Friday, November 27, 2009

Final Response Paper

Due: November 30th, 2009

Professor Ken Wells lectured that the rise of democratic institutions in South Korea has had a destabilizing effect in the region. Please explain what this destabilizing effect is and how it can be observed (hint: South Korea - U.S. alliance, "balancing role")

Thursday, November 19, 2009

[DeCal] "Too Fast, Too Slow"

This coming Monday (November 23rd, 2009), Visiting Professor Kenneth Wells will give a presentation, titled: "Too Fast, Too Slow: The ripple-effect on a north Korean family of the events of 1945."

Recommended Reading for the Presentation:
Korea Old and New: A History by Carter Eckert, et. al - Chapter 18
Korea's Place in the Sun by Bruce Cumings Chapter 4

Attendance Policy/Response Paper Policy for November 23rd, 2009
As announced on class this past Monday, credit for attendance will only be given if you are in class within the first ten minutes and if you stay for the whole duration of the class. Response papers, unless due to extenuating circumstances, will also only be accepted at the beginning of the class. Professor Wells teaches a class at a time leading almost right up to the point when the DeCal begins, yet he has generously volunteered to guest lecture for our benefit. Please come to class on time.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

[DeCal] My Response Paper (Updated)

While not precisely looking for this, this is what I had hoped would be gained from the past few weeks. This is my response to the question I posed on the topic : What explains the dramatic divergence between North and South Korea?

Short, Response Paper: Why the divergence?

By Joseph

Though the Republic of Korea (South Korea) begins without the popular support that the Democractic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) does, she is able to produce sustained economic growth that over half a century can primarily be explained by the power of institutional advantages aggregated over a long period of time and the uniquely favorable geopolitical situation that South Korea finds herself in at the height of the Cold War. Though South Korea is governed by dictators for close to four decades, the dictatorial regimes are only “moderately corrupt” in that the dictators implement forward looking policies that produce sustained economic growth. Institutional advantages, such as a Confucian society that places a high value on education and a long history of a single, homogenous identity, bequeath the Republic of Korea (South Korea) with a cheap, educated workforce that believes that they too have a stake in the government. This allows the government to coerce a high savings rate from its people and channel investment to key strategic industries, such as automobiles and shipbuilding. In turn, this gives way towards outward looking policies as the government looks to further develop the nation’s strategic industries by buying capital goods, such as machine tools, from abroad with export earnings, translating into sustained economic growth. Moreover, as South Korea’s governments are led by dictatorial regimes, the government is able to implement more draconian measures in order to support these strategic industries, such as systematically devaluing its way out of recessions, uncompetitiveness, and balance of payments crises (and in the process steal money from the nation’s savings) or simply quadrupling the price of gasoline by fiat in the wake of the oil crisis in 1973. And, the importance of having the United States as an ally during the Cold War should not be overlooked; for example, when South Korea faces a balance of payments crisis in 1980, South Korea received a quiet bailout from Japan at the insistence of the United States, whereas after the Cold War, the country receives a bailout from the International Monetary Fund only with a heavy set of conditions. I would say this is basically the story of South Korea’s economy up until 1997.

Of course, North Korea, too, has the same set of institutional advantages as outlined in the CBO report. However, North Korea must cope with the accrual of huge organizational inefficiencies inherent in a planned economy. Moreover, as North Korea is not allied with the richest country in the world, the country simply does not have the option of developing its economy by buying capital goods from abroad in exchange for selling light manufactured, consumer goods, such as shoes. Additionally, North Korea without the protection of Soviet or Chinese troops in her territory must spend a disproportionately large share of income on defense spending, which has no tangible benefits and, which in North Korea’s case, has most likely retarded economic growth. Finally, even after it became clear that the Stalinist model or a planned economy would simply not be able to catch up with an economy that allocates the production of goods and services through largely price signals, the country simply did not have the option of fully embracing market reforms like that of the Soviet Union or China as it would declare that a society like South Korea’s is preferable. And, even when the government does attempt small scale free trade zones, such as the Rajin-Sonbong Special Economic Zone on its border with China and Russia, the country does so only half-heartedly and it is never clear that the country would give foreign investors legal protection or that there even exists a market for goods produced from this zone. This is North Korea’s story up until the collapse of the Soviet Union, at which point North Korea’s decision to be heavily dependent on the Soviet Oil for her heavily mechanized agricultural sector leads to a famine. It is at this point that signs of economic reforms do show up as markets spring up in the countryside; however, this reflects the loss of state control more so than it does of deliberate attempts of economic reform. The latest constitution seems to make it official that the government has largely given up on producing sustained economic growth as its military first policy (Songun) smacks of extortion from her people directed at the state level.

