Monthly Archives: May 2004

Kaplan’s Armenia

Armenia is the quintessential Near Eastern nation: conquered, territorially mutilated, yet existing in one form or another in the Near Eastern heartland for 2,600 years, mentioned in ancient Persian inscriptions and in the accounts of Herodotus and Strabo. Armenians trace their roots to Hayk, son of Torgom, the great-grandson of Japheth, a son of Noah himself. While their rivals the Medes and Hittites disappeared, the Armenians remained intact as an Indo-European people with their own language, akin to Persian. In the first century B.C., under Tigran the Great, Hayastan (what Armenians call Armenia) stretched from the Caspian Sea in the east to central Turkey in the west, incorporating much of the Caucasus, part of Iran, and all of Syria. In A.D. 301, Armenians became the first people to embrace Christianity as a state religion; today, Orthodox Armenia represents the southeastern edge of Christendom in Eurasia. In 405, the scholar Mesrop Mashtots invented the Armenian alphabet, still in use today….

Armenia soon became engulfed by the Roman and Byzantine empires. But when the Arab caliphate fell into decline in the ninth and tenth centuries, Armenia rose again as a great independent kingdom under the Bagratid dynasty, with its capital at Ani, in present-day Turkey. In the eleventh century, the Seljuk Turk chieftain Alp Arslan overran Ani, Kars, and the other Armenian fortresses, destroying over ten thousand illuminated manuscripts, copied and painted at Armenian monasteries. Independent Armenia survived in the form of baronies but eventually fell under the rule of Turks, Persians, and, later, the Russian czars and commissars. It is the Russian part which forms today’s independent state.

Now squeezed between Turkey to the west, Iran to the south, Azerbaijan to the east, and Georgia to the north–with its lost, far-flung territories lying in all directions–this newly independent former Soviet republic straddles the Caucasus and the Near Eastern desert to the south. Like Israel, Armenia is a small country–its population is only 3.5 million–surrounded on three sides by historical enemies (the Anatolian Turks, the Azeri Turks, and the Georgians), but it boasts a dynamic merchant tradition and a wealthy diaspora. Beirut, Damascus, Aleppo, Jerusalem, Teheran, and Istanbul all have influential Armenian communities. Jews and Armenians also share the legacy of genocide. The Nazis’ World War II slaughter of the Jews was inspired partly by that of the Armenians in World War I. “Who today remembers the extermination of the Armenians?” Hitler remarked in 1939.

… there was a crucial difference between the revolt of the Greeks and the Slavs against the Turks in the Balkans and the Armenian revolt against the Turks in eastern Anatolia. The Balkans lay within the Ottoman empire but outside Turkey itself, so only imperial control was at issue; while in eastern Anatolia, Turkish and Armenian communities fought over the same soil. That is partly why–in the shadow of Mount Ararat–traditional ethnic killing first acquired a comprehensive and bureaucratic dimension.

… I flew to Armenia. My fellow passengers cried and cheered as the plane touched down before dawn in Yerevan. They were Armenians from the diaspora visiting their ethnic homeland, many for the first time. In few countries–Israel being one–have I seen such emotion when a plane lands.

At the airport, there were no bothersome forms to fill out or bribes to pay. Travelers had told me that efficiency and honesty also prevailed at Armenia’s land frontier with Georgia. The cabdriver who took me to Yerevan was well groomed, and charged a reasonable price. The roads throughout much of Armenia, as I would see, were better than in Georgia or Azerbaijan. Nor would I encounter any slovenly militiamen demanding bribes. In these and other ways, Armenia was more of a functioning country than others in the Caucasus. In 1998, it carried out a smooth democratic succession when President Levon Ter-Petrosian was replaced by Robert Kocharian.

But behind the scenes, the election had been less than democratic. Real power rested with the prime minister, Vazgen Sarkisian, who controlled the military and security forces…. Armenia was very much a quasi-military security state with a wafer-thin democratic facade: a multiparty system that masked a one-party dictatorship in which the opposition was intimidated and bribed.

Still, by the standards of the region, Armenia’s political system wasn’t bad…. Armenia is the only state in the Caucasus–and one of the few I had encountered anywhere in my travels–whose cohesiveness I thought could be taken for granted. “We are united,” a local friend told me upon my arrival. “We are ruled by one mafia, not several competing ones.”

But my friend and I were insufficiently skeptical….

