우물 안 개구리

9/2/2012

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 []

11/9/2011

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.

5/12/2010

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.
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2/25/2010

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.

8/28/2009

Once more, dear friends, into the breach….

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:26 am Print

Korea Center PavilionIn my first post here I said that I was going to be teaching a Korean history course for the first time: I lied. Or rather, I was scheduled to teach it, but the course didn’t make its minimum enrollment. However, the time has come to try again.

The last time I did this, I was going to focus it on upper-level undergrads and make it as much about primary sources as possible. The only four books I’d ordered were Korea Old and New: A History (Eckert, Lee, Lew, Robinson, Wagner), The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Korean Poetry, and the two volumes of the new Sources of Korean Tradition from Columbia.1 Ambitious and, apparently, off-putting in the extreme.

I’m torn, really, on the question of whether to teach a “Rice Paddies” style course — all of Korean history in a single semester — or break it up (as I have my China and Japan courses) into pre/post 1700 (and start with the later one, which should draw more students at first). If I teach the whole history, I might well keep the poetry — I do poetry in my China and Japan courses, and the Korean stuff is lively and diverse — but I can’t see using the Sources sets as-is. This time I want to pitch the course much more broadly, and draw in some of the business and language students — Koreans actually make up one of our largest groups of foreign students, and our business department has a long-standing interest in Korea — so that the course really does reach critical mass. So I’m thinking that the heavy dose of Columbia primary materials is probably not a great idea. That said, I prefer to have students read primary materials as much as possible, or ethnographic-style observations, or historical scholarship which evokes a clear and detailed recreation of a moment or era.

I’d love to hear thoughts from our readers about what works and what doesn’t, what’s come out recently that’s good for students, and especially if there are better textbooks at this point.

Update: I just ran across Kenneth Robinson’s Korean History Bibliography, which looks like a great starting place.

  1. Vol. 1: From Early Times Through the Sixteenth Century ; Vol. 2: From the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Centuries []

5/11/2009

“Prosthetic Memories”

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 10:10 am Print

Seungsook Moon at Japan Focus has an interesting historiographical essay about the contested life and legacy of Park Chung Hee, who led Korea through the 60s and 70s. The debate is particularly interesting because it parallels discourses which are ongoing in other post-dictatorial societies, including the debates about Stalin in Russia, Mao and Deng in China, Chiang Kaishek in Taiwan, etc. The history itself is fascinating, though I do wish Moon had spent a little more effort mediating some of the factual basis for the competing narratives.

4/1/2009

History Carnival #75: Semisesquicentennial! Terquasquigenary! Septuagesiquintennial!

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 11:16 pm Print

History Carnival Logo
Note: The History Carnival is still looking for a May 1st host, as well as hosts for the summer and beyond. Contact Sharon Howard (sharon$@$earlymodernweb$.$org$.$uk) to volunteer.


This is not a timed test, but you will be required to account for your periodization afterwards. This is not a graded exercise, as the answers are usually blatantly obvious or impossibly indeterminate. Whether this is a professional or recreational exercise is entirely between you, your cooler students, and your tenure committee.

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7/20/2008

Modernization or Japanization? –The Movie “Homeless Angels” 1941

Filed under: — Sayaka Chatani @ 10:17 am Print

I had a chance to watch a Korean movie from the colonial period, called “Homeless Angels (집없는 천사, 家なき天使),” at the Korean Film Archive (KFA) in Susek, Seoul, the other day. This movie was made by the infamously pro-Japanese director of the time, Choi Inkyu, in the late 1930s, and released in 1941. The Korean Film Archive listed it as one of 100 representative works that reflect Korean cinema, “because it is one of the very few surviving movies from the Japanese colonial era” despite the fact that the last scene (where all the children recite the pledge of allegiance to the Japanese Emperor) was propagandistic for the  Japanese imperialist cause.

The movie is about the founder of an orphanage called 香隣園 and the Korean boys who joined the orphanage. Conversations took place mostly in Korean, except for some occasional code switching with Japanese. Since Matt at GUSTS OF POPULAR FEELING has featured this movie a while ago, giving details of the plot and pictures of various scenes, I will not explain the story in detail here. I would rather like to point out the key historiographical issue in the discussions related to this movie among Korean film scholars, the KFA and GUSTS OF POPULAR FEELING.

