[KS] Collaboration

Chin-Oh Chu cchu at uts.cc.utexas.edu
Sat Feb 6 19:26:53 EST 1999

Dear List,

As a newcomer to this list, I'd like to introduce myself briefly. I am a
professor in the Department of History at Sangmyung University in Seoul,
Korea and I am presently teaching courses on Korean culture and history as
a visiting professor at the University of Texas at Austin.  I first came to
the US in the summer of 1997 as a visiting scholar at the Korea Institute,
Harvard University. Although I am teaching in the US, I still find it very
difficult to use English freely. My specialty is Korean Intellectuals,
especially the "Enlightenment Party (kaehwapa)" of the late 19th century.
I graduated from Yonsei University in 1995 with a dissertation on that
topic with a concentration on Independence Club.

I have been interested in the "collaboration" issue for a long time and I
decided to study history for the purpose of engaging in research on this
subject. The main reason for choosing my topic in the graduate school was
to find out about the origins of "collaboration."  In 1990, I made the
first Korean television program on this topic with KBS, despite some
apprehension by the executives at KBS who believed that the issue was still
too sensitive. In reality, they were afraid of powerful figures in Korea
include the media, education, government and the arts. Can you imagine that
it was not the 1930s or 1940s, but 1990? 

Having read the entire debate on this list, I'd like to address some
misunderstandings on Korean historiography. For example, my dear friend
Frank described Korean historiography as still in the
'get-the-record-straight' stage that uses the same methodology and simply
exchanges protagonists and ideology.  He claimed that it does not help us
*understand* history.  He further argued that Koen De Ceuster's
dissertation could be an alternative to present Korean historiography, even
asking whether "Anyone has seen any good study about collaboration in Korea
(apart from parts of Koen De Ceuster's diss.?)."

I was frustrated by these remarks. I know of many good studies in Korean
about collaboration, and we (young Korean historians) have been in the
process of abolishing the 'get-the-record-straight' history for at least 12
years. We established several organizations like Association for Korean
History (Hankuk Yuksa Yunguhoe), Research Center for Historical Issues
(Yuksa Munje Yunguso) and published journals like The Critical Review of
History (Yuksa Bipyung), History and Present (Yuksa wa Hyunsil) and books
as well. I think at least our members who are almost 70 young professors
and 80 Ph.D candidates tried to overcome that 'get-the-record-straight'
history. At first, I'd like to recommend two web-sites -- http//
banmin at ifp.or.kr and http://www.nhcc.go.kr. (I can provide a bibliography
later.), even though those are not our web-sites. 

First of all, you have to know how it was so difficult to research or
comment on this issue. And you also have to understand that accumulating of
documents on collaborators and write an article on them was very risky. So
the first people who started on this topic was not a person in academic.
>From late 1980s, many young historians like Cho Dongkul, Pak Chanseung, Kim
Dohyung and scholars on the history of Korean Literature tried find out
their motivation, logic, influence, and result. And I think it is still
inevitable to get the many materials.

As for myself, I have written about the Social Darwinism of Korean
Intellectuals and particularly in 1988 of Yun Chi-Ho. Frankly speaking, I
have not yet read Koen's dissertation. I would hope to find my works cited.
 Consequently, I'd like to ask you to please don't go so far as to assume
that many Korean scholars have not already thought of ideas similar to your
own. I am aware that Frank has tried to read the literature on this topic
in Korean, but I'd request that the sophistication of Korean scholarship
not be simplified. 

In Korea, we too had some confusion over understanding collaboration. As
Professor Ledyard said the word "chinil" literally means "close to Japan,"
and we used to call those who committed anti-national behavior (banminjok
haengwija, buyukja) or even traitors against the nation (minjok banyukja).
The word "chinil" has been commonly used for years, and many people still
use that word without much thought, although people generally know its
meaning. The situation might be similar to the persistent use of the term
"Indians" for Native Americans, even though it is widely know to be
"factually" incorrect. "Collaboration" is translated into "hyupryuk" or
"buyuk" in Korean. I feel that this term does not accurately describe their
misbehavior, but I also use this expression because I don't know of any
other appropriate expression. 

