Thursday, June 30, 2005

The US and South Korean Democratization

Well, damn. I wasn't able to view this page on the ciao site, but could access it through a google search. Now I can't access it at all, and I bet no one else can either. If you want a copy of this just leave a comment.

I just found an essay called 'The United States and South Korean Democratization', by James Fowler, which was published in Political Science Quarterly in 1999.

I haven't had a chance to read it in its entirety, but it examines the US role in the pro-democracy movements of 1979-80 and 1987. He uses the declassified 'Cherokee' files (the same ones Tim Shorrock used), but actually cites each document. From what I've read so far it's a pretty balanced look at the US role, and his examination of America's application of public and 'private' pressure on the Park and Chun regimes is a useful one. My main criticism so far would be that he seems to rely too much on the cables for accounts of events in Korea (like the Busan-Masan and Kwangju uprisings) and gets certain details and dates wrong. Despite this, I think it certainly falls into the 'Required Reading' category.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Put That Boxcutter Down, Kid

Of all the photos by Korean students displaying their hatred for Japan that were posted last week, one grabbed my attention more than others. The reason for this can be found in Gord's comment upon it:

"No need to use large swords when an exacto knife does the job. Curiously, exacto knives are pretty much standard issue for all students in Korea."

This is something I've noticed before on many occasions, and my immediate order to "Put that away," has always been met with confusion by my students. The main reason for this is that they simply don't consider them to be dangerous. After all, they're usually used as pencil sharpeners, and pencil sharpeners can't be dangerous, now can they?

The reason why the picture above stood out is that a few weeks ago a grade six girl in one of my classes began to play with a boxcutter she'd taken out of her pencil case, extending and retracting the blade because she liked to listen to the sound. This was after a short round of teasing (which was both playful and in English) between her and the (younger) boy next to her. For a joke, he decided to grab the knife from her after she retracted the blade...but before she again extended it. He immediately yanked his hand back (so fast that there was no blood left on the blade), and the look of surprise on his face was what really got me. He had no conception that a knife like that might be dangerous.

Before the pain really start to the set in I had him out the door, and after running water over his hand it was clear he had cut three fingers to the bone. It took two and a half hours of surgery to reconnect the tendons, but when I visited him that night he seemed in good spirits. The visit was a bit awkward, as the girl's parents were there (even though it wasn't really her fault), but neither of the boy's parents were (the father was out of town and the mother was at home making dinner for his younger brother). At any rate, a week later he was back in class, though even now he has a large bandage with elastics stretched between his 3 fingers and his wrist.

I decided to do some googling and found an interesting case in Texas in November 2003 involving a Korean-American student:

When she was growing up in South Korea, Sumi Lough says, she used the traditional pencil sharpener that all children there used: a 2-inch-long blade that folds into a small handle. But what may be considered a routine item for schoolchildren there was alarming enough in the Katy school district to get Lough 's 13-year-old daughter in deep trouble. School officials viewed it as a potential weapon.

Christina Lough, a straight-A student at Garland McMeans Junior High School, was punished after a teacher saw the sharpener in class on Oct. 8. In addition to being ordered to attend a special disciplinary class for seven days, the girl was removed as president of the student council and honor society.
It goes on to describe the parents' lawsuit, which criticizes the school's zero tolerance policies. There's a follow up article here, (and google results) and the outcome of the lawsuit is here. A traditional Korean pencil sharpener apparently looks like this:

It's described as "a common implement for students in South Korea," but I've certainly never seen one. The only ones I've seen look like the one above that's plunging into Japan. I'd have to guess that with a folding blade, the incident in my class I described above would never have happened. The ease with which a boxcutter's blade extends and retracts is part of what makes it so dangerous (and useful).

The Strange Coincidence of 'Twist Kim'

Over a week ago, on June 16th, the Donga Ilbo had an article on the plight of "Twist Kim" :

“Twist Kim,” or Kim Han-sub, now 69, was beloved for his dance scene in the 60’s movie, “The Young with Naked Feet.”

His eyes turned red with tears at the “Information Communications Ethics and Mature Society conference” hosted by Gathering for a Mature Society, a civic group, at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday while he talked about the “cyber terrorism” perpetrated against him.

Kim found out that his professional name, Twist Kim, was being used as the name of illegal porn sites or their domains. The number of such sites that he himself picked out reached 27.
The article goes on to describe how Kim eventually had his reputation and career ruined by his presumed connection to these sites, and how he even attempted suicide.

