우물 안 개구리


Police Torture in Egypt and 1987 Korea

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 1:08 am Print

Historical comparisons can open up new exciting ways of understanding events that have become trapped by a dominant narrative, or proposing solutions to pressing current issues. We do, however, have to be very careful when we juxtapose highly distinct clusters of events. As I have watched things in Egypt unfold (I emerged from my own research having missed Tunisia) the democracy movement in South Korea has constantly been on my mind, but some connections are more helpful than others. If forced to connect the dots, Jo Gap-je’s linking Jeon Du-hwan (전두환) with Mubarak and No Tae-u (노태우) with vice president Omar Suleiman playing a transitional role is easy to make but the comparison is deeply problematic in both descriptive and normative terms. Nor is a making a connection between the Muslim Brotherhood and Korean Christians useful in understanding the roles either played in protests.1

There are a whole number of questions, both small and large, we could ask about Egypt now and Korea in the late 1980s that might help us both better tackle general phenomena as well as understand the two historical moments in their own right. What is the role of the politics of self-immolation?2 How important is the symbolic power of specific physical spaces such as Tahrir square or Myeongdong cathedral? How do we evaluate the rapidly changing and internally divided US policies towards its authoritarian allies? How important are highly organized movements in these moments? How is middle class support gained in each case? In this posting I wish to explore another one of the issues where I think there are deep parallels between the Egyptian January 25 uprising and the momentous spring of 1987 in Korea: the role of police torture and brutality.

The Most Serious Eventuality

A CIA report from April, 1980, included this observation in its evaluation of the potential for unrest in South Korea:

Should a bloody confrontation develop, the most serious eventuality would be the death of a student at the hands of the police or military. Government officials are all too aware that it was the police killing of a high school student in Masan in 1960 that provided the student movement with a martyr, solidifying student opposition to the Rhee government, which led to Rhee’s eventual downfall.

Only a few weeks later a popular uprising in Gwangju was met with massacre, and followed by several years of renewed state oppression. The first fatality at the hand of paratroopers in the city, Kim Gyeong-cheol, contributed to an explosion in support for the protests.

The death of protesters would time and time again provide such martyrs. Byron Engle, who helped retrain police in US occupied Japan after World War II and for decades led controversial US training programs for police around the world, advised departments against using bayonets in riot control (advice apparently not heard by soldiers in Gwangju). His reason for wanting to remove these fixed knives from crowd control was more cynical. It was too easy, he argued, for a Marxist agitator to “push a demonstrator onto one” and thereby gain an instant martyr for the cause.3

Police torture and brutality tends to simmer for much longer. It is notoriously difficult to prove, especially when police use techniques that leave little mark.4 It is also double sided. Police torture can be a powerful weapon of intimidation by an authoritarian regime. It is not only used to extract confessions or reveal information; in both in Egypt and in South Korea it has been deployed as a form of punishment and to spread fear among those who challenge the state. Suspects might not even be processed, but instead given a thorough beating for a few hours or days and then released.5 To generate this deterrent fear impact, it need not be used in all or even a majority of cases, thus promoting deniability.

However, if the timing and circumstances are right, revelations about just one or a few cases of brutal torture at the hands of the police, especially if it results in the death of a prisoner, can have an effect that is arguably more powerful and long lasting than the death of a single or several protesters. Since these actions take place away from the chaotic and violent interactions on the front lines of a political demonstration, they cannot be dismissed as tragic accidents, but come to serve as a symbol of the systemic failures of the regime. Since revelations of police torture and brutality are often accompanied with shocking details of attempts to cover-up the brutality, they become a bitter cocktail of violence and corruption waiting to be set on fire.

One of the most famous Korean examples of this can be found leading up to the mass protests of June 1987: the torture and killing of Pak Jong-cheol. Before his death in January, the nation was already following another case throughout the previous year. The first woman to step forward and bring suit in accusations of police sexual torture, Kwon In-suk, had an especially powerful impact on the mobilization of women but was accused by the government of being a lying Communist sympathizer and cruelly humiliated in the censored press.6 In the tense January days that followed Jeon Du-hwan’s 1987 New Year’s policy message and tense debates on constitutional reforms, news emerged of the death in police custody of Seoul National University student Pak Jong-cheol (박종철 Pak Jung Chul). Officials announced he had fainted during questioning and died of “shock” but relatives who attended the autopsy immediately made accusations of torture. Anger and sympathy grew quickly, especially after memorial protests for Pak were held on February 7th and details of his water torture and the police cover-up emerged in May, leading directly to the resignation of the Prime Minister at the time, No Sin-yeong.