With respect to how democratic institutions evolved in South Korea, this is much tougher to explain (and it's something that there is not a lot of material available on). But, what is clear is that this is something that should largely be credited to the South Korean people as, by and large, the United States simply watched as South Korea's military dictatorships systematically and, at times, violently put down demonstrations. It becomes even more difficult to explain if one were to consider the argument where increasing prosperity leads to a more representative government (a more prosperous Japan should have developed democratic institutions first) or that Confucian societies naturally lends itself to autocratic and dictatorial governments (South Korea, a more Confucian society should be the more autocratic country here). I suspect that unequal development combined with the former argument could be one possible explanation; South Korea’s dictators overtly left southwestern, Jeolla provinces underdeveloped for decades.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

[DeCal] Response Paper

Due November 9th, 2009

We have seen over the course of the past few weeks, how Koreans have had a common, shared heritage and lived in states with the same borders for more than a millenia. When foreigners came and invaded Korea, up until 1910, we have seen that they came primarily to exact a tribute. But, this tribute was really nothing more than asking the Korean kingdoms to acknowledge the supremacy of their ruler as the king of kings. Outside the devastation caused during the wars, particularly the Imjin Wars, they did not come to settle the land or to extract a tribute in the form of extracting a large share of, say, rice produced by farmers on the peninsula.

However, this changed dramatically under Japanese occupation and, as we have seen, this caused widespread displacement and trauma for the national consciousness of the Korean people. Rather than recover from this period through a time of national reconciliation, this period gave way to a war fought between two competing states that despite the widespread destruction, death, and carnage caused by the war, the war culminated in a stalemate, leaving two Korean states on the peninsula. Although it was argued that the northern state was seen to be more legitimate, these two Korean states shared the same culture and heritage that dates back to at least 664 AD, when Silla unified the peninsula.

Initially both states implemented policies that looked for national self-sufficiency, particularly in heavy industries, such as steel.

Sixty years later, we now look at North Korea's constitution with much ridicule and we arguably look at North Korea as a dysfunctional state that resorts to extortion from its people, its neighbors, and the United States. South Korea has hosted the Olympics, the World Cup (with Japan), and in general has become a model nation in showing how economic development can go right. A South Korean national even currently serves as the UN Security General. But, more importantly, and, perhaps, most interestingly, South Korea has seen the development of nascent democratic institutions.

Sixty years ago, would you have expected this to have happened or thought that this would have even been remotely possible? So, what happened? You have the same people with the same shared heritage, who speak the same language. How could you explain the separate histories of the two states, perhaps a divergence like none other in the history of the world? How important do you feel the difference in institutions played between the two countries? Or, the different policies? How about the access or denail to outside capital, technology, and a huge market willing to buy all of a country's exports? How about an alliance with a superpower that allowed the country, at the superpower's insistence, to become rich and fast and democratic as soon as possible?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Schizophrenic Han Part III: A purer language, I think not.

After some revision, I wanted to state clearly that the point of this posting is to argue against the notion that North Korean is a more "Korean" or a "purer" form of the Korean Language. I would think the words, perverse distortion, would be more apt to describe the relation of the North Korean variant of the Korean language to that now spoken on the southern half of the peninsula.

The point of this posting is to continue to systematically attack the notion that it is natural for two Koreas to exist and to continually eat away at all the justifications that South Koreans make in order to some how to ease their collective guilt as they lead their moderately wealthty lives as the other half of the nation continues to suffer (For more on how North Koreans continue to suffer see last week's issue of the New Yorker or what Professor Brad DeLong at UC Berkeley has noted to be last weeks "must read.")

I do this under the series of postings called Schizophrenic Han. In the past, I've already been very critical of the North-South States Period Theory that was first mentioned in the book, Samguk Yusa (a millenia after Silla had already unified the Peninsula), and which I point out has only become relevant now, as South Korean "Academia" try to come up with any and all types of excuses to justify their inaction of a unified Korean peninsula.

Now, I'm going to attack another justification that South Koreans oft like to make - that the North Korean is somehow more legitimate today as "her people" speak a more Korean or purer form of the language. I believe I even saw this on Wikipedia at one point and if I see it again, I can promise you that that will be the day I create a Wikipedia account and challenge that claim. You see, to me, this claim of a more Korean language purposely distorts history, so that mostly South Koreans can ease their feeling of collective or national guilt as they live their moderately wealthy lives and shrug aside the ongoing suffering being endured by the other half of the country.

I've always found the claim that North Korean is a more Korean language to be preposterous and revisionist history at its worst, but a recent development in North Korea has made me want to write about it. North Korea last month amended their constitution to eliminate the words "communist" and codified that Kim Jong Il is indeed not just the Dear Leader, but the "Supreme Leader" of the country. Also, Songun(Seongun, 선군), or the Military First policy, has become a governing doctrine or ideology of the country).

This is a short excerpt from an article in the New York Times.

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has officially made Kim Jong-il its “supreme leader” and his “military first” policy its guiding ideology, according to the text of the country’s newly revised Constitution made available on Monday.

Text of the New Constitution (PDF, In Korean)The Constitution also declared for the first time that North Korea “respects and protects” the “human rights” of its citizens, and expunged the term “communism” from its text (New York Times).

I've also added a copy of the new constitution in PDF form (in Korean, unfortunately) in the Selected Articles portion of the blog. And, thanks to students in the DeCal, we now have a translation in English of the DPRK constitution as well.

