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With the signing of the Comfort Women “deal” between Japan and South Korea in December 2015 – a deal signed without consulting the victims themselves – the issue of the wartime sex slaves once again came to the fore. While the inter-governmental negotiators were reaching the final stages of their deal-making, Cho Jung-rae’s long-term project […]

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Book Review: The Story of Hong Gildong

by Philip Gowman 18 November 2016
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Anon (attr Heo Kyun): The Story of Hong Gildong Translated with an introduction and notes by Minsoo Kang Penguin, 2016, 100pp Penguin has done us a favour by bringing us this new translation of a classic Korean tale, along with a useful introduction and notes. Hong Gildong is often described as the Korean Robin Hood […]

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Korean War not quite forgotten in Canary Wharf art trail

by Philip Gowman 3 November 2016
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As we approach Remembrance Sunday, the walkways and open spaces of Canary Wharf have been adorned with works by artist Mark Humphrey in what is described as the UK’s first Remembrance Art Trail, in association with the Royal British Legion and constructed with the help of the Corps of Royal Engineers, consists of seven art […]

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New Paju footbridge honours Glorious Glosters

by Philip Gowman 25 October 2016
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I am grateful to the Association for the Study of Songun Politics UK for alerting me to the recent opening of a new bridge – the “Gloucester Heroes Bridge” – commemorating the role of British forces (and it was not just the Glosters, though they are the regiment who feature most prominently in the accounts) […]

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Book review: Hwang Sun-won — Lost Souls

by Philip Gowman 30 August 2016
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Hwang Sun-won: Lost Souls Translated by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton Columbia University Press 2010, 354pp Having quite enjoyed two of Hwang Sun-won’s fuller-length stories – Trees on a Slope and Descendants of Cain – though without necessarily being enamoured of the characters of the stories they inhabited, I was looking forward to tackling Lost Souls, […]

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The World’s First Referendum – and its aftermath

by Matthew Jackson 8 August 2016
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Korea is a country of hidden wonders. These wonders, which have remained hidden in some cases for centuries, are continually being unearthed. Many have something to teach us about the world we live in today. The Sillok – royal annals that documented every day of the Joseon dynasty for the five centuries it governed Korea […]

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2016 travel diary 19: The Scholar’s Garden #1: Yun Seon-do on Bogildo

by Philip Gowman 19 May 2016
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Bogil-do, Wando-gun, Jeollanam-do, 19 May 2016, 10:30am Way back in the mid Joseon dynasty, being a scholar official was a troublesome occupation. If you were a dedicated scholar you had to act in accordance with your conscience and the highest principles. Unfortunately, as happens with whistle-blowers today, your conscience could be severely career-limiting. If you picked […]

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2016 travel diary 16: Yun Du-seo’s historic house

by Philip Gowman 18 May 2016
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Hyeonsan-myeon, Haenam-gun, Jeollanam-do, 18 May 2016, 5pm. By the time we leave the Jindo bridge area it’s past 5pm. I have a huge range of things on the itinerary that I could try to fit in, should there be time. But to rush anything would not feel right, particularly when the weather is so conducive […]

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2016 travel diary 15: Song of the Sword and Roaring Currents – the two sides of Myeongnyang

by Philip Gowman 18 May 2016
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Munnae-myeon, Haenam-gun, Jeollanam-do, 18 May 2016, 4:30pm. The battle of Myeongnyang, in October 1597, was Yi Sun-shin’s penultimate victory, and the last one that he came out of alive. His final victory, the Battle of Noryang, came in December 1598 in the narrow strait between Namhae and the mainland, when a stray bullet killed him. […]

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2016 travel diary 14: Journey towards Jindo and the Myeongnyang Monument

by Philip Gowman 18 May 2016
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Sancheong-gun, Gyeongsangnam-do, Wednesday 18 May 2016, 10am Sancheong -> Sacheon -> Suncheon We say our farewells to the mayor and tourism chief at the County administrative offices. Kyung-sook is driving me to Suncheon – about 90 minutes’ leisurely drive away – so that I can meet up with Insoon. She is scheduled to arrive in […]

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2016 travel diary 11: Buyeo National Museum and the tombs at Neungsan-ri

by Philip Gowman 17 May 2016
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Buyeo-eup, Chungcheongnam-do, 17 May 2016 10am. Buyeo National Museum Next stop was the Buyeo National Museum. Here, we were totally shameless in our visit. It was to be a precision strike: go and see the the famous Gilt Bronze Incense Burner of Baekje and get out quick: we had an appointment in Sancheong. But of […]

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2016 travel diary 10: early morning in Baekje Cultural Land

by Philip Gowman 17 May 2016
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Gyuam-myeon, Buyeo-gun, Chungchongnam-do, 17 May 2016, 7am. Lotte and early Korea-Japan connections Baekje is known for its close ties to early Japan. According to one version of events, Empress Jingu was an invader from the Korean peninsula and had Baekje blood in her. Such a controversial hypothesis does not appear as a possibility on Jingu’s […]

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Song Si-yeol, the scholar with the chisel

by Philip Gowman 16 May 2016
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I have now visited three places where Joseon dynasty scholar-official Song Si-yeol has made his mark. In none of the places did I register the connection until after returning to London; in two of the places I never got to see the mark he left (there wasn’t enough time on the schedule) and in the […]

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2016 travel diary 9: Busosanseong – the Baekje royal garden

by Philip Gowman 16 May 2016
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Buyeo-gun, Chungcheongnam-do, 16 May 2016, 5:30pm. The Archaeological Site in Gwanbuk-ri Sometimes, collecting UNESCO points is not as fulfilling as it might be. The item of heritage that has been registered might not be particularly exciting to look at, even though it is historically important. But if a site is historically important you may well […]

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2016 travel diary 8: Buyeo’s Jeongnimsa Temple Site

by Philip Gowman 16 May 2016
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Buyeo-gun, Chungcheongnam-do, 16 May 2016, 4:45pm. The sun is still hot as we arrive at our destination. We walk slowly, as there is little shade, past the ticket office to where is a wide, flat open space in the middle of which is National Treasure #9: the five storey stone pagoda of Jeongnimsa Temple. Is one allowed […]

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2016 travel diary 7: Gongju’s fortress

by Philip Gowman 16 May 2016
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Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do, 16 May 2016, 3pm. Not far away from Songsan-ri is the fortress of Gongsanseong. It clings to the banks of the Geumgang river (nothing to do with Mount Geumgang in north Gangwondo) and its walls scale the cliffs and meander along the contours of the hill, forming a 2.6km circuit which climbs to […]

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2016 travel diary 6: Gongju’s royal tombs

by Philip Gowman 16 May 2016
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Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do, 16 May 2016, 2:15pm. The Royal Tombs in Songsan-ri Our first stop in Gongju is the set of seven or more tombs in Songsan-ri. The experts think there may be as many as ten tombs in the area. It seems odd, in an age when so much in the way of sophisticated electronics […]

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