The KFA interprets this movie as mostly a humanist story of enlightenment by Koreans for Koreans, and argues that “the propagandistic sequence is inserted irrespective of the plot and thus does not pose a substantial threat to the text’s actual subject.” In critique of this interpretation, Matt has highlighted the militaristic nature of the training that children receive, and indirect expressions that praise Japanese military advancement in the film. His interpretations suggest that children could represent Koreans in general, and that the film could leave the audience with the lesson that Koreans could have become real Japanese citizens if they had made a great effort.1 The interpretations of this movie among film scholars today are similarly divided on how to interpret the nature of this movie in the same way as the Japanese imperial authorities were bewildered.2 Is this a mere Japanese propaganda? Or is this a ‘Korean’ humanist story of rescuing and enlightening homeless children?

Let’s step back from this question for a moment. There are many elements in this movie that reflect the global trends at the time. The first thing to notice is that in the movie there is clear pastoral idealism depicted as a reaction to industrialization. The film shows the decadence and corruption of urban culture, and its contrast to the healthy, disciplined, frugal and simple rural life. The idealization of rural agricultural life is found in media and intellectual discourse, not only in Korea and Japan, but also in Britain, Germany and other places in the world since the 1900s. Secondly, the special role of children as ‘our future’ and ‘our hope,’ but at the same time, as those that adults have to lead in the right direction, can be considered as a new concept that rapidly spread around the world in the 1910s. Historians often point out Stanley Hall‘s theory of developmental child psychology as having helped create and spread such an image of children. With these two elements combined, it is not surprising to see that large-scale youth movements were launched around the world around the same time — the Boy Scouts, Hitler Jugend, Japanese Seinendan, Communist Komsomol, etc. All these youth groups praised militarized discipline and pastoral ideology. Lastly, while idealization of rural life is clearly a rejection of modern consumerism, the movie seems to imply that Western Enlightenment itself was the basis of their activities. In the movie, the founder of the orphanage gains support from his brother-in-law, a rich doctor who owns an empty Western style house, a sizable farm and a farmhouse outside of Seoul available for use. There was a quick flashback scene in which this brother-in-law was spending time with his German girlfriend there, showing that he was educated in the Western style and is familiar with European culture. More interestingly, the founder names his son and daughter ” Johann (요한)” and “Mary (마리아)” respectively, which we can’t help but see as bizarre given the setting of Japanese colonialism. Overall, the adults who help the children in this film are all “Westernized.” This close relationship between the Enlightenment thought and anti-industrial youth movements was also prevalent in other parts of the world.

Coming back to the question of how to interpret the nature of the movie “Homeless Angels,” it is clear that the film was not simply about “Koreans helping Koreans.” At the same time, the question of “to what extent it was Japanese” has become a much harder question to answer because Korea, as well as Japan, was embedded within the larger historical trends of the time. The same difficulty of separating “Japanese” colonial modernity from world-historical trends is a common problem with many of the writings about the Korean colonial history. I wish that historians had better tools to capture the interaction of all the world, regional, national, provincial, and personal contexts instead of endeavoring to fit all the elements into narrower national terms. 

 

  1. I would add the fact that the orphanage was available only for boys. It reflects the tendency of Japanese colonialism that regarded Koreans as military and labor human resources at the time. []
  2. See 강성률, 영화로 보는 우리 역사 3 [집 없는 천사]와 찬일: 계몽을 가장한 자발적 친일, 내일을 여는 역사, no. 20, 2005.6, pp.227-232 []

3/30/2008

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.

Introduction

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.

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  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 []

3/16/2008

Three thoughts on Visibility

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:19 am Print
  • My favorite new blog Photoshop Disasters has a Korean Basic Instinct 2 poster in which Sharon Stone’s head has been altered from the US version: Cosmo7 cites the fact that the hair is wet, which is the photoshop ‘tell’ but can’t explain why they would do that. I suspect that the wet hair is a side-effect of needing a head shot that was oriented differently, that they wanted to shift Stone’s gaze away from the viewer, make her less …. well, here’s where my complete lack of exposure to Korean media becomes a liability. Either they want her to be less aggressive (which doesn’t entirely make sense, given the movie) or more aloof.
  • Dr. Virago and Dr. Crazy (Dr. Crazy’s analogy to Star Trek/Lost In Space/Heroes is worth the price of admission) among others, are having an interesting discussion about how scholars achieve “visibility” and “impact” both within their subfields and in the discipline. Their discussion doesn’t directly touch Asian Studies, but it does have some thought-provoking ideas for both young and feeling-marginalized scholars.
  • I just got my current Journal of Japanese Studies in the mail, and two of the three articles are about Korea: one about the development of the Korean Civil Code under Japanese protectorate and the other about middle-class Koreans in 1930s Japan. The latter is by an old grad school friend, Jeff Bayliss, who’s teaching a course combining Korean and Japanese history which is exactly the kind of thing I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I’m a little jealous, yes, but mostly I’m thrilled to see the crossover scholarship being taken seriously.

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