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Category: Korean History (page 2 of 49)

Japan annoyed by plan to build statue of “criminal”; Korea, China tell Tokyo to screw off

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga—who, as we’ve seen before, is a bit of a sensitive sort—is upset that Korea wants to build a monument to Ahn Jung-geun in China:

“This is not good for Japan-South Korea relations,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said of the proposed monument to Ahn Jung-geun, a Korean independence activist who shot Hirobumi Ito, the first Japanese governor general of Korea, in 1909 in Harbin, northeastern China.

He said Ahn, regarded as a hero in South Korea and China, “is a criminal.”

The plan was revealed when South Korean President Park Geun-hye met Monday with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi in Seoul. Park expressed appreciation for China’s cooperation with the plan, according to the South Korean presidential office. Details of the plan are not yet known.

Considering that Japan considered pretty much everyone who engaged in the Korean independence movement criminals, this would seem to suggest he believes establishing monuments to any Korean nationalist leaders would be bad for Korea—Japan relations.

Well, anyway, Korea and China have told Japan to sod off:

Both Beijing and Seoul fired back almost immediately.

“Ahn Jung-geun is a very famous anti-Japanese fighter in history,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular briefing. “He is respected by the Chinese people as well. China will, in accordance with relevant regulations on memorial facilities involving foreigners, make a study to push forward relevant work.”

South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tae-young said Japan should “reflect on what kind of figure Hirobumi Ito was during Japan’s era of imperialism and militarism and what Japan did to neighbouring nations at the time”.

Expect more of this cooperation between Korea and China in the future. I’m not especially comfortable with it, and ideally, I’d like to see greater cooperation between Korea and Japan. That said, Japan doesn’t make it easy sometimes. I’m not sure what Suga hoped to gain for Japan with his statement—scoring points with some domestic lobbies, perhaps?—but as an act of diplomacy, all it does is give propaganda material to Korea and China and drive Seoul closer to Beijing at a time when Tokyo really should be working to gain an ally.

For what it’s worth, Ahn Jung-geun was a really intriguing character. And probably a more complex dude than most folk realize.

MUST READ: JoongAng Ilbo on Korea’s victims of torture

The JoongAng Ilbo ran a very, very good story on a support group for victims of torture during Korea’s military dictatorships of the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

As if the physical scars weren’t bad enough, the long-lasting emotional scars have been horrorfying, too:

Ryu was released in January 1982. Then, the aftershock of his torture hit him.

“I developed claustrophobia and social phobia,” he said.

He became so paranoid, afraid that security agents were coming to arrest him, that he couldn’t sleep in his own home.

In 1990, Ryu fell from his third-floor apartment while trying to escape down an impromptu rope made of clothes tied together, breaking his toes. He had panicked because a visitor rang his doorbell.

He couldn’t hold down a job because of emotional problems, and his wife had to provide for the family. Ryu, who has one daughter, divorced his wife 10 years ago.

Read the rest on your own.

If you read Korean, it might be worth your time to read novelist Cheon Woon-young’s book “Saengang,” which is about this gentleman. You can also watch “Namyeong-dong 1985,” a film based on memoirs of late activist and politician Kim Geun-tae, who was tortured by said gentleman in 1985.

Who said Japanese right-wing bigots can’t be cute, too?

(HT to Hamel)

“Now, they are blaming us, for what?” Ironically, I think she sort of answers her own question.

“We built schools, stations, bridges, malls, city halls, libraries, factories including nitrogen fertilizer factories…” Indeed. we should never forget the nitrogen fertilizer factories. Never.

Tears For Fears: South Korean Tear Gas in Bahrain?

teargas_BahrainAs of this year, Bahrain interior ministry personnel have ordered 1.6 million teargas canisters to use against protesting Baharainians, who have been in the middle of an extended protest, if not revolution (see Bahraini uprising).  Oddly enough, Baharin turned to South Africa and South Korea for their supply of tear gas, which has been used not just to stop protesters but to cause harm as well.  So far 39 people have died due to misuse of teargas in the protests:

. . . Based on field evidence the organisation collected between 2011 and 2013, the top teargas exporters to Bahrain are DaeKwang Chemical Corporation and CNO Tech. Both companies have shipped “over 1.5 million pieces of tear gas to Bahrain between 2011 and 2012,” which exceeds “the entire population of Bahrain, which is 1.2 million, of which 600,000 are citizens,” according to the group’s website. Financial Times cited a senior executive at DaeKwang as acknowledging the export of around one million units of tear gas to Bahrain between 2011 and 2012. (cite)

6.10__002This is odd considering the history of tear gas to suppress popular dissent in South Korea throughout the latter part of the Twentieth Century in South Korea (at right, Yonsei U., 1986, 6.10 민주항쟁), however, the money side of this situation is not bad for South Korea since “the monetary value of the planned shipment is unclear, however based on an estimate of $10 to $20 per canister, the total price could be between $16 and $32 million.”

