우물 안 개구리


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~


KTX female attendants – “contingent labour” fights back

Filed under: — noja @ 1:33 pm Print

There was a time in Korean labour movement history in the 1970s when it were the female workers who actually led the most militant part of the struggle. The reasons were obvious – while the wages were held generally low and grew on much lower rate than the economy as the whole (in the 1960s, the growth rate for economy were whopping 10%, but for real, inflation-adjusted wages in the manufacturing – modest 2,4% on the annualised basis), the female wages were always lower than the male ones, and military-like systemized bullying on the part of the male supervisors used to make factory life a miserable, constantly humiliating experience. Accordingly, some of the most moving struggles of the 1970s took place on the female-dominated textile factories – KyOngsOng Pangjik (1973) and Tongil Panjik (1978) strikes being the best known ones. In the latter case, the striking female workers were eventually assaulted by their male colleagues (?), beaten and showered with human excrements. Their response? On the Easter, 1978, they came to the public worship place on YOUido Square and succeeded in taking microphone for 5 minutes and shouting to the city and world – “우리는 똥을 먹고 살 수 없다!”. Of course, more beatings and arrest followed immediately, but the phrase ended becoming a tale-telling slogan of the female labour movement.

Now, I feel sometimes that the 1970s are returning, in a way. After 1997 crisis, females were first to be sacrificed on the altar of Washington consensus and “national interests” – put on contract (many of the contracts for tellers at the large malls, for example, are for 3 months or even 1 month), send to work on much worse conditions for a subcontractors, to which large part of the tasks was now “farmed out”, “re-employed” by some shadowy intermediary with proporationate part of the salary being withheld “for introduction”, and “flexibilized” in a million other methods, too diverse and creative to describe here. Now, 70% of Korea’s female workforce is “contingent” and “flexible”, on short-term contracts, subcontracted or supplied by “manpower agencies” – a world record of sorts. The women fought back, and the most protracted and bitter of all the struggles witnessed so far by the 2000s is the marathon strike by KTX (express train) female attendants – now well over 500 days and showing so far no signes of coming to an end. Below is the text of the appeal for their sake, prepared in its English form by a group of Korean female professors and sent to me by Prof. Na YungyOng (Culture Studies, Yonsei University):


On March 1, 2006, approximately four hundred women who work as train attendants (similar to flight attendants) on the KTX “bullet train” began a strike to demand the end of discriminatory and unjust outsourcing practices of the Korea Railroad Corporation (KORAIL). Despite KORAIL’s promise that workers hired under short-term contracts via an external company would be granted permanent status as direct employees of KORAIL after one year, the KTX Crew Workers Branch Union’s demands for direct and permanent employment have yet to be met.

To date, the KTX Crew Workers’ Branch Union’s struggle is the longest and most bitterly waged fight by women workers in the history of Korea. For over 500 days, women who work as train attendants on the KTX bullet trains have held public rallies and marches, occupied buildings, lectured in classrooms, and conducted outreach on the streets and at train stations throughout the country. KORAIL’s continued refusal to meet the union’s demands for gender equality, safe working conditions and secure employment have led union leaders to engage in desperate measures to expose the unjust and unequal conditions under which they are forced to work. After exhausting every tactic, 31 union members began a hunger strike on July 2, 2007. As the hunger strike surpasses its 14th day, many union members have been rushed to the hospital..

Despite KTX’s sleek and high-tech image as the fifth fastest “bullet train” in the world, it is the site of blatant sexism and labor abuse. Of those train attendants who are irregularly employed under outsourcing agreements, the majority are women. In contrast, their male counterparts who perform comparable duties are directly employed by KORAIL as “team leaders.” Simply by being women, KTX train attendants are subject to lower wages, harsher working conditions, and heightened job insecurity. In addition, women workers face the perpetual threat of dismissal if they speak out against unfair conditions and sexual harassment in the workplace.