SOURCE: Robert D. Kaplan, Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus (Vintage, 2000), pp. 312-315

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Border Clans vs. Alphabet Nation

Azerbaijan had always been a marchland, conquered by Alexander the Great and fought over by Turkey and Persia for centuries. As with Georgia, Russia entered the fray here relatively late, occupying the area briefly in the 1720s and 1730s and then returning in the nineteenth century. The local Azeris, who knew little political unity until the twentieth century, speak a Turkic language much like modem Turkish, but they are Shi’ite, like most Iranians. Most Azeris live not in Azerbaijan but to the south, in northwestern Iran. Until the early twentieth century, the Azeris were considered “Tartars” by their neighbors, and responded to questions about themselves by mentioning their family, their clan, and their religion–but rarely their national group. Georgia has a 2,500-year-old alphabet all its own. Azerbaijan, by contrast, changed its alphabet three times over the course of the twentieth century: from Arabic to Latin in the 1920s; from Latin to Cyrillic in the 1930s; and back to Latin in the 1990s.

The inability of the Azeris to congeal into a defined nation may be why the Armenians could destroy them in the war over Karabakh. The Armenians, with their own language and 1,500-year-old alphabet–and with the memory of brilliant ancient and medieval kingdoms and the Turkish genocide always before them–had a fine sense of who they were. The Armenians, everyone in the Caucasus knew, were never going to give up Karabakh in negotiations. No one gives up what has been captured in battle when the area is occupied overwhelmingly by one’s own ethnic group and the rest of the population has been violently expelled, with barely a murmur from the Great Powers or the global media.

SOURCE: Robert D. Kaplan, Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus (Vintage, 2000), p. 260

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From Trebizond to Trabzon

Robert D. Kaplan’s Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus (Vintage, 2000) is full of wonderful vignettes of places that were once out-of-the-way, and are now taking on new significance. Here’s a glance at a former outpost of Byzantium on the Black Sea.

The bus pulled into Trabzon during a golden sunset: exactly what this city had constituted in world history.

Trabzon is the Turkish-language corruption of the Greek Trebizona, which comes from the Greek word for “table”–trapeza–a reference to the flat promontory on which the city sits. In 1204, Alexius and David Comnenus, scions of the Byzantine Greek royal family, escaped the Crusader conquest and looting of Constantinople and, with the help of an army provided by the Georgian queen Tamara, created a sovereign outpost of Byzantium here in eastern Anatolia. The new city-state of Trebizond got a boost in the mid-thirteenth century when the Mongol invasion of the Near East forced a diversion of trade routes north from Persia to Anatolia. Just as Dubrovnik’s noble families were to play Ottomans off against Habsburgs to preserve the independence of their Adriatic city-state, the nobles and diplomats of Trebizond played Turkomans off against Mongols to survive, keeping this city and its sylvan environs as a cosmopolitan outpost amid the monochrome Turkic nomadism–for the goods that amassed at the docks here were transported to Europe by Genoese boats, bringing Latin civilization to this eastern port. And because the Ottoman Turks under Mehmet the Conqueror did not subjugate Trebizond until 1461, eight years after Constantinople had fallen, history has conferred upon this place the aura of a last bastion of Greek Byzantium. In fact, a substantial Greek and Armenian population survived here through the centuries of Ottoman rule, until Atatürk’s revolution took root; so here, too, modernity meant ethnic cleansing, though of a relatively benign and gradual kind.

My first night in Trabzon I was awakened by the blast of the Moslem call to prayer–louder, I recalled, than a few years earlier, when I had last visited. In the morning I noticed the ubiquity of head scarves. Trabzon had become a bastion of Fazilet, the Islamic Virtue party, whose vitality here was a backlash against the “Natashas”–Russian and Ukrainian prostitutes who had arrived in the 1990s from the nearby former Soviet states, threatening the stability of local family life. Reportedly, it was Turkish housewives–angered by what their husbands were doing at night–who brought Fazilet victory at the polls.

Trabzon represented historical discontinuity. The various artistic monuments of the Byzantine past notwithstanding, what I saw was a drab and dynamic, utilitarian parade of bustling kebab stands, cheap cafeteria-style restaurants, and shops selling crockery, auto parts, vacuum cleaners, kitchen and bathroom tiles, and so on, lining narrow, serpentine streets noisy and polluted with trucks and automobiles. The industrial uniformity wiped out any specific cultural trait or connection to the past….

