It’s done. I submitted my PhD thesis this week and left its fate in the hands of my examiners. Not much else to say really other than it feels good.
And happy pig year! I hope this really is a lucky year.
올해 돼지 꿈 많이 꾸세요!
It’s done. I submitted my PhD thesis this week and left its fate in the hands of my examiners. Not much else to say really other than it feels good.
And happy pig year! I hope this really is a lucky year.
올해 돼지 꿈 많이 꾸세요!
Part two of some thoughts on the new book about Korea’s modern history, crossposted once again from Frog in a Well.
Continuing on the subject of the new, controversial history book 해방 전후사의 재인식 (‘A new understanding of Korea’s liberation’), I wanted to link to this rather helpful article from Joongang Daily which lists the contrasting views of the book and its more leftwing 1979 predecessor (해방 전후사의 인식) on a number of key subjects. And here is my even-more-simplified version of the same list:
1. Responsibility for the division of Korea:
(1979) It was Syngman Rhee’s fault basically.
(2006) Stalin gave the order to establish a government in North Korea in September 1945, so basically it was his fault.
2. Views of the Korean War:
(1979) It is one-sided to claim that North Korea invaded. It was actually a civil war [pace Bruce Cumings] to reunify the peninsula.
(2006) The Korean war was actually an international war, part of the USSR’s strategy of keeping the US in check.
3. Perspectives on Syngman Rhee:
(1979) Rhee was an anti-democratic American lackey
(2006) Rhee was a Machiavellian politician who made progress on the political/democratic front and laid some of the foundations for South Korea’s later economic growth.
4. Evaluation of North Korea’s Kim Il Sung:
(1979) Kim Il Sung got rid of (North) Korea’s colonial semi-feudal past and fostered a new democratic state.
(2006) Kim Il Sung organised North Korea after liberation like one of his guerilla units with mass mobilisation campaigns and the like.
5. Removing remnants of Japanese colonialism:
(1979) North Korea was successful in removing the remnants of Japanese colonialism while South Korea wasn’t due to US reluctance.
(2006) Remnants of Japanese colonialism continued in both North and South after liberation.
I have to say that on most of these issues I think I fall down on the side of the latest, supposedly rightwing, book. Since I am certainly not rightwing in my views of Korean history (or anything else), it does make me wonder again whether the Korean press have really been giving the correct impression of this book. I think part of the problem here is that the left-right debate over history (and other things) is perceived in a certain way in South Korea, for historical reasons.
In the past it has been a confrontation between authoritarian anti-communism and Stalinism. The problem is that both sides in this equation have really been disintegrating over the last decade or more. Hence this attempt to create a new more ‘rational’ right that disassociates itself from the authoritarian past, is not obsessed with ‘reds under the bed’ and accepts the achievements of Korea’s democracy movement. On the other side there are also now many on the left who do not accept the left-nationalist version of Korean history that is basically an application of Stalinist ideas straight out of 1950s Soviet textbooks. I suppose the ironic thing here is that a number of the centrist/liberal politicians who are currently in power with Roh Moo-hyun’s government were closely associated with the 1979 book or the left-nationalist movement of the 1980s and so perhaps have a closer allegiance to the ideas that it contains than do people who are to their left.
For some further reading on the reaction to this book you can have a look at this article from Oh My News, which reports on a recent speech by Sŏ Chung-sŏk, head of the 역사문제연구소, or Institute for Korean Historical Studies (who publish the journal 역사비평). He makes a couple of interesting points. First, he thinks that this book has been published for political reasons and it is strange that they are specifically attacking such an old book since the work of many progressive scholars has since revised a lot of what was said in the original 1979 book. He also claims that many of the people who have written articles for the new book are not specialists annd hence their work is somewhat suspect. This sounds like a bit of a cheap point, but if you look at Sŏ’s own publications list he certainly is in a position to comment on the historiography of the postwar period.
Something I’m crossposting from Frog in a Well:
Another couple of history-related articles from the English-language Korean media that were brought to my attention on the mailing list of the British Association for Korean Studies. They concern another controversial issue, but this time an internal one that reflects the right-left divide in South Korea. A long awaited book has just been published which aims to act as a corrective to what is seen as the prevailing left-nationalist view of Korea’s modern history. The book, 해방 전후사의 재인식 or ‘A new understanding of Korea’s liberation’ is in two parts, one on the colonial period and the other on the period after liberation. A number of current political issues make all this particularly ‘hot’ at the moment: the investigation into Japanese collaborators (headed by veteran left-nationalist historian Kang Man-gil); the government’s policy of rapprochement toward North Korea and the South Korean right’s attempt to repackage itself as a ‘new right’ untainted by former military regimes or corrupt regionalist politics.
