[KS] History's twists: thoughts on kwago ch'ongsan and the MOPE syndrome

Jay Lewis Jay.Lewis at oriental-institute.oxford.ac.uk
Mon Sep 9 11:52:22 EDT 2002

I'm rather sympathetic to two of Aidan's points: comparisons and a concern
with the future.  As a footnote to Prof. Tikhonov's wise and informative
post, I might add that the Korean Historical Association recently
collaborated (no pun intended) with the World History Association to hold a
joint conference at SNU.  The KHA was celebrating its 50th anniversary and
the WHA was holding its 11th annual conference.  I don't know, but I would
doubt that the event was a "shotgun wedding" dreamed up in recent months by
government image makers to fit the World Cup agenda, since negotiations over
bringing the WHA to Korea had been going on for about three years.  I
neglected to ask when and how the KHA became involved, but it may have been
only in the past year.  Many panels were bi-lingual (Korean and English);
there was simultaneous interpretation for all plenary sessions; and a number
of papers, panels, plenary addresses, and round-tables discussed the content
and direction of teaching on "world history."  At nearly all such sessions,
Korean teachers reported on the local scene.  (I might add that they were
greatly distressed by the recent watering down of world history in the
national curriculum.)  Naturally, there was not as much discussion as one
would have liked regarding Korean history in comparison with other
histories, but it may be part of the responsibility of historians living and
working outside of Korea to introduce comparisons, since we do have an
advantage in that regard.  Alas, I saw few foreign Korean historians there.
In general, there were occasional awkward moments when national historians
sat down with global systems theorists and comparative historians, and this
last was in evidence in the title of the conference: "Korea and the World in
History".  Nevertheless, I was extremely pleased to see such an influential
historical body in Korea embracing an organisation whose first premise is
anti-nationalist.  This can only bode well for the future.

The program can be seen at: http://www.history2002.or.kr

Jay Lewis
  -----Original Message-----
  From: Koreanstudies-admin at koreaweb.ws
[mailto:Koreanstudies-admin at koreaweb.ws]On Behalf Of Vladimir Tikhonov
  Sent: 09 September 2002 13:08
  To: Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws
  Subject: RE: [KS] History's twists: thoughts on kwago ch'ongsan and the
MOPE syndrome

  Judging from my experience of contacts with the people from the
"headquarters" of "yOksa ch'Ongsan", The Minjok munje yOn'guso, there is no
"unified" narrative of "clean" past there. Those who invoke the motif of
"settling the scores with the past", seem to represent, at least several
very different political/cultural agendas. There are "traditional"
nationalists who seek to further "glorify" the exiles' "independence
struggle" (Kim WOnung, the MP who leads the "ch'Ongsan" campaign in
parliament, seemingly belongs to this category - he has grown up in the clan
with strong "hangil minjok undong" credentials). But there are also the
moderate academic progressives: the people who are academically interested
in tracing down the links between the Late Choson, colonial and South Korean
post-colonial elites, but certainly are not going to "pugwan ch'amsi" the
"collaborators". Serious scholars, like Ha WOnho, and popular history
writers, like Yi DOgil, seem to be closer to this direction of work. Then,
there are certainly some left radicals, who seek to undermine South Korea's
ruling elite's national(ist) credentials through playing up the question of
the colonial roots of "their" wealth and power (in some cases, like that of
Yi Hwech'ang, the colonial roots are only too obvious...). But this last
group's influence seems to be rapidly diminishing recently, given the
general trend of questioning leftist nationalist meta-narrative in S.K.
academia (look, for example, how An ByOngjik, former "minjung" theoretic,
changed his views recently). All in all, the use of one and the same
semi-Confucian slogan of "YOksa ch'Ongsan" should not obscure the diversity
and huge internal contradictions inside the movement. The worst mistake
foreign "Korean experts" usually make is to lump "all them" together on
ethnic (and, I feel, in many cases unconsciously even on racial) grounds...


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