우물 안 개구리


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:


North Korean Propoganda Posters

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 8:44 am Print

Thanks to Adam at Mutantfrog for pointing me to these North Korean Propoganda posters. I think this is my favorite but the whole group is worth a look.


“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.


North Korea’s engagement with the world

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 8:05 pm Print

I remember the shocked look on my students’ faces fifteen years ago when I told them that we actually had no idea how decisions were made or leaders picked in North Korea, that it was more or less still a “black box.” I find it fascinating that we’re starting to get a better public picture of the internal processes of North Korea.

One of the reasons is the steady stream of refugees. In the Financial Times, Matthew Engel reports on a Korean enclave in the SW London suburb of New Malden. The relatively closed and self-reliant society is mostly middle-class, “bourgeois,” but among “the beginnings of an underclass” are North Koreans. I get the impression from the article that many of them are illegal immigrants, and their “underclass” status comes both from their lack of professional skills and their desire to remain outside of official notice.

Mitchell Lerner, at Ohio State University, believes that he’s found the key to understanding the Kim dynasty of North Korea: juche. And when “self-reliance” is slipping, domestically, they bluster internationally to bolster their credentials as strong and independent leaders. It’s counterintuitive: when they need help the most, they can’t get it. But their legitimacy as rulers is based on juche. He writes

In the political realm, it called for chaju (independence), in which North Korean leaders governed without constraint from outside pressure or internal challenge. Economically, juche called for charip (self-sustenance), which required a largely self-contained economy based on domestic workers using domestic resources to satisfy domestic needs. In international relations, juche advocated chawi (self-defense), a foreign policy based on complete equality and mutual respect between nations as well as the right of self-determination and independent policymaking.

Juche, simply, demanded the people subordinate themselves to the state, and the state in turn would advance their collective interests in accordance with the uniqueness and majesty of Korea, and always in pursuit of greater economic, political, and international independence.

By justifying the position of the suryong (single leader) and uniting the people behind him, juche successfully advanced Kim’s interests.

I’d call that a fairly textbook kind of fascism: emphasizing the independence of the nation, the subordination of the people to the nation, and the fuhrerprincip — the leader who embodies sovereignty. Even the reliance on the US as a hobgoblin echoes the “we have been denied our rightful place in the world” rhetoric of the early 20c fascist regimes. The only thing that distinguishes North Korea from them, really, is the longevity of the Kim dynasty. The Kim refered to in the above excerpt is Kim Il Sung, the founder of the DPRK; his son, Kim Jong Il, is one of the only examples I can think of of a successful fascist succession.

However, by closely associating the government’s legitimacy with its successful pursuit of juche, Kim had opened the door to potential disaster. When he triumphantly achieved juche, North Koreans would perpetuate and even embrace his rule. But if the pursuit was unsuccessful, the most fundamental justification for the regime would appear violated.

Legitimation of a government is always a double-edged sword. Some forms of legitimation have a sharper back edge than others: the Confucian Mandate of Heaven is like this, as well.

When considered within this framework, Kim’s tendency to behave more aggressively when he seemed to be at his weakest makes sense. Unable to deny economic and political instability that suggested his government was not acting in accordance with juche principles, Kim redoubled his efforts to demonstrate his strength and independence in the third juche realm, foreign policy.

He does a nice job fitting the periods of economic trouble with the eras of international tension. He also does a good job illustrating the claustrophobic environment — the limited, controlled media, the cradle-to-grave indoctrination, the purges, etc — which makes North Korea such a surreal place.

Update: Speaking of Surreal, Curzon has a post on Reverend Billy Graham’s relationship with North Korea, starting with his missionary ancestors. [via


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 []


1949 Banning Japanese Subtitles

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 2:51 am Print

On the second page of the June 25th issue of The Korean Free Press (자유신문 自由新聞) there is a very small article which shows how long the process of eliminating the most outwardly visible elements of “Japanese remnants” (일제잔재) could take. While newspaper articles today continue to point to long lasting legacies of the Japanese colonial period, more than four years after the end of Japanese colonial period legislation and executive orders continued to be used to get rid of some of the more glaring reminders of the recent colonial past, including the use of Japanese subtitles for foreign movies.

The Showing of Movies with Japanese Subtitles will be Prohibited after the End of This Month

Japanese subtitles banned

That was not the only Japanese remnant to be dealt with in the newspaper on that day in 1949. The newspaper article just above this one reported that 柳混龍, a 43 year old former “Kempei spy” (憲兵密偵) had been arrested in Cheju-do.


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 War Criminals

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:17 am Print

Sayaka over at Prison Notebooks has been reading up on the history of Korea’s wartime B/C war criminals for a short paper she has been writing. In addition to the main paper, which I hope we will see online at some point, she has posted a few weblog entries with some observations about what is out there:

Notes on the Works on Korean War Criminals in WWII
Notes on the Works on Korean War Criminals in WWII (2)

I’m sure she would love to hear from anyone who has seen any academic work on the topic she might have missed. There seems to be less out there in the way of scholarly research than she expected (except for the writing in the recent press related to the Truth Commission which absolved most of them of their convictions).


The Chinese Monster

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:30 am Print

Near Kwanghwamun this afternoon there were a number of nationalist Anti-China placards set up. Could China someday become the new Japan? I think it is too early yet. A few decades of colonial rule has a more lasting effect than a historiographical squabble or two.


Our happy history. Don’t travel to China!


That monster in the Han river was perhaps not created by the US military as the recent blockbuster movie suggests…It is in fact China! The poster lists the major historical issues with China: 백두산, 고조선, 고구려, and 발해.

Now you can join the Righteous Army

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:14 am Print

Seodaemun prison was open to the public today and as I write this posting various patriotic performances are underway on the grounds of a prison where the prisoners of the Japanese colonial regime and the postwar dictators of South Korea lived, died, and were horribly tortured.

Cutouts of “Righteous Army” fighters could be found near the entrance with removable heads so that any patriotic visitor could pose for a patriotic picture.



If the poorly armed righteous armies, which were sometimes hard to distinguish from violent bandits when they raided villages for food, are not your kind of independence fighter, you can also pose with other pro-independence terrorists1 found elsewhere on the prison grounds.

Kim Ku and Yun Pong-gil

  1. For a discussion on current definitions of this contentious word see this Wikipedia article or see some of the Google offerings. For more on a recent controversy over the use of this term see this article and the response of the accused, which also mentions the changes in meaning of the word across time. The response to the response can be found here. []

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