[KS] KSR 2004-03: _Korea Between Empires, 1895-1919_, by Andre Schmid

Stephen Epstein Stephen.Epstein at vuw.ac.nz
Tue Mar 23 00:38:44 EST 2004

_Korea Between Empires, 1895-1919_, by Andre Schmid. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.  xi + 369 pages (ISBN 0-231-12538-0, cloth; ISBN 0-231-12539-9, paper).

reviewed by Michael Finch
Keimyung University

[This review first appeared in _Acta Koreana_, 6.1 (2003): 25-31.  _Acta
Koreana_ is published by Academia Koreana of Keimyung University.]

In _Korea Between Empires, 1895-1919_ Andre Schmid sets out to explore the development of the nationalist thought of the Patriotic Enlightenment Movement (_Aeguk kyemong undong_) in Korea as it found expression in the newspapers, textbooks, and monographs of the period. Although the dating in the title is 1895 to 1919, the main focus of the study is the period from the end of the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 until the annexation of Korea by Japan in 1910. The author partially bases placing his primary focus on journalism in Korea during that period on Benedict Anderson's somewhat sweeping assertion that "the nation's very origins can be traced to the rise of print capitalism and the appearance of mass vernacular newspapers." (pp. 5-6)

In his introduction Schmid discusses the major themes to be covered in the book: namely, the role of newspapers in defining the nation, Korea's disengagement from its traditional orientation toward China, the centrality of 'capitalist modernity' to both Korean nationalism and Japanese colonialist thought, the importance of Sin Ch'aeho's "ethnic definition of the nation" as _minjok_, (p. 16) and the way in which the parameters and frameworks of nationalist discourse in Korean newspapers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries continue to influence the debate on Korean nationalism today.

The opening chapter, "The Universal Winds of Civilization," examines the concept of _munmyOng kaehwa_ ("civilization and enlightenment"). Schmid's choice of the year 1895 as a starting point for his study is significant in that this year saw the defeat of China in the Sino-Japanese War and China's official renunciation of its suzerain status over Korea in the Treaty of Shimonoseki (17 April 1895). 'Suzerain status' by this time, of course, had very little meaning. More significantly the treaty marked the end of direct Chinese interference by its 'Resident' Yuan Shikai and his agents in ChosOn's political affairs, particularly its foreign relations. The following year 1896 saw the publication of the Tongnip sinmun (The Independent: 1896-1899), which marked the beginning of modern newspaper publication on the peninsula. The publication of the Tongnip sinmun was soon followed by the HwangsOng sinmun (Capital Gazette: 1898-1910), and Taehan maeil sinbo (Korea Daily News: 1904-1910). Editorials from these last two newspapers comprise a major research source for much of Schmid's study.

Schmid identifies the values of _munmyOng kaehwa_ as forming the underlying assumption of the reformist editorials from this period. Although the Western powers were perceived as being most advanced along the road of 'civilization and enlightenment,' Korean reformists saw Korea as following Japan in a game of catch up with the West. As Schmid points out, however, just as they urgently cajoled and implored their readership to embrace the values of _munmyOng kaehwa_, the very same values were being conscripted into the service of Japanese efforts to colonize the peninsula. This ultimately led many Korean thinkers to discard the concept of _munmyOng kaehwa_ in favor of a Social Darwinist model, which seemed to more accurately reflect the reality of Korea's situation at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Schmid also underlines other obvious lacunae in the _munmyOng kaehwa_ vision: namely, a relatively weak stance on women's equality-women were to be educated "but for the purpose of supporting husbands and bringing up children in a 'modern' home" (p. 40); the patronizing attitudes of the reform leaders toward the uneducated working class; and the general opposition of reformists to the rural armed struggle of the _UibyOng_ (righteous armies).

In the following chapter, "Decentering the Middle Kingdom and Realigning the East," Schmid examines the important shift that took place in Korean attitudes toward China from "reverence to criticism." (p. 57-58) Where China had once been perceived as the font of wisdom and culture, it was now cast in the role of a semi-barbarous state, as defined by Yu Kilchun in his work _SOyu kyOnmun_. With this dismissal of China came a renewed effort on the behalf of Korean reformist intellectuals to rediscover Korea's own independent identity as personified in its past heroes with the KoguryO general Ulchi MundOk, with his purely Korean name and victories over Sui China, taking pride of place.

This era also saw the sudden increase in the use of the Korean vernacular script han'gUl, promoted by SO Chaep'il, Chu SigyOng, and Sin Ch'aeho, although as Schmid points out the HwangsOng sinmun, while extolling the virtues of han'gUl, continued to use the mixed Chinese-Korean script pioneered by Yu Kilchun in _SOyu kyOnmun_. This ambiguous attitude towards the use of characters, of course, persists in South Korea today. Other steps toward the assertion of Korean nationalism in the period following the Sino-Japanese War outlined in this chapter include King Kojong's adoption of the title 'emperor' and the promulgation of the Taehan Empire (1897) in an ultimately vain effort to raise the status of Korea in relation to its neighbors, and the more general adoption of the national flag, _t'aegUkki_, designed by Pak YOnghyo in 1882, a potent symbol of the modern nation state but paradoxically composed of traditional symbols from Taoism and the I Qing.