The next day I found what remained of the Armenian monastery of Kaymakli, up a nearly impassable dirt road a few miles from the city center, amid a squatters’ slum loud with children and roosters. A small boy led me into a destroyed building with a makeshift tin roof. The dirt floor, foul with excrement, was cluttered with hay, firewood, scraps of corrugated iron, and a set of barbells, which the boy proudly lifted to his waist. I looked at the stone walls, decorated with a turquoise-and-rosy-pink pageantry of Hell and the Apocalypse amid saints’ portraits, all faded, defaced, and framed by fabulous filigree work, recalling the beauty of this fifteenth-century Armenian church. As the unknowing boy jumped up and down on the corrugated-iron pile, each rumble of the iron reminded me of another human displacement. I thought of the brutal ethnic expulsions that have pockmarked the history of the Near East, of which that of Kosovar Albanians taking place that same spring was merely the latest. The smell of earth, the reek of feces, and the artistic fragments of a past Armenian civilization conjured up for me yet another great crime. A monoethnic Turkish nation blanketing Anatolia with its cartographic imprint had not occurred naturally or peacefully, and was not therefore necessarily permanent.

For geography holds the key not only to the past but the future, too. The Black Sea, with its diverse civilizations, may transform this part of Turkey now that the Soviet Union and its formerly impenetrable borders are gone. The Natashas were only a part of what was happening here. Along Trabzon’s harbor, there was now an endless market for goods from the former Soviet Union: fabrics, silverware, old war medals, cheap jewelry, tea services, and just about everything else, from socks to cell phones, was on sale. This was a working-class bazaar, like the Chinese market I had seen in Budapest. Trabzon was becoming more of a multiethnic Black Sea capital and less of a purely Turkish one. The kingdom of Trebizond could be reborn, I thought, in dreary, working-class hues.

My last day in eastern Turkey was like my last day in eastern Hungary [on the way to Romania]. In both places I was conscious of being near a great fault line, beyond which lay a starkly different world. Few people in eastern Turkey had any idea what was happening next door in Georgia. The large tourist office beside my hotel in Trabzon had no information about Batumi, the Georgian city on the other side of the border–not the names of hotels, the prices, not even the name of the Georgian currency. Batumi and Gürcistan (the Turkish name for Georgia) were terra incognita, and this heightened my sense of adventure.

The New America Foundation, where Kaplan is a senior fellow, has posted on its site a prescient review of this prescient book by Richard Bernstein in The New York Times on 15 December 2000.

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Samoan Civil Wars during the 1800s

When Andy of SiberianLight linked to my earlier post on the battle of Khalkhin-Gol/Nomonhan between Japan and Russia in 1938, he headlined it Wars nobody has ever heard of, Part 1043. Well, a Russian reader objected that every Russian has heard of Khalkhin-Gol, and reminded Americans that few Russians have ever heard of Iwo Jima. Fair enough, so let’s get even more obscure. How about the Samoan Civil War of 1898-99, which drastically reconfigured Samoa?

The Samoan Civil War of 1898-99 is what led to its partitioning into what is now Samoa and American Samoa.

On the death of Samoa’s King Malietoa Laupepa (d. 1898), his long-time rival Mataafa (d. after 1899) returned from exile aboard a German warship and was shortly elected the Samoan king as virtually a German puppet. The US and British consuls strongly opposed him, backing instead the dead king’s son. Fighting erupted between Samoans; in January 1899, the capital city of Apia was thrown into chaos with foes fighting in the streets, looting, and burning buildings. At first Mataafa and his Samoan and German supporters gained the upper hand until US and British warships shelled Apia (March 15, 1899). Anglo-American troops took control of coastal roads, but were unable to defeat the enemy in the interior. All fighting ceased with the arrival of a tripartite (US-British-German) commission on May 13, 1899. Both sides agreed to give up their firearms, for which they were fairly compensated, and the monarchy was abolished. By the tripartite treaty (1899), Germany received the western Samoan islands, of which Savaii and Upolu (the site of Apia) are the most important; the United States obtained the eastern islands (American Samoa, with its capital at Pago Pago on Tutuila); and Britain withdrew from the area for recognition of rights on Tonga and the Solomons.

Before Samoa was partitioned and colonized, civil war seems to have been the normal method of chiefly succession. Malietoe Laupepa had secured the throne by civil war.

Desultory tribal warfare had long occurred on Samoa, an archipelago in the south-centr[a]l Pacific, where the United States, Germany, and Britain all signed treaties that gave them commercial and other rights (1878-79). In 1880, the three foreign powers agreed to recognize Malietoe Talavou (d. 1880) as Samoa’s king, whose death later that year brought civil war between contentious groups seeking power. About eight months later, Malietoe Laupepa (d. 1898) secured the throne with the foreign powers’ recognition.

