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I went along to watch A Taxi Driver out of a sense of duty. What can be said about Gwangju, I thought, that hasn’t been said already? I’d rather see a documentary. Plus, Korean movies with foreign actors always raise slight alarm bells with me (Isabelle Huppert in Hong Sang-soo’s In Another Country left me […]

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Film review: The Battleship Island

by Philip Gowman 30 August 2017
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Synopsis Some nasty Japanese are being beastly to the Korean forced labourers in an offshore Japanese coal mine as the Second World War comes to a close. And one or two Koreans aren’t exactly being that patriotic either. In the middle of it all is a weak, venal Korean who is among the labourers with […]

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Korea – The Antifragile Kingdom

by Matthew Jackson 10 July 2017
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Editor’s note: every now and then Matthew Jackson submits a cracking article from out of nowhere. Here’s one such article which, if I may paraphrase, wonders whether maybe han is healthy. I hope it’s not too long before the next one! The author and philosopher Nicholas Nassim Taleb (of ‘Black Swan’ fame) developed a concept […]

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The world’s first newspaper?

by Philip Gowman 18 April 2017
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“Why did no one inform me that this was being made?” said King Seonjo (r. 1567–1608) on 28 November 1577. Concerned “that information about the court could potentially be circulated to wider circles in the elite” the king exiled the people responsible for the news-sheet. Jieun Choi of Korea Exposé has the fascinating story. Kim […]

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Historical feature: Sejong of Korea – The Philosopher King

by Matthew Jackson 6 March 2017
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“There will be no end to the troubles of the state or indeed of humanity until philosophers become kings or until those we now call kings really and truly become philosophers.” This is one of the most famous quotations from Plato. It is taken from his work The Republic, which in attempting to set out […]

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Festival Film review: Spirit’s Homecoming

by Philip Gowman 27 December 2016
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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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