The outrage over the killing of Pak Jong-cheol went well beyond those already in the protests and sparked sympathy for the students throughout society, especially among parents. It also helped to mobilize students who had stubbornly refused to join the protests, including one Korean friend of mine who had up to then, “only smelled tear gas when it came through the windows of my classroom.” Another activist remembers the impact of the revelations about the Pak case, “From that moment on, I knew I could not live a normal life like getting married and having kids”7

Pak Jong-cheol Memorial
Students holding Pak Jong-cheol’s Picture

“I want to live in a country without torture”
From Pak Jong-cheol Memorial Protests 1987.2.7
See more pictures from the event here.

Since democracy movements are highly complex events, with a multitude of causes, actors, negotiations, and political changes, a case like the torture and killing of Pak Jong-cheol also provides a convenient marker for use in more compact historical narratives. For example, two 2008 Korean history textbooks for high school students I picked up last time I was in Korea note the importance of the Pak torture case (one with a photo) on their single page of coverage of the 1987 June democracy movement.8

We Are All Khaled Said

I couldn’t help thinking of Pak Jong-cheol when I first heard about the organization, “We Are All Khaled Said” (Arabic) in Egypt. A loose network of activists that formed in mid-2010 after the brutal beating and killing of Khaled Mohamed Saeed by Egyptian police, judged by its (Arabic) Facebook support alone, the group was already the largest human rights organization in Egypt many months before the January 25th uprising. Saeed was beaten to death before he even reached the station, leaving a number of witnesses, and a horrifying photograph that made laughable police claims of an accidental death caused by choking on swallowed drugs.

We Are All Khaled Said began as an organization dedicated to opposing the rampant police torture that has been attacked by Human Rights Watch and in US Department of State human rights reports, though the US has been known to make use of their skills. The organization also collected video clips of Egyptian police torture and organized protests.

Jan 25 RevolutionAs I understand it, following the revolution in Tunisia We are All Khaled Said shifted into new gear, and cooperated closely with other older political organizations such as the April 6 Youth Movement that had experience in mobilizing workers and an emphasis on economic issues. These groups decided to combine their forces and on or around January 15th settled upon the date of January 25th for the beginning of a nationwide uprising. Of these organizations, We are All Khaled Said was the largest and, according to Freedom House researcher Sherif Mansour, “promoted the [initial] event widely and managed to get it to over one million people. They also were the central location for organization, instruction, sharing information and sharing materials could be printed out and distributed by hand.” The Facebook wall postings and event announcements on their site from the time already began to embrace a wider set of issues: unemployment, dictatorship, oppression and fear under the emergency law, and the stagnant economy.9 However, the day chosen was not random: it was Egypt’s annual Police Day – celebrating the police as nationalist heroes by remembering a moment decades ago when their officers stood up against the English colonial oppressor.10 In Youtube clips (2011.1.20, 2010.1.22) posted by the coalition and spread widely on Facebook and twitter, it was the theme of police torture that was most emphasized. One of the videos transitions from patriotic clips of the police fighting the English to scenes of police beatings.

There was no guarantee that Jan 25 would become what it did. Even before the internet was shut down in Egypt, the movement was already an organic force of its own, driven by deep structural circumstances that have been building for years. The protester victories of those first days were in a war fought directly with a clearly despised police force and their triumph was made visible to the world as the Egyptian interior ministry forces almost completely melted away. Torture in their hands, alas, has continued up to day I write this posting. New York times reporters who were detained on Friday were not themselves hurt, but during their short stay, they could hear the sounds of tortured detainees in cells nearby.

As we continue to watch developments in Egypt and calls for a calm and smooth transitional regime, I hope no one will forget that while this takes place, the repressive institution that continues to hold thousands of protesters will be free to continue its practices, especially under a vice president who is no champion against police torture.