Robert Louis Stevenson happened to be in Samoa during an outbreak of warfare in 1893 and filed a report for the Pall Mall Budget.

The process of gathering a royal army in Samoa is cumbrous and dilatory in the extreme. There is here none of the expedition of the fiery cross and the bale fire; but every step is diplomatic. Each village, with a great expense of eloquence, has to be wiled with promises and spurred by threats; and the greater chieftains make stipulations where they will march. Tamasese, son to the late German puppet and heir of his ambitions, demanded the vice-kingship as the price of his accession, though I am assured that he demanded it in vain. The various provinces returned various and unsatisfactory answers. Atua was off and on A’ana was on and off; Savai’i would not move; Tuamasaga was divided; Tutuila recalcitrant; and for long the king sat almost solitary under the windy palms of Mulinu’u. It seemed indeed as if the war was off, and the whole archipelago unanimous (in the native phrase) to sit still and plant taro.But at last, in the first days of July, Atua began to come in. Boats arrived, thirty and fifty strong a drum and a very ill-played bugle giving time to the oarsmen, the whole crew uttering at intervals a savage howl; and on the decked foresheets of the boat the village champion (the taupou), frantically capering and dancing. Parties were to be seen encamped in palm groves with their rifles stacked. The shops were emptied of red handkerchiefs, the rallying sign or (as a man might say) the uniform of the Royal Army….

War, to the Samoan of mature years, is often an unpleasant necessity. To the young boy it is a heaven of immediate pleasures, as well as an opportunity of ultimate glory. Women march with the troops, even the Taupou-sa or Sacred Maid of the village, accompanies her father in the field to carry cartridges and bring him water to drink; and their bright eyes are ready to ‘rain influence’ and reward valour. To what grim deeds this practice may conduct I shall have to say later on. In the rally of their arms it is at least wholly pretty; and I have one pleasant picture of a war party marching out, the men armed and boastful, their heads bound with the red handkerchief, their faces blacked – and two girls marching in their midst under European parasols….

Every country has its customs, say native apologists, and one of the most decisive customs of Samoa ensures the immunity of women. They go to the front, as our women of yore went to a tournament. Bullets are blind; and they must take their risk of bullets, but of nothing else. They serve out cartridges and water; they jeer the faltering and defend the wounded. Even in this skirmish of Vaitele they distinguished themselves on either side. One dragged her skulking husband from a hole and drove him to the front. Another, seeing her lover fall, snatched up his gun, kept the headhunters at bay, and drew him unmutilated from the field. Such services they have been accustomed to pay for centuries; and often, in the course of centuries, a bullet or a spear must have despatched one of these warlike angels. Often enough too, the head-hunter springing ghoul-like on fallen bodies, must have decapitated a woman for a man. But the case arising, there was an established etiquette. So soon as the error was discovered the head was buried, and the exploit forgotten. There had never yet, in the history of Samoa, occurred an instance in which a man had taken a woman’s head and kept it and laid it at his monarch’s feet.

Such was the strange and horrid spectacle, which must have immediately shaken the heart of Laupepa, and has since covered the face of his party with confusion. It is not quite certain if there were three or only two; a recent attempt to reduce the number to one must be received with caution as an afterthought, the admissions in the beginning were too explicit, the panic of shame and fear had been too sweeping.

Jane Resture’s Samoa summarizes the broader context of European colonization of Samoa and elsewhere in the Pacific, and Alexander Ganse’s site, World History at the KMLA (Korean Minjok Leadership Academy, an elite international prep school in South Korea) offers even broader context.


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The New (Korean) Woman: From Many Lovers to Nun

Andrei Lankov has an article in the 7 January issue of The Korea Times on The Dawn of Modern Korea: The New Woman, in which he profiles the prominent pioneering Korean journalist and writer Kim Won-ju, better known under her Buddhist sobriquet of Kim Il-yop [Iryôp ‘One Leaf’].

She was born in 1896 in what is now North Korea. In spite of her later Buddhist career, she came from a Christian family–like almost all Korean women who received a modern education in the early 1900s. Kim Il-yop studied at a local missionary school and then continued her education at Ewha College–the predecessor of the present-day Ewha Womans University, and a place where a girl could receive the best education available in Korea.

Her parents had a happy marriage, but for years they were plagued by the absence of male heirs. In old Korea this was seen as a disaster. Only when Kim was 14 year old did her mother gave birth to a son. Tragically her mother died the following day, and her infant brother soon after. The death of beloved wife and a much-expected son inflicted a heavy blow on Kim’s father, and he also died soon afterwards.

