[KS] Lankov on Korean Nationalism

will pore willpore at gmail.com
Wed Jun 3 19:29:53 EDT 2009

I would like offer a remark in regard to Korean nationalism that I believe
is apropos the insightful comment just posted to the list by Kirk Larsen. My
research on the first generation of Korean and Vietnamese anti-colonial
thinkers cum activists indicated to me that their vision was indeed
particularly and decidedly anti-French and anti-Japanese, yet they were
also, in the manner of other anti-colonial thinkers such as W. B. Yeats and
Tagore at a slightly later time, equally clearly cosmopolitan, i.e. oriented
to the broader learning of their cultural sphere. The Korean and Vietnamese
thinkers I studied, like Yeats and Tagore deeply deplored the narrow
nationalism that later engulfed their countries.

Will Pore

On Wed, Jun 3, 2009 at 10:29 PM, Kirk Larsen <kwlarsen at gwu.edu> wrote:

>  The development of han'gûl in the 15th century can indeed be seen as
> evidence of a conception of a unique Korean identity (or at minimum a unique
> Korean language that sorely needed a more efficient means of written
> depiction). However, the fact that many if not most of the educated elite of
> the Chosôn period continued to use Classical Chinese for the vast majority
> of their writings is an indication that the Korean sense of identity was, at
> minimum, not as allergic to overlapping or even simultaneous affiliations.
> It is only in the very late 19th century that han'gûl advocates began to
> convince their countrymen of the utility of the phonetic script.
> Andre Schmid's *Korea between Empires* (Columbia University Press, 2002)
> does an excellent job of demonstrating the myriad ways in which contemporary
> Korean national identity was greatly influenced (if not imagined outright)
> by late 19th and early 20th century nation-building elites. And, yes, many
> of these elites were influenced by Japan.
> This not to say that Koreans lacked any sense of cultural distinctiveness
> or identity before 1900 (or so) because that clearly is not the case. But
> the categories with which Koreans use to define their contemporary national
> identity (such as language and race mentioned by Victor Fic) clearly take
> the shape we recognize today much more recently.
> Cheers,
> Kirk Larsen
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: issuesarena at yahoo.com
> Date: Monday, June 1, 2009 2:22 am
> Subject: [KS] Lankov on Korean Nationalism
> To: koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws
> >  Dear list coleagues:
> >
> >  Note that the distinguished historian Andrei Lankov asserts:
> >
> >
> >
> >  B. Is it important to delve into the general history of Korea, before
> > the 20th century, to understand what occurred later?
> >
> >  AL. The historical origin of this North Korean system was determined
> > by a few important internal and external factors. Firstly, of course,
> > there was the impact of the Soviet Stalinist Communism. The Communism
> > North Koreans came to know in the 1930s and 1940s was essentially
> > Stalinist. Then there was the very significant influence of Mao’s
> > China. There was also the powerful legacy of nationalism, which in
> > many ways developed in the image of Japanese nationalism. Japan was,
> > after all, the first country in East Asia to develop the modern
> > Nationalist outlook. During the colonial period this nationalism was
> > much enforced on Koreans.
> >
> >  B. We’re talking about the Meiji system.
> >
> >  AL. Yes. I would say that Korean nationalism, if you look carefully,
> > has a stamp: “made in Japan during the reign of Emperor Meiji”. In
> > many cases the Japanese national symbols were replaced with Korean
> > national symbols, emphasis on the Japanese nation and its pure blood
> > was replaced with emphasis on the Korean nation and its pure blood.
> > The structure of the world-view was very similar.
> >
> >  ...snip...
> >
> >
> >  Victor Fic responds:
> >
> >     1/ Korean nationalism surely predates Japan's influence and is
> > often a reaction to it. Didn't many Koreans resist Hideyoshyi during
> > the Imjin Waerang, for instance? When I first came to Seoul, locals
> > told me that Korea had been invaded over 800 times, although that
> > number is far too high.
> >
> >     2/ Korean nationalism also has ancient domestic roots.
> > Its pseudo-biological notion of one pure blood is too distant to
> > date. Meanwhile, manufactured sources of nationalism are
> > copious. Especially cardinal was the development of hanguel in the
> > early Chosun era. It was seen as the unique, self-created language of
> > a closed national family. Only it could master it or determine its
> > veracity.  As language and race are the two internal pillars of
> > nationalism world wide, these surely predate Japan's influence and
> > ensure a hard core to the Korean strain.
> >
> >
> >     3/ The weakness in Korean mass psychology is that the people push
> > their race-based, exclusive nationalism until it is tribalism;
> > however, they disdain patriotism, or defense of the political order.
> > Korean elites especially repeatedly betray the national interest for
> > their personal, factional or regional benefit.
> >
> >      For instance, during the same Imjin Waerang, King Sunjo disguised
> > himself and escaped Seoul in a sedan chair. As for the elite chinilpa
> > collaborators with imperial Japan, they number in the thousands. Some
> > 72/80 members of the decaying Chosun court accepted Japanese titles.
> > In fact, King Kojong's grandson (Eui-pil?) rose to officer rank in the
> > Japanese military.
> >
> >     When the North Koreans invaded the south, President Yi Syng-man
> > gave a radio address extolling resistance. Then he took off to
> > Chinhae, blowing up bridges over the Han River behind him that
> > teemed with refugees -- many drowned. Yi scapegoated a South Korean
> > army commander and executed him. His widow petitioned the Park
> > Chung-hee regime, which restored the victim's honor.
> >
> >      A few years ago, the Seoul media reported on an embarrassing
> > poll. Half or more of South Korean college students -- many "proud to
> > be Korean" -- said that if their country were invaded, their first
> > option would be to escape abroad!
> >
> >     To be sure, Kim Jong-il's regime is also nationalistic. For
> > example, North Koreans force local women whom even Chinese men have
> > impregnated to undergo mandatory abortions. However, the regime's
> > human rights abuses, mismanaged economy and dangerous nuclear
> > gambit are surely awful public policy choices.
> >
> >     4/ Modern American -- multicultaral and founded on political
> > science -- flips the Korean model. There it is deemed wrong to be
> > racist-nationalist, but honorable to be a patriot who defends the
> > Constitution. Therefore, if Collin Power insists that black skin is
> > superior to white, he is dunned. But if he serves bravely in 'Nam or
> > as a public official in D.C., he is credited.
> >
> >     5/ Japan brought the material aspects of modernity to Korea, i.e.
> > industrialization to permit greater production and consumption. But
> > the ethical component, meaning democracy, reason over tribalist
> > instinct and internationalism -- well, no.
> >
> >      Unfortunately, the East Asian late modernizer defines
> > modernization in its technical aspects. In the West, industrialization
> > followed the Enlightenment, but in these parts, it is more like a tool
> > borrowed selectively to empower and enrich the group with the
> > democratic/rational aspect secondary and real openness seen as a threat.
> >
> >      The foreigner, in the parlance of the Meiji Restoration, is a
> > mere "gaikokujin oyatoi" or temporary expert to be used when the
> > manual is not enough -- and discarded.  Both opportunistic Korea and
> > Japan concluded that themselves.
> >
> >  Best,
> >  Victor Fic
> >  Independent Journalist
> >  Qingdao, China
> >
> >

William F. Pore, Ph.D.
Visiting  Professor
Global Studies Program
Pusan National University
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