Even when there is a clear and unambiguous message sent to police that torture will not be tolerated under any circumstances, it takes years to reform an institution of that size, even without a process of reconciliation or retribution against torturers. That work needs to begin now.

  1. The Korean government did not, for example, frighten its US ally with ominous reports of Christian terrorists waiting in the wings. Beck’s short article can be found with slight modifications half a dozen places online. It mentions a spring 1987 election in the posting, but think this is an error. []
  2. Readers in Boston interested in this might be interested in attending an upcoming Harvard Korea Institute talk by Professor Kim Sun-Chul, on “The Politics of Self-Immolation in South Korea, 1990-2010” I am certainly looking forward to it. []
  3. A. J. Langguth Hidden Terrors (Pantheon Books, 1978), 54. []
  4. Judging from video clips, Egyptian police, for example, apparently like to engage in heavy slapping at the base of the neck or upper back as one of their milder forms of brutality. Does anyone know if this has some cultural significance or is done due to the ratio between pain caused and marks left behind? Also see the powerful arguments on rise of hidden tortures in Darius Rejali, Torture and Democracy (Princeton University Press, 2009) []
  5. On the Korea side, see Jerome A. Cohen and Edward J. Baker “U.S. Foreign Policy and Human Rights in South Korea” in William Shaw, Human rights in Korea: historical and policy perspectives (Harvard Univ Asia Center, 1991), 180. []
  6. The importance of the Kwon case goes beyond the democratization issue and is seen as pivotal in changing Korean views on sexual violence. Chilla Bulbeck, Sex, love and feminism in the Asia Pacific: a cross-cultural study of young people’s attitudes (Taylor & Francis US, 2009), 78. Also Ueno Chizuko argues that the Kwon case was important in motivating former ‘comfort women’ to step forward in the years that followed. Chizuko Ueno and Beverley Yamamoto, Nationalism and gender (Trans Pacific Press, 2004), 71. []
  7. Mi Park, Democracy and social change: a history of South Korean student movements, 1980-2000 (Peter Lang, 2008), 127. When the Korean democracy movement reached a dramatic climax in June 1987, the anger over the martyrdom of Pak was compounded by the ultimately fatal injury of Yonsei student Lee Han-yeol by a direct hit from a tear gas canister on June 9, yielding a photograph that has become one of the most famous in recent Korean history. Both of these cases are important and the Lee Han-yeol image especially can be found invoked by many protest movements in Korea since. []
  8. 김흥수 et al 고등 학교 한국 근 현대사 (천제교육 2008 5th edition, 304 and 한철호 et al 고등 학교 한국 근 현대사 2008 6th edition, 277. Interestingly, neither textbooks mention the death of Lee Han-yeol. []
  9. Here is one of the January 15th calls (screenshot) on Facebook for the January 25th protest. I’m only able to get a general gist through Google translation. []
  10. Korea also has its own annual Police Day on October 21, 경찰의 날. Does anyone know if there were ever a protest movement in Korea which chose the day to protest police torture and brutality? []


Announcements and Encouragements

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 1:12 am Print

While the discussions on the Asia lists have been a bit wooden for a while, other H-Net communities are lively and thriving, and the book reviews are a fantastic resource. Moreover, I know some of the current leadership of H-Net, and I have great confidence that they’ll take it in interesting directions with new technology and new paradigms. That said, though the leadership, editors, reviewers and participants are all volunteers, they still need money for technical support, infrastructure and other expenses, and we can’t rely on state institutions of higher learning for this sort of thing. Donate!

The 2010 Cliopatria Awards for History Blogging nominations are open through November, so there’s still two weeks to riffle through your archives and pick your best work, and your friends’ best work, and the best stuff off your RSS reader. The categories are, as in the past, Best Individual Blog, Best New Blog, Best Group Blog (which we won back in ’05), Best Series of Posts, Best Single Post, and Best Writer (which Alan Baumler won in ’06). I’m judging Best New and Group Blog, so we can’t win that again this year; otherwise, the field for Asianists is wide open! Nominate!

The 2011 ASPAC Conference will be a joint event with the WCAAS Conference, to be held at Pomona College, June 17-19, 2011. In a remarkable feat of organization, the Conference website is already live and accepting paper proposals, though the deadline isn’t until mid-March. The theme is “Asia Rising and the Rise of Asian America” but proposals on all topics in Asian studies are welcome. Submit! (and let me know if you’ll be there; we’ve never had a blogger meet-up at ASPAC before!)


