우물 안 개구리


Colonial Period School Architectural Archive

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 5:46 am Print

Thanks to a posting at The Marmot’s Hole I learned about a project being undertaken by the National Archives to display a variety of information, archival documents, and media about school architecture during the colonial period. The project home page can be found here:

일제시기 학교건축도면 컬렉션

You can also read more about the 3D materials being put up related to Keijo Imperial University (경성제국대학). Whether in movies like “Radio Days,” commercials with people in colonial-period attire, or projects like this, I think there is a healthy trend of starting to reclaim the colonial period as part of Korean history rather than simply a black hole from which it emerged reborn.

On the technical side it was remarkable to discover that the whole site seems to work fine on non-IE browsers and on a Mac. I can only hope this is also a new trend since full operability with non-IE browsers is almost non-existant in Korea. In fact, one can see the Macintosh imprint on the website itself. Someone who has more time on their hands than I might want to send the project an email and let them know their web designers engaged in a little bit of artistic theft as they nabbed three Macintosh OS icons for their buttons:


Here you can see the icons for three Apple applications that come with every new computer: iMovie, iChat, and iPhoto. As Mac users may recognize, the designers decided to make a few changes to the iPhoto icon, perhaps because the palm tree in the background didn’t fit the website’s theme. Compare to the original here:



Korean War Criminals in the Movement to “Set History Straight”

Filed under: — Sayaka Chatani @ 1:54 am Print

Frog in a Well welcomes a guest posting from Sayaka Chatani on the issue of Korean War Criminals and the difficulty Korean historians have found in addressing them in modern Korean historiography. Sayaka is a PhD student in the History Department of Columbia University. Her research interests are in the transnational history of early to mid-twentieth century East Asia, mainly focusing on the colonization and decolonization of Korea and Taiwan.


Colonial legacies are one of the most hotly debated political issues in South Korea. The phrase “legacies of Japanese imperialism (ilche chanjae)” is ubiquitous in newspapers and in bookstores, and the topic not only triggers controversies among academics, but inspires social movements, and leads the government to adopt policies to resolve the remnant problems.

Among the many controversies surrounding the history of Japan’s colonial rule in Korea, much attention has centered on the question of collaborators. Many Korean historians argue that former pro-Japanese collaborators subsequently prevented Korea’s unification and brought about significant harm to South Korean society. They see punishing them as a prerequisite to restoring a healthy society.1 In the context of ‘setting history straight,’ The South Korean government has confiscated the property of descendants of nine collaborators.2 A presidential fact-finding panel has finished its second investigation to identify the names of pro-Japanese collaborators, and continues working on a third investigation.3

In contrast to their excitement over the issue of collaborators, historians have only given very limited attention and analysis to the issue of Korean war criminals despite the significant number of Koreans put on trial and executed as Japanese prison guards. When a few Japanese and Korean historians do face the issue, they tend to simplify the complex experiences of Korean war criminals to fit the dominant minjung discourse that blames a distinct group of collaborators for betraying the majority of Korean people. The fact that Korean war criminals were both victims and victimizers makes it difficult for nationalist historians to openly discuss the issue.


  1. For example, Ahn Byung-ook, “The Significance of Settling the Past in Modern Korean History,” Korea Journal, Autumn 2002, pp.7-17, and Chung Youn-tae, “Refracted Modernity and the Issue of Pro-Japanese Collaborators in Korea,” Korea Journal, Autumn 2002, pp.18-59 []
  2. New York Times, “World Briefing, Asia: South Korea: Crackdown On Collaborators” May 3rd 2007. []
  3. The Korea Times, “202 Pro-Japanese Collaborators Disclosed.” September 17, 2007 []


檀紀 Conversion Dashboard Widget 1.0

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 11:06 am Print

Here at 우물 안 개구리 we are delighted today to bring you an amazing new tool that will revolutionize your life. Well, at least if you are reading Korean texts or newspapers which put all the dates in 檀紀 years. And you are so mathematically challenged you can’t take a number and subtract 2333 in your head. And you haven’t bothered to memorize the 檀紀 years for the period you are interested in. And you have a Mac with OS X installed. And you can’t be bothered to do the calculation on paper.

