Daily Archives: 23 March 2004

Korea Between Empires, 1895-1919

Korean Studies Review recently posted a review by Michael Finch of Korea Between Empires, 1895-1919, by Andre Schmid (Columbia U. Press, 2002), which reminds us how much Korea followed Japanese models of modernization before, during, and after it was colonized by Japan.

In his introduction Schmid discusses the major themes to be covered in the book: namely, the role of newspapers in defining the nation, Korea’s disengagement from its traditional orientation toward China, the centrality of ‘capitalist modernity’ to both Korean nationalism and Japanese colonialist thought, the importance of Sin Ch’aeho’s “ethnic definition of the nation” as minjok, (p. 16) and the way in which the parameters and frameworks of nationalist discourse in Korean newspapers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries continue to influence the debate on Korean nationalism today.

The opening chapter, “The Universal Winds of Civilization,” examines the concept of munmyông kaehwa (“civilization and enlightenment”). Schmid’s choice of the year 1895 as a starting point for his study is significant in that this year saw the defeat of China in the Sino-Japanese War and China’s official renunciation of its suzerain status over Korea in the Treaty of Shimonoseki (17 April 1895)….

Along with the rise of Korean nationalism came a rising sense of East Asian racial solidarity as defined by the term Pan-Asianism, which saw East Asia as united by the common threat of Western imperialist intrusion into the region. In this world view, held by many of the reformists including the Protestant reformer Yun Ch’iho, Japan was cast in the role of defender of the East and was even supported by the Hwangsông sinmun during the Russo-Japanese War–although as the Korean capital was effectively under the control of Japan during this period, it may to some extent have been coerced into adopting this pro-Japanese line. With the signing of the Japanese-Korean Treaty of Protection in 1905, however, all illusion evaporated. As Schmid makes clear in this chapter, a naivety toward Japanese intentions appears to have been a major weakness of the proponents of munmyông kaehwa, many of whom owed an intellectual debt to Japanese reformist thinkers such as Fukuzawa Yukichi. The ambivalent attitude of the Hwangsông sinmun toward Japan made it a target for the pro-Japanese organization, the Ilchinhoe on the one hand, and anti-Japanese nationalists on the other. The Taehan maeil sinbo, on the other hand, under the ownership of Ernest Bethell, a British citizen protected by extraterritoriality, was exempt from Japanese censorship and was consequently able to adopt a more consistent anti-Japanese stance in its editorials.

Chapter 3 “Engaging a Civilizing Japan” examines the extensive intellectual interaction between Korea and Japan that underlay the developing confrontation of Japanese colonial expansion and rising Korean nationalism. Although munmyông kaehwa had its roots in the West, Japan was its mediator in East Asia. As Schmid points out, “‘The West and Japan’ emerged as standard expressions for the top rungs of the civilizing hierarchy.” (p. 107) It was from Japan that the early reformers who had initiated the Kapsin Coup (1884) drew inspiration and support, and it was to Japan that increasing numbers of Korean students went for a ‘modern’ education. As evidence of the strong link between the reformist movement in Japan and Korea, Schmid brings our attention to the similarities between Yu Kilchun’s Sôyu kyônmun and Fukuzawa Yukichi’s Seiyô jiji (Conditions of the West) and the fact that Yu’s seminal work was also subsidized and published by Fukuzawa. (pp. 110-111)

The wholesale acceptance of the values of munmyông kaehwa in Korea during this period also gave rise to the anomaly of Korean reformers espousing colonial expansion as evidence of superior civilization and enlightenment. Although these reformers were not unaware that Korea might itself fall prey to the colonial expansion of another power, in general they exhorted their fellow countrymen to participate in the reform project so that Korea would escape this fate and be counted amongst the civilized nations of the world. It was only after the signing of the Treaty of Protection that solidarity with other colonized countries such as India began to be expressed.

Leave a comment

Filed under China

Piracy on the Rise

This week’s Regions of Mind blog cites, among many other stimulating posts, a Progressive Policy Institute study on rising rates of piracy.