Along with the rise of Korean nationalism came a rising sense of East Asian racial solidarity as defined by the term Pan-Asianism, which saw East Asia as united by the common threat of Western imperialist intrusion into the region. In this world view, held by many of the reformists including the Protestant reformer Yun Ch'iho, Japan was cast in the role of defender of the East and was even supported by the _HwangsOng sinmun_ during the Russo-Japanese War-although as the Korean capital was effectively under the control of Japan during this period, it may to some extent have been coerced into adopting this pro-Japanese line. With the signing of the Japanese-Korean Treaty of Protection in 1905, however, all illusion evaporated. As Schmid makes clear in this chapter, a naivety toward Japanese intentions appears to have been a major weakness of the proponents of _munmyOng kaehwa_, many of whom owed an intellectual debt to Japanese reformist thinkers such as Fukuzawa Yukichi. The ambivalent attitude of the _HwangsOng sinmun_ toward Japan made it a target for the pro-Japanese organization, the Ilchinhoe on the one hand, and anti-Japanese nationalists on the other. The _Taehan maeil sinbo_, on the other hand, under the ownership of Ernest Bethell, a British citizen protected by extraterritoriality, was exempt from Japanese censorship and was consequently able to adopt a more consistent anti-Japanese stance in its editorials.

Chapter 3 "Engaging a Civilizing Japan" examines the extensive intellectual interaction between Korea and Japan that underlay the developing confrontation of Japanese colonial expansion and rising Korean nationalism. Although _munmyOng kaehwa_ had its roots in the West, Japan was its mediator in East Asia. As  Schmid points out, "'The West and Japan' emerged as standard expressions for the top rungs of the civilizing hierarchy." (p. 107) It was from Japan that the early reformers who had initiated the Kapsin Coup (1884) drew inspiration and support, and it was to Japan that increasing numbers of Korean students went for a 'modern' education. As evidence of the strong link between the reformist movement in Japan and Korea, Schmid brings our attention to the similarities between Yu Kilchun's _SOyu kyOnmun_ and Fukuzawa Yukichi's _SeiyO jiji_ (Conditions of the West) and the fact that Yu's seminal work was also subsidized and published by Fukuzawa. (pp. 110-111)

The wholesale acceptance of the values of _munmyOng kaehwa_ in Korea during this period also gave rise to the anomaly of Korean reformers espousing colonial expansion as evidence of superior civilization and enlightenment. Although these reformers were not unaware that Korea might itself fall prey to the colonial expansion of another power, in general they exhorted their fellow countrymen to participate in the reform project so that Korea would escape this fate and be counted amongst the civilized nations of the world. It was only after the signing of the Treaty of Protection that solidarity with other colonized countries such as India began to be expressed.

In this chapter the yangban class is identified as being the target for both the Korean nationalists, who saw this class of Koreans as posing the major obstacle to reform, and Japanese colonialists, who held up the yangban as manifesting the general inability of Koreans to move into the modern world without the 'assistance' of Japan. As  Schmid shows repeatedly in this work, despite the opposing goals of the nationalists and colonialists, the targets of their criticism and the basic set of values on which those criticisms were based were in general the same.

The following chapter "Spirit, History, and Legitimacy" examines further how the values of _munmyOng kaehwa_ (J.: _bunmei kaika_) served both nationalist and colonialist ends. In the period following the Treaty of Protection, the material aspects of the _munmyOng kaehwa_ project were increasingly falling under the control of Japan, which now exercised unrivalled hegemony over Korea. Korean nationalists, therefore, were forced to move into the more intangible realms of history, language, and religion.

Ironically, the field of history had already been occupied by Japanese historians who were applying 'modern' historical methodology, albeit with colonialist intentions, to the early history of the peninsula and archipelago. The previously unheard of accounts of Empress JingU's supposed colonization of the southern part of the peninsula during the Three Kingdoms era from the eighth century Japanese works _Kojiki_ (Record of ancient matters) and _Nihon shoki_ (Chronicle of Japan) now began to appear in Korean history books such as Kim T'aegyOng's _YOksa kyeryak_ (A concise history). Furthermore, interpretations of recent Korean history by Japanese and Korean historians had much in common as the Japanese sought to point out Korean weaknesses in order to justify their 'civilizing mission' of colonial expansion, while their Korean counterparts sought to uncover the historical origins of national decay in order to remedy them and protect their national sovereignty.

