[KS] Gwageo cheongsan (Kwageon ch'eongsan)

Vladimir Tikhonov vladimir.tikhonov at east.uio.no
Tue Sep 10 06:40:50 EDT 2002

Just in connection to what Koen is saying: I am strongly fascinated with 
many new approaches younger Korean historians of the later 1990s - early 
2000s apply to their past. For one thing, take Yi Suhun's theory on "sonong 
sahwe" ("small farmers-centered society") recently debated in <Sin DongA>. 
Yi shows - and quite convincingly - that old Kim YongsOp's idea on the 
"growth of larger-scale commercial farming" in Late Choson is not factually 
true - the average size of land holdings was actually growing little 
smaller, although productivity did rise to some degree, mostly due to 
technical innovations (irrigation, etc.). Then, Yi argues that, although 
small scale and partly commercialized farming did not translate into the 
"sprouts of capitalism" itself (and, this, "neajae palchOn ron" was a 
rather far-fetched thing), it could support the development of 
"transplanted capitalism" - "transplanted" by Japanese colonial 
bureaucracy, and Yi explicitly admits it! - for it already developed the 
socio-psychological basis for acceptance of the main capitalistic norms, 
like  private ownership of the land. I do not think that theory explains 
everything in Korea's modern transition, but it is a great progress in 
comparison with Kim YongsOpian arguments - progress, largely unnoticed 
outside of Korea! Or look at how the attitudes on Hwang SayOng's famous 
"silk letter" did obviously change - many historians (Cho gwang, HO 
DonghyOn, and some others) view it now as a "quest for human rights and 
religious freedom" rather than "national treason". Many other things are 
speedily changing as well: "Patriotic Enlightenment Movement"'s  "statist" 
(kukkajuUi-jOk) ideology is being actively problematized and linked both to 
the following acceptance of Japanese colonial ideology and authoritarian 
courses of post-colonial development. All these things, in fact, represent 
gradual "phasing out" of the nationalistic meta-narrative on the part of 
very significant sector of S.Korea's historic community. The strength of 
nationalistic versions is partly residual and partly explainable by various 
political commitments - but to say that S.Korean historiography as a whole 
is "nationalistic" now would be tantamount to saying that "Western scholars 
are generally Orientalist and implicitly racist". Both statements are not 
completely untrue, but the progressive part of the spectrum gets 
One thing I dare to suggest is: would not it be better, instead of debating 
"their" "sins of nationalism", simply try to monitor in this List what is 
being published in Korean historical journals? We will get lots of useful 
stuff for the classrooms.


At 08:37 10.09.2002 +0200, you wrote:
>Without intending to go at it ad hominem, I think TN Park's reply to Geri
>Ledyard's posting clearly shows that we need to take a closer look at what
>exactly historians are saying when they talk about kwago ch'ongsan. An
>impression I have had for quite some time now, is that we (the foreign
>Korean Studies community in general) are mired in the alleged stranglehold
>of nationalist historiography. We somehow fail to see that the acrimonious
>tone of the 1980-90s (though still there in some instances), has been
>superseded by a less politicized, but all the more path breaking
>historiography. Over the enduring drone of nationalist rhetoric, we seem to
>have overlooked these inspiring developments.
>Rather than to work ourselves into a temper about the term, it would be
>worthwhile to wait and see how the authors of the Korea Journal articles go
>about 'atoning for the past.' Maybe we can then have a less speculative and
>more informed debate.
>Koen De Ceuster
>Forgive me if I make a point that has already been made, but the
>Martin/Chang explanation ("burying one's past [call it quits with], and
>turing over a new leaf") seems to fit with the idea as I have heard it used
>in public here. Specifically, during the mid-1990s, when then-President Kim
>Youngsam was explaining why he thought the nation would be better off
>destroying the former Colonial Capitol (1926-1945) which later was used as
>the ROK Capitol (from 1948 to the mid-1980s) and the National Museum (from
>the late 1980s to the mid-1990s).
>I am working from memory here, but I believe the Korea Herald and Korea
>Times both translated the President's words by saying that razing the
>building was necessary to "cleanse Korea's history" and to "set its history
>right." Even if the term he used was not *kwagô ch'ôngsan* exactly, it
>appears that such sentiments are shared with that term as it is used
>As some have suggested here, the *kwagô ch'ôngsan* concept may originally
>have been at the heart of a noble effort to allow to be heard dissenting
>voices that had formerly been suppressed. However, in politics and in the
>press, and thus in public discourse, the concept has taken on an ugly form
>that seems more agenda-driven than anything else: selective focus or neglect
>on points that will support the point-of-view of the group.
>The term may not be a neologism in the sense of the word's creation, but
>this new usage itself may be neologistic. Various "anti-isms" (e.g.,
>anti-Japanesism, anti-Americanism, anti-capitalism, anti-leftism, and other
>anti-xxx sentiments) are not just being appropriated by political and social
>leaders, but are also being exacerbated by them and their groups to achieve
>short-term ends. The fact that Lee Hoi-chang's father's alleged pro-Japanese
>activities are an issue in the current presidential campaign, despite having
>occurred some six decades ago, is an example of the power of such anti-isms.
>Early in this discussion, I believe someone had suggested that the way the
>term is being applied is not aimed at resolving these problems. I would
>wholeheartedly agree. Resolving the problems would be antithetical to the
>interests of those who are promoting certain anti-isms, which is to augment
>support for them in the political and/or social arenas.
>A Korean-born professor of mine at Yonsei University once remarked in a
>Modern Korean History class that there were many things he can tell us about
>Korean-Japanese relations in our English-language courses that he "would
>never say" in his Korean-language lectures for fear of his job. His own
>explanation was one that paralleled my own experience: by deviating from the
>sanitized "history" that Koreans have learned in school -- even at the
>university level -- he risked criticism that could go so far as the
>demanding of his removal. We have had similar experiences in public radio
>program content development.
>This, I contend, is part of the result of such efforts to "cleanse" or "make
>right" Korean history. It is a potentially dangerous trend that will result
>in a squelching of dialogue, not the promotion of it.

Vladimir Tikhonov,
Department of East European and Oriental Studies,
Faculty of Arts,
University of Oslo,
P.b. 1030, Blindern, 0315, Oslo, Norway.
Fax: 47-22854140; Tel: 47-22857118

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