According to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, KORAIL’s treatment of KTX female train attendants is a clear example of gender discrimination and a basic violation of human rights. The National Human Rights Commission has strongly recommended that striking KTX women workers be granted fair and just conditions of employment. The South Korean Minister of Labor, the legal community, various media outlets, 500 university professors, 300 members of the literary community and a wide cross section of NGOs including the Korea Women’s Association United, Lawyers for Democratic Society, People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, Korea Women Workers Association United, and the People’s Coalition for Media Reform have also called upon KORAIL to reinstate the striking workers as directly hired employees, not as contingent workers contracted through a third party. However, KORAIL continues to disregard this overwhelming public outcry.

KORAIL, the nation’s largest public enterprise and employer of over 30,000 people, refuses to abide by the most basic and fundamental standards of fairness and equality. KORAIL’s actions violate South Korean laws that prohibit all forms of discrimination, as well as international standards established by the ILO to protect the rights of workers. KORAIL is also failing to comply with the international standards that the company itself pledged to uphold when it joined the UN Global Compact in May 2007.

KORAIL’s blatant violation of the basic principles of democracy and human rights deserve international criticism. KORAIL’s actions are indicative not only of the pervasive inequality facing contingent workers in South Korea, but also of systemic gender discrimination in South Korea. We urge the international community to stand in solidarity with the KTX Crew Workers in its brave fight for justice. We respectfully request your signature on this petition letter in support of the KTX women workers. This letter will be sent to President Roh Moo-hyun and UN Secretariat General Ban Ki-moon, as well as to the CEO of KORAIL.”

The letter of the appeal is enclosed below. Dear friends, if you think that the cause of the KTX workers is worthy, I beg you to sign it and return with you sign to ktxworkers@gmail.com (please, indicate your position and affiliation). More info in Korean is available at: http://ktxworkers.blogsome.com. This thing is URGENT, since only the Almighty knows how long the hunger strikers will be physically able to hold on.


Sell yourself

Filed under: — Owen @ 7:09 am Print

“Selling yourself” – one of those phrases we use in a somewhat metaphorical sense, but which nonetheless has a more literal meaning than we probably give it credit. In modern capitalist society, where pretty much anything can be commodified, we regularly sell our labour to others. To put this another way, we alienate part of ourselves in order to get the cash that we need to sustain ourselves. But in precapitalist societies such as Chosŏn, it was possible not just to sell part of oneself on a temporary basis but to sell oneself whole, to alienate one’s own body in perpetuity.

I recently came across some information about the Chosŏn practice of ‘self sale’ (chamae 自賣) in volume 3 of the brilliant Chosŏn sidae saenghwalsa (History of everyday life in the Chosŏn dynasty) series, in the section on ‘famine foods’ (구황식품, 굶주림을 해결하라, pp. 196-217):

During repeated famine years, when people’s livelihoods became uncertain, some starving peasants sold themselves and their wives and children as slaves in order to guarantee at least some level of subsistence. The document created for this purpose was called a chamae mun’gi (contract of self-sale).

Here is an example of such a document, dating from 1815, from Andong in Kyŏngsang Province:

Contract of self-sale
(Source: Donga Ilbo).

Interestingly, there is still a word used in everyday Korean which is clearly related to this practice and the more general Chosŏn practice of buying and selling slaves as commodities: momkap (몸값), literally ‘body-price’. Although nowadays it is used to mean the price of a prostitute or the cost of a ransom.

Actually, a project I’m currently working on has led me to think quite a bit about the question of slavery in Korean history. For anyone who is interested in a short and clear introduction to this topic, and the quite fierce debates that surround it, I would highly recommend reading the late James Palais’ essay ‘Slave society’ in the small booklet published in 1998 by Yonsei University under the title Views on Korean Social History. I seem to recall that there are one or two people in the US working on the subject of slavery in Chosŏn history for their PhD research, but I can’t remember who they are. Perhaps someone can enlighten me… And while I’m asking for enlightenment, perhaps our fellow mainland and archipelagan froggers would know whether similar practices of ‘self-sale’ can be found in Chinese and Japanese history.


