[KS] KSR 1999-12: _A Korean Nationalist Entrepreneur: A Life History

Stephen Epstein Stephen.Epstein at vuw.ac.nz
Mon Nov 15 15:57:27 EST 1999

_A Korean Nationalist Entrepreneur:  A Life History of Kim Songsu,
1891-1955_, by Choong Soon Kim.  SUNY Series in Korean Studies.  Albany:
SUNY Press, 1998.  xiv, 237pp.  (ISBN 0-7914-3721-3 cloth; ISBN
0-7914-3722-1 paper).

Reviewed by Wayne Patterson
St. Norbert College

[This review first appeared in _Acta Koreana_, 2 (1999): 159-62.  _Acta
Koreana_ is published by Academia Koreana of Keimyung University.]

	Kim Songsu is one of the best known figures in modern Korean
history and any book which purports to analyze his life is by its very
nature welcome not only for the light it sheds on the man himself but also
for its potential to illuminate important themes in the first half of the
twentieth century.  The author of the book, Choong Soon Kim, professor of
anthropology at the University of Tennessee at Martin, is by no means a
disinterested scholar in the production of this work, and he admits it.  C.
S. Kim not only went to the high school and college founded by Kim, but he
also expresses his admiration for Kim and believes that his book will help
dispel interpretations in recently-published works which he considers
one-sided and which view Kim as a Japanese collaborator.

	The recent scholarship to which the author refers is no doubt
Carter Eckert's _Offspring of Empire:  The Koch'ang Kims and the Colonial
Origins of Korean Capitalism, 1876-1945_ (Seattle:  University of
Washington Press, 1991) who argues, in part, that Japanese colonial policy
aided the development of Korean businesses in general and Kyongbang (Kim's
spinning enterprise) in particular, and that the nascent Korean bourgeoisie
willingly acquiesced in the Japanese colonial project.  Indeed, the first
question that anyone reading this review will ask is, how does the Kim book
differ from Eckert's? First, Kim tries to explain that Kim Songsu had
little choice but to cooperate with the Japanese but nonetheless stood up
to the Japanese whenever the opportunity presented itself.  Second, Kim's
book focuses only on the many activities of Kim Songsu, while the Eckert
book focuses primarily on the business aspects of the Kim family.  Third,
while the Eckert volume is theoretically broader in scope in looking at the
development of Korean capitalism and its relationship to Japanese policy,
Kim's study is less theoretical and more narrowly focused on the man

	The author uses another prominent book on this period, Michael
Robinson's _Cultural Nationalism in Colonial Korea, 1920-1925_ (Seattle:
University of Washington Press, 1988), to argue that Kim was, in fact, a
cultural nationalist who was enough of a realist to understand that
Japanese power in Korea could not be challenged directly.  Thus, he places
Kim in the same category as Yi Kwangsu and Yun Ch'iho who argued that
non-political projects in education, the media, and economic development
would better prepare Koreans for independence in the long run.  Such a
stance, of course, opened up these cultural nationalists to criticism from
the opposition radical nationalists that they were collaborators.

	In keeping with the cultural nationalist agenda, Kim's early
efforts were squarely in the sphere of education, believing that education
was a means to laying the foundation for eventual Korean independence.  To
that end, he acquired control of Chungang Hakkyo and turned it into a
hotbed of nationalism, although the leader of the Chungang group declined
to sign the March First declaration of independence.  Still, Kim tweaked
the Japanese by ensuring that instruction was given exclusively in the
Korean language up to the late 1930's.  He also founded in the early 1920's
what later became Kory™ University and for a while served as its president.
It was in this capacity that Kim was accused, falsely, according to the
author, of writing a letter urging the students to join the Imperial
Japanese Army in support of the war effort.  Kim also founded the Tong-A
Ilbo in an attempt to promote the native press and to eliminate illiteracy.
When the newspaper published Yi Kwang-su's editorials calling for a gradual
approach to independence, the newspaper was boycotted by the left and, in
1940, the Japanese closed it down.

	Kim also wanted to promote native economic power by founding the
Ky™ngs™ng Spinning and Weaving Company (Ky™ngbang) to compete with the
Japanese who dominated this sector of the Korean economy.  Indeed, he tried
to make it his practice to hire only Koreans, although he was occasionally
forced to use Japanese technical expertise, and he certainly relied on
Japanese sources of funding.  It is here where the greatest overlap exists
with Eckert's aforementioned book.  But Kim was not a very good businessman
and so turned over operations to his more economically-astute younger
brother Y™nsu.  And since Kim's activities in this sphere occupy only one
chapter out of seven, it is somewhat odd that the author uses the term
"entrepreneur" to describe Kim in the title of his book.

	Perhaps the one activity of Kim that was out of character was his
involvement in politics in the early postwar period.  Indeed, the author
indicates that if it had not been for the assassination of his close
friend, Song Chinu, with whom he had collaborated on many projects, Kim
would never have gone into politics.  But he was opposed to Communism,
cooperated with the American military government, came to lead an
opposition party, was elected Vice-President, and opposed Syngman Rhee's
drift toward authoritarianism.  He resigned in 1952 after suffering a
stroke, and died three years later.

	The author concludes that Kim was not perfect but was rather a
realist, and that those who see him as a collaborator do not know him and
do not understand his motives.  After all, the author points out, he never
changed his name nor accepted a peerage offered him by the Japanese, he
spent much of his own money on nationalistic projects, and his signature on
the article calling for Korean youth to serve in the Japanese military was

	The book is arranged topically rather than chronologically, with
separate chapters on the high school, the college, the corporation, the
newspaper, and his political activities.  On the one hand, this introduces
a certain amount of repetition in the volume.  On the other hand, it will
permit the reader to pick and choose what aspect of Kim's activities to
read about.  Stylistically, the press should have spent some effort on
copyediting to remove some of the English usage problems that appear.
Moreover, the author also uses some odd conventions.  For example, on p.
115, when one reads that "Choong Soon Kim vividly remembers those hard
days," it is the author citing himself!

	Nonetheless, this book is a welcome addition to the literature.  It
allows us to learn more about the man and his times.  It will not, however,
be the last word in the continuing debate about the nature of cooperation
and collaboration during the Japanese colonial period in Korea.

Patterson, Wayne  1999
Review of Choong Soon Kim, _A Korean Nationalist Entrepreneur:  A Life
History of Kim Songsu,
1891-1955_ (1996)
Korean Studies Review 1999, no. 12
Electronic file:
[This review first appeared in _Acta Koreana_, 2 (1999): 159-62]


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