Two Conference Paper Proposals

I recently submitted two conference paper proposals. One is somewhat connected to one of the chapters of my dissertation, and the other is something of a prequel for a post-dissertation project I hope to work on.

If they are accepted, I have a foundation of notes to work off of, but there is some more research that needs to be done and I welcome any comments, suggestions, etc.

The ‘Democratic Police’ under US Military Occupation: Torture and Reform in Korea and Japan, 1945-48

The reform ideals of every postwar United States military occupation have faced one of their greatest tests in the question of how to address the pre-occupation institution of the police: Are they to be preserved largely intact in order to carry out the essential duties of preserving public order, and guarding against new insurgent forces? Or are their post-conflict remnants to be completely dismantled or at least thoroughly purged for having been the most efficient tools of state oppression? This paper examines and compares the attempt by US occupation authorities in early postwar Korea and Japan to balance its strategic need to preserve social stability and its desire to eliminate the worst symbols of police brutality and oppression. It focuses on the campaign to bring about an institutional rebirth in the form of the new ‘Democratic Police’ and the responses to it within the Japanese and Korean police establishment. US occupation officials and post-occupation advisors were forced to acknowledge, often with embarrassment, the failure to eradicate torture. However, the United States police forces that supplied advisors and instructors for the occupation were no distant strangers to brutality themselves, with torture, or “third degree” interrogations reported widespread in the 1931 Wickersham Commission’s “Report on Lawlessness in Law Enforcement.” Despite a genuine disgust with brutal methods, the very willingness of US forces to quickly disassociate themselves from the ‘dirty work’ of occupation security guaranteed the persistence of such methods by Japanese, and in a more politically violent environment, especially the Korean police.

Pan-Asianism or World Federalism? Raja Mahendra Pratap and the Japanese Empire, 1925-1945

A number of Indians opposed to British colonial rule made their way to Japan and found their voices welcome among Japan’s leading pan-Asianist thinkers. The most famous of these figures include Rash Behari Bose and Subhas Chandra Bose, former president of the Indian National Congress and eventual commander of the Japanese supported Indian National Army. The collaboration between these Indian nationalists, sworn to an anti-imperialist cause, and Japan’s own brutal empire has been of great interest to historians. The more eclectic figure Raja Mahendra Pratap, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1932, was also a fervent activist against British colonial rule in India and likewise turned to Japan for support, but Pratap also developed a highly evolved and spiritually charged conception of world federalism. Pratap found some support for his ideas in China, Japan, and elsewhere in Asia, where he raised money and corresponded with intellectuals long before the idea of World Federalism would briefly enjoy widespread interest in Japan and around the world from 1945-1947. This presentation will show how Pratap worked to prevent his conception of a world federation from clashing with Japan’s imperialist conception of pan-Asian union and suggest the ways in which his exploration of the relationship between the regional and the global foreshadowed postwar and contemporary debates of a similar nature.

Update: The first proposal was rejected and I delivered the second presentation at Columbia University. I’ll try again with the first proposal for another conference in the fall.

More Evidence Uncovered of Devious Japanese Plan to Claim Dokdo

Evidence continues to mount of, “a carefully coordinated action plan among Japanese officials and ministries to claim territorial rights over the islets” of Dokdo.

Last week’s breathtaking revelation that new middle school teaching guidelines in Japan will include the phrase, “It is necessary to deepen understanding about our country’s territory in a way identical with the Kuril Islands by mentioning that there exist differing assertions between our country and Korea over Takeshima,” amounts to a provocation which provides the Republic of Korea with a clear casus belli.

However, this is only the beginning. In addition to a stealth campaign which is surely behind such outrages as the Library of Congress proposal to adopt the so-called “neutral” term “Liancourt Rocks” there have been a full range of suspicious activities which provide plentiful proof of a perfidious plot by the Japanese.

Revenge of a Japanese Villain

According to a recently declassified US military report found in the National Archives a Japanese youth of around twenty years of age, Tsuji Shintaro, was fishing near the Korean islands of Dokdo in early spring of 1948 when his boat was sunk during a US bombing run in the area during training. He was saved by a nearby Korean who collected seaweed along the coastline. However, the two fought when Tsuji claimed the islands were Japanese territory and, badly beaten by the naturally physically stronger Korean, the Japanese fisherman swore that he would someday get revenge.

Tsuji, who went on to found the Sanrio corporation, is ready to seek vengeance. The popular Hello Kitty character, which is famous for its mysterious lack of a mouth may soon undergo a startling change. As Sanrio spokesman put it in a special press conference last Wednesday, “Sanrio Chairman Tsuji feels that it is time for Hello Kitty’s long silence to come to an end. She must speak the truth about Takeshima, and we are confident that the world will listen.” The addition of a mouth to the Hello Kitty character is to happen sometime before Christmas sales for 2008 set in and many Hello Kitty products will play Takeshima related quotes by the character at random times, according to a Sanrio employee who asked not to be identified. Hearing this news, one excited Japanese fan reported, “The people of Japan, and of the world, have never heard the true voice of Hello Kitty, so we are all looking forward to this.” There are some reports that the first sound of Hello Kitty’s voice can be heard all over Japan through a special radio broadcast at noon on August 15th.

