London Korean Links

Covering things Korean in London and beyond since 2006

SOAS evening seminars: Autumn season

Here are the details so far of the Autumn series of free evening seminars at SOAS:

Date: Friday, 15 October 2010

Time: 17:00
Title: Reevaluation of the Introduction and Circulation of Western Learning (sŏhak 西學) and Early Conversions to Catholicism in Late Chosŏn Korea
Speaker: Dr Andreas Mueller-Lee (Ruhr-Universität Bochum)
Venue: Room G50, Main Building, Russell Square, SOAS.

The lore of the so-called western learning, which was brought to East Asia by the Jesuits, reached Korea in the late 16th century. Jesuit publications in Chinese were carried on the peninsula by curious scholars, where one did not only take notice of them, but transferred the parts useful and effected an improvement of astronomical models as well as a calendar reform. The Catholic teaching, core of this whole package, could on the other hand not achieve the success the Jesuits expected. In the late 18th century, however, things went suddenly out of control, beginning with the first baptism of a Korean scholar in Beijing in 1784 and followed by ‘conversions’ which let the early congregation grow to a number of some thousand members, the ban on Catholic writings in 1786, and the first refusal by a converted scholar in 1791 to perform the ancestral service as prescribed, all leading to the first Catholic persecution in 1801.

The Confucian historiography is as clear as the theological historiography about the process, its interpretation, and the legitimacy of its protagonists, and although colonial, Marxist and nationalist reinterpretations united parts of these opposing perspectives, the relations of the various bipolar battle lines (Confucianism vs. Catholicism, ritual sovereignty of king and pope, factional dispute, mission vs. self-proselytism, …) as well as the underlying concepts and modes of presentation have not been sufficiently examined. This contribution will focus mainly on two pieces of polemic writing about Catholicism by the scholar An Chŏngbok 安鼎福 (1712-1791) and aims to strengthen the inner-factional perspective in the early history of Catholicism in Korea.

Speaker Bio:
Andreas Mueller-Lee studied Korean and Chinese studies in Leipzig, Nanjing, and Bochum, where he wrote his dissertation on the reception of the Chinese novel Three Kingdoms (and related issues) in Korea. He was as post-doctoral research fellow at the Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies at Seoul National University, working on premodern Korean encyclopaedias and its relation to the history of knowledge, and is currently a research fellow of the Department of Korean Language and Culture and the International Consortium for Research in the Humanities “Dynamics in the History of Religions between Asia and Europe”, both at Ruhr-Universitaet Bochum, working on the “Reconfigurations of the orders of knowledge through contact with ‘western learning’ in Korea’s early modern period.” For some further information see:

Date: Friday, 22 October 2010

Time: 17.00-19.00
Title: The New Korean Political Economy: Beyond the Models of Capitalism Debate
Speaker: Dr Iain Pirie (University of Warwick)
Venue: Room G50, Main Building, Russell Square, SOAS.

Debates on the evolution of the Korean political economy since the 1997-8 economic crisis, within English language journals, have been dominated by disputes concerning the extent to which Korea remains a ‘developmental state’ or can be understood to be processes of adopting a neo-liberal mode of governance. While explorations into these questions have produced intellectually significant arguments the organization of studies of Korea around these concepts has also carried with it certain costs. Korea has been appropriated as a battleground for scholars who wish to use its experience in order to advance much broader arguments concerning the role of states in the contemporary global economy. Obviously this is entirely legitimate ambition. However, and without wishing to critical of any individual, the intensity of debates has led to a certain level of distortion. Most importantly, it has led to selective readings of restructuring processes as scholars seek to marshal evidence to support their own particular positions within this debate. This paper seeks to move beyond these debates, highlight the limitations of hybrid approaches and suggests the need for greater use of sectoral level analysis

Speaker Bio:
Iain Pirie is currently employed at the University of Warwick. His doctoral and post-doctoral research was focused upon the political economy of Northeast Asia. He primary product of this research was a monograph on the Korean state published by Routledge in 2007. Since completing this research he published articles on the Political Economy of Bulimia Nervosa (New Political Economy) and the Publishing Industry (Historical Materialism). He is currently working on developing an analysis of Korean state response to the recent financial crisis and developing his analysis of binge eating disorders. While these projects are quite different his work in both areas is concerned with importance of changes in global economic structures in undermining particular social arrangements and modes of governance.

Date: Friday, 29 October 2010

Time: 17.00-19.00
Title: Race and Racism in Modern Korea
Speaker: Dr Vladimir Tikhonov (박노자) (Oslo University)
Venue: Room G50, Main Building, Russell Square, SOAS.

