우물 안 개구리

Postings by Vladimir Tikhonov

Contact: noja [at] froginawell.net
URL: http://www.geocities.com/volodyatikhonov/volodyatikhonov.html

Manifesto from the Suyu Research Institute on the S.Korea-USA FTA plans – The Twilight of Empire?

Filed under: — noja @ 5:07 am

Dear colleagues,

Below I put the English text of the manifesto penned by two of the most promising post-nationalist scholars I know in South Korea, namely Dr. Ko Byeong-gweon (고병권) and Prof. Yi Jin-gyeong (이진경), both affiliated with Suyu Research Institute – an autonomous community of post-nationalist scholars, many of whom are working on the early modern period. The manifesto, dealing with the pressing issue of the planned conclusion of the FTA (Free Trade Agreement) between ROK and USA, raises questions, which are of great significance for the whole “progressive” (use this word for the lack of a better term) movement in South Korea (and elsewhere). What is the real strategy beyond promotion of the FTA by the empire in (arguably, terminal) decilne? Why does the ruling bureaucracy in South Korea prefer to ally itself economically, in the form of FTA, with the “old”, declining hegemon, instead of making the best out of its growing interdependence with the new, regional hegemonic force? Will the logic of almost unconditional support for Pres. Roh’s camp, simultaneously pursuing the strategy of co-optation of North Korean bureaucracy and following the imperial agenda on the FTA issue, divide and split the left-nationalist camp into “unification activists” (playing down their anti-US sentiments so far the USA does not harm Pres. Roh seriously) and an “anti-American group”? I personally do not agree with some of the theses proposed by Dr. Ko and Prof. Yi, but the manifesto is an interesting and thought-provoking reading, showing very well the directions of “progressive” thought in S.Korea today.

Vladimir (Pak Noja)


Petition to reinstate expelled Korea University students

Filed under: — noja @ 11:49 am

Dear colleagues,

What follows below is a petition for the annulment of the severe punishment meted out by the Korea University (KoryO taehakkyo) authorities to several students, written by Prof. Kang Sudol (Korea University, Economics and Labour Relations).

The students are being accused of forcibly detaining the leading managers of the university (mostly chiefs of various departments in the administration) of a professorial background during a demonstration. As The Korea Herald tells us in a recent article, “Earlier this month, nine professors at Korea University were forced by about 100 students to stay overnight in a school building. The protesters demanded that the students at the college of health, which the university acquired last year, be given voting rights in student council elections.” (http://www.koreaherald.co.kr/SITE/data/html_dir/2006/05/01/200605010005.asp).

Of course, it looks as if the students used extreme and unusual methods to press their demands. But what most mainstream newspapers in Korea conveniently forget to mention is that the students’ demand (voting rights to the college of health co-students) was not that unreasonable as such, while the tough line taken by the managers, who flatly refused even to accept the petition from the demonstrating students (and that led students to pressing their demand further through allegedly blocking exit from the building), appears to be unusually and humiliatingly authoritarian – from the viewpoint of the students, at least.

The punishment meted out to the seven “leading activists” is “permanent expulsion without any right of re-entry” (ch’ulgyo), which means that all their grades and credits earned so far are being cancelled. It has not been used at Korea University since the 1970s, even against the leaders of very violent demonstrations in the 1980s. It feels as if there are grounds to suspect that the “permanent expulsion” of the activists is just a way to supress the student movement on the campus, which hardly suits the ideals of co-determination and democratic participation in the management of the university. You can read a Hangyoreh article on possible motives for the sanctions: (http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/society/society_general/118925.html)

Against this background, I ask if any of our colleagues reading this blog would like to join the petition for the nullification of the punishment. Anybody wishing to join please, make contact with Prof. Kang Sudol (ksd@korea.ac.kr).

Full text of petition (in Korean) below.