All these tragedies made Kim sceptical about Christianity. She began to wonder whether Buddhism, with its conception of life as tragedy and suffering, was not closer to the ultimate truth. However, Kim was too young and ambitious to entertain these doubts for long.

After her graduation from Ewha, Kim moved to Japan to continue her education. Her stay in Japan was marked by a stormy love affair with a young Japanese, Oda Seijo. The lovers were going to marry, but both families strongly opposed the match. Neither Koreans nor Japanese looked favorably on mixed marriages (indeed, such unions were surprisingly few). Nonetheless, Kim had a child by Oda. Her son grew up apart and had little interaction with his mother. Eventually he became a famous painter and in his old age retired to a Buddhist monastery–like his mother few decades earlier.

In March 1920, Kim (by that time married) founded the first Korean women’s magazine. It had the telling title of Sinyoja–The New Woman. The year of 1920 was the year when modern Korean journalism was born. The mass uprising of 1919 made the Japanese authorities change their policy in the colony, they allowed the Koreans much more political and cultural freedom. One of the results was the boom in the number of periodicals.

The New Woman was not only the first Korean periodical for a female audience–even if this was revolutionary enough. It was also the first periodical to be edited and published almost exclusively by women. Kim was assisted by a number of early Korean feminists, collectively known as ‘new women.’ Her collaborators included the painter Na Hye-sok and the educator Pak In-dok. Mrs. Billings, an American missionary then residing in Seoul, handled the general management….

The New Woman gave voice to the rising group of Korean women who had a modern education and who did not want to abide by the age-old rules of life. They were rebelling against old conventions, and Kim was one of the most vocal members of this small but prominent group. She wrote a number of articles, poems, and novels in which she advocated women’s freedoms such as access to education and equality before the law. However, her forte was the freedom of love. Kim treated the topic with greater radicalism than most other ‘new women.’ The majority understood ‘free love’ as the right to choose one’s husband, while Kim’s understanding of the concept was much closer to the ideas of the 1960s’ sexual revolution.

Kim lived up to her declarations. The late 1920s were marked by a string of affairs with a number of her famous contemporaries. Among others, the list of Kim’s lovers included Yi Kwang-su, the founding father of modern Korean literature.

Even her interest in Buddhism was greatly stimulated by a love affair–this time with a devoted Buddhist. In the early 1930s, Kim was ordained as a nun and spent most of her long life (she died in 1971) behind the walls of a Buddhist temple.

For more (in English) on Kim Wônju, see Yung-Hee Kim, “A Critique on Traditional Korean Family Institutions: Kim Wônju’s ‘Death of a Girl’,” Korean Studies 23 (1999):24-42

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The ‘Modern’ Japanese (and Korean) Taisho Woman

Arts & Letters Daily links to an article in the The Chronicle of 21 May 2004 on The ‘Modern’ Japanese Woman during the Taisho era (1912-26) that asks, among other things:

How could one be both Japanese and modern, if modernity is defined as Western? Were modernity and Japaneseness antithetical? Or could individuals and society synthesize some new middle ground? If so, how?

Suppose we transpose this question to Korea, a Japanese colony at that time.

How could one be both Korean and modern, if modernity is defined as Japanese? Were modernity and Koreanness antithetical? Or could individuals and society synthesize some new middle ground? If so, how?

In fact, very few did achieve any middle ground. A small number of talented upper-class female artists achieved some degree of, well, notoriety, only to endure tragic denouements. Choe Chong-Dae profiles one on the poorly edited website of The Korea Times on 16 April 2004 under the headline A Pioneering Woman – Yun Sim-dok.

In the course of the recent history of Korea, many prominent pioneering women duly played significant roles in raising the national consciousness and in advocating women’s rights and freedoms. Women such as Na Hye-sok, a social pioneer, painter and writer (1896-1948), Kim Myong-son, a modern writer, famous for her literary work “Girl With Suspicion” (1896-1951) and Kim Won-ju, a Buddhist nun and great novelist of modern literature (Pen name: Ilyop [or Iryop]; 1896-1971) surfaced in the early 1900s when modern-style schools began to produce educated women.