In a truly strange coincidence, the day after this story was published, Bitwin released on dvd the aforementioned “The Young with Naked Feet,” perhaps better known as "Barefoot Youth", as part of its "Korean Film Collection" (which consists of films (like these) released in the 1960s, all with English subtitles). Seeing as there have been less than ten Korean films from the 1960s (and none from the 1970s) released on dvd, Kim's appearance on this medium is one that's quite rare for actors from that era of Korean film history.

If you're interested in seeing this classic of Korean film, Seoul Selection is screening it this Saturday. For more info on the film and the screening, have a look here.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Kowonsungi Attacks! Dokdo, Monkeys & Gamers

By now, of course, everyone has seen those anti-Japan pictures drawn by students at Gyeyang Middle School in Incheon and posted in a nearby subway station. If you haven't, they can be found here and here, and the Marmot provides some additional information about the growing attention being placed upon them.

Now, some of the photos depict the Japanese as monkeys (and monkeys getting their asses kicked, at that):

These pictures are described (on the site where they are hosted) as racial slurs, though I'm not so sure. I do have to wonder where children would learn these. Parents? TV? At school?
Maybe it was while they were playing computer games:
Strong sentiments on the Dokdo islets have led domestic online game developers to create Dokdo-related quests, enabling players to fully exhibit their patriotism in cyberspace. GoonZu Online is a role playing game that takes place in 1598, during the Joseon period, and involves trade, politics and war. Recently, the developers added a special quest in which one can battle Japanese soldiers who invade Dokdo.

"There is a lot of fighting with Japanese troops in the game, but fighting off soldiers on Dokdo somehow made me feel more heroic although I knew it was just a game," said Lee Kang-min, 23. Mr. Lee is unemployed and spends most of his time playing games, "just until the economy gets better and I can find a job," he says.
Does the writer of this piece realize just how much that last paragraph encapsulates the experience of so many young people in Korea at this moment in time? It may not be entirely fair to say that, but it's at least partially true. If you want to see some (not so interesting) screenshots of the game's Dokdo setting, have a look here.
In a recent updated campaign to conquer the Japanese island of Tsushima, the game developer added two monsters that one has to battle. (The beauty of online games is that they never end, since the developer adds new projects.) These two monsters are monkey-like creatures that jump around and attack in groups when you reach Tsushima. Interestingly, although the animals are monkeys, users could obviously see that they bore a resemblance to Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi.
The attack of Kowonsungi?

Are game developers going too far? Not so, according to GreenLove, a player that I met on cyber Tsushima. "Koizumi should get what he deserves," she said, brandishing her sword against the monkeys that started to mill around her.
Here are some full screenshots. (I found 'em here)

Well, at least the humour in the last paragraph is intentional this time (the story is obviously written by a gamer). The screenshots of the Koizumi monkeys make me wonder if any of the students who drew the pictures had seen the game. It certainly has many of the elements seen in the students' pictures (Korean flags, thoughtless patriotism, monkeys, fighting to the death, a simplistic reduction of the conflict to 'Us vs Them', etc). And it's worth noting that the Korean fighters are invading 'Daemado' (Tsushima), and thus 'turning the tables on the hated aggressor' (that 'simplistic' aspect of it again).

Even if this game didn't influence the pictures (possible, but it should be remembered that the game was publicized a great deal in the Korean media two months ago (and even in an English language paper) so I would imagine it's the likely source) I doubt that the monkeys are meant as a slur. One of the student pictures posted above has a tiger fighting a monkey; both animals are indigenous to one country but not the other (maybe I should say were indigenous, in the case of tigers in Korea). The monkey seems more a Western racist characterization of East Asians rather than a Korean one of the Japanese. If the idea for the monkeys came from the video game, does it make the 'slur' angle more or less likely? Do they play on existing associations or are they just seen as cute and humourous animal characters in a game? Something to ask my students about, I guess.

Speaking of my students, I’ve showed the pictures to some of my middle schoolers. The usual response is ‘very good’, ‘very funny’. And I’ve learned it’s not worth the time to argue about it, unless the person has shown some semblance of an open mind beforehand. After seeing this photo, (taken in March) I edited it a little in order to show it to my students and ask if stepping on someone else's flag was a good thing; when they said no, I could show them the original. It seemed like a relatively easy point to make… Upon my saying that the edited picture was fake and that I had altered it to make a point, their only response was “You made that picture?!” Sigh…

For those interested in online gaming in Korea, Robert Neff blogged on that topic awhile back and his post is well worth reading, as are the comments (it's a whole world I knew nothing about).