History, or politics by other means

Filed under: — noja @ 12:27 pm

I would like to share my musings and solicit opinions on one issue I always was interested in – namely, to what degree the ways in which states attempt to rule over the past and use it for forming a suitable present, are effective, and on what factors their effectivity depends. To illustrate what I mean, let us just look what the “history” in the public realm meant in South Korea in Yusin time in the 1970s, and what sort of “history” is being mass-produced and encouraged currently. In the 1970s, in the official discourse on history the catchword was “국난 극복사” (“the history of the overcoming of national emergencies”) or “국방 사관” (“the national defence-centred view of history”), and the visible facade of “history”, namely the “historical monuments”, was shaped accordingly: children and students alike were regularly bussed to Admiral Yi Sunsin’s memorial complex “HyOnch’ungsa” (practically obligatory for all) or to the lesser, refurbished and renovated complexes on the Kanghwa Island (celebrating the firght against USA Navy in 1871 and the fight against the French in 1866), on the Cheju Island (celebrating the anti-Mongol resistance of SambyOlch’o crack troops, 1270-1273) and elsewhere. Old Japanese idea that Silla’s hwarangs were nothing but fearless fighters – in fact, some of the colonial Japanese hsitorians viewed them as one source of Japan’s celebrated bushido – was given new lease on life by Park Chong Hee’s cheif court historian Yi SOn’gUn, so that even in the army, soldiers were supposed to great each other shouting “ch’ungsOng” (loyalty!) and “hwarang”. All this was certainly very needed stuff indeed for a hardcore developmental state striving to mould its low-class citizens into militarly disciplined workers and prevent them from developing any independent class consciousness of their own. And today, we have “The Presidential Committee for the Inspection of Collaborations with the Japanese Imperialism” (http://www.pcic.go.kr:8088/pcic/index.jsp), headed by venerable left-nationalist historian Kang Man’gil, and new, popular school history textbooks like 2002 “살아 있는 한국사 교과서” ( http://www.aladdin.co.kr/shop/wproduct.aspx?ISBN=8958620226 , translated recently into English by the Academy of Korean Studies), which are largely based on “Kang Man’gilian” view of history. So far the modern history is concerned, this view accentuates the ethno-national unity with North Korea, thus providing rationals for current attempts of the Southern elite to incorporate gradually the Northern nomenklatura into the regional capitalist system, and narrows the issue of “collaboration with imperialism” to the Japanese imperialism before 1945, thus allowing the public to vent its rage onto somebody else than today’s major tycoons, who either collaborated with American imeprialism only (Hyundai and Hanjin, known for their profiteering during the Vietnam War) or very little with pre-war Japanese and mostly with Americans (Samsung’s Yi PyOngch’Ol – took loans from Shokusan Ginko in the late 1930s, produced wares for the Japanese army and subscribed to the war loans – but this hardly qualifies for real “collaboration” as defined by the recently adopted laws). My question is – to which degree this sort of “history” distributed from above, is really believed, retained by the individuals’ consciousness, and influences their behaviour? One probable answer is – this “historical” propaganda does work so far as the state appropriates the conclusion-making powers from its subjects and forces upon them some (ideological) conclusions, which, however, have some real, tangible connection with their daily experiences; but it ceases to work, when the state-approved/disseminated conclusions loose their connections to the individual life-worlds. For example, Yusin period’s “militaristic statism” could work as much as the developing state-controlled economy allowed even the poorer subjects some chances for personal vertical mobility – not least, through the army ranks. State and its army were distributing some “carrots” to the “human resources” they wielded their stick over – and were believed in this degree. Then, the army, apart from the chances to rise to the position of NCO and serve as a professional soldier further, could also provide a sense of psychological compensation – you were allowed, once 고참 enough, to bully around the people, who would not allow you to come close to them in the real life. Once the opportunities for social mobility in general became much lower in the 1990s, the “militaristic statism” started obviously to lose its grip over the population – and we need World Cups, Yi Sunsin dramas and other extra props to keep it afloat. As to the idea that donating fighter planes to the Japanese troops before 1945 is a crime of “collaboration”, but building military objects in Southern Vietnam before 1975 is not – well, it is certainly usable so far as American capital owns large portion of Korean “blue chips” and American market is still needed by the Korean exporters. As soon as the dollar will plunge down and Korea will fully get dependant on the Chinese market, this part of “history” will certainly get some edit on it, I guess?