Ok, maybe it won’t revolutionize your life, and the potential beneficiaries of this wonderful new product may not earn me a whole lot of karma, but I’m happy to announce the results of 1.5 hours of fiddling with the “Dashcode” developer’s application on a slow Friday night:

The New Frog in a Well 檀紀 Dashboard Widget


It is a thoroughly amateurish job, but if you install this widget, enter the 檀紀 year and press return, it should give you the year in a more familiar form.


Comparing Police Crime Statistics in the 1940s

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 8:58 pm Print

Matt over at Gusts of Popular Feeling has two wonderful postings (1, 2) based on his reading of Agnes Davis Kim’s I Married a Korean.

In the second posting, a considerable amount of the quoted passage given from the book talks about the widespread crime in the early postwar. For example this passage:

But when we arrived in Korea after World War II, everything was different. Through years of hunger and privation, the very nature of Koreans seemed to have changed. The calm dignity and courtesy which had marked them as a gentle people had given way to a defensively aggressive attitude that was often discourteous. Instead of a peaceful, law-abiding atmosphere in which everyone felt secure, the people lived under a constant threat of being robbed of what little they possessed. At night, a man might load his “jiggie” or cart with farm produce to take to market in the morning, only to find it was gone when he awoke and prepared to leave with it. Jars, pans, clothes left on the line to bleach, or anything removable what was left out at night, might be gone in the morning. This was almost unheard of happening during the pre-war days.”

However, the author doesn’t blame this on the disappearance of an orderly Japanese colonial master, but rightly notes one of highly disruptive causes for social instability:

The large amount of thievery which went on was not surprising however. During most of the time we were there under the United States occupation refugees from North Korea came into Seoul at a rate of about three thousand a day. These were people dispossessed of everything except the clothes they wore and what they could carry. So great was the refugee problem that relief facilities could not cope with it.

In the issues of “The Democratic Policeman” (民主警察) that I have been looking at the past few days there are all sorts of, often contradictory, statistics regarding crime in the early postwar period. You can also find wonderfully colorful charts and statistics in US military government publications for comparison.

The second issue of 民主警察 in the summer of 1947 opens with this overview of the crime fighting of the police for crimes including violations of US military orders, fraud, embezzlement, theft, and “other”:

1945.8 – 1945.12:
14,779 cases, 10,088 arrest cases, 12,607 people arrested 69.9% arrest rate reported
101,323 cases, 78,021 arrest cases, 108,793 people arrested 77% arrest rate reported1
36,168 cases, 27,284 arrest cases, 43,507 people arrested 75.4% arrest rate reported2

The rise in the number of cases when extrapolated is, of course, at least partly due to the fact that the Korean National Police, a very sizable number of whom were colonial period police who had fled their posts at liberation in the wake of violence and threats against accused collaborators. They were often only brought back to the job after the US forces arrived in September and were not fully functioning during the first months after August, 1945. In a letter, published in the journal, that the US advisor to the national police, Lt. Col. Harry E. Erikson, wrote to the head of the military government John R. Hodge with an accompanying new issue of the journal, Erikson asks Hodge not to be alarmed at the huge increase in the crime statistics because this merely reflected the “increase of efficiency” in crime reporting by the police.

However, Agnes Davis Kim’s report of the general state of crime and huge flood of refugees should be added to the fact that things were in fact, anything but stable, at least until after the suppression of the people’s committees throughout Korea after the uprisings of autumn, 1946. The starvation and poverty that contribute to the crime rate was also compounded by the division between North and South, US agricultural policies in South Korea, the loss of the Japanese market and supplies, etc.


