우물 안 개구리


Things I don’t know about Korea, part 3

One of the things that I noticed about the materials I used last time I taught Korean history1 is that the texts I chose for my course did not mention, much less discuss in depth, the recently departed Moon Sun Myung‘s Unification Church. The global reach of this uniquely Korean Christian sect would seem to make it a natural topic for discussion, but even works that look in some detail at the religious changes of modern Korean history didn’t address this sect.

The absence was so striking, that I started to wonder if there was some sort of political minefield or cultural taboo at work, or if I had grossly misunderstood the scale and impact of the movement. I haven’t been looking all that hard for answers one way or the other in the two years since, but I certainly would like to have some better sense going in this time.

  1. and I’m scheduled to teach it again in the Spring, in parallel with my Modern Japan course, so it’s on my mind. I’m thinking of adding some literature to the syllabus []


Diaspora And Diplomatic Communities Memorialize Conflict

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:47 pm Print

A memorial plaque was dedicated in a park in Palisades Park, New Jersey in 2010 which reads

In Memory
of the more than 200,000
women and girls who were
abducted by the armed forces of
the government of Imperial Japan
known as “comfort women,”
they endured human rights
violations that no peoples should
leave unrecognized.
Let us never forget the horrors
of crimes against humanity.

Two things struck me about this article from the NY Times. The first is in the headline: “New Jersey Town’s Korean Monument Irritates Japanese Officials.” There have apparently been two official attempts to convince Palisades Park to remove the monument, presenting two very different approaches. The first emphasized Japan’s past apologies and attempts to stage reparations as justification for de-emphasizing the sexual servitude issue:


Some Issues on Modern Education in Korea

Filed under: — Sayaka Chatani @ 11:37 am Print

Education is always an important issue in history, and I regret that I have read works on the history of Korea’s modern education only sporadically. As I try to organize my notes while reading both secondary and primary sources recently, I get confused about exactly what issues are on debate back then and now. I am hoping that other people will give me clearer thoughts on this. (I’m writing this off the top of my head so my apologies for not providing specific names of historians as much as I should.)

I realized there are two very common topics in the historiography. One is how we conceive traditional and private 서당 (書堂, sodang) vs public elementary schools (普通学校). It is a fact that, compared to Taiwan, the spread of elementary schools in Korea was very slow during the colonial period, and sodang continued to sprawl even in the 1930s. Traditionally, historians see this as the failure of Japanese education, and/or the flourish of strong ethnic-centered education among Koreans. Many of the city history volumes and local history articles (written in the 1980s-2000s) I read emphasize this point. So this is an indication of the “undying national identity” for them. Historians like 渡辺学 also use the numbers of those schools as evidence that the Japanese colonial government was not the main agency that provided modern education. The fact that the Japanese forced to shut down many night schools and private schools in fear of socialist activities helps their point on the antagonistic relationship between sodang and elementary schools.

On the other hand, more recent scholars like 板垣竜太 show complementary relationship between  sodang and elementary schools. Many Korean children studied in both schools, and many of the same local elites donated money and negotiated with the local office to establish a sodang and to upgrade it to an elementary school. Both 板垣竜太’s work on Sangju and 김영희’s work on a village in 충청남도 show that the government depended on those local elites in introducing modern education if not an elementary school itself, and these two parties were more cooperative in making sodang into a modern institution. I myself also was surprised to find that, in 1922 when their concern for socialist activism was heightening, 『全羅南道青年会指導方針』regarded sodang more ideal for training rural youth than elementary schools. I just realized that those historians who use the government’s sources emphasize the conflict between sodang and elementary schools, and those who study local cases see more cooperation between the two.

The other issue is the emphasis to 実業教育 (practical education or vocational training). I find this issue more confusing in the historiography. Many tend to consider practical education the emblem of modern education, and discuss that Korean enlightenment thinkers already emphasized the importance of it before the Japanese rule started. There is some ambiguity about how to judge the Japanese call for practical education in the 1920s, but starting the 1930s, historians usually find an excessive amount of 実習 (on-site practice), and an neglect of knowledge-based education. I know 実業教育 does not necessarily mean 実習, but 実習 was justified as an integral part of 実業教育. To my confusion, many historians (again, I’m sorry for not specifying who, but in general) cannot make up their mind regarding whether the overall emphasis on practical training should be celebrated (as always is when they discuss Korean enlightenment thinkers), or considered oppressive when implemented by the Japanese, given a long tradition of Confucius training of Korean intellectuals. Reading 『文教の朝鮮』 and 『朝鮮社会事業』, I find that even among the Japanese activists, emphases on 実業教育 and Confucius thoughts coexisted for a long time. I suspect that the issue at stake was more about class differences, rather than how “modern” it sounded or how “Korean” or “Japanese” practical education represented. By “class differences,” I mean more than just “the lower class appreciated 実業教育 more than the elite.” I read an article about a diary written by a relatively well-educated young guy in 1930, in Dongbok, Cholla Namdo. He owned his own land, which made him upper-middle class already, but he was always disappointed at his farming job and had to remind himself of the importance of 実業主義 over and over. In his case, the emphasis on practical education and hard labor was supposed to help him fill the gap between the dream of obtaining higher education and the reality in front of him.


