[KS] What's So Good about Korea, Maarten?

K-Flexx manyongdae at yahoo.com
Mon Jan 22 01:17:35 EST 2007

Dear Maarten,

I have read the review you refer to

But could not find any of the responses it has
generated. Could you point me to a link please?

I wondered whether you would make a response to this
critique from the Joongang Daily. I feel the review
made some critical points that you would be well
served by responding to (for instance your remarks on
Koreans not reading, or seeking life-long education).

Also, I have a lot of respect for authors who reveal
their own vested interests and positions; in fact, I
would go so far as to say it is a principle that I
think is divine. For instance, when you read "Fifteen
Years Among the Topknots" by Lilias Underwood, we know
that we are getting an account of Korea by an American
Protestant missionary, speaking from her viewpoint. On
the other hand there is a history of Christianity in
Korea written by a Spencer J. Palmer, a leader in the
LDS/Mormon church. Clearly his own personal theology
of church history will affect how he writes about
church history in Korea - and yet he did not make his
own personal allegiance known, which in my view works
against him.

All of this is to say that yes, of course all accounts
of the life, culture and history of a country are
subjective, and we all consciously or subconsciously
seek a unification between our own worldview and the
way we portray our subjects.


K Flexx.
--- Maarten Meijer <mpmeijer at gmail.com> wrote:

> Dear Scott Burgeson,
> First of all, let me express my appreciation for
> your constructive criticism
> of my book. But let me also respond to some of the
> points you make.
> Social criticism is not an exact science. This
> understanding has increased
> the level of modesty of most modern
> historiographers, who in more recent
> years of the enterprise have begun to confess that
> most of their work is
> "interpretative" in nature. Hence, "*A* History
> of...." rather than
> "*The*History..." A notable shift.
> In this context, identifying "errors" is quite
> tenuous. Your example of
> taegwondo is innocent enough. True, the official
> incorporation of the
> martial art took place a mere five decades ago, but
> its roots go back quite
> a bit further than that. In this instance I could be
> found guilty of
> "simplification" at worst. I would suggest
> "interpretation" as a more
> adequate characterization. I am speaking of an "art"
> here, not an
> "incorporation," and the martial discipline was
> included in the section of
> my book entitled "The art of living" and not in a
> separate chapter on
> politics, which is notably and intentionally absent
> from the book.
> The debate about Korean social and cultural trends
> seems, in particular, to
> easily become overheated. Korean participants in
> this discussion also are
> fond of listing "errors" on foreign websites dealing
> with Korea. Naming the
> "East Sea" the "Sea of Japan" is a noteworthy
> example. Clearly, there are
> sources that are consistently referring to the
> coveted body of water as the
> East Sea, but that makes the issue no less
> disputable.
> More serious is your concern over the "conservatism"
> of my book. I would
> like to remind you that in the introduction I
> clearly and unabashedly state
> that the tone of my book is "subjective" in nature.
> I will not take up the
> gauntlet here and argue against your notion that
> Breen's book is "more
> objective." He wrote a good book; I have tried to do
> so as well, in my own
> way. I would refer back to what I said earlier about
> "interpretation" -
> something that happens, by the way, both on the part
> of the writer *and* the
> reader.
> When it comes to measuring "political biases" in the
> field of social
> analysis, journalism, and the like, I would like to
> suggest that the dial on
> the scale gauging "conservative" or "liberal (US) /
> progressive (EU)"
> leanings has over several decades decidedly been
> skewed in the favor of the
> latter. According to one report, 86 percent of US
> journalists vote Democrat
> - what will that do to evenly balanced coverage, one
> may wonder.
> Likewise, I am amazed when I hear people refer to
> the "conservatism" of the
> Korean media. This is more of a socio-critical axiom
> than an actual measure
> of the local journalistic practice. The Chosun or
> JoongAng may be
> "conservative" in a narrowly international-political
> sense: "US good;
> N-Korea bad." But in terms of social commentary this
> is decidedly untrue -
> particularly where it concerns the English-language
> versions of these
> dailies or their affiliates. I find the JoongAng
> championing the causes of
> such luminaries as Margaret Cho and Kim Boo-sun.
> Quite conservative, I dare
> say... So when the paper recently published a
> scathing condemnation of my
> book, I shrugged my shoulders because I know what
> this is motivated by.
> (This in order to counter the possible misconception
> that the media were
> unanimously enamored with my book... But please do
> read the review in the
> JAD online, and some of the responses it generated.
> They make engaging
> reading...)
> So then, let my book be "conservative." May it be a
> healthy antidote to some
> of the good "liberal" material that already is
> available in the marketplace
> of ideas about Korea.
> I thank you, again, for your gracious response.
> Maarten Meijer

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