“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.


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….


Manifesto from the Suyu Research Institute on the S.Korea-USA FTA plans – The Twilight of Empire?

Filed under: — noja @ 5:07 am Print

Dear colleagues,

Below I put the English text of the manifesto penned by two of the most promising post-nationalist scholars I know in South Korea, namely Dr. Ko Byeong-gweon (고병권) and Prof. Yi Jin-gyeong (이진경), both affiliated with Suyu Research Institute – an autonomous community of post-nationalist scholars, many of whom are working on the early modern period. The manifesto, dealing with the pressing issue of the planned conclusion of the FTA (Free Trade Agreement) between ROK and USA, raises questions, which are of great significance for the whole “progressive” (use this word for the lack of a better term) movement in South Korea (and elsewhere). What is the real strategy beyond promotion of the FTA by the empire in (arguably, terminal) decilne? Why does the ruling bureaucracy in South Korea prefer to ally itself economically, in the form of FTA, with the “old”, declining hegemon, instead of making the best out of its growing interdependence with the new, regional hegemonic force? Will the logic of almost unconditional support for Pres. Roh’s camp, simultaneously pursuing the strategy of co-optation of North Korean bureaucracy and following the imperial agenda on the FTA issue, divide and split the left-nationalist camp into “unification activists” (playing down their anti-US sentiments so far the USA does not harm Pres. Roh seriously) and an “anti-American group”? I personally do not agree with some of the theses proposed by Dr. Ko and Prof. Yi, but the manifesto is an interesting and thought-provoking reading, showing very well the directions of “progressive” thought in S.Korea today.

Vladimir (Pak Noja)



Thoughts on Yusin

Filed under: — jiyulkim @ 3:42 am Print

Readers here might be interested in giving thoughts about a query and my comment regarding Yusin on the Korean Studies Discussion List by Dr. Alon Levkowitz.

His query: I would like to consult the group about a word – Yushin (Yusin). Was the term Yushin for the yushin constitution under Park’s regime was chosen for a specific goal. Does the word, without the problematic applications of the constitution by Park, means positive or negative?

Other comments:

Don Baker: I’m surprized that no one else on this list pointed out this time around that Park Chung-hee may have borrowed the word “Yusin” from the Japanese. The same two Chinese characters were used to characterize the “restoration” of imperial rule in Japan in 1868. Gari Ledyard pointed out in a message to this list in 2000 that Park may not necessarily have been imitating the Japanese, since those two characters have long been used in China in the positive sense of revitalizing reforms. However, given Park’s experience in the Japanese military, I’d be surprized if he were ignorant of that relatively recent Japanese use of that term. I suspect he used that term to show that he wanted to do with Korea what the Meiji oligarchs did with Japan, that is, turn it into a rich and powerful nation.

Ruediger Frank: on a side note, I was always struck by the similarities between the Saemaeul Undong (New Village Movement), evolving around the same time as the Yushin Constitution, and Mao’s Cultural Revolution. If you read some of Park Chung-hee’s speeches from that time, he stops short of talking about “the most beautiful characters” that could only be written “on a blank sheet of paper”, to paraphrase the Great Helmsman who wanted to erase all traces of old thought to make room for new thinking in the minds of his Chinese subjects. Park, too, emphasizes the alleged “backwardness” of Koreans and their attitudes and calls for a thorough
ideological modernization. Institutionalists such as Clarence E. Ayres would say that he tried to fight ceremonialism and supported technlogical dynamism. On a smaller scale, this is a process that repeats itself quite frequently in Korean politics until present time. The renaming of political parties, for example, is one expression of this continuous desire to “renew” or “revitalize”. The official slogan “Dynamic Korea” fits perfectly into this way of looking at the issue.