But, I find this development to be interesting on a couple fronts. In one sense, North Korea has officially given up the fantasy that there could actually be a worker's paradise in a Communist Kingdom -- a bigger oxymoron I cannot fathom (a revolutionary government under dynastic rule?). So, in this sense, North Korea has given up on the claim that it can provide for a better life under her rule. Now, rather than North Korean legitmacy being based on being able to provide a better life for Koreans, legitmacy in part rests on the North Korean Consitution being able to provide for a more "Korean" nation. This can be seen by how often the Korean Central News Agency, North Korea's state run news, describes south Korea to be just a puppet state of foreign powers (though, perhaps, at one time it was). One of these claims is that on the basis of language, where North Koreans speak an untainted form of the Korean Language in that it doesn't use many of the loan words found in the Korean spoken in South Korea. This claim is, of course, absurd. Now, let's discuss this remaining claim that North Korea is somehow more legitimate because it's more Korean (Is it because they too have a three class caste system not unlike that of Silla's bone rank system. But, this can't be it either since North Korea seems to base their heritage from Goguryeo, a state that was Silla's rival). What about language?

A common claim is that the North Korean language is more "pure" or more "Korean" (perhaps synonyms for all Koreans) as North Korea has made a systematic effort to eliminate loan words from the North Korean variant of the langauge and, the complete elimination of the teaching of Sino-Korean characters in North Korean schools -- for the most part (there was a law in North Korea that stated to re-introduce a few hundred Hanja characters in the North Korean curriculum, but hey, how seriously can this be taken considering there's a reference towards human rights in the North Korean constitution now. But, also on a tangent, with these same endowments how exactly was it possible that South Korea came to develop democratic institutions?)

People that support this seem to forget that the written Korean Language, Hanguel, only came to widespread usage after Korea lost its independence (so about a hundred years ago). Koreans traditionally like to claim that the nation began in 2333 BCE, so for about 4,200 years Koreans didn't really use Hangeul. Now, considering that all scholarly work up until half a century ago was written using purely Sino-Korean characters either in modified form to fit the "Korean language" spoken at that time or simply, in literary, Classical Chinese up until very recently, eliminating loan words that constitute about 50%-70% of all the words in the Korean language doesn't make the language more Korean, but rather it butchers the language.

There's a couple ways to look at this. For example, Koreans trace back a common heritage to the (Early) Three Kingdoms Period as each Kingdom is seen to be a "Korean" kingdom in that the merger of the three kingdoms respective traditions, languages(yes), and, of course, people gave way to a common Korean heritage. While somewhat similar to how Koreans have strenuously argued that considering Goguryeo to be a minority Chinese Kingdom would be tantamount to stealing Korean heritage and distorting the Korean identity, I think the systematic eradication or elimination or alteration of 50% to 70% of all words in the Korean language is much, much worse than "losing Goguryeo." It not only distorts the "true identity" of the language, but you are basically erasing (or rather choosing to forget) 50%-70% of your identity. Koreans have for a long period of time proudly stated how they have learned much from the Chinese, perhaps the lessons of the Cultural Revolution in China should not be forgotten.

So rather than North Korean being a more a Korean language, it's more along the lines of North Korea being a perverse distortion of the Korean language. Imagine waking up one day and choosing not to use 50% to 70% of the words in your vocabulary (or at least fooling yourself into thinking that you are not using it), then what do you have left? Assuming you somehow retained the ability to still be able to speak and converse with people, you'd be using the few remaining words in your now, much more limited vocabularly a lot, lot more. So even if people could understand what you were saying, they would probably think you are crazy. Perhaps, in a manner not that different than how the rest of the world perceives North Korea today. Why South Koreans in the south look at this favorably is so peculiar and shameful.

(But, oh, South Koreans are doing the same thing except, of course, on a much lesser scale. Why it's so important to have a Korean word for yellow radish is beyond me).

[DeCal] (UPDATED) Translation of North Korea's Constitution

Today we will have a presentation on how North Korean institutions have changed since the death of Kim Il Sung. One particular item, the presenting group this week has looked at is the new North Korean constitution, adopted in late September of this year stands out to highlight how much North Korea has fallen. Below is a rough draft of a translation of the North Korean constitution. There is a section missing on the draft copy of the translation, but I hope to have that updated shortly. But, what is fascinating about looking at the constitution is how far North Korea has come.

When North Korea was first formed, it could be argued that the founders of North Korea were Korean patriots in that they were not like the cronies brought in to head a government as in the South. There is a lot of material available on how hard it was for the United States to bring in a legitmate leader to South Korea that was not tainted by either Communism and/or Japanese Collaboration. For example, I would look at how General John R. Hodge, the military governor of South Korea from 1945-1948, felt about South Korea's first leader, Rhee Syng Man - he despised Rhee Syng Man. But, now, a quick reading of the North Korean constitution invites ridicule, note that the Constitution of the DPRK states that North Korean laborers have the right "to work for 8 hours a day." More commentary on this later.

Thank you Sun Min Woo, Soo Yeon Jun, Jungmin Yun and Hyun-Bin Shin for the tranlsation.