Vladimir (Noja)

Market economy and exchange in ancient Korea

Filed under: — noja @ 10:52 pm

Dear all, one topic that might be interesting to discuss is the degree of the development of market relations, exchange economy and internal trade in early traditional Korea. I myself fell in love with this sort of things while reading the materials on the discussion on the so-called “Asiatic mode of production” in (still Marxist-Leninist) Soviet historiography of the 1960-70s. My older colleague, Prof. S.V.Volkov, was, in fact, a champion of this theory, which was also carefully backed by my dissertational adviser, M. N. Pak – also the latter chose not to irritate the mighty orthodox opponents of the “Asiatic mode” thesis and speak very carefully about “early feudalism”, with an “extremely low degree of the development of market relations”. Of course, now I understand more or less that the over-generalisations about “Asian” history as a whole smack too heavily of Orientalism to be taken seriously; China and India after 15-16th C. had the degree of the “proto-capitalist” development Europe could be envious of at that point, and some archaic “European” societies (Spartan, for example), also seemed to have highly centralized exploitation/redistribution systems. So, if we want to continue developing this thesis, we probably should speak of early statehood in a more general context, taking references to “Asian” out; we may also speak, I guess, about agrarian bureaucracies, which manage to preserve and develop to a fantastic degree of complexity the centralized redistribution mechanisms rooted in the “state exploitation” technologies of the early antiquity. But, with all these reservations and precautions duly taken, I still suppose that the earlier Marxist insights about centralized redistribution and its historical trajectory in the agrarian monarchies continue to be valid – and wonder what the others think about it.

For one thing in Korea particularly, a fact Korean historical textbooks seem to studiously avoid mentioning is that Korea began minting metallic coins only in the late 10th C. (and on very small scale) – compared with Japan’s 7-8th C. coins production and China, which had coins already for almost a millenium to that point. In fact, various Chinese coins seem to have been used by the proto-Korean state already in the ancient Chosŏn time – but mostly for external exchange and/or prestige purposes. The media of the internal exchange in Unified Silla seems to have been either rice or textiles: the markets in the capital were managed by the state (kwansi) and most of the high-level artisanship in the capital was concentrated in state workshops. State was the biggest actor in these commercial transactions, which still took place – buying, for example, lots of paper for the sutra-copying at the state-run temples (we have mokkan materials on these transactions). Private external trade started to flourish when central controls weakened in the late 8th – early 9th C. – but powerful merchants like Chang Pogo were more interested in acquiring state power than in the development of the purely commercial side of their enterprises. So, shouldn’t we conclude that “early feudal” (to use M. N. Pak’s term) Korea really largely lagged behind in the terms of market economy development, compared to its neighbours – the state both controlling the existing (internal) market operations and largely substituting the market with its own production/distribution network?

Self-introduction: Vladimir (Pak Noja)

Filed under: — noja @ 2:55 pm

I am working with Oslo University (Norway) currently teaching a strange combination of undergraduate and postgraduate courses, which include East Asian religions and philosophies on one extreme (?) and something called “East Asia: Capital and Labour”, and mostly dealing with the relationship between corporate capital and unions in South Korea and Japan, and the rising current of labour militancy in China, on the other. I used to teach Korean language as well, having proudly produced around 6 graduates in 5 years. I have thought before that the University of Oslo must be the only place in the world where three teachers (me and two colleagues working part-time) teaching two students a language no business around might demand, would be tolerated and left in peace. Well, it was a naive illusion – Oslo University is following the same “party line” as elsewhere, and the teaching of Korean is going to be terminated next year, at least for the time being.

My academic trajectory (?) is odd enough to doubt its seriousness. I began with Kaya studies, when I was MA student and then PhD candidate – for those sane enough not to jump into the abyss of the ancient history, I can just explain that Kaya proto-states (they stood somewhere between a well-developed chiefdom and an early state) controlled a large part of the Naktong River valley and the southern coast of what is KyOngsang Province now, until being eaten up by Silla in 562 (http://www.gayasa.net/). I wrote a PhD thesis on this, mostly using Nihon shoki (720) as my source material. I guess that is the only monograph written on Kaya in Russian – and it is likely to maintain its monopoly (?) for the time being, given the sad situation in the Russian academia. Then, I started to dabble in Korean Buddhism – after having been greatly surprised at sight of a reserve corps military uniform at one temple I frequented, and having understood how much practice might differ from theory. The last “side jump” was my love (or rather hate?) affair with Korea’s (and, by extension, China’s and Japan’s) Social Darwinism, which began around 5 years ago, and still fails to end. I am still struggling to understand in which ways and to which degree Social Darwinist consciousness contributed to the making of Korea’s nationalism in the 1880s-1900s, and what was the logic behind the Social Darwinist conversion (?) of many intellectuals who might have espoused different dreams as well – reformist Confucians, Christian converts, and some younger Buddhists.

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