Back in the ear1y 1920s, at the dawn for modern Korean music and art, Yun Sim-dok (1897-1926) appeared, “out of nowhere”; she was the first woman soprano singer in Korea, and was also an erudite writer, composer and stage actress. Showing the nation what Western vocal music was all about, she captured the hearts of people all across the country. Her outstanding social and academic achievements, dramatic performances and attractive singing voice, fascinated audiences, giving them a unique taste of Korean music that they had never before experienced. As a result, she was loved as the most promising, attractive, and stylish female intellectual in Korea. However, unfortunately, she became a victim of social ostracism and hatred, due to an extra-marital affair with a married man.

Born in Pyongyang in 1897, Yun studied at the Pyongyang Girls’ Middle & High Schools. After graduation from Kyon[g]song Women’s Teaching College in Seoul in 1914, she worked as a primary school teacher in the town of Wonju. Demonstrating great intelligence and unique musical talent from early youth, Yun’s ambition was really devoting herself to becoming a renowned Korean musician. She therefore entered the Music Department of … Tokyo [Imperial] University in 1918 by passing the (Japanese) Homeland Governmental Scholarship Examination, with excellent marks. During her university days in Tokyo, she enjoyed the freedom to read an abundance of Western romantic literature and art and the company of the handsome (male) college students. She was strongly attracted to Kim Wu-jin, who was majoring in English literature and drama at Tokyo’s [W]aseda University, and came from a wealthy and renowned lineage of prominent citizens in Mokpo. Despite the fact Kim was married and had a wife and children at home, in Mokpo, she was fascinated by his personality and his literary acumen. They soon fell in love with each other. After graduating from … Tokyo University, in 1922, Yun worked as a teaching assistant there. Yun asserted the need for Korean women’s self-awakening, for their liberation from men, and for their acquisition of a proper social status….

Sharing overwhelming sorrows and affection, Yun suggested to Kim that they return to Korea. They boarded a passenger ship, sailing from Shimonoseki to nearby Pusan. Watching the vast and silent sea from the deck of the ship on the voyage, she expressed profound emotion by singing “Hymn to Death,” highly reflecting a keen sensitivity, while comparing her loneliness to the ship sailing on the seas. The lyrics of Yun’s song appealed to Kim’s inclinations to cast off the burdens of wealth, love and honor. The sentimental and emotional atmosphere captivated them and induced them to seek in death an ideal “dream world,” transcending reality.

They were impelled to commit suicide, jumping from the deck of the ship into the sea, on the voyage home (it was August 1926). The lovers’ suicide shocked not only Korea but also Japan. The suicide was not a romantic death but a lonely battle cry that could not free its protagonists from pessimism nor the slow pace of societal reform. It was seen as a bold challenge to conventional Confucian society and as a sign of the importance of the need for women to establish a real female identity and of the need for reforms of the social circles in Korea at that time, which of course disapproved of Yun’s liberal love affair.

“Modern” Korean women at the time risked opprobrium not just for being loose women or brazen hussies, but also for rejecting Korean values in favor of Japanese ones, being therefore collaborators with the colonial regime.

For more on Taisho Japan, see Ian Buruma on Ero Guro Nansensu.

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Of Mice and Rats

Can you tell a mouse from a baby rat? After reading these tips, I correctly identified 12 out of 12. (And I didn’t have to count the nipples!) Can you tell the relatively civilized Black Rat (Rattus rattus) of the Pacific Islands from the marauding imperialist Norwegian Rat (Rattus norvegicus), which has conquered most of Eurasia and North America? Do you know how to launder your pet rat? It’s all at

via Language Hat, who linked to the authoritative Rat-English, English-Rat Dictionary.

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Elections in New Caledonia

Head Heeb has been doing a great job keeping up on the recent elections in New Caledonia and French Polynesia. In both cases, the preponderant sentiment seems to be for autonomy, but not full independence. Like Micronesia, perhaps?

On a related note, the Australian National University’s Pandanus Books imprint has published The Kanak Apple Season: Selected Short Fiction of Déwé Gorodé.

Mme Déwé Gorodé, Vice-President of the Government and the leading Kanak writer of New Caledonia, visited Australia to attend and speak at the Sydney Writers Festival (19-25 May 2004)….

This collection is the first English translation of Gorodé’s work, and is part of Pandanus’ efforts to bring Francophone writing to the attention of Australian readers. A remarkable collection reflecting the ethnic complexities of the colonial past of New Caledonia, the author’s approach to language reveals an original voice that compels attention. Drawing on the heritage of blood-lines, family, cultural tradition and colonialism, Gorodé takes her reader on a journey into the Kanak world providing fascinating insight into the culture of New Caledonia, at once both Pacific island and French colonial possession.