A Bamboo Plot

Oil prices and food grains are not the only products rising in price these days. Market observers and bamboo nursery owners have recently reported an unprecedented 670% rise in the price of bamboo seeds as well as full-grown stock of bamboo over the last 6 months. Jeffrey Haskins, associate editor of the San Francisco based Bamboo Quarterly was alarmed enough to explore what he called, “This clear distortion of the market.” Haskins had no idea that he would stumble upon a Japanese nationalist plot, “Those I approached either refused to speak to me or else warned me that, for my own safety, I ought best drop this entirely.”

After meeting considerable resistance at every step Haskins was finally able to tie up with Kaneyama Chiyo (金山ちよ), a student reporter for the Hitotsubashi Youth Red Flag Journal (一橋赤旗青年ジャーナル). Together they were finally able to identify the true source of the huge purchases of bamboo: an until now largely unknown organization going by the name of, “The New Bamboo Shoot Tribe” (新竹の子族). This insidious group of right-wing nationalist thugs is said to have close ties to Japanese organized crime syndicates and operates out of unmarked headquarters found somewhere in or near an apartment complex called the Harajuku Verdant Heights. In interviews with local residents Kaneyama reported that members of this organization have been seen to hold secret night time rallies in Yoyogi Park dressed in strange attire. They apparently open with a bizarre oath to the memory of former Japanese ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi and have been heard chanting various anti-Korean slogans.

Very little is known about the leader of the New Bamboo Shoot Tribe and her life is largely shrouded in mystery. What is known about Mitarai Aya (御手洗彩) is that she has a long history of violence and gang involvement. First detained by police in 1980 for destruction of public school property, she is said to have led many mass battles between groups of high school students in central Tokyo. She was eventually expelled from high school when she stabbed her math teacher 14 times with a geometry compass in 1982. One year later she was arrested for the death of two Yakuza men found with brutally cracked skulls near Meiji shrine. The charges were dropped after she argued that she had been molested by the older men, who were found still armed with knives, and in response she had to “bust some heads,” in “self-defense.”

A single rare picture remains of a young Mitarai taken some time in the early 1980s. We can already see in her eyes the early indications of someone who would become a cool and cruel Japanese right-wing nationalist fanatic:


The research of Kaneyama and Haskins definitely established the New Bamboo Shoot Tribe as the source of the massive purchases. This has affected prices not only of the popular Phyllostachys bambusoides and other varieties of bamboo common in Japan but a wide range of East Asian species such as Fargesia dracocephala. However, a follow up article slated to be published in Asahi newspaper which was to analyze the organization and its plans for the bamboo was never submitted. Soon after the initial joint publication of the research by these two courageous reporters Haskins left suddenly and mysteriously for Patagonia in southern Argentina to reportedly “find God,” leaving all his belongings and his wife and two children behind in California. Efforts to locate him have been unsuccessful. More shockingly, Kaneyama died soon after in a mysterious fire in a restaurant in the Ōkubo district of Tokyo.

The impact of this price rise should not be underestimated, as it even threatens the Beijing Olympics held in China this summer. The cost of feeding pandas, who depend on the plant, has skyrocketed and rationing of bamboo shoots has been implemented in China and elsewhere. According to panda specialist, Dr. Zhang Zhongxu at the Chengdu Panda Breeding and Feeding Center, “The Japanese have long been jealous of the prestige China will gain this summer with the hosting of the Olympic games. This manipulation of the bamboo market is a direct provocation aimed at sabotaging the games. We can now only afford to feed each of our pandas 4kg of bamboo shoots per day, and our beloved pandas are in dire condition.” One of those threatened and at the point of starvation is none other than Jingjing, one of the five mascots of the Olympics beloved all over the world.


A national campaign has been announced to raise money to feed Jingjing and other starving pandas in the wake of the crisis. However, in the event Jingjing does not pull through, there is discussion about the possibility of substituting the cartoon mascot for the Shenzhen based Internet Friendly Monitoring Division of the Public Caring Bureau, which coincidently is also named Jingjing.


While not as cute as the panda figure, the alternate Jingjing has gained much respect for his considerable mastery of a wide range of Chinese martial arts. He easily won the underground 2007 Worldwide Battle of the Mascots held in the Cambodian border town of Pailin, unseating the 3-year consecutive Japanese champion Custom-kun (カスタム君) whose Sumo skills were thought to be unbeatable.

The sentiment stirred in the Middle Kingdom surrounding the bamboo price increase, however, may have distracted the media away from the real purpose behind the massive purchases of bamboo by dummy corporations set up by the New Bamboo Shoot Tribe. While it hasn’t received much international attention, a short “Research Note” in the forthcoming issue of the International Irredentist Review ties the Kaneyama and Haskins research directly to the Dokdo issue. Professor Kjell Skadberg, head of the Institute of Irredentist Studies at the University of Flekkefjord and author of highly controversial and much criticized work Dokdo/Takeshima and Eastern Greenland: What We Can Learn from the 1931 Norwegian Invasion and Occupation of Eirik Raudes Land has suggested that this massive purchase of bamboo may be part of a new and more frightening stage of Japanese imperialist attempts to boost their international claim to the Dokdo islands through direct action.