This from the Joongang Daily article:
A new history book by a conservative group of scholars was published yesterday, under the title “New Understanding of Post-Liberation History,” in a challenge to the left-leaning classic of the same title, minus “New,” published in 1979. The 1979 publication carried much significance with progressives and left-leaners in society, with its leftist stance on the country’s history after Japanese colonial rule.
This from the Donga Ilbo article:
European history professor Park Chi-hyang [actually she’s a specialist on British history - Owen] and economics professor Lee Young-hoon of Seoul National University, Korean literature professor Kim Chul of Yonsei, and political science professor Kim Il-young from Sung Kyun Kwan University edited the newly released book. The book contains 28 thesis papers from both at home and abroad, and includes conversations among editors on how to overcome the problematic mindset of national supremacism and the belief in the necessity of the people’s revolution portrayed in the previous book on the subject, “Understanding the History Before and After Liberation.”
Having read these articles I’m quite intrigued to read this two-volume collection of articles, if only to find out what it actually does contain. The two newspaper articles seem quite contradictory – they associate the project closely with the South Korean right and particularly the so-called New Right and yet the writers actually seem to be quite broad. It’s hard to tell from this whether the book really is an attempt to give space to good history about some of the most controversial periods of Korea’s modern history or whether it is really designed to push the rightwing view of history and revive some of their favourite figures from the past like Syngman Rhee and Park Chung-hee.
Reading these articles it should be remembered that both of the newspapers they come from are part of the triumvirate of the rightwing establishment media, often referred to as Cho-Chung-Tong (ie Chosun Ilbo, Joongang Ilbo, Donga Ilbo). That, or perhaps the fact that the journalists haven’t read the book, could be behind the slightly confusing impression.
There are also, I think, some problematic assumptions in these articles that need to be picked up on. I wondered in particular about this idea that the authors and their papers have been chosen as “writings that have no political color”. It strikes me rather that when the editors say that wanted to choose history that was not ideological they are limiting their definition of ‘ideological’ to the left nationalists. Then there is the unquestioned assumption in these articles – that South Korea has come to be dominated by a ‘distorted’ left-nationalist view of history. Now I think there is quite an element of truth to this when it comes to the academic establishment, where the left-nationalist view of history (what Noja called the ‘Kang Man-gilian’ version of Korean history a few posts back) has become hegemonic since the 80s. But this is certainly changing and to imply that this view extends throughout South Korean society would, I think, be quite a stretch. Academic discourse perhaps has proportionately more influence on general public discourse in Korea than it does in many other places, but there are also many other competing influences, not to mention a state education system that up until the 1980s, at least, was teaching a rather different version of history.
More on this in part two.
Besides his specific defence of Marx against Said’s accusations, Habib also attacks the way in which,
‘Orientalism’ as a word has thus been so degraded that anyone can use it for anything one disapproves of, even when the disapprover may himself be a dyed in the wool ‘Orientalist’!
The meat of Habib’s criticism is also absolutely to the point:
The essential weakness of Edward Said and those who follow him and speak of ‘Orientalism’ and ‘colonial discourse’ in the same breath lies in the failure to see that colonialism (including imperialism, neocolonialism, etc) does not form the only major influence over Oriental scholarship in the west or in the Orient. There is too easy a readiness on their part to assume that such ideas as those of gender and racial equality, and of nation and democracy, that arose in the West in modern times, and obtained popular acceptance through upheavals like the French Revolution of 1789 and the Soviet Revolution of 1917, have exercised no influence at all on modern studies of Oriental societies. Yet who can read Wellhausen’s Arab Kingdom and its Fall without being convinced that his analysis of the Umayyid Caliphate, as structured on distinct classes based on political and economic dominance and subjugation, is derived from ideas that social democracy had introduced in the Germany of his time. In India D D Kosambi, drawing quite firmly on the Orientalist tradition of scholarship, aimed at reconstructing ancient Indian history through the application of Marxist concepts. Modern democratic, as against colonial, notions have thus created an increasing belief that Oriental societies, like all human societies, are susceptible to the same methods of study—indeed, with the same essential assumptions—as the history of western societies. There has accordingly developed within Oriental learning almost parallel, but ultimately conflicting, trends based respectively on colonial and what may be called universalist approaches.