And what is the category of collaboration? As Professor Ledyard notes,
after liberation, some collaborators have argued that all Koreans who paid
taxes to Japanese, attended Japanese schools, especially in Japan, were
collaborators as well. Have you ever seen the precedents of this kind of
argument or punishment in other countries? By making such a claim, they
hoped to dilute the seriousness of their crimes.

Korean historians have classified the collaborators into two types: One is
the professional collaborator (chik-up-juk chin-il-pa) who was an official,
military, police or secret agent for Japan. These cases very difficult to
deny. At most they argued they were long time anti-communists. The other is
the intellectual who served as a speaker or writer for promoting soldiers,
laborers, and even comfort women during World War II. Those who are in the
second category were the most advanced intellectuals during the Colonial
Period. They have argued that their doings were unintentional and were the
result of the forceful pressure, torture from authorities who made
fraudulent use of their names etc. But there were many people who resisted,
escaped, or even kept silent. 

This latter group could not be considered "victims".  The real victims were
those who were induced by their words and who died or became handicapped. I
have hoped to hear an apology to those who went to the battlefield, but I
have heard only their self-justification. Moreover, it is very dangerous
that their descendents have tried to justify their ancestors. These
descendants have generally had greater power than protesters have. In some
cases, those who have become scholars are indebted to their ancestors, and
in others, tried to write articles or publish books that paints their
collaborating ancestors as victims. I cannot accept such behavior.  

Personally, I think they had their own motivations to become collaborators,
rather than being forced into collaboration. They were usually one-time
nationalist activists, so they and their followers have always tried to
emphasize this aspect. For many of them, the independence of Korea would
not come from Korean's fight for freedom but from intervention by Western
powers, especially the U.S -- the so-called theory of clash between the
American and Japanese (Mi-il-chung-dol-ron). But, as you know, Japan at
first crushed the U.S and Britain in South Asia. For these collaborators,
hopes of gaining freedom from Western intervention were abandoned and they
transited to collaboration for the purpose of securing their rights as
Koreans. As they observed that Koreans who were long time Japanese
civilians and Japanese speakers could be recruited as officials of new
territories such as Manchuria. 

I was also shocked that Carl wrote, "A problem is then that a large
majority of Korean Studies scholars are ethnic Koreans, so I can not really
see who else should/can examine the collaboration issue. Maybe we simply
have to wait until the period has become a bit more distant." What is the
problem? Who is the "we" Carl refers to? It is only natural that a large
majority of Korean Studies scholars are ethnically Korean. I read Carl's
the second letter and I appreciated it. 

Sometimes I have discovered that many Koreanists who use English as a
native tongue think they are the only qualified Koreanists in the world. It
is often the case that Korean scholars who have lived and studied only in
Korea cannot convey their thoughts in English, but this situation is only
natural; nobody can blame such a person nor does she or he need to feel
ashamed. The fluency of one's English tells nothing about one's
intelligence but is merely a marker of one's ethnic/cultural background. On
the contrary, it is more desirable that you learn Korean and read articles
in Korean if you want to profess yourself Koreanist. It is an unfounded
bias that only those scholars who are not of Korean heritage can be a
better and more objective scholar.

It is not that I believe Korean Studies in Korea to be more advanced than
Korean studies elsewhere; it would be wrong to think that only Korean
scholars can comment on Korea. I am, in fact, happy to know that there are
many talented non-Korean scholars in the world, and I would want to shy
from dividing Koreanists into "Korean" and "non-Korean." I know many
scholars who are diligent in reading Korean materials and cautious in their
approach to Korean scholarship. In the same light, Korean scholars have
also tried to read the literature on this topic in English and are humble
to foreign scholars. Insults to one another solve no problems. 

In conclusion, I'd like to suggest a few things.  First, I know it is too
hasty but let's organize a panel or round table on collaboration for next
year's AAS conference.  I'd be willing to present.  Second, let's introduce
and compare the cases of other countries, not only in Asia (India, China,
Philippine, Burma, and Vietnam) but also European experiences (France,
Scandinavia, Netherlands, Poland, etc.)  Third, let's talk about how
interpretations depend on historical facts, rather than focusing on finding
fault with and insulting one another.

Best regards,

Chinoh Chu


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