Though the KFTU (Korean Federation of Trade Unions) does not enjoy my sympathy or respect, they seem to be enjoying a case of ethics regarding this issue:

. . .The Korean Federation of Trade Unions threw its support behind the Stop the Shipment campaign, sending a letter to the Korean Government asking them to halt all tear gas exports to Bahrain, meanwhile, in London, the UK-based NGO Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has called for a protest outside the Korean Embassy on Friday. (cite)

Glendale mayor regrets comfort women statue

Glendale mayor Dave Weaver apparently regrets the decision to put a memorial to the Comfort Women in his town:

Glendale was wrong to install a controversial monument honoring Korean sex slaves taken by the Japanese Army during World War II, Mayor Dave Weaver said during an interview published Monday on a Japanese television station’s YouTube channel.

“We opened a beehive, a hornet’s nest,” he told Channel Sakura. “We just shouldn’t have done it.”

As an added bonus, he said this in an interview with a right-wing Japanese TV station.

Anyway, it seems the Japanese trolls have been getting to him:

He told Japanese reporters from the far-right-wing channel, though, that in addition to opposing the statue because he believed the park where it’s located needs a master plan, he disliked the statue because he didn’t want Glendale involved in an international fight.

“I understand we’re the most hated city in Japan now, which I deeply regret,” Weaver said, adding that he’s received more than 1,000 emails about the memorial, the most correspondence he’s gotten on an issue in the 17 years he’s been on City Council.

Turkish readers, take note—send Mayor Weaver some angry emails, and maybe you can get him to express regret about Glendale’s Armenian Holocaust remembrances.

To make matters worse for Glendale, the mayor of Higashiōsaka sent Weaver a very angry letter, and Higashiōsaka officials are threatening to end its cultural and exchange relationship with Glendale. Oh, how will Glendale ever recover…

Anyway, if you wanted to counterbalance the 2ch trolls, feel free to send an email to Mayor Weaver at

Textbook disputes: not just for left-wingers

So, Ye Olde Chosun—and a lot of other folk on the right side of the political ledger—are unhappy with some of the left-learning Korean history textbooks that schools may use from next year.

In particular, the Chosun cites who two textbooks who make the Soviet occupation army in the north look like liberators and the US occupation army in the south look like, well, occupiers by comparing side-by-side the degrees of their respective commands (Dr. Andrei Lankov looks at this thorny issue) and another textbook for emphasizing the oppressiveness of South Korea’s post-war dictators while refusing to even use the word “dictatorship” to describe North Korea’s ruling regime.

The Chosun notes this as left-wing scholars, media and, of course, the KTU clamor for the government to rescind official sanction for a textbook by the “new right”-leaning Kyohak Publishing Company, which has been accused of a) beautifying the Japanese colonial era and b) playing down abuses by Korea’s post-war dictators, including the Gwangju Massacre. In fact, the Chosun accuses the campaign of being an leftist attempt to keep rightist views of history out of the classroom.

Personally, I think everyone’s full of shit here, but without having actually seen the textbooks in question, that’s more of a gut feeling rather than an informed opinion.

There’s more history fun on the way with the Park administration set to name a man accused by some of being a Syngman Rhee fan boy as the new chairman of the National Institute of Korean History. But that will have to wait for a bit later.

When the Japanese right get an idea in their heads…

I’m not really sure what the Comfort Women have to do with Osaka city affairs, but mayor Toru Hashimoto really likes to talk about them. Or Tweet about them, as it were:

“Japan was bad,” he told a party meeting on Monday, the Asahi Shimbun reported. “It is true that we used women to solve the problem of sex on the battlefield.

“Having said that, America, Britain, Germany and France, and even the South Korean military in Vietnam after WWII, they all used women to address the issue.

“Japan was bad, but you all should face up to history. This is what Japanese politicians must say,” the Asahi quoted him as saying.

Hashimoto’s use of Twitter has even got The Ish—who recently blasted Hashimoto for calling Japan’s surprise visits to its Asian neighbors in the 1930s and 1940s “aggression”—advising caution—really difficult to express right-wing historical revisionism in 140 characters or less.

To be fair to Hashimoto, at least he’s saying rude things politely. The same could not be said about his until-recently party colleague Shingo Nishimura, who made quite possibly the most disgusting statement about the Comfort Women I’ve ever read coming from the mouth of a public official:

During his speech, Nishimura also defended compatriot Hashimoto’s statement, saying that ‘comfort women’ had been incorrectly translated to ‘sex slaves,’ according to USA Today.

“‘Comfort women’ is erroneously translated as ‘sex slaves,’ which might encourage anti-Japanese riots and conspiracies,” he said. “We better fight back by telling them that the words ‘comfort women’ and ‘sex slaves’ are completely different and that there are numerous South Korean prostitutes roaming around Japan.”

He then put the final nail in the controversial commentary coffin, joking that he might visit his hometown of Osaka, venture into red-light districts and yell, “Hey, you South Korean comfort women!”