“The New Bamboo Shoot Tribe, which must surely have government support to be engaging in such massive purchases, may be planning to somehow cover the contested islands in bamboo. If they could get this normally tropical plant to grow on the rocky surface and cover it with the verdant green of the bamboo (or take) which is part of the Japanese name for the islands, then it would serve as excellent ammunition for the Japanese claims. The equivalent would be if Koreans were to ship all the lonely people of their nation to the islands of that designation.”1

Could this be the ultimate bamboo conspiracy? Activists have already mobilized to pursue this hypothesis. The first support for Skadberg’s claim has already been found. After Kaneyama’s suspicious death in March, a close review of her possessions turned up three single sheets from a longer roster of the paying members of the New Bamboo Shoot Tribe from 2006. This list included 2 pilots of major Japanese airlines as well as a retired Japanese self-defense air force pilot of high rank. Among them was also an assistant professor of the Department of Agriculture at Mie University, Saito Jun, whose past publications include an essay entitled, “From Tropical Soils to Rocky Wastelands: Increasing the Range and Promoting the Growth of Plants in Adverse Conditions.” Activists have already begun surveillance of these individuals but they have all refused requests for interview or comment.

Fishy Relations

As seen above Skadberg suggests that there is secret Japanese government financial backing behind the conspiratorial designs of the New Bamboo Shoot Tribe. This is undoubtedly the case, but there are other possibilities for funding that go beyond government support and the deep blood chests of Japanese nationalist networks. In an amazing scoop, one more name found on “The Kaneyama Roster,” as the membership roster found in deceased Kaneyama’s possessions has come to be known, suggests a connection between Japan’s neo-imperialists and Korea’s huge network of Dokdo seafood restaurants, which goes by the name Dokdo Marine Products Industry Federation (독도해산물산업연맹, hereafter DMPIF). The list contained the Korean name Choe Sangho (崔尙浩) which is the same name as the DMPIF’s long-serving former chairman (1985-1997) well known for leading the expansion of DMPIF membership by encouraging all failing seafood restaurants in Korea to paint images of Dokdo on their interior walls, add Dokdo to the restaurant name and put pictures of the islands on menus or on the outer walls and signs. Before becoming chairman, Choe was merely the humble owner of his own restaurant in Shinchon, “Dokdo Tuna” and was only inspired to become active in the DMPIF when his wife one day reportedly remarked, “Wouldn’t it be nice if every station on the new line number two had a Dokdo restaurant?”


This would become the campaign theme for the DMPIF barely a year after the completion of subway line number two in 1984, ten years after violent protests against the “pro-Japanese subway” (친일지하철 반대운동, 1973-1975) line number one opened: “A Dokdo seafood restaurant at every station of line number two! Celebrate the completion of our first pure Korean subway line!” With the patronage of patriotic customers and new support of restaurant owners Dokdo-themed restaurants spread like wildfire across South Korea during Choe’s tenure as chairman, with membership in the federation growing from a mere 24 restaurants in 1985 to 432 in 1996. On the eve of the current scandal, member restaurants were said to be over seven hundred.

However, now Choe’s legendary status among students of Korea’s seafood history was being seriously questioned. Was he a selfless patriot who fought for Dokdo through his career as a seafood restaurant owner and chairman of the DMPIF? Or was he perhaps secretly an opportunistic pro-Japanese traitor who actually conspired together with Japanese extremists to deprive Korea of these sacred islands?

Choe naturally dismissed all suggestions that he had anything to do with the New Bamboo Shoots Tribe or other Japanese nationalist organizations. In a short comment given to the press through a spokesman he said, “I have dedicated my life to educating the people about Dokdo and make sure that with every delicious bite of our food they are reminded of the beauty and sanctity of the islands. Dokdo is our land! I am horribly saddened to hear that someone going by the same name as me was found on the roster of this despicable organization.” However, shortly after the statement was delivered he was committed to a “health spa” on Cheju island due to “illness and stress” and has since refused to see anyone. The DMPIF immediately began damage control, quickly distancing themselves from Choe in a press release and emphasizing that, “Choe has not served on any executive body of the DMPIF since 2001 and we are currently conducting an internal audit to investigate possible charges of corruption against him from his time as chairman.”

However, Choe’s potentially treasonous activities sparked the interest of the Korean Institute for Research in Collaborationist Activities (민족문제연구소) who decided to take a look at the leadership of the DMPIF. Fresh from their hard work on the newest release of names of leading colonial period collaborators, they conducted a detailed study of all leading executives of the DMPIF from its founding in 1965 until now. The disturbing conclusions reached by their researchers can be found in the concluding paragraph of their damning 622 page report:

“Of the 78 members holding executive positions in the history of the DMPIF no less than 59, including Choe Sangho are direct descendants of colonial period pro-Japanese traitors. An additional 6 executive leaders of the DMPIF in the 1960s were themselves already in our most recent list of 4,776 traitors. We must therefore conclude that the DMPIF is a pro-Japanese collaborationist organization and will be including the organization in the upcoming release of the post-liberation edition of our dictionary of pro-Japanese collaborationist organizations (일제협력단체사전: 국내 해방후 일제잔재편).