Another: I understand the meaning of “Yushin” under the umbrella of the revitalising reforms undertaken during the 70′s decade, meaning an increase of the heavy industry. The word itself does not entail negative, evenmore, it has a positive meaning: renewing, revitalising

Another: General Park Chung-hee introduced Yushin or the “Revitalizing Reform” system, which legitimized the authoritarian-led development. People were fed up with the Yushin system and student demonstrators in 1979 intensified in the latter half of the year with labour and student demonstrations in the Pusan and Masan areas which was later called the “Pu-Ma Uprising.” The Yushin system led to economic instability and unrest, which cumulated in Park’s assassination in October 1979. Park’s assassination led to calls by students and laborers for
the abolition of the Yushin system and direct elections. Such hopes were dashed when at the end of 1979 when General Chun Do-hwan and Roh Tae-Woo seized power from the interim government through a coup d’etat.

My comments:

I base comments on my current dissertation work that posits that South Korea’s response to a profound period of crisis between 1968 and 1972 led to a concerted program of national spiritual and material mobilization that created the modern South Korean and South Korea. One source I have consulted extensively is the diplomatic archives that only recently became available. I also conducted a close study of how this process operated in one local region, Kangwon province.

The term Yusin (I prefer the M-R spelling), as it relates to the Yusin Constitution (YC) (and this is the common understanding among scholars and the average South Korean), must be seen as a specific historical issue rather than in some generic way as suggested by Drs. Baker and Ruediger. It was a specific response to a specific circumstances of national crisis. Other studies have suggested a similar process at work in other nations – a deliberate effort to mobilize the nation’s physical and spiritual resources and restore/revitalize/renovate the nation in the face of profound internal and external crisis. Two quick examples spanning time and space: Lynn Hunt’s work on the French Revolution and Frederick Dickinson’s study of Japan’s response during WW I. The U.S. has gone through this process a number of times in its history, most recently and currently as result of 9/11 (President Bush’s emphasis on the moral dimension of America’s tasks and challenges is very much in synch with history’s examples).

When YC was instituted in 1972 it was done so as a response by Park (PCH) to a profound period of national crises, real and perceived, that began in early 1968. Internally and externally the world order and the desired course of internal development upon which PCH based his long range plans for nation building all seemed to crumble. The symbolic and psychological impact to SK of three incidents in Jan 1968 can be compared to the impact of 9/11 for the U.S.: NK Blue House raid (1/21), seizure of USS Pueblo (1/23), and the Tet Offensive in Vietnam (1/31). Jan 68 was SK’s 9/11.

Internally, ordinary South Koreans seemed to be getting restless, socially and politically, on the laurels of the success of the first Five Year Development Plan (1962-66). In 1967 NK stepped up its campaign to destabilize SK (decision made by Kim Il-sung in late 1966). Nixon’s detente policy and specifically his decision to visit and establish relations with China, coming as it did when SK social-economic-political situation was becoming increasingly troubled, seems to have been the final straw. By the end of 1972 PCH perceived SK’s circumstances as dire: there were domestic troubles a plenty, but the external situation was even more compelling: NK provocations, betrayal of Taiwan by US and Japan, betrayal of Vietnam, rise of NK’s legitimacy (because of China’s stature), and potential betrayal of SK by US (Guam doctrine and troop withdrawal, reduction of aid, etc.).

In the “crumbling” regional situation of 1971/72, the image of a weak Korea dominated by the Great Powers at the end of the 19th century with disastrous results was often evoked. Internal documents show that this was not simply rhetoric, but believed at the highest levels. The establishment of national mobilization movements during this period was thus directly the result of the perceived crises: most importantly the Homeland defense reserve force & system in 1968, and the Saemaul Movement in 1971. Both concepts had been in working for some time but it was Both of these movements must also be seen more importantly as spiritual mobilizations, one that was joined by other moral suasion campaigns.

