Monday, September 28, 2009

[Decal] The End of History

(Yes, I'm borrowing Francis Fukuyama's title here.)

Reading for this week:

I've also highlighted what I believe will be the most relevant parts of our discussion, just in case not everybody does the recomended reading.

From the Library of Congress:
This is an online book and I believe the link might not be permanent, so if that happens to be the case just google it and read the following:

■Chapter 2 - The Society and Its Environment by Donald M. Seekins.
Specifically, "Cultural Identity," "Korea and Japan," and "the Korean Language" (Though all of Ch. 2 is required reading). I believe these parts continue our discussion of Korean's perception of what it means to be Korean and the sense of other that was introduced last week: National or ethnic groups often need an "other," a group of outsiders against whom they can define themselves.
While Western countries with their individualistic and, from a Confucian perspective, self-centered ways of life provide important images of "otherness" for South Koreans, the principal source of such images for many years has been Japan. Attitudes toward Japan as an "other" are complex. On the most basic level, there is hostility fed by memories of invasion and colonial oppression, present-day economic frictions, and the Japanese government's inability or unwillingness to do anything about discriminatory treatment of the large Korean minority in Japan. The two countries have a long history of hostility. Admiral Yi Sun-sin, whose armor-plated boats eventually defeated the Japanese navy's damaging attacks in the 1590s, was South Korea's most revered national hero ("Korea and Japan").

Recommended Reading:
(Required reading for next week is below).

Korea's Place in the Sun, Chapter 2("The Interests," 1860-1904)
For the purposes of our discussion, we want to briefly look at how relations between nations at that time differed in the way that we would think today. For example, the concept of a tributary state is something that is very different to the current (or Western ) system that followed directly  from the Thirty Years War in Europe or the Peace of Westphalia. Bruce Cumings writes:

"After another try, in 1845, the Chinese imperial commissioner in Hong Kong exlpained to the British that Korea "could not be opened to trade by China, for it was not a part of China" : nor could Korea open itself to trade, since "it was not independent."
In other words, basically, it's more of acknowledgement that our king acknowledges the supremacy of your king," but without any material, tangible benefits that say a colony might bring to a colonizing nation in the twentieth century. Cumings writes:
"Korea's seclusion policy was partly a reaction to foreign predations, but also expressed its national self-sufficiency, its acheivement of virtual economic autarky, and its valued place within the Chinese world order."

Excluding the last condition, these words would be a fitting description of what both Koreas after the end of the Korean War.

Issues of self-sufficiency helps to give us an understanding of why North Korea will not trade (that is answer why doesn't the country just give up self-sufficiency in food so that it can make money by specializing in manufacturing consumer goods when the country is clearly not suited to be an agricultural country). Of course, here, we should also note that North Korea has been at war against the largest consumer, the United States, and a superpower that also happened to control the petroleum regime for the past six decades.

Nonetheless, the same motivations can be seen in South Korea's adoption of import-substitution policies under military strongman, Park Chung Hee (he was a rather patriotic dictator, who not only loved Korea, but was also an officer in the Imperial Japanese Army and was also fluent in Japanese. This, of course, brings up the apparent paradox of being patriotic, yet still deciding to live in a Japanese-dominated Korean society). At any rate, while import substitution and export orientated development policies are standard East Asian fare today, at that time, the purchase (and that's what it really was, a purchase) of a large steel plant and plopping it into an agricultural country that was South Korea was desirable to South Korea in that it allowed the country to no longer be dependent on imports of foreign (I'm thinking primarily Japanese) steel and use that steel in industry.

Of course, to non-Koreans this smacked of lunacy, especially in the context of the Washington Consensus. Who in an agriculatural country would buy all that steel (of course, in hindsight, we can now say, well, of course, for Korean carmakers, shipmakers, and construction companies). But anyways, this same desire on the part of Koreans in the south to be feel self-sufficient gave way to what we now think of when we think of South Korea. Also, we should not discount that that a huge reason South Korea and not North Korea enjoyed so much success was that the South had access to a huge market and was secure in the knowledge that it could spend all its resources on making as much money as fast as possible among others...(the U.S. Army and its thousands of nuclear weapons should be cited here)...

And, of course, this should have been cited last week, but it's from Korea's Place in the Sun where I read the quote of a William Elliot Griffis who wrote in 1888:
While the entire body of Coreans, dignitaries, servants, merchants, and cartmen enter Peking, and all circulate freely in the streets among the people, the Chinese envoy to Seoul, must leave his suite at the frontier, and proceed to the capital with but a few servants, and there dwell in seclusion.
Again, history comes to give us another example of something we might find to be strange today (North Korea's minders whose specific job is to make sure foreigners, who come to Pyongyang are kept to specific parts) and this of course comes back to the Korean idea of Us versus Them or Good versus Bad or Civilized vs Barbaric or, perhaps, Safety vs Trouble, which itself comes from the millenia long history of a homogenous society.

Reading for Next Week:

Korea's Place in the Sun, Chapter 3 ("Eclipse" 1905-1945)

The Origins of the Korean War, Chapter 1 (Class and State in Colonial Korea)

No comments:

Post a Comment