In trying to find more info on the video game I turned up this article on the current Dokdo situation, which covers a lot of ground and makes a good summary for those who are unaware of the background.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Korean Literature in Translation

If you have any interest in reading 'modern classics of Korean literature', you really do have to check out the Korean Literature Today website. KLT is a journal which is devoted to translating Korean literature into English, and the good news is that this quarterly journal's back issues from 1996 to 2000 are all (mostly) available online.

So if you're looking for short stories by writers like Hwang Sun-won, Lee Bom-son, Choi Yun, Yi Sang, Cho Se-hui, and many others, there are at least one or two stories available by each one. There's also quite a bit of poetry translated as well. The people responsible for these translations have made the Portable Library of Korean Literature possible; many of the titles on the KLT website have been published as part of this series. If I had any complaints, it would be that many of the authors' best known works are not included in this series (for example, Hwang Sun-won's 'Sonagi', and Choi Yun's 'There a Petal Silently Falls', which inspired the 1997 Jang Sun-woo film about the Kwangju Uprising, 'A Petal'), but that's a minor quibble.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Triumph Of Folk Culture In Korea

I've been wanting to track down some of Gregory Henderson's books (like Politics Of The Vortex) and found the essay 'Grappling with the Korean Persona: A Cultural Profile' online the other day. The essay covers several aspects of Korean society, but I thought his evaluation of the relationship between artistocratic and folk culture to be quite interesting:

What has happened, quite evidently, is that the old aristocratic tradition has thinned to a vague abstraction, except in advertising or in the classroom. Behavior and aspirations associated with the Korean under classes have spread and come to the fore. The image now projected before us is the vibrant, adaptable, aggressive, ambitious, devil-take-the-hindmost Korea of the great majority long held under aristocratic control. Traditional aristocratic ideals conflict with this behaviour and confuse Western observers. To make matters worse almost all study and scholarship on Korea's traditional background has been devoted to the aristocratic tradition. Most written sources are devoted to it, while almost no attention has been directed to Korean folk culture. Our study of Korea is on collision course with the Korea before our eyes.

The aristocrats, with their essays, histories, poetry and calligraphy, produced an enormous body of work mostly unread today. This work floats on a great cultural lake of music, dance, ceramics, furniture, folk and court painting done by poor or preliterate Koreans, almost all of it commonly seen, much a part of Korean life today. I believe that in no sophisticated culture is the folk component so high as in Korea.

Now, this essay is almost 20 years old, but much of it still rings true. For cinematic representations of the folk culture he describes, Im Kwon-taek's Chiwaseon (2002) or Chunhyang (2000) (which is accompanied by a pansori performance), or Kim Ki-young's Yangsando (1955)(recently released on dvd) are good examples. Im's Sopyonje may well deserve credit for making Pansori popular again in the 1990s.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Text Messages and Other Cell Phone Topics

Apparently, 4.5 million phones were reported lost in 2004. I wonder if there's a correlation between phone loss and alcohol consumption?

Also, I've asked a number of my students how often they send text messages on their phones.. Elementary students generally were around 10 per day (higher if they were girls), and several middle school students said around 20 or 30, but one middle school girl said 100, and a high school boy said he sends 150 (!) every day. With numbers like that, 370 million doesn't seem a particularly high number at all.

[Original post]
According to an article in the Chosun Ilbo,

Koreans send and receive some 370 million text messages a day, and assuming that an SMS costs W30 to send, the country spends over W10 billion (US$10 million) a day on sending text messages.

The article goes on to explain how to save on SMS charges (though, at 3 cents per message, they're already pretty cheap), so we can imagine that many people aren't paying full price. I was initially shocked by the number of 370 million, but when you consider there are (acording to figures which are a year old) 36 million cell phone users in Korea (out of a popularion of 48 million people), an average of 10-11 messages per day is not an absurd figure at all, especially considering the habits of students, which have certainly been noticed by the telecom companies: "SK Telecom and LG Telecom introduced packages that allow adolescents to send unlimited SMS, while KTF offers a package giving users up to 500 free text messages a month."

I was curious how Korean text messaging habits compared to the world total, but estimates vary from 'over 1 billion' to 7 billion text messages being sent every day. Perhaps it would be more interesting to compare Korea's numbers to Britain's. 50 million British cell-phone users (out of a population of 60 million) send about 75 million text messages per day, which means that though Britain has 40% more users, they send about 20% of Korea's message total per day. Something to consider is that it's much easier to type in Korean than in English on a cell phone keypad, though I'm sure there are more compelling social or cultural reasons for the difference.