AAS 2010 Blogging: Annexation Centennial

Final exams crash onto my desk tomorrow, but I’m as organized as I can be in advance, so I thought I’d do a little belated AAS blogging, especially about the pair of panels on Saturday commemorating the centennial of Japan’s annexation of Korea and the 50th anniversary of Hilary Conroy’s groundbreaking study of same.


Things I don’t know about Korea, part 2

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 11:05 pm Print

I’m having great fun with this class, but I’m still discovering vast areas of ignorance as we move along:

  • Eunuchs: The Kabo reforms abolish the office of Eunuchs, but how many were there and how important?
  • Seven Day Week? By 1896 there clearly is a seven day week in place, but when was that put in place? Is it part of the Kabo calendrical reforms?
  • The books I’m reading don’t refer to Tonghak and to early Progressives (or conservatives) as “nationalist”: They call them “incipient” and “proto” but won’t actually admit to modern nationalism until 1905 or 1910. Do they think ‘nationalism’ only exists in a modern context, and Korea’s context isn’t modern until some kind of political transition? This seems arbitrary: though Korea may not be modernizing effectively in the 19c, I find it hard to see how Korea’s not pretty well enmeshed in a modern context by, say, 1880. I suppose you could have the ever-popular “is anti-imperialism really nationalism” debate all over again (it’s kind of fun to do with the Boxers, once), but it seems unnecessarily fussy to me, at least on first reading. I don’t see what distinction they’re making and they’re not explaining it, either. We shouldn’t use jargon unless we’re willing to explain it.


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.



School Strikes in Colonial Korea: 1937-1939

Filed under: — Sayaka Chatani @ 9:00 pm Print

I had a chance to look into two primary sources on ‘school strikes (同盟休校)’ (mostly in common schools) in the colonial period of Korea (the Kominka period in particular), and translated some of the records from Japanese to English. The documents I looked at are: 高等外事月報 (朝鮮総督府警務局) and 朝鮮思想運動概況(朝鮮軍). It is quite interesting and I would like to share some of the anecdotes here.

<Students’ Complaints in 1937-1939>
The main complaints throughout these years were about the excessive amount of ‘practice (jisshū)’ classes at the expense of academic training. Many went on strike because they perceived that they were not receiving adequate education or were not provided with qualified teachers. In many of these cases, the quality of education mattered more than ethnicity. To give a few examples;

  • 69 male students out of the total of 80 fourth graders were discontent about the educational policy of the new Japanese principal who emphasized only ‘practice’ classes and disregarded academic courses. The class president and 5 other students gathered all the male students and decided to go on school strike during that week. They carried out the strike the next day. But after the local police and the school caught the six instigators, all the rest attended school the following day. (Kyŏnggi, Common School, May 1937)
  • 32 forth graders went on strike in the hope that the school would hire an additional teacher and reduce the number of self-study hours. The police detected the plan, and dissuaded them from carrying it out. (North Ch’ungch’ŏng, Common School, March 1937)
  • Students were discontent with a Korean teacher of Buddhism and the Korean language for his short temper and ineffective pedagogy. 32 students went on strike for two days. (South Kyŏngsang, Buddhist School, May 1937)
  • Civil engineering students were discontent with the Japanese principal’s decision to hire a new Japanese teacher to replace a resigning Korean teacher since the new teacher lacked adequate educational background. 101 students went for strike, but after the principal explained his intention to promote school reform and discipline by hiring a Japanese teacher, and promised to hire another Japanese teacher with higher technical knowledge, the students were satisfied and resumed attending school. (South Ch’ungch’ŏng, 1939)



Online Registration For the Korean National Archives

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 10:05 am Print

I reported in my recent posting on the Korean National Archives that online registration for the site is broken for all non-Koreans.

This is unfortunate since the National Archives advertises that it is for “everyone” to use. Registration online is required for many of the services provided, including the printing of online documents (which in any case, seems to be broken), and the online requesting of materials and reservations for visits (not necessary, you can go directly there, but this feature was also broken when I tried it with Windows and Internet Explorer).