So, the basic problem with Said’s critique of Orientalism seems to be that, like quite a bit of other post-colonial scholarship, it often produces a mirror-image of colonial discourse and thereby paradoxically ends up validating it to some extent. Towards the end of his article Habib strikes a rather optimistic note, arguing that our expanding knowledge of the human past inevitably leads to a better (more universalist) understanding of human history and the overturning of previous mistaken ideas.
However, he also notes that it has been relatively easy for those who actually provide support for ‘neo-colonialism’ to co-opt scholarship heavily based on Said’s critique of Orientalism. Habib uses as an example the work of the Indian Subaltern group, but another example of such potentially co-optable scholarship might be recent attempts to ‘overcome’ nationalism and nationalist historiography in Korea. The complaint that most Korean historiography is tainted by nationalism or is overly Eurocentric because it attempts to apply Marxist or other theories of European/North American origin to an East Asian society has long been a common one among many of the more conservative US scholars writing on Korean history. The charge of ‘irrational nationalism’ (the echoes of good old-fashioned Orientalism are very strong in this phrase) has also, ironically, been one of the favourite accusations levelled by the Japanese neo-nationalists against Koreans protesting Japan’s revisionist history textbooks.
I’m not making an argument for either nationalist or Orientalist scholarship here, just agreeing with Habib that there can be a tendency to throw out the baby with the bath water and disregard all previous historical scholarship as either Orientalist (written by Western scholars) or nationalist (written by ‘native’ postcolonial scholars). This in turn can form part of a discourse that repudiates past (or perhaps present) anti-colonial struggles themselves as overly nationalist or ‘totalizing’. Thus, the critique of Orientalism and Eurocentrism can turn away from the work of striving for a universalist understanding of human history and come perilously close to Orientalism itself.
And for people in London:
SOAS Centre of Korean Studies in association with the Daesan Foundation
Literary Event with Korean Novelist Hwang Sok-yong
Wednesday, 14 December 2005
Khalili Lecture Theatre
SOAS, University of London
“Hwang Sok-yong is arguably Korea’s most recognized and renowned author. Drawing artistic inspiration from his own experiences as a vagabond day laborer, student activist, Vietnam War veteran, advocate for coal miners and garment workers, and political dissident, he is embraced as a writer and champion of the people. His historical novel, Chang Kilsan, an extensive parable about a bandit that described the contemporary dictatorship, was serialized in a daily paper from 1974 to 1984 and sold an estimated million copies in North and South Korea. In 1993 there was international outcry when Hwang was sentenced to seven years in prison for an unauthorized trip to the North to promote exchange between artists in North and South Korea. In 1998, he was granted special pardon by the new South Korean president. The recipient of Korea’s highest literary prizes and shortlisted for the Prix Fémina Étranger, Hwang has seen his novels and shorts stories published in North and South Korea, Japan, China, France, Germany, and the U.S. Hwang was born in 1943 in Xinjing, Manchuria (now Changchun, China).”
‘About the Author’ in Hwang Sok-yong’s The Guest published by Seven Stories Press (2005)
The SOAS Centre of Korean Studies has been honoured to host Mr Hwang Sok-yong’s stay in London (as associate member of the Centre) over the past two years. The Centre is pleased to host this event in honour of the celebrated novelist, who was shortlisted for this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature, as he leaves London and SOAS for Paris where he will be affiliated with the University of Paris over the next two years.
Mr Hwang will discuss his works and read from his novel, The Guest (손님), the English translation of which has been recently published by Seven Stories Press. A book signing and drinks reception will follow.
This event is kindly supported by the Daesan Foundation.
For further information or queries, please contact Grace Koh (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALL ARE WELCOME
It’s confirmed now: we’ve won a major victory at SOAS and achieved the reinstatement of the two sacked specialist librarians. Here’s what the director Colin Bundy had to say about it today (this was only his second communication with students in the long-running dispute, his first was two days ago):
SOAS LIBRARY DISPUTE RESOLVED
It has been agreed that Sue Small and Fujiko Kobayashi will be reinstated at SOAS. All industrial action has been withdrawn. The School and the AUT have invited ACAS to conduct a process of repairing and restoring collegial working relations in the Library and more generally in addressing issues of workplace relations and behaviour across the School. Two other processes recommended by the SOAS Governing Body are also being put in train: a review of Library strategy and an examination of HR policies and procedures.