I believe the actual comment was something more along the lines of “Japan is swarming with Korean prostitutes.” He did get expelled from his party for that statement, and even Hashimoto was apparently appalled by it. Still, I suppose we should be thankful in a way—the feeling I’ve gotten is that these guys really believe that not only was Japan blameless for the Comfort Women, but also that the Comfort Women were essentially a Korean problem, that Korea is a nation of whores. At least Nishimura was being honest.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is now comparing the Yasukuni Shrine to Arlington National Cemetery:

Abe cited a Japanese history professor, Kevin Doak of Georgetown University, who said that visiting the Arlington National Cemetery, where Confederate soldiers are buried “does not mean endorsing slavery.”

Fair dinkum, but then again, I’m unaware of anything like the Yūshūkan on the grounds of Arlington. Excuse me if I’m mistaken.

The UN’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is reportedly calling on Japan to take measures to prevent hate speech directed at the Comfort Women. I like the altered Korean flag in the protest photo—who said the Japanese right doesn’t do irony?

Flavour of the Month – History Is For Winners

A people must know its past to ensure its future . . .

This quote was made in reference to country where there have different cultures in the same region over a period of centuries but this leader believes that the current occupiers have written the correct version of history.
Which country’s leader made this this observation:

  1. China
  2. America
  3. India
  4. Israel
  5. Japan

If you are clever, you can find the answer close at hand.

The answer is Israel

Open Thread #289 – Can’t we all love each other?

Threats from the North, threats or promises from Kerry in the South – can’t we all just love one another?

Hope everyone has a safe weekend.

A look back in time – photographs of Joseon’s past

Enough with all the North Korean hype – it is time to take a step back in time and look at this collection of photographs and postcards highlighted in Mail Online (March 25, 2013).

Fortresses, sunglasses, straw shoes and the pounding of rice cakes are all here for your viewing pleasure.

(Hat tip to reader)

MUST READ: Lankov on souring of Soviet-DPRK ties through 1960s

If you’re interested in Korean history, Andrei Lankov has a piece up at Sino-NK on ties between North Korea and the Soviet Union during North Korea’s early years.

Christ, and you thought relations between South Korea and the United States could be difficult. Eesh.

I especially appreciated Kim Il-sung’s attempts to kidnap dissenting North Korean students from Moscow. Of course, North Korea wasn’t the only Korea fond of this tactic.

Cartoon on the Incheon Landing in the Hankyoreh

Cartoonist Yun Tae-ho will run a serial cartoon on the Incheon Landing in the Hankyoreh starting from tomorrow.

The Comfort Woman Issue Could Have Been Resolved Last Year?

Or so say’s Kim Tae-hyo, former adviser to Lee Myung Bak in an interview with an Asahi Shimbun correspondent.

Kim is quoted to say:

The December 2011 summit in Kyoto between President Lee and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda devolved into a long, bitter argument over the comfort women issue. This is the final and most serious historical dispute between Japan and South Korea.

After the summit, Tokyo worked hard to try to resolve it during Lee’s presidency, and both sides engaged in sincere dialogue. The goal of the talks boiled down to having the Japanese prime minister express his heartfelt apology to the former comfort women–now advanced in years–and Japan paying them compensation.

Actually, Tokyo and Seoul almost reached an agreement, although few Japanese know about this. Outside the regular diplomatic channel, I had special contacts with top Japanese government officials, and we were on the verge of striking a compromise on almost all points.

Really?  Well, that’s news to me.  Kim goes on to talk about his thoughts on the joint security intelligence sharing agreement between Japan and Korea that was also nixed last year.  Anyway, interesting read.  However, I am not sure if anyone with either the Lee or Noda administrations will confirm (or deny) what Kim is saying.

Old photos of Korea make Foreign Policy

I know we’re posted a link to these photos before, but Foreign Policy picked up on a post by Korea Bang of rare color photos of Korea around the time of the Korean War.

At this point, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the publishing company I work for, Seoul Selection, has published a coffee table book of color photographs from the Korean War (Amazon) taken by war correspondent John Rich.

Korea Bang has also posted some more color photos of Korea taken during the 60s, along with netizen reactions. You can see the entire album on Flickr here.

Speaking of photos and Foreign Policy, they’ve also got a photo essay of Instagram photos from Iran. No, it has nothing to do with Korea, but I’m something of an Iranophile, and the city of Isfahan is high up in my top 10 places to visit before I kick. Anyway, my blog.

Comfort Women-related News

- In Flushing (go figure!), a street will be named in honor of the Comfort Women. And they’ll get a Comfort Women memorial, too.

– One place that won’t be getting a Comfort Women memorial is Singapore:

Singapore said on Wednesday it has rejected plans by South Korean activists to erect a statue in the city-state commemorating women forced into sexual slavery by Japan during World War II.

The culture ministry denied claims by the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery that there had been talks about plans to put up such a statue.
“There are no ongoing meetings or discussions between the Singapore government and the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery on this issue. Nor will we allow such a statue to be erected in Singapore.”

(HT to readers)

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