One dimension of this history that may be of specific interest to Dr. Levkowitz is the role that Israel played, materially but more importantly as a symbol. Much of this thought is based on the recently declassified documents on SK-Israel contacts as well as public rhetoric. Israel resonated deeply for PCH and seemingly for ordinary South Koreans. Both modern states were founded in 1948, both were small and surrounded by powerful threats, and both were poor in natural resources and thus human resources were emphasized. On a different dimension, and one that continues to operate today, is a religious one. The spread of Christianity made the land of Bible significantly meaningful. Some Koreans even imagined a shared heritage liking the Koreans to the Jews of the Exodus. Other nations occupied a similar symbolic position such as Switzerland, but Israel was the most powerful, not only because of this “shared” history and circumstances, but Israel’s stunning victory in the Six-Day War (June 67) made a deep impression on the success of the Israel nation building project. It must be said that Israel also seemed to have looked at SK in a special way. It was one of the first nation to send assistance when the Korean War broke out (a modest amount of medical supplies, but diplomatic documents show that it was never forgotten and had a deep symbolic significance). We must remember that Israel was mounting an international effort to establish ties with nations in competition with the Arab nations. There were embarrassingly few who chose Israel over the oils and markets provided by the infinitely larger Arab community. Despite the resonant symbolism of Israel SK practiced pragmatic diplomacy simply because Israel’s one UN vote was less important than the dozen or more Arab UN votes in the days when the Korea Question came up for annual referendum at the UN, but that’s another story. On a material level I just want point out that the Israeli reserve and the kibbutz system were used as models for SK’s Homeland reserve system and the establishment of “strategic villages” near the DMZ (the strategic village system in Manchuria during the colonial period also probably served as a model although I have not found any direct evidence of that linkage – it is plausible given PCH’s service in Manchuria).

So, to answer Dr. Levkowitz’s first question, yes “Yusin” was chosen for the specific goal of national restoration/renovation/revitalization that was seen, by 1972, as vital for national survival and continued construction. The need to fight and build simultaneously was neatly summarized in a popular slogan of the time that exists in many variations “fight while you build and build while you fight.”

With regard to Dr.Levkowitz’s second question, on the valuation of the term, my opinion is that it is quite ambiguous and divided especially among South Koreans. On the one hand, the searing memory of the mobilization campaigns (spiritual, physical, material) and the oppression and suppression of dissent and democracy created an instant connection between “Yusin” and dictatorship and oppression of the people (minjung). On the other hand, in as much as most South Koreans still say that PCH was the one person most responsible for South Korea’s development and that the Saemaul movement was the most important national project that contributed to development, Yusin may not have such polemical and essentialized negative connotation. There is a certain sense of “well, it was necessary then.”

This brings me to my final point and one of my biggest challenges in the dissertation. The perception of national crisis and that the measures (mobilization, Yusin) taken were appropriate seem to have been shared by the people. For now I can only suggest circumstantial and indirect evidence for this for now: the “success” of South Korea’s development that can only happen with national effort, the retrospective and relatively positive evaluation of PCH in current polls (it is no accident in these terms that PCH became a powerful symbol of what South Korea had to do in response to the 97 financial crisis), the relative absence of resistance in “ordinary” places like Kangwon province (indeed there seemed to have been wide support, but Kangwon can also be seen as a smaller version of the national crisis because it was the target of most of the NK incursions, it was one of the least developed areas,and it lacked a powerful political patron in Seoul). One emerging discourse in SK is the notion of mass/popular dictatorship, one that has been directly influenced by recent studies on European fascism. The thesis of course,and simplified, is that the authoritarian rulers were able to stay in power because the people allowed it. I think there is a significant measure of truth in this.

An aside on NK: It should also be pointed out that at about the same period, late 60s and early 70s, NK also went through a similar period of perceived national crisis (Mitchell Lerner’s book on the Pueblo Crisis has a succinct treatment of this in a chapter) and responded essentially in identical manner – the need to simultaneously fight and build.