Director and Principal
18 November 2005
Meanwhile, the Student Union had this to say:
The Students’ Union of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) is today (Friday 18th November) pleased to announce that industrial action planned by members of the AUT Union for next week has been suspended. The move follows eleventh-hour talks at the conciliation service, ACAS.
We, the Executive of the Students’ Union are heartened that the combined voice of nearly 4,000 students and academics has finally been listened to and acknowledged by SOAS Management. The deal is simple; the two Librarians have been reinstated to their former positions in the Library, and will return on the 28th November; no other Academic Related staff are under threat. The proposed ‘restructure’ has failed. Common sense has prevailed.
Mushtaq Ahmad (Co-President of the SU) on behalf of the SU Exec said, “I have no doubt that the thought of a full-scale walk out by students and academics combined, coupled with the prospect of non-payment of tuition fees started the dramatic push for talks on Tuesday afternoon”
The Executive Bodies of the AUT, UNISON and the Students’ Union have already agreed that from now onwards we will work more visibly together, to ensure that decision making at SOAS becomes more democratic and sound. We will attempt to prevent Management from taking decisions that will have a negative impact on staff, students and on the institution as a whole.
Academics and students must work effectively together to ensure our voices are heard.
Fujiko Kobayashi, reinstated SOAS Japan/Korea Librarian said, “I would like to thank all students, academics and staff throughout SOAS who from the first day have campaigned tirelessly for our positions, and for the future of the Library itself. Your emails and protests have touched Sue and myself greatly. Thank you all.”
The momentum generated by the success of this campaign will now be carried forward to our main issue for this academic year, and the one that students at SOAS demand the most; longer Library opening hours. We are confident that by working together, positive progress will be made during academic year.
We look forward to working with our colleagues in the AUT, UNISON and Management to restore good working relations within the School in order to extend access to the Library, to improve transparency in decision making, and to help restore SOAS international reputation. We believe that SOAS is one of the world’s most internationally recognised centres of specialist
knowledge, we must keep it that way.
Students can be assured that that the Students’ Union now has a powerful voice within this institution. We thank you all for your support through these difficult months.
Executive of the SOAS Students’ Union
One of the most heartening things about this is the way that it seems to have woken up both academics and students (me included) to what the management has been trying to do at SOAS. It has seems to have brought about a new unity among the three unions at SOAS which could prove crucial again in the future.
Word has it that SOAS management has caved in and agreed to reinstate the sacked librarians, Fujiko Kobayashi and Sue Small. There will apparently also be a full review of the library restructuring with major representation from academic staff.
More information when I get it.
Yesterday’s statement from the lecturer’s union, AUT, on the results of the strike ballot at SOAS:
SOAS set for strike action in defence of librarians
AUT members at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) have voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking strike action in support of two specialist librarians recently made redundant.
On a 64.5% turn out – high for a union ballot – 80% of AUT members voted in favour of strike action and 87% voted in favour of action short of a strike. As a result, unless the two librarians are reinstated, SOAS looks set to face a FIVE-day strike, starting on Monday 21 November.
The result comes on the same day as AUT representatives attend talks at the conciliation service ACAS at which they are set to reiterate their demand that any settlement of the dispute will not be reached without the reinstatement of the two librarians.
Update: It has now been reported that ACAS concluded there was no scope for agreement during this first meeting. Further discussions are due to be held during the week before the strike is due to begin.
I must say that I’m proud of the staff at SOAS for the stand they have taken. With the attitude of the current management at the school, strike action (at the very least the threat of it) was always going to be the only way to get justice for the two sacked librarians. The solidity of this ballot result is certainly going to be food for thought for management, although I wonder if their arrogance will continue to get the better of them. If it does come to a strike you can be sure that I will report from the picket line.
I wonder if academics have braziers on their picket lines?
I’m excited to hear that Pak Noja has started a blog at the Hankyoreh website (in Korean). Today he has a piece about the recent riots in France, entitled: “The language of those who have been deprived of language: the uprising of France’s Muslim youth.”
He has also posted a series of his lecture notes, in English, for his course “The Making of East Asian Modernities”.
I think we can expect more interesting writing from him in the future.
Yes, it’s here finally. The much anticipated opening of Frog in a Well’s Korean history blog. I have a feeling this is going to be good, especially if it manages to attract a relatively high level of participation (Savage Minds seems to have set the bar pretty high on this one). It will also be great if the site can live up to its ambition of including participation from Korean scholars and posts in Korean.
Someone bearing a remarkable resemblance to ‘kotaji’ will be posting there as often as he can.
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