As Wallerstein formulated, one of the ideological contradictions of capitalism is that between the meritocratic nature of the profit system and essentially hereditary belonging to the hierarchically ranged zones of the world economy. While in principle, the advancement should be contingent on efforts only, in reality it is severely constrained for those born in the peripheral zones of the world system. The outcome of such a contradiction is the ideology of racism which legitimizes inequalities in opportunities, power and wealth on the basis of “hereditary inferiority” of the peripheral “Others” (Balibar & Wallerstein 1988, 29-37).
In case of pre-colonial and colonial Korea in the twentieth century, the import of racialism and racism served several purposes. First, privileging of the whites and denigration of the “savages” and “aborigines” legitimized the whole Eurocentric world capitalist system by explaining the global “rise of Europe” with its “born superiority”. At the same time, the articles in periodicals with the exotic descriptions of the “worst savages on Earth” (mostly devoted to the native Australians, Africans, or the inhabitants of the Pacific Islands) were to offer some measure of hope to Koreans, who could in such way assert their place of a “semi-civilized people” in modern world’s pecking order.
Second, the ideology of the “yellow race community” – which enjoyed wider popularity already from the late 1890s – legitimized the collaboration with the Japanese Empire, but also validated “yellow” Korea’s pre-modern tradition and generated hopes for its brighter future. It was also offering a sense of historical and cultural continuity to the reformist Confucians who felt attachment to the idea of the alliance of the “civilized” Confucian nations of East Asia. Some versions of the “yellow alliance” ideology should be classified as “racialist Asianism” of sorts, since they envisioned not simply a Korean-Japanese block but either a union of the three main East Asian countries (Korea, Japan and China) or even a wider coalition of “all Asians”. A Japan-centered version of the “Asian alliance” ideology was enshrined as the new imperial orthodoxy in the time of the Pacific War (1937-1945).
The wartime official Pan-Asianism, strongly mixed with the time-honoured ideology of the “anti-White struggle” (already known to the Korean intellectuals in the early 1900s) was accepted, willingly or not, by a majority of colonial Korea’s “mainstream” intellectuals, but even for the most pro-Japanese of them, the racial differences between the colonizers (Japanese) and colonized (Koreans) seemed to be very uneasy to bridge over. Third, the ideology of the superiority of the “Korean race” fuelled the anti-Japanese sentiment, but also provided the justification for the collaboration with “superior” Japanese in the global struggle against “white dominance”. The present paper aims at clarifying the diverse meanings of “race” and “racism” in early twentieth century Korea and outlining different versions of the racialist beliefs. It will also attempt to show to which degree the pre-colonial and colonial racialism/racism influenced the post-colonial attitudes in both Koreas.

Speaker Bio:
Born in Leningrad (St-Petersburg) in the former USSR (1973) and educated at St-Petersburg State University (MA:1994) and Moscow State University (Ph.D. in ancient Korean history, 1996). Vladimir Tikhonov (Korean name – Pak Noja) has worked for Russian State University of Humanities (1996), KyungHee University (1997-2000) and for Oslo University as associate professor (2000-2006) and as a full professor (from 2006). His main field is the history of ideas in early modern Korea, particularly Social Darwinist influences in the formative period of Korean nationalism in the 1880s-1910s. Another major area of Tikhonov’s research is the history of Korean Buddhism in modern times, particularly in connection with nationalism and militarist violence. His book, Usǔng yǒlp’ae ǔi sinhwa (The Myth of the Survival of the Fittest, 2005) is one of the first monographic studies of Social Darwinism in modern Korea and its relations to Korean nationalism. The same topic has been dealt with in English in his Social Darwinism and Nationalism in Korea: The Beginnings (1880s-1910s) (Brill, forthcoming). He also regularly contributes to South Korea’s liberal and progressive media, including daily Hangyoreh and weekly Hangyoreh21, as well as socialist website

Date: Friday, 19 November 2010
Time: 17.00-19.00
Title: Crazy, Sexy, Cool: The Art of Engaging North Korea
Speaker: Dr Aidan Foster-Carter (Leeds University) and Dr Kate Hext (University of the West of England)
Venue: G50, Russell Square, SOAS

In the endeavour to understand North Korea, aesthetics is a neglected area of concern. The aesthetic encounter between North Korea and the world outside is rich, diverse and intensely problematic. In the current frosty, fickle climate of relations between North Korea and the South Korea and the US, it is also the most burgeoning area of exchange. This aesthetic encounter is a complex one, which we will consider from two main perspectives: i) the broad economic and aesthetic implications of recent excursions into Western art markets by Mansudae — North Korea’s most prestigious art studio — and ii) the artistic potential and political insight offered by art made about North Korea.