RE: Prof Baker’s comment on Yusin and Meiji ishin, it is precisely because of the above situation that his speculation that he suspects “he [PCH] used that term to show that he wanted to do with Korea what the Meiji oligarchs did with Japan, that is, turn it into a rich and powerful nation.” is I think off the mark. If Prof. Baker’s thought is correct why didn’t PCH evoke the term much earlier in his regime? As far as I know there is not yet any historical evidence of a conscious connection with Meiji ishin. I suspect Prof. Ledyard’s analysis is closer to the mark, the use of a long existing and accepted traditional term and concept.

Jiyul Kim



Filed under: — Owen @ 1:34 pm Print

Just a nugget of information I thought I might throw out to our readers, all comments or reflections are welcome:

It seems that unskilled wage labourers in late Chosŏn Seoul were paid a real wage at a similar level to their contemporaries in London and Amsterdam (about 140-160kg of rice per month). The workers of Paris, Vienna and Istanbul, by contrast, were remunerated at about half of that level. Of course, if this (highly approximate) comparison of wages is at all accurate, the obvious question is why this was the case. Perhaps a shortage of labour in Chosŏn Seoul? Or a result of the fact that most labourers were employed by the state, where paternalistic, Confucian ideas of moral economy prevented it from squeezing workers too much?

This information comes from an article in the collection edited by Lee Young-hoon: 수량경제사로 다시 본 조선후기 [Re-examining Late Chosŏn through Quantitive Economic History]. The article, entitled 서울의 숙련 및 미수련 노동자의 임금, 1600-1909 [Wages of skilled and unskilled labourers in Seoul, 1600-1909], is by Pak I-t’aek. You can find the note on comparative wages on page 85.

Actually, this book as a whole is one that I cannot recommend highly enough for anyone who is interested in Korean economic history (although I suppose that you have to be the sort of historian – like me – who gets more excited by seeing lots of charts and tables than by reading about battles or revolutions). When it came out in autumn 2004 it seems to have generated quite a bit of interest in the Korean press. One article from Yonhap highlighted the fact that the book reveals that the Korean peninsula was already heavily deforested in the nineteenth century (“한반도 산림은 이미 19세기에 벌거숭이”). An interview with Lee Young-hoon in Chosun Ilbo, on the other hand, focused on his opinion that by the nineteenth century the Chosŏn dynasty was collapsing of its own accord (“19세기 朝鮮은 체력 다해 스스로 무너졌다”). All this attention probably shows just how important this book is to Korean historiography, but I think it’s just the beginning of a new wave of history writing of this sort.

새해 복 많이 받으세요!


Demands of the Tonghak Rebels

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 1:42 am Print

Some fifteen years ago in a Journal of Korean Studies article entitled “The Conservative Character of the 1894 Tonghak Peasant Uprising” Lew Young Ick argued that the famous Tonghak Peasant Uprising of 1894 was not in fact an “anti-feudal (social) revolution” but had strong traditional and Confucian characteristics. The article focuses primarily on a discussion of the background of one of the uprising’s most important leaders, Chŏn Pongjun, and argues that 1) Chŏn consistently identifies himself as a Confucian scholar-gentry, has a Confucian background and education and cultivated ties with the highly conservative Taewŏn’gun 2) Chŏn’s writings during the rebellion uses strong traditional Confucian language and 3) Rebel documents from the uprising use similarly traditional language, and it is difficult to detect any “anti-feudal” or egalitarian language in these documents. Instead the rebels are dedicated to the Yi political order and uses the kind of language, common in many previous rebellions, arguing against specific taxes and widespread corruption, albeit imbued with a strong anti-foreign element.

There are several ways one might argue against this article, which is not the point of this posting. One might, for example, argue that focusing on Chŏn or even the official documents of the rebel goals which were presented to the government doesn’t get you far in rejecting the thesis that the strong egalitarian elements of the Tonghak religious movement, especially after Ch’oe Sihyŏng takes control of it, and other ideological elements among the peasant supporters are important factors in mobilizing support for the rebellion. I’m simply not in a position to argue either way in this debate.

