[KS] Irridentist songs and anti-beef protests?

Owen Miller owen at saudade.plus.com
Fri Jun 13 07:57:41 EDT 2008

This is not a direct answer to Kirk's question, which has already been
dealt with, but rather a comment on the article by Choe Sang-hun. I
usually read his pieces in the NYT and IHT enthusiastically and enjoy
the interesting stories he digs up from Korea, but this one is so far
off the mark it's like he's been at completely different protests to the
ones I saw when I was in Seoul recently. In fact one almost gets the
feeling that commentators and journalists (particularly those writing
for US or European outlets) see any mass demonstration in South Korea
and immediately reach for the label 'nationalist' so as to dismiss its
significance with an almost orientalist nod toward those 'irrational,
emotional Koreans'. Far from being mainly about nationalism these
protests are essentially about democracy and how much control people can
have over basic aspects of their lives, whether that's the food they eat
or various basic services that Lee Myung-bak is planning to privatise. 

When I participated in a couple of the demos the most common song I
heard (in fact to the point of near irritation) was  'Taehan minguk un
minju konghwagugida', while one of the favourite chants (after 'Yi
Myongbak un mullonara') was 'Minju simin hamkke haeyo'. Of course
nationalism is mixed up in this movement, as it always is in politics on
the Korean peninsula for historical and geopolitical reasons. But to be
simply emphasising nationalism when such a broad, creative and
fascinating movement is taking shape on the streets of Seoul and other
Korean cities seems rather narrow minded. In my opinion we are
witnessing not a return to the supposed 'immature nationalism' of the
Korean people (not that such a thing ever existed) but the development
of a whole new culture of protest in South Korea that appears to have
swept away the traditional ritualised confrontations between
students/workers and riot police and replaced it with still confusing
mass movement of creative slogans, new forms of protest and a widespread
adherence to principles of non-violence. It would be nice if what I saw
in the English-language media reflected that a little bit.

Best wishes,
Owen Miller

On Wed, 2008-06-11 at 15:07 -0400, Kirk Larsen wrote:
> Dear KS List,
> A recent article on the anti-beef protests in the ROK
> http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/06/11/asia/seoul.php?page=1) includes
> this tantalizing tidbit: 
> "People felt their national pride hurt. Protesters, some weeping, were
> singing a popular song about, not American beef, but an ancient Korean
> kingdom that extended into what become Manchuria, now
> northeast China. 
> "How can we stop here, when the vast expanse of Manchuria awaits us?"
> the lyrics go."
> Does anyone on the list know more about this song, its provenance,
> popularity etc.? 
> Cheers, 
> -- 
> Kirk W. Larsen 
> Korea Foundation Associate Professor of History and International
> Affairs 
> Director, Sigur Center for Asian Studies 
> 1957 E Street 503 
> The George Washington University 
> Washington DC, 20052 
> (202) 994-5253
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