Nuclear Power in Korea / Domestic and International

Filed under: — John P. DiMoia @ 9:29 pm Print

Just a quick note, even as the Japan situation continues to unfold, to recall that (1) the current ROK government wants to prioritize nuclear exports in the coming years; and that (2) the domestic industry provides a significant portion of the nation’s energy (28 plants either in operation or under construction).

At this point, it would be unfair to make any sweeping generalizations or loose analogies with the Fukushima site, but it is not unfair to recognize similar types of actors (General Electric) and contractors dating to the late 1970′s, in roughly the same part of the world, and to ask some hard questions about those plants and their lifespans.

More on this later, but I have been surprised (although I suppose I should not be) about the press coverage from Japan, much of which has focused on TEPCO, and very little of it looking at the reactor origins and hardware.


The Use of Collective Responsibility

Filed under: — Sayaka Chatani @ 6:13 am Print

It is a famous fact that the Government-General in Taiwan adopted the baojia (保甲) system in 1898 in reaction to a series of attacks against the Japanese. It is a method of mutual policing at the village level for the purpose of maintaining local order and preventing tax evasion. Although GGT officials explained that it was a system that they were adopting from the old Chinese dynasties, it had already been a familiar style of policing for the Japanese too since Toyotomi Hideyoshi and others adopted it to police hidden Christians and so on.

I never encountered a mentioning of a similar system in the history of colonial police in Korea. For example, Matsuda Toshihiko’s recent publication, 日本の朝鮮植民地支配と警察 1905-1945 (Japan’s Colonial Rule of Korea and the Police. 2009), discusses how the police tried to propagate its authority to the masses (民衆化) and how they tried to co-opt local leaders into their networks (警察化). But it does not look like there was a rule or a law about mutual policing like the baojia (保甲) system.

It turned out that the collective responsibility system was used in tenant contracts between Japanese agricultural companies (landlords) and Korean peasants, instead. One example was the Chosen kōgyō gaisha, run by the Shibusawa zaibatsu family. A scholar Asada Kyōji describes how the Chosen kōgyō gaisha established the gonin gumi (5-person groups) system and used it as a basic unit of Korean tenant farmers. (Asada Kyōji. 日本帝国主義と旧植民地地主制. 1992. 161). Apparently this was a common custom among the Japanese landholders as the half-governmental Oriental Developmental Company also required five tenant farmers to register together. In Ham Hanhee’s oral interview with a farmer in Cholla Namdo, he said that the most difficult part in getting a contract with the ODC is that “he needed four sponsors who were willing to take on a collective liability for his wrongdoings.” (Hahm Hanhee, Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University 1990. 82)

I wonder if the difference in where this collective liability system belonged somehow reflects the difference in the nature of rule in Taiwan and Korea… just a thought. Another thought is that, if it is possible that the infamous tonarigumi system in Japan during WWII was a product of the experiences of organizing local units in the Japanese colonies… maybe?


A Chinese Warlord’s Predictions for the Korean War

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 5:08 am Print

Yan Xishan, former warlord of Shanxi province and briefly premier of the Chinese republic wrote a book, Peace or World War, that was published in its English translation in December, 1950, but appears to have been written not long before the North Korean invasion around or before May, 1950.1 In the work we see an early version of Yan’s dream for world unity and a cosmopolitan future built on his own unusual anti-communist and anti-capitalist confucian utopianism, which I’ll hopefully be presenting on at a conference later this year.2 He would spend the last decade of his life in retirement developing these ideas and writing books and pamphlets on the subject.

Coming fresh from his own battles and defeat at the hands of Communists in Shanxi and later elsewhere in China, there is an interesting moment in the book where Yen makes his predictions for a coming war on the Korean peninsula during discussion of the prospects for a third world war. In this brief section focusing on Korea, he predicts both Chinese aid to North Korea, a potentially fast occupation of south Korea, and the quality of North Korean troops hardened by their participation in the Chinese civil war:

Now, let us compare North Korea and South Korea. The power of the latter, even with American training, is but half that of the former. Moreover, the South Korean troops have been trained to fight in orthodox manner while it is difficult to say what type of fighting technique the North Koreans will employ. Besides, about twenty thousand North Korean soldiers were known to be in Communist China and they probably returned to their own country before the outbreak of war. It is reported that when North Korea attacks South Korea, Communist China will, in order to return the service of the North Koreans on the mainland, supply them with a hundred thousand Chinese soldiers. This information, although unconfirmed, is rather logical. If it is true, the force of North Korea will amount to four hundred thousand and will be several times that of South Korea. As to the air force, the North Koreans hold a vast superiority over the South Koreans. Furthermore, the Communists, infiltrating the south will make every effort to stir up the South Koreans. This is a great crisis for South Korea. But, being a newly established country, it naturally should strengthen her army, reform her administration, and launch a movement to defend herself. In this movement, she should arm her people, clear out the Communists within the country, and reform the Communist sympathizers so that the administration, the military and the people would be united for national defense.