The reaction was swift and severe. Last week a statue of Choe Sangho that had been erected at the opening of the fish market in Noryangjin in 1999 to commemorate his lifetime dedication to the preservation of Dokdo was torn down by angry protesters. More peaceful candlelight vigils were held outside the DMPIF demanding the dissolution of the organization.

Many Koreans were left shocked and confused. Scenes of crying children whose parents denied them the pleasure of visiting their favorite local Dokdo restaurant became commonplace. The very restaurants that helped promote the Korean claim to Dokdo long before children sang the Dokdo song in school were somehow also connected to Japanese terrorists who were trying to steal the islands from them? How could this happen? The scholarly investigations of the Korean Institute for Research in Collaborationist Activities were followed up upon on by another powerful non-profit organization dedicated to the global fight against Japanese neo-imperialism: VANK.

The Very Annoyed Network of Koreans, or VANK, set out to identify the motives and the exact trail of money and meetings that linked the DMPIF with Japanese organizations. First their volunteers infiltrated the mid-tier cells of the DMPIF and recorded a number of revealing conversations that showed the base opportunism at the heart of the DMPIF’s treasonous crimes. The following example gives the clearest voice to this treachery:

DMPIF Traitor: Business was at its peak during the furor surrounding the establishment of ‘Takeshima Day’ in Shimane [Prefecture, Japan] and the issue of the Takeshima stamps a few years ago. However, since then people have gradually forgotten about Dokdo and business has been in steep decline. All people care about now is eating Korean beef! We have to get Dokdo back into the news and for that we need to work together with the Japanese, who have that ability.

VANK Infiltrator: But what if Japan succeeds in its campaign to steal Dokdo from us?

DMPIF Traitor: [Laughing] That would be perfect! Recovering the islands from Japan would become a permanent obsession of all Koreans! Our restaurants would flourish!

There is a sick and twisted logic to the traitor’s comment. Who now remembers the once insanely popular restaurants of pre-WWII France that served Alsatian cuisine and incorporated the word “revanche” in their names or on their menus? If Dokdo were lost, the spirit of revanche would surely lead to a new renaissance for the DMPIF, had their plot not been uncovered. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of VANK members, fired with passionate zeal and love for their nation, massive financial contributions by the DMPIF to a “bamboo fund” and other Japanese plots have been uncovered. Yesterday, the farcical attempt of DMPIF to prevent the scandal from coming out came to an end when the entire executive board of the federation fled to Tsushima island and sought political asylum from the Japanese authorities, who still forcefully occupy the Korean island, properly known as Daemado. “When Korea rightfully reclaims Daemado,” said a spokesman from VANK, “these traitors will receive their just punishment.”

One major battle to thwart the current Japanese attempt to steal Dokdo from Korea has been won but Koreans must remain vigilant. The fight continues, with ever increasing efficacy. Seoul Metro has pulled Japanese condom ads found on subway doors and special crack troops have successfully apprehended and liquidated a flock of pro-Japanese Korean pheasants. Let no Korean man, woman, or child ever forget that Dokdo is and has always been their land!

  1. Skadberg, Kjell. “Research Note” The International Irredentist Review 14:3 September, 2008 (forthcoming), 248. []

Anti-Korean Sentiment in Taiwan

Having spent a wonderful year or so in Korea I have had occasion to speak of my experiences to people I meet here in Taiwan. I have been surprised to see some anti-Korean sentiment amongst people I have met here.

I first got a hint of this soon after I arrived in Taiwan. At a Sichuan style restaurant here with a group of friends I was asked what I ate in Korea and I said that I was a huge fan of Korean food, and that is probably what I miss most about it now having left Seoul. My words were met with what seemed to me utter shock and disbelief around the table. It was almost like I had insulted their mothers.

One of my friends responded, “But in Korea all they eat is meat and kimchi! What is there about Korean food to like? They have no vegetables!” I tried to explain that there are many dishes in Korea that have a wonderful assortment of vegetables but my further defense of Korean cuisine only seemed to make things worse. We moved on to other topics.

Since then I have kept my ears open when it comes to the way people I have met respond to things related to Korea and sometimes I have come right out and asked, “What do you think about Korea?” or “What is your impression about Korea.” The results have been interesting. Three recent responses:

1. Taipei, pro-Blue female. “Koreans are so arrogant! You know they tried to register the Dragon Boat race with [some UN organization] as a Korean tradition that they invented?”

2. Kaohsiung, female. “I hate (討厭)Korea! I have interacted with many Korean women at international conferences and they are always talking. They are so loud and very rude.”

3. Kaohsiung, male pro-Green graduate student. Has studied Korean at university level. “I hate (討厭) Koreans! I knew many Koreans at university and they were so rude, arrogant, and obsessed with their pride. Koreans hate the Japanese. They are always trying to show how they are as good as the Chinese, and when it comes to the Taiwanese, they look down (看不起) on us.