  1. Note: The 1946 statistics explicitly excluded crimes associated with “large incidents” – Here clearly referring to the hundreds of incidents of burning, looting, and brutal killings associated with the 1946 autumn uprising from late Septebmer to December. []
  2. 民主警察 1.2, in the opening article “해방이주년기념일를맞이하여:國內의治安基礎는鞏固” []


Common Knowledge Test Questions for Korean Police 1947

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 7:41 pm Print

This week, I’m reading through some fascinating issues of the journal of the Korean National Police from 1947-1949 (民主警察). I’m finding its articles to be really useful for my topic and was surprised to see that its pages included contributions by Horace Underwood, Kim Ku, John R. Hodge, as well as leading American military and civilian advisors to the Korean police during the US military occupation in early post-liberation Korea.

There are also some some fun sections that are less directly useful to my dissertation research. Some issues have a section at the back with practice test questions for police officers (the police academy entrance exam or qualifying exam? I didn’t look closely enough to determine what the questions are for).

Here are some of the test questions in the “common knowledge” (常識) section:

Define the following:

貪官污吏 – corrupt officials (UPDATED – see comments)
잔 알 하-지
朝鮮五大島 – the big islands, not the small controversial ones
칼 맑스

Write the Hanja for these words and then define them:

음모 (陰謀) – As in, Communist conspiracy
인류애 (人類愛) – As in, don’t torture your suspects.
전평 (全評 = “全國勞動組合評議會의略稱으로 世界勞聯에加入한左翼勞動團體의一이다”)
훈민정음 (訓民正音)
리(이)순신 (李舜臣)
반탁운동 – The anti-trusteeship movement, protesting US and Soviet trusteeship over Korea active late 1945-1948
배은망덕 (背恩妄德)


Korea: Better than Vietnam, anyway

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 2:58 pm Print

Thomas C. Reeves, perhaps my least favorite HNN blogger, is arguing that the success of South Korea justifies our Middle East policies, especially Iraq. The comparison of Bush to Truman is nothing new, nor is the analogy of Iraq and Korea. But this particular one is quite egregious, and I can’t let it pass without comment. Reeves’ main point — that South Korea is better off than North Korea and that the US had a hand in that — is true, but in such a shallow manner as to be empty rhetoric. His larger theme — that the support for freedom and opposition to tyranny are worthwhile even when unpopular — is also true, but the use of the Korea and Truman raise serious questions.

First, of course, is the sheer hubris of attributing the difference solely to “American influence and protection.” The Korean War was initiated by North Korea in direct action against US/UN troops, not by a US invasion. The US was already in Korea, for good reason, but ham-handedly refusing — as was the Soviet Union — to allow Koreans to determine their own post-colonial path. US involvement in South Korean politics over the quarter-century after the Korean War delayed progress towards democracy, did nothing in particular to promote religious tolerance (unless you count supporting Christian missionaries, which seems a bit self-serving), and I’ve never seen anyone argue that US involvement was particularly good for the Korean economy, either.

The attempt to tar opponents of Bush Administration policy as new McCarthyites — well-intentioned, perhaps, but short-sighted, partisan and hypocritical — ignores literally years of critics saying “it would be good for everyone if we could proceed in a responsible and effective manner.”1 Instead, Reeves pulls out the middle ground, leaving only support for the Administration (who are, according to Reeves, more Trumanesque than Johnsonesque or Kennedyesque or Rooseveltian or Wilsonian….) or “appeasement and retreat for mere political gain.” It’s a short step from this kind of manicheanism to “stabbed in the back” revisionism.

Ultimately, this is a classic case of the political rhetorical use of historical analogies: pick the one which has the most obvious parallel for the result you want to see, and ignore differences.2 It’s irresponsible for a historian to trade in these facile arguments.