The population of South Korea is seventeen million people, of which one fourth are young men and one fourth are young women. After organizing them with special training, eight million men and women would be able to render their services in any war effort. Thus, she will not be afraid of any attack from North Korea which has a population of only eight million. Not only can South Korea find security, but the anti-aggression-countries, after the outbreak of the Third World War, will also be able to make use of her bases. Otherwise, because of the present situation, North Korea will be superior to South Korea in all respects. The latter will very possible [sic] be occupied by the former within one month after the outbreak of war, if there is no substantial American military aid.3

  1. The preface is dated May of that year. []
  2. This is part of research I have been doing on early postwar utopian and world federalist schemes in East Asia. As with other presentations, I’ll post my conference paper, “Utopians in Defeat” on Yan Xishan and Ishiwara Kanji’s early postwar theories of world unity at muninn.net when it is done. []
  3. Yen Hsi-Shan,Peace or World War trans. Yang Su-yen (Taipei: Publisher unknown, 1950), 34-36. Yan’s population estimates seem a bit off to me. Some of my notes mention 20 million for the south and just under 10 for the north in 1950 but I haven’t looked up the most recent estimates for the period. He also seems to overestimate North Korean military strength though the ration of 2:1 against the south isn’t too far off. []


Thinking about the Japanese woman in Korean-Japanese (内鮮一体) couples

Filed under: — Sayaka Chatani @ 7:39 am Print

When I was preparing for my oral exams last semester, the professors who do not work on East Asia (I had a European historian and a Latin American historian in my committee) were always fascinated by the nature of “inter-racial marriage” in the Japanese empire. Both in the history of childhood and youth and the history of modern empire, the most complex and flexible interpretations of “race” happened on the ground where colonial societies had no choice but face the existence of inter-racial sexuality and mixed children. In the Japanese empire, inter-racial marriage was not problematized in the same way as it was in European empires. For example, in two articles of roundtable discussion on marriage (結婚改善座談会) published in Korean Social Work (朝鮮社会事業 – yes I still love this journal) in May and June 1935, the participants, mostly Japanese bureaucrats and educators in Seoul, never discuss problems of inter-marriage. The central problem was rather an increasing number of old single women in Korea. Their presentation of statistics of the marriage success rate among graduates of the elementary school bears much resemblance to today’s discussion of unemployment rates. They agree this is a problem that “kyoka dantai (moral suasion groups)” should become involved in. Another major issue brought up during this roundtable is, of course, the ways in which people conduct wedding ceremonies. For the participants, excessively luxurious wedding ceremonies often exhaust village economies. The venue of wedding ceremonies was also discussed — e.g. whether it was appropriate to imitate Taisho Emperor and to use the Chōsen Shrine for ordinary people’s wedding.

The lack of discussion on inter-racial marriage by contemporary experts is not the only interesting feature to note. “It is an open secret among Korean scholars,” one professor of modern Korean history said to me the other day, “that there were a significant number of married couples between Korean men and Japanese women but there is so little study on it.” This is another surprise to non-East Asian historians. In other places it is men from the colonizing countries and women from colonized societies that married, and this feminization of colonies is often regarded as an aspect of Orientalism. There were, of course, married couples between Korean women and Japanese men, but as Oguma Eiji has already pointed out, the Government-General in Korea encouraged Japanese women to marry Korean men because, they thought, Japanese mothers were supposed to build the foundations of Japanese culture in the home.

How do you define “coloniality” in this relationship represented by couples of Korean men and Japanese women? To offer my half-baked thought first, we really need to re-think how the ‘Japanese woman’ was interpreted in relation to modernity. I cannot easily connect this to the discussion of coloniality — or assure that it is a useful concept here.