Head Heeb also has an interesting post entitled The Pyramids of PNG:

Economist Utpal Bhattacharya of the World Bank has argued that transition economies are particularly vulnerable to Ponzi schemes, pointing to the large-scale frauds that occurred in post-Communist Russia and Romania as well as Albania. Although Papua New Guinea is not a post-Communist country, it is also in transition from subsistence agriculture and fishing to a modern urban economy, and its people are still adapting to new economic conditions. Such circumstances have facilitated Ponzi schemes in the past, particularly where – as in Haiti in 2002 – prominent citizens and political leaders are induced to participate. Although the PNG government has begun to take measures to combat fraud, “in an environment where economic challenge is a daily reality, most expect the promise of a quick and fantastic return will continue to attract many.”

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North Korean Archaeology of Convenience

One of the staples of international academic exchanges with North Korea is an archaeological report on the latest discoveries regarding the tomb of Tangun (also romanized as Dangun), the mythical founder of Korea, born in 2333 B.C. to a he-tiger and a she-bear. Tangun’s birth year is the starting point for the Tangun Era (Tanki = Danki) calendar year sequence and the first Korean kingdom, Old Chosôn (Ko Chosun = Go Joseon). The year 2004 C.E. thus equals 4337 T.E. (On the same scale, the mythical Emperor Jimmu didn’t found Japan until 1673 T.E. [= 660 B.C.E.])

Several archaeological discoveries were reported by the (North) Korean Central News Agency in 1998.

Chongam earthen wall surveyed

Pyongyang, January 30 (KCNA) — Survey of historical relics has been deepened in Korea. Authoritative scholars and experts of archaeology, history and folklore recently made a survey of the earthen wall in Chongam-Dong, Taesong District, Pyongyang. The survey team discovered relics and a wall built in the period of King Tangun’s Korea, the first ancient state of Korea which existed some 5,000 years ago. The wall has two storeys. The lower storey of the wall, built in the Tangun Korea period, is about 10 metres wide at the bottom and 2.5 metres high. The upper storey, built in the Koguryo period, was rebuilt three times. A scimetar, stone spear, broken top-shape vessels and other relics of the neolithic and bronze ages were discovered in the earth of the wall. Found in the western part inside the wall were the coundation of a building, roof tiles, etc. Dating back to the Koguryo period. A mural painting of the Koguryo period was discovered for the first time in Korea. The mural painting is characterized by use of much powdered gold. The survey of the wall helps systematize the history of Tangun Korea and Koguryo in a scientific way and clearly proves that the history and culture of the Korean nation has developed from long ago with Pyongyang as the centre. [emphasis added]

Newly-discovered wall of ancient Korea

Pyongyang, August 10 (KCNA) — The Archaeology Institute of the Academy of Social Sciences of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has recently discovered a wall of Tangun’s Korea (ancient Korea). The newly-discovered wall is the west wall in the middle of the walled city of Pyongyang= It was built on a ridge of Ansan in Pyongchon district with no buildings. The wall was a mixture of earth and stone piled up on rocky layer. It has two parts. In the lower part the wall is 11 metres in bedwidth and 1.5 metres high. In the upper part it is 8 metres in bedwidth and 2.5 metres high. The outside of the wall has a steep slope and the inside an easy one. The building of the lower part of the wall is based on a method of construction widely used in the beginning of ancient times. The method is similar to the methods of construction used in the building of the lower parts of the earthen walls in Jithap-ri and Songhyon-ri. The two earthen walls date back to Tangun’s Korea. The recently-discovered wall proves that from the initial stage of state building the people of ancient Korea concentrated on the defence of the capital of the country. It is of weighty importance in the study of the walled capital of Tangun’s Korea. Relics of ancient Korea were also discovered during the recent unearthing of the wall. [emphasis added]

Rather convenient, eh? And not just for North Korea. There are plenty of archchauvinists among South Korean academics to lend whatever respectability they might add. (Is it fair to assume that ‘academic’ does not necessarily imply ‘scholar’?) Here’s a report about a North-South conference in 2003.

Second Joint Scientific Symposium on Tangun and Kojoson

Pyongyang, October 3 (KCNA) — The second joint scientific symposium on Tangun and Kojoson (ancient Korea) took place at the People’s Palace of Culture on Oct. 2. Present there were Ryu Mi Yong, chairperson of the Council for the Reunification of Tangun’s Nation, Kim Jong Yong, vice-president of the Academy of Social Sciences, social scientists and university teachers in Pyongyang.