  1. e. g. []
  2. Reeves waves it away with “Yes, of course, there are many differences between Iraq and the Middle East today and the Korean peninsula of more than a half century ago.” My students wouldn’t be allowed to get away with that! []


Disparity Studies

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:57 am Print

In my discussion of the job market I said “I only saw two Korea positions, which seems about par for previous years: at some point, though, Korea positions should catch up with Japan ones.” Morgan Pitelka took exception, noting (correctly) that

Other than UCLA, which continues to have one of the most productive Korean studies programs outside of Korea, and perhaps Harvard and Columbia, how many grad schools are cranking out Korean studies PhDs? I also know of only a handful of liberal arts colleges with any substantial Korean studies, and rarely language. Very few regional/MA-granting universities have substantial Korean studies. Almost all have some Japanese studies. Also, as far as I know, few colleges or universities DON’T have access to study abroad in Japan. On the other hand, most colleges and universities don’t have study abroad options in Korea.

He’s absolutely right, of course: Korean studies doesn’t have the infrastructure Japanese studies does in the US1 and that means that — like the painfully slow growth of MidEast studies and Islamic history after 9/11 — it will take real time and effort to build. But that’s a symptom, I think, not the root of the issue. As I said, “Korean history is no less interesting than Japanese history, and the US is no less involved in Korean affairs than it is in Japanese affairs.”

Another commenter, “Overthinker” offered a cultural explanation:

There seem to be three fundamental reasons why Japanese Studies is “bigger” than Korean. One is that WW2 was more significant that the Korean War, and has given us longer-lasting imagery; household words like Pearl Harbour and Hiroshima that everyone knows about, whereas to most people the Korean War is basically Klinger in a dress. Second is the dominance of Japanese products in the marketplace: while LG and Samsung etc are strong players, they have not yet achieved the dominance of Toyota, Sony, and Nintendo. Third is the generally “cooler” images of Japan. Think of Korea, and most Americans would be hard-pressed to think beyond the aforementioned M*A*S*H and perhaps Kim Il Jung singing “I’m so ronery”. Mention Japan and people think of samurai and geisha and ninja, plus robots and giant rubber monsters stomping Tokyo on a regular basis. All these three factors would seem to indicate a greater interest in Japan at the BA level, which translates to bigger graduate programs, and more PhDs in the area. To become bigger, Korea needs to become more popular – more people at the undergrad level need to be curious about the place.

This is closer, I think: I definitely agree that Japan’s lead in economic and cultural production is a part of the puzzle. The relationship between pop culture images and student demand is not always straightforward, but it is true that there is more Japanalia in American culture than Koreania2 and more interest in the cultural roots of its economic success3 because that success was so striking in the 80s.

But, as I’ve said before, “there’s no question that a historian can’t complicate by talking about what led up to it” and I think the key to this puzzle is earlier. Much earlier: I think it starts in 1853.


  1. or anywhere in the West, I think, but I’m just going to go with what I know []
  2. No, I don’t know that “Koreania” is a word: would “Koreanalia” be closer? []
  3. I just had a discussion with my World History students about Musashi’s Book of Five Rings…. []


Ethnocentrism and the Origins of Korean Nationalism

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 3:18 pm Print

In the opinion pages of the 2007.09.17 issue of Chosun Ilbo, there is an article which discusses the nationalism (민족주의) of Korea’s “386 generation.” The main point of the article is to dissect and critique the “pro-North leftists” (친북좌파), laud the rise of the new cooler “post-386 generation”, and discuss the alternative visions offered by Korea’s New Right movement (뉴 라이트). The article opens, however, with a nostalgic visit to “Intro to Nationalism 101″ and a little bit of history.

Newright The first half of special is written by Shin Ji-ho (신지호), a self-declared former leftist activist who abandoned the revolution, went on to get a PhD in political science from Keio in Tokyo and become the president of what appears to be the institutional embodiment of the New Right’s political wing, the Liberty Union (자유주의의연대), the website of which is cleverly located at the appropriately post-386 internet location of 486.or.kr. Now, the Liberty Union should not be mixed up with the Korean Freedom League which is a distinctly “Old Right” organization that used to go by the name of the “Korea Anti-Communist League” and before that the “Asian People’s Anti-Communist League” (which should not to be mixed up with its sister organization, the World League for Freedom and Democracy based in Taiwan, which used to be known as the World Anti-Communist League). Indeed, as the English version of its website shows, the Liberty Union simply wants what, apparently, all Korean organizations with websites want: unpolluted skies, green fields, impossibly green trees, beautiful rainbows, blue butterflies, and cute children holding flowers.