In Chapter 5 "Narrating the Ethnic Nation" Schmid focuses on the influential writings of Sin Ch'aeho concerning the concept of minjok as "an alternative locus for national existence and autonomy, an existence that was defined historically." (p. 175) This period witnessed a shift away from the traditional Confucian perspective of historical legitimacy maintained by Kim Pu-sik in _Samguk sagi_, which emphasized Korea's links with the Chinese sage-emperors by way of the supposedly historical figure Kija, toward a new emphasis on Tan'gun, the indigenous, legendary progenitor of the Korean race, who was given prominence in IryOn's _Samguk yusa_.

As  Schmid points out, Korea needed its own national genealogical founder to compete with China's Huangdi or Amaterasu of Japan. It was Tan'gun who fulfilled this role as national founder and ancestor of the Korean _minjok_ as propounded by Sin Ch'aeho in Toksa sillon (A new reading of history: 1908). By tracing Korean ancestry from Tan'gun through PuyO, Samguk, T'ongil Silla, Parhae, KoryO, and ChosOn, Sin compiled a national _chokpo_ (genealogical table) for the Korean _minjok_ and provided a new concept of national identity that persisted regardless of dynastic change or indeed colonial rule.

The subsequent chapter "Peninsular Boundaries" examines the increasing significance of the spatial concept of national territory, ironically just as Korea was in the process of losing its national sovereignty. The main bone of contention territorially was along Korea's northern border with China. Although the Yalu and Tumen rivers, both emanating from the spiritual heartland of Mt. Paektu, had become acknowledged borders during the ChosOn period, Koreans still harbored ambitions for Manchurian territory that had once been occupied by KoguryO and Parhae. Interestingly, such irredentist claims were also acknowledged by the Japanese, who saw them as providing further justification for continuing Japanese expansion into the continent.

The final chapter "Beyond the Peninsula" examines the Korean diaspora, in which the sizeable Korean community in Manchuria also played a considerable role. Schmid demonstrates how early concerns among Korean editorialists that Koreans moving away from the peninsula to Manchuria, the Russian Far East, Hawaii, and California should not lose their _kuksu_ (national essence) later gave way to assertions by the diasporic communities that they were the ones preserving the true Korean identity, which had been compromised on the peninsula by Japanese colonization. As domestic newspapers came under strict colonial censorship, the San Francisco based _Sin Han minbo_ (New Korean Daily) became the mouthpiece of the nation. As Schmid writes, "The spatial logic that underlay Sin's plea to Koreans in Manchuria to preserve their _kuksu_ was completely reversed by the _Sin Han minbo_ editors. . . . Those outside the peninsula could now position themselves as the nation's custodians, arguing that the locus of the nation had shifted outside the reach of the colonizing power." (p. 252)

In an extensive epilogue, Schmid looks at the effect of Korea's colonial past on its present divided state, as competing versions of history are wielded on either side of the DMZ in order to bolster the claims to political legitimacy of the ROK and DPRK. As the author writes, "The result of these uses of history in the contest for legitimacy has been the creation of the startlingly divergent-and antagonistic-state-sponsored histories, each with very different assessments of the Patriotic Enlightenment Movement." (p. 256) Schmid goes on to discuss prevailing issues such as 'language purity' and the continued efforts by historians to 'set the record straight' and rid Korean history of past colonial distortions-a task that is most clearly set out in the preface of Yi Kibaek's _Kuksa sillon_ (A new national history).

In the post-colonial era Tan'gun has remained a unifying factor in the historiography of both the north and the south, and in a divided Korea the importance of the concept of _minjok_, an ethnic nation, persists. As  Schmid writes, "Two states, one _minjok_, describes the current condition of the peninsula. But the _minjok_ united as a single state remains the ideal." (p. 277)

Korea Between Empires provides us with a fascinating study in the recent intellectual history of Korea as mirrored in some of its earliest modern publishing ventures. Its author demonstrates considerable powers of organization and analysis in marshalling such a wide array of materials, ranging from the most prominent newspapers of the time, the _Tongnip sinmun_, _HwangsOng sinmun_, _Taehan maeil sinmun_, and _Sin Han minbo_ to history textbooks and monographs. He also reveals a strong grasp of post-colonial theory and a literary skill that ensures that his writing rarely flags.  The book itself has been attractively produced in both hardback and an affordable paperback version by Columbia University Press, although the following typos should be removed from subsequent editions: that -> than (p. 18); other Koreans residents -> other Korean residents (p. 110); Change admitted -> Chang admitted (p. 153); the Sin's narrative -> Sin's narrative (p. 197); explicit refence -> explicit reference (p. 210); to resist the Japan -> to resist Japan (p. 255); a insufficiently -> an insufficiently (p. 266); and twentieth-first -> twenty-first (p. 277).®

In conclusion, Schmid's book fills in many of the blank spaces that still remain despite the considerable number of excellent English language works covering this period and is to be highly recommended for anyone interested in modern Korean and East Asian history.

Finch, Michael 2004
_Korea Between Empires, 1895-1919_, by Andre Schmid (2002)
_Korean Studies Review_ 2004, no. 02
Electronic file: http://koreaweb.ws/ks/ksr/ksr04-03.htm

More information about the Koreanstudies mailing list