Also on hand were academic figures of the south side including Honorary Chairman Kim Jong Bae and Chairman Yun Nae Hyon of the Tangun Society who came to participate in the joint national function commemorating the Foundation Day of Korea.

Presented to the symposium were achievements made by many historians in the north and the south in the studies of documents and archaeological excavation by deepening researches into Tangun and Kojoson over the past one year. Academic issues were also discussed.

Historians of the north said that the excavation of the tomb of King Tangun was a historic event which confirmed the Korean nation being a homogeneous nation rare to be seen with the same blood, language, culture and history with Tangun as its ancestor. They proved that the area of Pyongyang is the cradle of the culture of Kojoson.

Historians from the south reviewed achievements made by historical circles in the north and the south in the studies of Tangun and Kojoson and said it has been proved through Koguryo mural tombs that the Korean nation is descendants of Tangun.

The speakers stressed the need for the historians of the two parts of the country to deepen joint academic studies of Tangun and Kojoson that had a great influence on the development of national history.

A joint press release of the symposium was adopted.

According to it, the historians of the north and the south shared the same view that the Korean nation is a homogeneous nation with Tangun as its founding ancestor, a resourceful nation that went over to a civilized society in the earliest period in the East to create an excellent national culture and that Kojoson was the first ancient state of the Korean nation and a powerful and independent sovereign state that displayed its grand sight as a civilized state in the East.

They also reached consensus on the need to conduct brisk academic exchange, solidarity and cooperation to glorify the national history spanning five thousand years, preserve the fine national character and keep the commonness of the nation and turn out actively for the solidarity and unity of the intellectuals of the north, the south and abroad and for the great unity of the whole nation and national reunification in accordance with the idea of “By our nation itself”. [emphasis added]

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Bulgarian Wrestlers versus Democrats

I regret having to dump a tub of icewater over our (or at least my) enthusiasm for the “Black Sea Mafia” in Japanese sumo, but a “differently informed” perspective on the origins of these wrestlers needs to be considered. The following passage begins the chapter titled, “Wrestlers versus Democrats,” in Robert D. Kaplan’s book Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus (Vintage, 2000).

Within twenty-four hours of crossing into Bulgaria by train from Romania, I had begun hearing two words over and over again: wrestlers and groupings, with an emphasis on Multigroup, the Orion Group, and the Tron Group. “They run the country,” I was told, or at the least were as palpable a presence in people’s lives as the elected government. In early May 1998, a few weeks after I left Bulgaria, Anna Zarkova, a local journalist who had exposed these groups in her articles for the daily Trud, was doused with sulfuric acid hurled at her face at a bus stop. Zarkova, the mother of two children, lost her left ear and the sight in one eye as a result of the attack. For this reason, I cannot name the private citizens who gave me the following information without endangering their lives.

In the Communist era, Bulgaria had a great Olympic wrestling tradition. When the regime favorites lost their subsidies, many of them went into racketeering–with the help of their friends from the security services–and amassed tremendous wealth during the power vacuum that followed the regime’s collapse. A close friend, a Bulgarian woman in her mid-twenties who specializes in human-rights cases, told me:

“The wrestlers are all big and tough, with cell phones, fancy cars, Versace suits, and young girls on their arms. All their girlfriends look alike: thin, with blond hair and vacuous expressions, and adorned with gold. At a restaurant where a meal cost more than most Bulgarians make in a month, I heard one of these girls repeat over and over to her wrestler boyfriend, ‘This is so cheap. I can’t believe how cheap this is….’ The wrestlers and their girls go to expensive nightclubs with loud music, where go-go dancers sing cheesy lyrics, like ‘I love shopska [peasant’s] salad.’ We all know that our cars will be stolen if they are not ‘insured’ with one of the wrestlers’ insurance companies. Another name for the wrestlers is the moutras–the ‘scary faces.’ We are all repulsed by their behavior, but we have to deal with them. This is a country where people have put their life savings into sugar and flour because of inflation [and where the monthly salary is $140], yet there is a criminal class with stolen Audis and Mercedes.”

I saw the wrestlers frequently in Sofia. A late-model high-performance car would screech to a halt, muscular men in fashionable clothes would emerge with cell phones, wearing enough cologne to be noticeable from fifteen feet away. The boss would occasionally have two beautiful women with him, one on each arm. It was both frightening and pathetic. Their expensive homes, on the slopes of Mount Vitosha, above the haze of pollution that hovers over Sofia, were surrounded by two-story-high brick walls and punctuated with satellite dishes. Nearby sprawled a vast Gypsy settlement of muddy shacks, growling dogs milling about.

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