Though they fortunately lack any rocky islets to fight over and no effigies are being burnt in street protests, I was really surprised at the really strong emotions evoked here in Taiwan. I never got “我不太喜歡” or other more moderate phrases. The sentiment was unusually direct. Of course, it is nowhere near the kinds of reactions I have seen among many young Chinese towards the Japanese (first encountering these powerful emotions in Beijing in 1997 was my first motivation to study Sino-Japanese relations and the contentious historical issues in the region). Korean sentiments against the Japanese seems, by contrast, a little more tame these days, though I may get this impression because I have been hanging out with a lot of more younger “pro-Japanese” treasonous types when I lived in Seoul.

One explanation might be a general clash of personality types. As some of the comments above hint at, the generally more relaxed and polite personality style I have found to be common on this island may simply clash a bit more with the sometimes more intense and aggressive style often found on the peninsula to the north. Obviously, I have seen plenty of exceptions to this on both sides.

Something I heard indirectly which may play is role was from a Taiwanese woman who I’m told said that though Korea and Taiwan were long lauded as two of Asia’s leading economic “tigers” some Taiwanese feel like they “lost” to the larger and more powerful Korea, thus leading to the development of a kind of insecurity complex when they find themselves compared to their more populous and culturally distinct rival.

There is no doubt that Korea has a certain degree of international visibility that Taiwan lacks. Asus does not quite have the brand power of Samsung or LG and Taiwan’s cross-straits crisis doesn’t have the benefit of an official axis of evil member next door. If my Korean friends complain that most Americans can’t find their country on a map (to be fair, we apparently can’t seem to find most places on a map, even after we invade them) then imagine the chances of them locating this little Formosan paradise. My Taiwanese friends who have a lot of international experience often refer to the frustration they feel at having to explain to everyone that they are from TaiWAN, not from ThaiLAND. Yes, they survived the tidal wave nicely, thank you (when I hear such complaints I’m reminded of my Korean friends who express their annoyance at being mistaken for Japanese when they travel, and sometimes revealing a more condescending discrimination when recounting their much greater horror at being mistaken as Chinese. As for myself, I have long since stopped caring if people introduce me as coming from Sweden or Finland, I just feel a bit sorry for Denmark, since it rarely gets offered as my homeland and, really, to be fair, the Danish kingdom did rule over Norway the longest).

Korea’s visibility extends to Taiwan as well. I see buses around Taipei plastered with huge advertisements for the latest Korean historical drama, and a Korean drama always seems to be playing on some channel or other here. Somebody must be watching them. This afternoon I ate Korean food in a food court in a Kaohsiung shopping mall, and Korean 泡菜 (kimchi) or the word 韓式 (Korean-style) is added as a prefix to many food items in many regular Chinese-style restaurants.

Of course, I don’t get the impression the “Korea” brand is anywhere close to the “Japan” brand here in Taiwan in terms of its power. Thousands of Japanese products are sold in stores around Taiwan with their Japanese packaging and labels fully intact. The word “Japan” or “Japanese Style” is printed in big fat or highlighted characters on signs for all manner of products (especially anything related to cosmetics, electronics, and very often for food related items) in a way reminiscent of products sold in the US with “NEW! IMPROVED!” attached. Maybe my memory is off, but I don’t seem to remember anywhere near this extent of explicit use of the Japan brand in Korea.

Of course, everyone knows that Taiwan is infamously pro-Japanese. Japanese men seem to believe they stand a better chance of finding love here in Taiwan than anywhere in Asia. The postwar experience of dictatorship, the 2/28 massacre, and the importance of the long Japanese colonial period to the claims of a distinct Taiwanese national identity all contribute to this. This weekend I was introduced to a somewhat inebriated Taiwanese doctor who was told that I was doing my dissertation on Chinese traitors (漢奸). He turned to me, somewhat perturbed, and proudly announced, almost toppling over as he straightened up, “我就是漢奸!” (I am myself a 漢奸!)

When it comes to Taiwanese sentiments towards Korea, if my very limited exchanges are at all suggestive of anything, the Korean brand power, food culture, and drama fandom seen here are not incompatible with a degree of emotional disdain. Even one of the women included in the comments above who expressed a hatred of Korea and especially Korean women also says that while she loves Japanese kimonos and culture of all kinds she doesn’t like the Japanese people themselves because they, “Are so polite to you all the time but who knows what they are thinking on the inside.” This deep dislike of a purported Japanese “two-facedness” is a familiar image. I remember an elderly neighbor of my parents in Oklahoma who, after decades of negotiations with Japanese chemical companies told me something along the lines of, “Them Japs’d always lie to your face. ‘Yes’ never meant ‘yes,’ and ‘maybe’ always meant ‘no.’ And you’d never know when they might pull a Pearl Harbor on ya.” (His distrust wasn’t limited to the Japanese, however. He spent a lunch once trying to convince me that every evil of the 20th century could be blamed on the inherently demonic nature of the Englishman. I think he bore a very serious grudge against the English ever since he was arrested by an English MP in World War II when he was on shore leave in Gibraltar).

All being said, however, I was a bit surprised to find anything more than, at worst, indifference towards Korea. Instead, I might have expected a feeling of camaraderie for an economically successful and culturally rich counterpart that is similarly struggling to define itself in a challenging geopolitical environment dominated by its larger neighbors.

