famous The Tragedy of Korea but a later (and more updated) book which expands his earlier arguments.

Corea or Cho-sen by A. Henry Savage Landor (1895) – An HTML version with fully scanned pictures is available in an HTML version here.

Our Little Korean Cousin by Henry Lee Mitchell Pike (1905) – Online version complete with the original pictures here.

As I have pointed out in a posting on my own blog, many of the books at Gutenberg have been scanned and then checked through a distributive proofreading process. I would love to see many more of these older works, which were published long enough ago to be in the public domain, online and available in various formats such as those provided by the wonderful Gutenberg project.

The advantage of distributive proofreading is obvious: there are many eyes which check over the work but each person need only contribute a little. The process is divided into several stages and has already added over a thousand public domain books to the project.

If you are interested in contributing to this process, either by adding scanned works with their unproofed OCRed files, or by offering a little bit of time to correct some of the books (there are several books related to Asia currently being proofread) then visit the:

Project Gutenberg’s Distributed Proofreaders Webpage


Prof. Yi Hŏnch’ang (이헌창) and his “Outline of Korean Economic History”

Filed under: — noja @ 8:56 am Print

A couple of days ago, I had the happy opportunity to meet Prof. Yi Hŏnch’ang (이헌창, 고려대), one of Korea’s leading economical historians. The meeting took place at a conference, which, frankly, resembled more a sort of diplomatic event, but for me, talking with Prof. Yi was enough of a reward.

I was presented with his mighty volume, “An Outline of Korean Economic History” (한국경제통사, 제3판, 법문사, 2006), and, a complete profane in the field of economic history as I am, I became completely immersed in the reading! The secret of the appeal of this book is its ambitious goal – namely, to get a consistent picture of socio-economical developments in the country from ancient times up to the neo-liberal epoch from a sort of long-term perspective. You do not have to be an economic history specialist to appreciate this kind of approach. And the last chapters, on Korea’s industrialisation and all the concommitant issues, written from a seemingly “neutral” position, but using of a wealth of data and analythic methods, offers a historisised perspective on what is happening in the country now.

For example, the unabashed ferocity which Roh Moo-hyun’s government demonstrates in sacrificing agriculture to the FTA deal with the USA seems to be partly explained by the fact that, as Prof. Yi shows, “underprioritising” agriculture has been Korea’s rulers main unstated policy ever since Park Chung Hee’s regime. On the surface, the “New Village Movement” provided the regime with a good “popular” face and village infrastructure was significantly improved (the area under irrigation jumped by around 80%, new sorts of rice were introduced, the amount of chemical fertiliser used for 1 ha jumped from 92 to almost 400 kg, etc.). But in reality, the main use Park Chung Hee saw in the villages was their workforce, which was constantly pumped into the cities by the enormous and widening income gap.

The real amount of investment in agriculture was disproportionately low, and Korea steadily became an agricultural product importer – the ratio of import dependence in agriculture being 6% in 1965 and 71% in 1995 (I understand it, it is around 80% today). The villagers became heavily divided into a minority of successful agro-businessmen and a large mass of either relatively or very poor peasants – the tenancy ratio was 28% in 1990, and is growing. By the way, many of the evicted peasants in Taech’uri, P’yŏngt’aek, are in fact tenants, who get very little compensation from the government (since, legally speaking, they owned nothing in the village) and have literally nowhere to go.

The ratio of debt to assets among Korean peasants is 12% for 2000 (only 0,7% in 1975), which is an astonishingly high figure, given the high land prices. So, Roh is now going to deal the final coup de grace to Korea’s peasantry, basically continuing Park Chung Hee’s strategic line – instead of, for example, following the example of Norway, where the import dependency ratio in agriculture is only 50%. What sort of ecological consequences the turning of some selected areas (like the metropolitan region) into huge industrial estates cum apartment villages, and making the rest of the country a sparcely populated territory will have, I can only guess….


John D. Ford’s Korea

Filed under: — Owen @ 9:21 pm Print

For readers interested in more early Western views of Korea and Koreans in a similar vein to those that Konrad has looked at in his series of posts here, Thomas Duvernay has posted chapters on Korea from John D. Ford’s 1905 travelogue An American Cruiser in the East at his website. (Actually the rest of his site on traditional Korean archery looks interesting too.) Good on him for putting this stuff out there for everyone to access.

Here’s a passage on Seoul that interested me since I am working on late Chosŏn commerce:

The shops are mean, and it is difficult to find fancy articles of Korean make. The best way to obtain curiosities is to let your wants be known as soon after your arrival as possible, name a place and date where you can be seen, and you will be waited upon by merchants who deal in such wares. Fans, antique metal-work, Korean coins and mats can be obtained in this way. The prices will be high, as the articles are rare and the owners not anxious to part with them.

It should be noted that by 1905 the merchants of Seoul had suffered from one blow after another (inflation, the collapse of government finances, loss of monopolies, massive currency devaluation and competition from Japanese and Chinese traders) so things may have been different had the author arrived some years earlier in the capital.