One chapter in Nam Pujin (南富鎭)’s book 文学の植民地主義 (Colonialism in Literature) deals with the issue of colonialism in love and marriage affairs. He introduces a number of Korean writers who wrote stories in which a Korean man dreamed of marrying a Japanese woman, a Korean couple who pretended as if they had been a Korean-Japanese couple, a Japanese woman who marries a Korean man, and mixed children who grew up hating their Korean origins owing to the social discriminations they received, and so on. Nam recognizes some “coloniality” in that it is usually Koreans who have to “confess” their origin, and will come to be “understood” by their Japanese partners even in recent love stories. His discussion of the novels from the 20s and 30s is more thought-provoking. Nam points out that “Naisen kekkon (Korean-Japanese marriage) was consistently the most trendy topic for literature, and despite its political nature, it was the most popular fantasy and hope to overcome obstacles that the state and ethnicity impose on one’s love and marriage” (27). We cannot say that Naisen kekkon was as prevalent among Korean masses as Korean writers and intellectuals experienced, but it seems to me that discussion of such marriages could appear fresh and even rebellious in a way that was not necessarily directed against the Japanese colonial government, but against older generations or elite Korean families.

Nam Pujin also presents a convincing argument that Japanese women represented ‘modernity’ in the eyes of Korean masses. This itself is an interesting and anomalous case from a comparative perspective. But at the same time, the story is not simply a reverse sexual representation of imperial modernity. Japanese women represented much more than that. What caught my attention was Nam’s description of a novel called 処女の倫理 (Ethics of the Virgin) written by a well-known Korean writer Chang Hyakchu 張 赫宙 in 1939. In this novel, an independent-minded Japanese woman fell in love with and married a Korean man, but was betrayed by him because he had an official Korean wife, and was discriminated against within Korean society. According to Nam, “double marriage” was quite common since many Korean intellectuals either abandoned or ignored their official wives whom they were forced to marry at younger age, and had love affairs with Japanese women. However strongly Korean men desired a Japanese woman as if it would symbolize an achievement of modernity, this particular novel depicted very unstable power relationships that could be caused as a consequence of such a phenomenon.

There is another piece of evidence on the complexity of the issue that I found in the roundtable article mentioned above. Mōri (a commissioner to the Government-General in Korea) says, “Ladies who were raised in Korea face difficulty in finding a marriage partner.” It soon becomes clear that he is referring to Japanese women who grew up in Korea. The first reason he gives is “women who grew up in Korea are too used to luxury and cannot even sew a Kimono. Those who grew up in Japanese (naichi) rural areas are pretty good at this.” According to Mōri, Japanese men preferred naichi women who were not as “modernized” as those who grew up in Korea. It makes sense that Japanese officials and business people who were dispatched to Korea received extra salaries and benefits, and their children regarded themselves as upper-class in comparison to both the average Japanese and Korean families. Does this mean what “the real Japanese woman” represented differed significantly for Korean writers and for Japanese men?

Given the resulting mess, I cannot pin down who colonized whom or even how we could know of it in this issue of Korean-Japanese marriage.


Guides at Frog in a Well

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 8:52 am Print

Here at Frog in a Well we have attempted to occasionally go beyond our role as a publisher of three group weblogs on the history of East Asia. Though it still has very few entries, our Frog in a Well Library contains some primary historical documents. The East Asian Libraries and Archives wiki contains a slowly growing collection of entries with useful information about libraries and archives in East Asia, as well as other information on databases, organizations, and links to other similar resources.

We would now like to announce a new addition: Frog in a Well Guides. Here we would like to host a collection of guides, created by students or scholars of East Asia. We currently imagine these to be primarily bibliographies or research guides tailored to specific areas of research on East Asia. It is inspired by other wonderful existing resources such as the Modern Chinese History bibliography, the Korean History Bibliography, and most of all the wonderful work by students of Professor Henry Smith’s Japanese Bibliography course at Columbia University.

All the guides will be published with a Creative Commons license to allow the greatest possible freedom in using them, and we welcome edited, revised, or expanded versions of existing guides by new authors. Also, each guide will have its own page on the EALA wiki where anyone may leave comments, or recommendations for others to incorporate in future updated versions.

Our first guide has been contributed by our own Sayaka Chatani, PhD Candidate at Columbia University:

A Basic Guide to Resources on Japanese Colonialism

The EALA wiki page for the guide, if you have suggestions can be found here. Many thanks to Sayaka for contributing this.


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~


Things I don’t know about Korea, part 1 of many

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 1:38 pm Print

Now that I’m teaching my Korean History course I am, of course, running into questions I cannot answer. I’m going to post them here periodically:

  • Though the Choson-era Korean Army (in its various commanderies and provincial forms) was conscripted from peasantry (and officered, it appears, by military Yangban), where did the Navy get its personnel? You can’t just conscript a peasant and put him on a ship and expect him to be useful: did they recruit from fishing communities, or was there a training process?
  • What’s the numerical breakdown of Choson society? I’ve seen suggestions that as much as 20-30% were in the unfree categories at the bottom of the social scale, but I can’t seem to get a handle on the Yangban and Chungnin classes, either in total population or (as one of my students asked) rate of shedding members to lower classes.
  • Who was the aged, deeply bearded gentleman depicted on the Japanese colonial-era Korean bills? (See below)


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