UPDATE: There was a surprising amount of interest in this posting but I feel my posting didn’t come across quite the way I wanted it to. I am not justifying any of the claims that I quote hear, nor do I think the feelings expressed by my informers were much more than the kinds of stereotypes we all engage in or somehow reflect some kind of genuine bubbling discontent here in Taiwan. On the contrary, of all places I have lived in East Asia, the people I have met here in Taiwan are the most cosmopolitan and open. That was precisely why the rare expressions of dislike for a particular group of people stood out such that it made me notice it and become curious since I expected the contrary to hold true among two places with much in common in their recent history and development.

2010.11 UPDATE: This posting continues to attract attention and I’m sad to see that apparently some Korean sites are linking to it. I just received an email which takes issue with my use of the word hate to translate 討厭:

One point about your interpretation of 討厭 as hate. There is a (quiet big) difference here.  Hate is more like 憎恨, 痛恨 which is much much stronger than 討厭 which can be interpreted as “I don’t like.” For example, if you are trying to do your home work and your brother keeps poking/bothering you, you will say 討厭.  Or in your word, it’s a more stronger “我不喜歡” (notice the missing 太 here since “我不太喜歡” is a little bit less strong then “我不喜歡”. The former is kind of detour a little while the later more straight-forward.)  Probably you don’t really care. But by interpreting 討厭 as “hate” makes all non-Chinese speaking people thinking that man Taiwanese “hate” Koreans which if far from true.  My wife and I have checked out many Korean dramas from our local library.  We use Korean products all the time (TV, cell phones, camera, monitor, etc.)  In fact, I just bought a Samsung camera about 3 weeks ago and this is the second Samsung camera we own.  So I’d appreciate that you can spend couple minutes correcting it. Of course, you can ask around and make sure my interpretation is correct.

The writer is correct that 討厭 is not as strong a word as the visceral hatred implied by 憎恨, etc. but I think it ignores that the English word “hate” also has a much wider range – as in “I hate Ice Cream” or “I hate it when he does that.”  At any rate, I stand by my basic point, that I have often been surprised to see a pretty emotionally strong (and quick) response from a number of my Taiwanese friends when it comes to Korea and I think it is common enough for us to ponder the reasons for it in the absence of any major historical grievances.  Some Koreans are taking this posting as evidence of Taiwanese perfidy to feed their own anger, while some Taiwanese are seeing this is as a blanket condemnation of them. If I did not feel strongly that I should leave my writings, both strong and weak, online, I would take the posting down since it has only led to a negative effect as far as I can see. As the writer indicates, many Taiwanese have a great love for Korean products and culture. I met a number of Taiwanese students studying Korean in various Korean language programs I have attended. It is perhaps partly because of this that there is a strong reaction (though the similar feelings of some of a much older generation need other explanations) against the sudden popularity, as Kerim suggests in his comment. We see similar things in Japan with the rise of the despicable 嫌韓流 related publications that give rise to old racisms.  As Sayaka said in the comments: let us all chill out – I raised a flag here, of curiosity as much as of concern, and merely wish for all the peoples of the region to get along well.

Quotational Quarantines

As historians, we often engage in the liberal use of quotations to sanitize and quarantine distasteful terms or phrases that lend legitimacy to a category or a way of referring to an institution or other body. The use of these quotes, which I confess to frequently using, presumably robs such terms of their nomenclatural power and further serves to establish distance between us and the ideas and terms we enlist to talk about the past.

Finally, use of these quotation marks excuses us from having to spend time analyzing the terms themselves, putting them aside as if to say, “Yes, yes, this is a very inappropriate term that needs careful and sensitive discussion, but since I’ve a lot to do in this essay, I just can’t be bothered at the moment to deal with it.”

Some people seem to feel that the aesthetic impact on one’s work is such that the frequent use of quotations is just not worth it, or perhaps feel that we simply aren’t accomplishing anything useful by using them for direct translations or referrals to terms as they were used decades or centuries ago. However, not using quotations or confronting problematic terms can earn the ire of book reviewers, as I discussed in a response to a review of the book Collaboration by Timothy Brooks. Brooks was criticized for used the term “pacification teams” to refer to the units the Japanese called “pacification teams” in occupied China during the war even if he is anything but sympathetic to the Japanese in his book.

One strategy is to use quotations once, and then announce that you won’t be using them anymore. I came across this tactic today when reading a Chinese translation of an essay by Matsuda Toshihiko, called 日本帝國在殖民地的憲兵警察制度:從朝鮮,關東州致滿洲國的統治樣式遷移 (English title was listed as “The ‘Gendarme-oriented’ Police System in the Japanese Colonial Empire: The Transfer of Models of Rule Used in Colonial Korea to Kwantung Province and Manchukuo”) After putting Japan’s 內地 (the interior of Japan = Japan proper excluding its colonies) and terms like 滿洲 (Manchuria, 滿洲國 Manchukuo, the largely Japanese controlled Manchurian state from 1932-1945, often called 僞滿州 or the “puppet Manchukuo”) in quotations, he follows each with “一下省略括號” (“Brackets left out below”).