However, one thing of interest which Yew objects to is that “Post-1945 historians almost universally cite” (166) a twelve point document declaring the goals of the rebellion as evidence of its “radical or revolutionary nature”:

1. Eliminate the long-standing mistrust between Tonghak believers and the government in dealing with problems of administration.
2. Investigate the crimes of venal and corrupt officials and punish the guilty severely.
3. Punish men of wealth who owe their fortunes to high-handed extortionate practice.
4. Discipline those yangban in or out of office whose conduct is improper.
5. Burn all documents pertaining to slaves.
6. Rectify the treatment of those engaged in the “seven despised occupations”…and free the paekchŏng outcasts once and for all from the wearing of their distinctive “P’yŏngyang hat”
7. Permit the remarriage of widows.
8. Ban all arbitrary and irregular taxes.
9. In employing officials, break the pattern of regional and class discrimination and appoint men of talent.
10. Punish those who collaborate with the Japanese
11. Cancel all outstanding debts owed to government agencies and private individuals.
12. Distribute land equally for cultivation by owner-farmers (Lew 165-6)

This is some great material! It is full of progressive and modern enlightenment propositions. The problem is, says Lew, that “this program cannot be regarded as authentic.” (166) It comes from O Chi-yŏng’s authobiographical memoir published in 1940 and Lew refers to it as something of a “historical novel” written in the late 1930s when there were strong socialist ideas popular in colonial Korea. More importantly, the rest of the article shows other important rebel documents contemporary to the uprising which bear little or no resemblance to this document.

In an introductory text on Korean history (that I’m reading in order to improve my horrible Korean) called 함께 보는 한국근현대사 and published by the 역사학연구소 just last year in 2004, I found this morning that the only document which is quoted in its description of the Tonghak rebellion has this very familiar looking list of twelve demands:

1. 도인과 정부 사이에는 묵은 감정은 씻어 버리고 서정에 협력한다.
2. 탐관오리의 죄목은 조사하여 하나하나 엄징한다.
3. 횡포한 부호들은 엄징한다
4. 불량한 유림과 양반들은 징벌한다.
5. 노비문서를 태워 버린다.
6. 칠반천인의 대우를 개선하고 백정 머리에 씌우는 평양갓을 벗게하다.
7. 청춘과부의 재혼을 허락한다.
8. 무명잡세는 모두 폐지한다.
9. 관리 채용은 지벌을 타파하고 인재 위주로 한다.
10. 외적과 내통하는 자는 엄징한다.
11. 공사채를 막론하고 지난 것은 모두 무효로 한다.
12. 토지는 평균으로 분작하게 한다. (역사학연구소 ed. 51)

If the document is highly problematic (in a memoir from 1940) and there are other documents contemporary to the rebellion, why is this still being used (this book’s introduction claims to incorporate “new trends” in the historiography, although I really know little about it or the authors, I picked it up almost at random in a Seoul bookstore)? Some of these other documents, of course, show almost none of these enlightenment features, but speak of “fulfill[ing] the duties of loyalty and filial piety” and of “strengthen[ing] moral relationships, rectify[ing] the names and roles, and realiz[ing] the teachings of the Sages.” (167) Another document cited by Lew focuses almost entirely on eliminating corruption and addressing very specific tax and economic related concerns – features common to many pre-modern rebellions around the world. (171)

If the progressive and/or revolutionary egalitarian aspects of the important Tonghak uprising can be shown with other evidence, perhaps the mention of the uprising goals in these official documents should be dropped entirely?

Lew, Young Ick. “The Conservative Character of the 1894 Tonghak Peasant Uprising: A Reappraisal with Emphasis on Chon Pong-jun’s Background and Motivation.” The Journal of Korean Studies 7 (1990): 149-180.

Powered by WordPress