After reporting this problem to archivists at both the Daejeon and Seoul offices of the National Archives, they appear to have made it possible for foreigners to register. The original English language page (broken) that I reported on seems to have disappeared. Here’s how to register if you are not Korean:

1. Go to the new membership registration page here. You can also reach the page by going to the homepage for the Korean National Archives and pressing 회원가입 in the navigation bar.

2. Press 동의 for the licensing agreement

3. Next you will be presented with a screen that asks you to enter the citizen registration number that Koreans have but foreigners don’t. While there is nothing on this page that suggests this is possible, you do not have to enter anything into the fields for the name or registration number. Simply press the 다음에하기 button and fill out the form on the next page with you personal information and press 확인 when you are done.


Martial Arts and the Korean Colonial Police in 1938

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 4:35 am Print

The relationship between Korean martial arts and Japanese martial arts is usually a touchy one. This is because, like the history of so many other things in modern Korea, it is susceptible to what I like to call the “Colonial Death Touch.”

The Colonial Death Touch works like this. Any practice which can be demonstrated to have its origins in the Japanese colonial period, was reborn during the colonial period partly out of inspiration or imitation of some Japanese practice, or was significantly influenced by similar Japanese practices is ruled to be inauthentic. Inauthentic things, of course, cannot be authentically Korean, and thus risk, at the very least, losing its place in the national cultural or historical repository. At most, it can destroy any popularity such practices might enjoy.

The Colonial Death Touch is sometimes delivered by, for example, Japanese nationalists who want to anger their Korean neighbors. However, it is also often used domestically. For example, practitioners of Korean martial art X might claim that they are superior to martial art Y because they are “pure” Korean while martial art Y is soiled by its evil Japanese roots. I’m sure many readers familiar with Korean martial arts can think of some examples of this.

These sorts of exchanges, whoever their participants might be, are silly childish games of nationalist mudslinging. They depend on a simplistic idea of authenticity, a laughable faith in cultural uniqueness, and a conception of the colonial period as cultural and economic black hole out of which only the bright shining light of Korean national resistance can possibly shine.

One martial art that became popular during the colonial period which remained popular in the postwar period is 검도(劍道, J: Kendō) or swordsmanship. In recent years, perhaps partly due to the ever present threat of the colonial death touch, the martial art has undergone some degree of “Koreanization” while other innovations in technique, uniforms, etc. probably are more simply attributable to the evolution of all such arts across time.

Reaching back to the time of liberation in 1945, however, I did find it remarkable that 검도 seemed to remain particularly popular among the Korean police. Like the popularity of Kendo among the Japanese police down to this present day, Korean police publications from the late 1940s and 1950s show pictures of 검도 practitioners gathered in huge numbers. This is somewhat surprising since the sword of the police in the colonial period was one extremely hated symbol that often gets mentioned in anti-police newspaper articles. The post-Liberation police stopped carrying the sword after a reform of November 8, 1945 and replaced it with a police stick. Admittedly, one could argue that the symbolic weight of a sword carried is different from that of the bamboo 죽도(竹刀 J: Shinai) used by 검도 practitioners, but I find the resilience of 검도 to be impressive and admirable all the same. Others, however, might point to this as yet another expression of the “pro-Japanese” tendencies of the police.

It is not surprising to learn that many Korean police during the colonial period were also working hard at various martial arts. In a 1938 Japanese imperial government report on the colonial police, there is an interesting table listing the number of Japanese and Korean police holding various degrees of skill in three martial arts: Judo (유도), Kendo (검도), and Kyudo (궁도, Japanese archery).1 The degrees are listed by dan beginning with shodan (in some martial arts this is often now called the first degree “black belt”). Below are the number of police holding first degree or higher in the three martial arts for 1938:

  1. 日帝下 戰時體制期 政策史料叢書 第67卷 警察과 思想統制 4(昭和13年 警務要覽 外) p.45 (40 in original report) []


The Korean National Archives

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:06 am Print

I just came back from a day at the Korean National Archives headquarters in Taejŏn (Daejeon) and thought I would share some details of the experience in case someone comes across this posting who will be making the trip down there at some point in the future. I also plan to get around to making a detailed entry on the East Asian Libraries and Archives wiki. Read on for the meat.

Next Page »

Powered by WordPress