[KS] Gwageo cheongsan (Kwageon ch'eongsan)

jason sparks jls801 at yahoo.com
Mon Sep 9 06:21:11 EDT 2002

Yong-ho Choe comments that he is "alarmed" at the "finger-pointing, rather than . . . soul-searching examinations of the past mistakes" of recent trends toward "kwago ch'ongsan." 

Furthermore, for Mr. Choe, these "soul-searching examinations" should be "left to historians to examine comprehensively---free of prejudgment."

Two things strike me about his "alarm" and his recommendation. First of all, do historians STILL really speak of historical interpretations "free of prejudgement." Or do we rather account for our prejudgments, as honestly as possible, knowing they will be easily recognized (or deconstructed) by thoughtful audiences?

With all due respect, I must admit that this epistemological myth of the unbiased history is something one often hears from Korean historiography. 

Another of Mr. Choe's comments struck me. He recommends that in order to obviate any "finger-pointing" at collaborators and the like, we would all be better off if any examinations of Korea's history "be left to historians to examine comprehensively." 

Is there any compelling reason why those Koreans NOT politically or economically well-placed enough to be academics should be excluded from historical discourse? 

One wonders--particularly considering how these very visceral issues of social justice that might warrant "finger pointing" are related directly to who can or can not rise among the social elite in Korea and become, for example, a university professor.

This would not be unknown to Mr. Choe. 

Two assumptions are troubling here: First, why would historians--particularly many Korean historians I am familiar with--be any less biased, less likely to point fingers than non-historians? Having been on Korean college campuses for years, I can speak volumes on academic "finger pointing" at America and Japan for every conceivable reason.

It always seemed curious that professors who traditionally benefit from the necessary family connections and social status that would be the preconditions for professorships in Korea, would be generating discourse that actively and exclusively looked beyond the very proximal issues of social class and social justice among Koreans, in an effort to raise student ideological ire at much more distal bogey men (Japan, USA) OUTSIDE Korean life.

It is this that explains much about the nature of political discourse in Korea. One can easily excavate the past in precisely what seem to be Korean academic efforts to keep it buried.

Could it be that these Korean academics would find such discourse of social justice and social class in Korea to be inconvenient? 

Doesn't Mr. Choe risk being labeled among those who would find such discourse inconvenient by suggesting that certain historical records be kept from public discourse?

Someone might misconstrue Mr. Choe's sincere desire to examine history "free of judgement" as his pointing the finger of guilt at himself.

There is no escaping it: History is and always will be a controversial issue in Korea until all parties, sincere academics and non-academics as well, can find ways to discourse freely on this visceral issue.

One looks forward to those efforts of those sincere academics.  I am grateful for them whenever I encounter them.

Jason Sparks

University of Illinois

jsparks at uiuc.edu

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