Hankyoreh on the return of cultural artifacts

Filed under: — Owen @ 11:30 am Print

Korea Times reports on another long-running dispute over the return of historical documents taken from Korea – in this case those taken from the Oe-Kyujanggak (Outer Royal Library) by the French in 1866. Apparently Korean scholars are unhappy about the fact that the South Korean PM has agreed with her French counterpart that the stolen documents can be exhibited in Seoul regularly as this may imply a weakening of the resolve to get them back permanently.

Original post
The English edition of the Hankyoreh newspaper has an editorial today praising the recent return of 47 volumes of an edition of the Veritable Records of the Chosŏn Dynasty (朝鮮王朝實錄) to Korea from Tokyo University. The edition was originally taken to Japan by the first governor-general of colonial Korea, Terauchi Masatake, but most of the 1,000 volumes were burnt in the fire that followed the Kanto Earthquake of 1923. It has been returned as the result of a civil society based campaign rather than government action.

A couple of interesting facts emerge from the editorial that I didn’t know before. One is that the Korea-Japan Treaty of 1964, negotiated by Park Chung-hee, specifically promised not to pursue the return of cultural items taken by Japan. This seems particularly ironic considering Park’s later very strong turn to a policy of cultural nationalism.

The other is the concrete figures it provides for Korean cultural artifacts overseas: 74,434 (confirmed items) of which 46 percent are in Japan. This got me to thinking about what this might mean in comparative terms. Is Korea significantly worse off than other countries around the world in terms of how much of its ‘national heritage’ has leaked out? Is it worse off than other developing countries or other former colonies? Are there more Indian, Greek, Nigerian or Iraqi cultural artifacts overseas? And what about Japan? As you can probably tell, I don’t know the answers to any of these questions.


Into the archives

Major source material publication projects for premodern history

A bit of a change of pace here, but I thought I’d share a bit of the information I’ve gathered from working on cataloguing Korean books in the library here at SOAS. Of course if you are uninterested in premodern Korean history or have a low boredom threshold this would probably be a good time to click away.

I’ve posted before about accessing the major Chosŏn dynasty annals online. These have formed the backbone of studies on premodern Korean history during the last few decades, but now it seems the emphasis is moving toward more detailed research using archival sources. What I mean by archival sources are all the surviving public and private documents from the Chosŏn period that tend to be called komunsŏ (古文書) in Korean. These sources are becoming increasingly available to researchers through a number of massive compilation and publication projects being carried out by some of the main organisations in Korea responsible for promoting the study of Korean history: namely the Academy of Korean Studies (韓國學中央硏究院); the National History Compilation Committee (國史編纂委員會); the Kyujanggak library of Seoul National University (奎章閣); and the Korean Classics Research Institute (民族文化推進會).

Below I will look in turn at the collections that each of these institutions is publishing and what they offer for historians. If anyone knows of any important ones that I have missed out, please feel free to let me know in the comments.

>>Academy of Korean Studies:

Komunso chipsong
Komunsŏ chipsŏng 古文書集成 (76 vols)
A very impressive collection of archival materials, often from the archives of individual clans/families, now at volume 76 and counting. It includes mainly facsimiles of the originals but also some transcribed versions too.

Han’gukhak charyo ch’ongsŏ
Han’gukhak charyo ch’ongsŏ 韓國學資料叢書 (36 vols)
Another very important collection which seems to have reached volume 36. The materials appear to be similar to those in the Komunsŏ chipsŏng collection but I think in this collection there is a greater preponderance of reprinted old books and diaries rather than komunsŏ as such. Among recent volumes are two covering the archives of the Pak family of Matjil village in Kyŏngsang province upon which the groundbreaking book ‘The Farmers of Matjil Village’ (맛질의농민들, 2001) was based.

Hanguk kanch'al charyo sonjip
Hanguk kanch’al charyo sŏnjip 韓國簡札資料選集 (6 vols)
A series of volumes of collected letters including quite a lot written in han’gul (called ŏn’gan 諺簡) which could be very interesting for research into Chosŏn social history. Seems to have reached at least volume 6.

>>National History Compilation Committee:

Hanguk saryo ch'ongso
Han’guk saryo ch’ongsŏ 韓國史料叢書 (47 vols)
This collection appears to be quite a diverse collection of historical documents, including many that are kept in collections outside of Korea. It turned out to be very useful for me as I discovered a whole new cache of documents relating to the topic of my thesis in one of the volumes dedicated to materials kept in Japan. It is also particularly great because most or all of these materials seem to be available online here.


Komunsŏ 古文書 (29 vols)
Straightforwardly enough, this is a series of collections of komunsŏ from the Kyujanggak archives. As one might predict, considering this was once the royal library, about half of them consist of collections of government documents. You can find some more information about the contents of the volumes here.

Kyujanggak charyo ch’ongsŏ I & II 奎章閣資料叢書
Another couple of volumes of materials from the Kyujanggak archives.

>>Korean Classics Research Institute:

Hanguk munjip ch'onggan
Han’guk munjip ch’onggan 韓國文集叢刊 (301 vols?)
I’m not sure whether this one really fits in this category, but it is certainly a publication mega-project that dwarfs the others, being a comprehensive collection of the collected works of Korean literati, or munjip. On the basis of the holdings in our library it seems to have reached volume 301, but it may have got further than that by now.

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