First, we will consider North Korea’s cultivation of external markets. The discussion will focus on the burgeoning appetite for communist chic in the West, exploring how these markets determine what art is exhibited and the modes of art produced in North Korea. And in this concern we find already the seeds of problems that define North Korea’s position in the global art market. In particular, we will discuss what is at stake in rival claims to ‘represent’ North Korean art in the West and the controversial North Korea-built monuments in Africa. Looking to concrete examples from exhibitions, such as David Heather’s 2007-8 exhibition in Pall Mall and the recent exhibition of works from The Korean Art Gallery in Pyongyang at the Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna, we will open the larger ethical and political question of how we, in the West, are positioned and how we must reposition ourselves before the North Korean canvas.

Second, we will consider the various ways in which North Korean art and culture are appropriated and responded to by artists living on the outside. We will take concrete examples from Andreas Gursky’s photographic exhibition on the Arirang Mass Games, recent indie films such as The Red Chapel, The Juche Idea, and Yodok Story, and the parodic ripostes of Sun Mu and Jonathan Barnbrook.

In these discussions we posit shifting milieux of diverse actors, within and beyond North Korea, each trading in meanings in a bid to achieve a range of goals: aesthetic, political, intellectual and commercial. As we provide an overview of North Korea’s dynamic art market in 2010, we also raise larger philosophical questions about the space between ‘art’ and propaganda, the meaning of ‘art’ under totalitarianism and the value of the aesthetic responses to North Korea.

Speaker Bios:
Aidan Foster-Carter is Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Sociology and Modern Korea at Leeds University, UK. He has followed North Korea for over 40 years, starting in 1968 as a juvenile fan of Kim Il-sung. Since 1997 he has been a full-time freelance consultant, writer and broadcaster on Korean affairs, serving academic, business and policy circles alike. His thousands of articles include writing regularly for the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Jane’s, Oxford Analytica, New Nations and (in more populist vein) Asia Times Online.

Kate Hext completed her PhD in 2009 at Exeter University she currently teaches at the University of the West of England. She is UK Book Reviews Editor for the new journal Victoriographies, and has lectured widely in the field of aesthetics, most recently in Hong Kong. Her interests also extend to Henry James, T S Eliot, modernism, the Hollywood musical, and running.

Date: Friday, 3 December 2010

Time: 17.00-19.00
Title: Legal Status and Protection of North Korean Defectors in China
Speaker: Jung Won Min (Academy of Korean Studies / SOAS)
Venue: Room G50, Main Building, Russell Square, SOAS.

North Korea (formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK) is generally characterized as one of the world’s worst violators of human rights. Food shortages, persecution, and human rights abuses have prompted thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands of North Koreans cross its border in search of refuge. South Korea (formally Republic of Korea, or ROK), as the final destination of the vast majority of North Koreans, struggles to accommodate new arrivals and does not want to damage its relations with North Korea. North Korean defectors seeking resettlement often transit through other countries, raising diplomatic refugee, and security concerns for those governments. China wants to avoid a massive outflow of refugees, which they believe could trigger the instability or collapse of North Korea.

It is estimated that 30,000-50,000 North Korean defectors currently live in China alone (some non-governmental organizations estimate the number is closer to 300,000) and believes those who are repatriated may face punishment ranging from a few months of “labor correction” to execution. North Koreans who remain in China often become victims of further abuse, neglect, and lack of protection. The situation raises the questions of what more can and should be done by South Korea and the international community, not only to focus attention on the abuses of the DPRK regime, but to alleviate the suffering of North Korean defectors.

How can South Korea protect the North Korean defectors in China? This paper examines the South Korean Constitution to see if the nationality of the North Korean defectors can be recognized as South Koreans. Then South Korea can execute diplomatic protection for the North Korean defectors in China. China generally refuses international agencies and non-governmental organizations access to the North Korean defectors; this and its periodic practice of deportation leads to the international law and the protection of North Korean defectors in China. This paper looks at the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention) and the 1967 Protocol to that Convention to see if the North Korean defectors are eligible to be granted legal refugee status. And the violation of China’s obligations under international refugee law will be pointed out.

Speaker Bio:
[Not available]

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