Another strategy that can sometimes be used, which is one I follow for some words like “traitors,” is to embrace a word and use it quite shamelessly in order to deliberately provoke the reader. In English, the word traitor has lost much of its punch of late – a good thing in my opinion – but still holds great power in many other places and languages. The discomfort generated by the word and the way it forces readers to think about what it really means is part of what I aim to achieve when I use the term. Far from wanting to contribute to the term’s legitimacy, my deliberate use of it is partly out of a kind of mockery, but more importantly out of a desire to help set the scene of the politically charged context in which it was used.

Though I can’t speak for them, I suspect something similar is being done in some other famous cases of this. Some scholars of Korean history have been strongly criticized for using words like “terrorist” to describe Korea’s national tragic hero Kim Koo. I suspect these same critics would have much less opposition to him be referred to by his popular nickname, “the assassin.” I really don’t have strong feelings on this issue and I don’t think it is as straightforward as my own case, but it raises some interesting questions. What if these scholars are also engaging in a dual process of linguistic mockery and deliberate attempt at reviving a historical scene? Should the word be off limits entirely, should it necessarily be accompanied with quotations, or are there alternatives? What I think escapes some critics of such scholars is that I believe at least some of them are using the word terrorist not as a way to conjure images of Kim Koo as a suicide bomber in a crowded market but, on the contrary, to show how the word terrorist has itself a history and potentially embraces a wide range of figures we might be less willing to unconditionally condemn. In doing so, they potentially open a space in which to critique the way the word has come to be used and what it now narrowly represents, as well as the wide range of activities and contexts it covered both in the past and now. Can we only engage in such a rhetorical technique through the use of quotations?

I’d be interested in hearing from other students and scholars about this. What strategies do others take when they are faced with the need or potential need to establish quotational quarantines? What conventions do you follow?

Korea National Police University Song

It seems like everything has a song in Korea. Go to the web page of almost any institution, whether it be a school, political organization, clubs of all kinds, you can often find their song online.

Maybe I’m getting a little too “close” to my topic, but I was on the website of the Korean National Police University, looking for professors that might be interesting to talk to about early postwar police who had worked during the colonial period, and as I flipping through links quickly I misread the word 교가 (school song) as 교수 (professors). The staff pages wouldn’t be listed under that word anyways.

I then found myself listening and actually digging their university song, it got me psyched up and ready to kick some bad guy ass. You can find the words and listen to it on their website or get the mp3 here:


Weekend in Kanghwa-do

Spent the weekend in Kanghwa-do with a friend. I have never been one for the usual tourist destinations so many of the highlights of the island listed in tourist brochures went unseen. The highlight for me was the hike on the first day through some hills on a small country road in the south of the island, through some farmers’ fields and along the southern coast of the island to a popular beach. Since the island is so close to North Korea, the coastline was actually a military restricted area but we walked unmolested along most of it. A man on a bicycle passing by told us it was restricted but we learned from soldiers at the next checkpoint that he was a high ranking officer out on a bike ride. When we told the biker/officer we were trying to walk along the coast to the beach, he let the soldiers further down the path know that we were harmless and to let us through. The many empty checkpoints and observation boxes along the coast had human shaped plastic scarecrows that could be set up to look like people were manning the positions.

We ended up not climbing any of the hills on the island, which in any case average around 350 meters. I’m actually glad, the hordes of other climbers, all clad in standard Korean hiking uniforms and equipment reminded me of climbing on Halla-san in Cheju-do where we essentially stood in line to get up the mountain behind hundreds of people (including groups of women sweating through their heavy make-up). Much more enjoyable was the wonderful and quiet stroll along forested country roads we got on Saturday afternoon when a local told us how to get through the hills to the coast the fastest way by an older road not marked on many maps. I recommend these country strolls in Korea as a wonderful alternative to the industrial tourist staircase that is so much hiking in Korea. You can often find yourself behind so many mountaineers you might have guessed you were on a subway stairway at rush hour if it weren’t for the fact that everyone is wielding useless metal poles and carrying plastic mats to keep the rear of their expensive and fashionable hiking pants from getting any dirt on them when they sit down.

A few places that got saved on my GPS from the weekend:

View Larger Map

Trip to Cheju-do

I haven’t had a chance to blog much about it but I made a trip of almost a week to Cheju-do. The original purpose was for a Fulbright researcher conference where all the junior researchers presented on the progress of their research but I went early with one of my fellow researchers because the conference was only a few days after April 3rd. This year is the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the April 3rd, 1948 uprising on Cheju island. We went early to participate in various memorial events, visit the Cheju 4.3 peace park, and the huge museum just opened in the park, and I was also able to attend an international conference on the uprising. I may blog more about Cheju 4.3 over at Frog in a Well – Korea but in the meantime, here is a quick google map mashup of places visited, something I was able to create quickly since I saved various locations on my GPS reader.

View Larger Map

That Very Special Day Has Arrived

Google Korea has offered something really special for this year’s offering on this very special date:

Google 사투리 번역을 소개합니다
Introducing the New Google Dialect Translation Service


If you read Korean, check out the hilarious webpage showing examples of translations between various Korean dialects, how to attach dialect “modes” for translation of dialects in Google Talk and an explanation of how Gmail will provide one click translations of those dialect filled emails into standard Korean.