Shin’s article is faithful to the stated principles of neo-liberalism of his organization, but he also makes the case for a form of “patriotic globalism” (애국적 세계주의) which is based on a pride in a country which protects freedom and champions republicanism. As he explains it:

진정한 애국은 동일한 혈연, 언어, 문화에서 나오는 선천적, 생래적 감정이 아니라, 개인의 자유와 번영을 보장해주는 국가공동체에 대한 후천적, 인공적 열정에서 비롯된다. 고로 자유공화국만이 진정한 애국의 대상이 될 수 있다. 이것이 바로 ‘공화주의적 애국’이며 ‘민족주의 없는 애국’이다.

There is material to work with here, but the real clash between post-nationalists of different political leanings is not so much on the technical details of what we should call the cosmopolitanism of the future, but how it will address social injustice and whether it will embrace unfettered market liberalism. Not a debate I want to bring up here.

However, it is very interesting to me to see in articles, like these, how easily the “New Right” can expose the hypocrisy and backwardness of the nationalism of Korea’s mainstream left, and champion, with apparent ease, the forces of tolerance, international cooperation, and cosmopolitan identities. There is much in common here between the cosmopolitan conservatives of Korea and those within Taiwan’s (now ironically named) Nationalist party (國民黨).

Now the real reason I wanted to bring up this article was to point out something from Shin’s opening “Intro to Nationalism 101″ which goes like this:


Korean (Gender) Studies at ASPAC

In spite of the lovely Korean Studies Center which headquartered the conference, ASPAC 2007 didn’t have a lot of Korean content. In fact, with the exception of one paper on a mixed panel, I think I saw it all.

AAS President-Elect Robert Buswell gave the keynote address at the banquet on Saturday night, speaking on “Korean Buddhist Journeys to Lands Real and Imagined.” Though it was a bit long and specialized for an after-dinner discourse, I found it thought-provoking. I didn’t however, take notes, so you’ll have to wait for the paper (I’m sure there’s a paper in the works) to get the details. I was struck by a few thoughts, though.

  • Given the frequency of Korean Buddhist travel as far as India, and the ease with which they navigated China in particular, I think we need to reconsider travel in Asian history. It’s clearly more of a norm than an exception, at least for certain categories of people. That means a great deal more integration among elites, more awareness of neighboring (and even distant) cultures than our traditional national-limited cultural histories suggest. It also means that western travellers like Marco Polo need to be considered a very small part of a much larger travelling and writing public; yes, I’m reconsidering Marco Polo, somewhat, because narratives like the ones Buswell described put his journies into a much more plausible context.
  • The “imagined” travelogues to legendary and/or allegorical lands constitute a rich fantastical literature which ought to be considered in comparison with work like The Odyssey and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.



Analogy Alert: Iraq/Korea

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:00 am Print

this via:

White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush would like to see a U.S. role in Iraq ultimately similar to that in South Korea.

“The Korean model is one in which the United States provides a security presence, but you’ve had the development of a successful democracy in South Korea over a period of years, and, therefore, the United States is there as a force of stability,” Snow told reporters.

and this via

Missing from much of the current discussion is talk about the success of democracy in Iraq, officials say, or even of the passage of reconciliation measures that Mr. Bush said in January that the troop increase would allow to take place. In interviews, many senior administration and military officials said they now doubted that those political gains, even if achieved, would significantly reduce the violence.

The officials cautioned that no firm plans have emerged from the discussions. But they said the proposals being developed envision a far smaller but long-term American presence, centering on three or four large bases around Iraq. Mr. Bush has told recent visitors to the White House that he was seeking a model similar to the American presence in South Korea.


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