A quarter of all world pirate attacks last year took place in Indonesian waters. This region is naturally hospitable to pirates and difficult to patrol since (1) it features shallow waters dotted by lots of little islands and narrow channels, and (2) it is the hinge of the shipping lanes bringing Asian consumer goods to Europe, and Persian Gulf oil to Japan and China. Budget stresses since the financial crisis, meanwhile, have cut Indonesia’s navy budget by about two-thirds. Last fall, an Indonesian navy spokesman noted that the country needs about 400 boats to patrol national waters, but has only 117 at the moment; and only 40 of these are seaworthy.

In second place was Bangladesh, with 58 pirate attacks; Nigeria was third with 39. Somalia had 18 attacks, but despite the lower number of attacks, Somali waters may be the world’s least-policed and most dangerous. The IMO [International Maritime Organization] has a permanent warning to shipmasters to avoid the area altogether if possible, and especially not to anchor within 50 miles of the coast.

Leave a comment

Filed under China

Former South Korean President’s Daughter Heads Political Party

The Marmot blogs the election of Park Keun-hye as head of South Korea’s opposition (“progressive conservative”!) Grand National Party.

Park, as you know, is the daughter of later dictator Park Chung-hee, father of modern South Korea. Park also served as First Lady after her mother, Yuk Yeong-su, was shot and killed during an assassination attempt on Park in 1974. She has been the recipient of much popular sympathy, first after the death of her very popular mother, and then following the successful assassination of her dad in 1979. Her base of support can be found in her home region of Daegu, where many still have fond feelings toward late President Park, and like her dad, she possesses a squeaky clean image as far as corruption is concerned, although like her dad, I’m not quite sure if that’s deserved.

Fellow SK blogger Oranckay adds:

Anyway, the good news/bad news about Park is that as the daughter of the president of the developmental dictatorship she does not generally (fingers crossed!) have to work very hard to please conservatives with red-labeling and petty attacks. Her credentials are in order and she she’ll never have her ideological inclinations questioned. On the other hand, she is not known for mental stability and much of an attention span.

Fortunately, the chance of a military coup is far smaller than it was in 1961–at least in the South.

Leave a comment

Filed under Korea

Exiles Become Nobodies

Ian Buruma’s chapter, “China in Cyberspace,” begins thus:

The problem of exile is that it becomes increasingly hard to go home. You might eventually be able to return physically, but not to the country you left. Too much will have happened in the meantime. Those who stayed behind will have changed, but the exile, because of his peculiar experience, will have changed even more, marked by exposure to an alien world. There are cases, it is true, where exiles have gone back to be leaders. At the beginning of the the twentieth century, Sun Yat-sen plotted the Chinese revolution in Tokyo, London, and Honolulu, and he returned in 1911 to lead the Chinese republic [though not very effectively]. But this is rare. Former exiles are not usually welcomed back into the fold. [How about Khomeini?] Like Brahmans who leave India, political rebels tend to lose their aura once they step away from their native soil. I once asked an academic in Hunan, who was critical of the Communist regime, what he thought of overseas dissidents such as Wei Jingsheng and Fang Lizhi. He replied that once a dissident leaves China, “he has no right to speak out anymore.” This was not an isolated opinion, which, by the way, is never expressed about overseas Chinese who get rich.

“All the nobodies who cannot return are going home.” This line is from a poem by Yang Lian, a writer from Beijing now living in London. He carries a New Zealand passport and lived in four different countries before arriving in England in 1993. His flat is on the third floor of a redbrick early-twentieth-century apartment block. All his neighbors are Chasidic Jews, who speak Yiddish and wear clothes reminiscent of eighteenth-century Poland. Exiles of a different kind, they regard Yang Lian and his wife You You as exotics. Yang wrote that poem in London. Those who live abroad become nobodies. Home is a land of their own invention.

SOURCE: Bad Elements: Chinese Rebels from Los Angeles to Beijing, by Ian Buruma (Vintage, 2001), pp. 108-109

Leave a comment

Filed under China