I think the idea would be just as hilarious if Google Norway (as well as countless other localized Google sites in countries where there is a high degree of dialect variation) were to try it.

The Other Korean Wave

I mentioned in an earlier posting written while visiting Taiwan in 2005 that, in addition to media products such as Korean movies and dramas, there is another “Korean wave” out there.

As I mentioned in that posting, “Korean-style plastic surgery” (韓風整形) can be found advertised on the streets of Taipei. In this advertising we see a “before” and “after” shot indicating how a customer might be transformed into Bae Yong-jun:

Yong-sama Surgery

On my recent trip to Shandong, I discovered that this was not limited to Taiwan but can also been seen in mainland China. In fact, the main shopping street of Jinan (which includes a Walmart and various famous brand clothing stores) was lined on both sides for several hundred meters with an illuminated advertisement for “Korean-style plastic surgery” (韓氏整形). This time, instead of Bae Yong-jun, they chose the image of a woman in a hanbok to give it an authentic look.



Code-Switching Spotting and Living Korean History

I spent the afternoon in a coffee shop mining footnotes of various secondary accounts of the violence in the autumn of 1946 (it is also known as the Autumn Harvest Uprising, the October People’s Resistance, the October Riot Incident, the October Rebellion, and the Taegu Uprising) to see if I have been missing anything.

I thought to myself, you know, it is kind of depressing to see how little is actually available in Korean sources, as far as I have been able to find out so far, and especially when compared to the wealth of materials of widely varying quality coming out on the various violent uprisings in South Korea in 1948 (Yŏsu, Cheju-do, and so on). Though American military materials abound, in general, I been somewhat underwhelmed by the relative lack of accounts of the 1945-50 period on the Korean side. The explanation I hear everywhere is that the devastation of the Korean War of 1950-3 is much to blame.

Just as I was pondering this problem, two elderly men sat down next to me and carried on a conversation. Although the loud espresso machine in the background made it difficult, I overheard some of their conversation and could recognize my favorite linguistic phenomenon:

わざわざ…followed by some Korean
しがつはつか(四月二十日)완전히…more Korean
근대おれは…more Japanese
すまないな, 지난번…more Korean
あれはね、…followed by Korean sentence.

Some excellent code-switching going on. Sentences seemed to only switch completely into Korean when discussion got fast or emotional, but would switch back to Japanese at the beginning of a new topic with Korean words sprinkled in here and there in the middle of sentences, and the middle of Korean sentences throughout the conversation would get a Japanese word here and there, as if for emphasis.

This is something I have written about here at Muninn on several occasions (A code switching family in Seoul, code-switching in Taiwan, Japanese-Chinese code-switching couple in Taiwan, Chinese-English code switching in a Harvard campus coffee shop). It was something I saw on a number of occasions in Taiwan amongst older Taiwanese though, with the exception of older Koreans speaking to me in Japanese (such the Korean war stories I heard from this gentleman and this retired policeman) I have been looking forward to finding the same thing in Korea, where I know it happens.

After listening for a few minutes, I took advantage of a moment of silence between the two elderly friends and jumped in, using Japanese. A delightful conversation ensued, which eventually ended up in exactly the kind of code-switching between Korean and Japanese that was going on before I joined in, but now with some English thrown in (one of the two had worked 4 years in the US) here and there as well.

Both learnt their Japanese as children, having completed primary school during the colonial period. They were 13 and 14 when the colonial period ended, and were both a small minority in a good quality school made up of mostly Japanese students. “One day, our Japanese friends suddenly told us they had to go to Japan because they lost the war,” said one, “to which I replied, ‘Why do you have to go to Japan? Weren’t you born here?'” One was born and raised in Taegu, but was now living and still working in Japan, while the other grew up in Seoul. I asked the man from Taegu if he remembers anything about the violence in the autumn of 1946, he said someone told him about seeing the corpses of policemen being dragged by ropes through the streets, but he didn’t see anything himself.

I asked them about their Korean war experience. The man from Seoul says that he and his family were kidnapped by North Korean militia and taken to a town north of P’yŏngyang and put into a labor team, and that he was held for 100 days. He said every day was a nightmare there, his mother praying for their survival every day. He says he has almost blocked every memory of the experience out, “When I close my eyes all I can see is an image of the 태극기 flag.” He said that he escaped with his family when the US troops reached the area in the autumn of 1950. He then walked back to South Korea. His friend sitting across the table said, “I have never heard this story! Why do you tell this stranger but you’ve never told me this story?” He replied that this was a really painful (つらい) memory for him and he doesn’t want to recall it (思い出したくない).

I told them the biggest obstacle for people like me studying the period 1945-50 is the lack of materials. Even if the memories are painful, I encouraged them both to write down their stories, and like the boom of Japanese publishing their memoirs and diaries of wartime experiences in Japan in the last few decades has done, give historians and younger generations a chance to hear their stories. One of the guys answered, “いや、韓国は日本じゃない。ここでは、そういうような書く문화がない。” (Korea is not Japan. Here we don’t have that kind of culture of writing) Is that fair? Perhaps that generation just needs a bit more time and a bit more encouragement?