In a related story, on June 16th, the sports daily Ilgan Sports, reportedly sent pink slips to 23 staff members by text message. Of course, this isn't the first time people have been fired by SMS.

The way in which cell-phones are used as status symbols (I've had friends laugh at mine, even just after I'd bought it), and the desire by students for the latest model, guarantees a short life cycle for phones and therefore a steady market. According to the Korea Times,

Korean mobile phone makers release around 400 new models every year. According to U.S.-based tech consultant iSuppli, Korean makers provide more than 27 percent of 2,700 different cell phone models available today in the global market.

This turnover, which some consider the shortest in the world, is causing some environmentalists to wonder about the consequences of constantly buying new phones:

In South Korea, which is known for its short handset replacement cycle, about 10 million mobile phones in a year find resting places in drawers and closets since they can't be thrown away.

Last year, about 13 million mobile handsets were thrown away or replaced, but only 4 million were retrieved by wireless operators, according to data from the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy.

Of the retrieved phones, about 2.2 million were exported or reused, the data showed. The remaining 1.8 million phones were incinerated or wound up in landfills, fanning concerns of a future environmental problem.

Beyond such environmental concerns, the ways in which cell phones are changing people's behavior worries some (and you need only look at how many people in any given subway car are playing with their phones). This especially applies to students; I can't count how many times I've had to tell kids to put their phones away in class. Obviously, authorities have noticed this, and the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education has produced a leaflet on mobile phone etiquette for distribution to elementary, junior high and high schools. Sometimes I do think punishments are a bit harsh; one of my middle school students, in class at her school, lent her phone to a friend who got caught using it and had it taken away for a week. I'm sure a day or two would have made the appropriate impression on her. On the brighter side, at least he didn't hit her.

One last cell phone related topic: While Samsung has been celebrating itself by building statues to honour the mobile telephone (and Samsung) in at least 10 different countries, and the Chosun Ilbo has reported on Samsung and other Korean companies' increasing popularity in developing countries in Asia and elsewhere, Samsung has had to deal with a certain amount of unpopularity at home.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Internet Witchhunts and Conflict Resolution

This is from an article on Korean Internet Witchhunts, which can be read here.
On Monday, the hottest issue on some Korean Web sites was a photo of a woman in her 20s who got off a subway car without cleaning up her dog's droppings. As the photo circulated, the woman was dubbed the "dog dung girl," and some Internet users decided she was a public enemy.

They began visiting the Web site of the university they assumed the woman attended, and bombarding it with postings. The site's server went down because of the surge in traffic. Then people began calling the university, where a staff member finally looked at the photo and said there was no such student at the university.
Well, I did a little searching and turned up these:

You know, when I read 'droppings', I didn't picture splattered diarrhea. As far as I'm concerned, the public anger is a little more justified by the second picture, in which elderly people are cleaning up after this little princess. 'Hey, we only suffered through the war and built the country up from rubble to modernity with our sweat and blood - we'll be happy to clean up after you!'

There were a variety of responses to these photos, which ranged from angry posts, to being part of the cyber-mob out on the rampage, to constructing some clever (and some not-so-clever) parodies of the incident. Doing a search for 개똥녀 will turn up a plethora of posts by people on different sites weighing in with their opinions, as well as the few bursts of creativity:

Loosely translated:

The true story of a terror that will change Korean history
"Hey Lady! Did you see my dog? He's funny...really..."
Even now, the dog-dung girl is there...

Other such parodies can be found here and here, while an untouched photo of the event, worthwhile because you can see the reaction of the other people on the train, can be found here.

While the parodies are rather amusing, this is a little bit scary. Titled 'The next day', it's clear at least two photos were taken of this girl. I'd guess that the person wasn't entirely certain it was her, but zooming in like that is a bit creepy. And those photos being on Daum, thousands, if not millions of people have seen them. Considering how the university it was assumed she goes to had its server crashed by netizens (followed up by phone calls) one might assume that the girl herself might be in danger of a severe dressing down (or worse) should she appear in public.

It's hard to make an informed guess about what treatment might await her in public, but precedent can be found in English Spectrum-Gate. In January 2005, the foreign English teacher site English Spectrum, which had posted pictures of foreign men and Korean women together at a club and had given tips on how to 'score' with Korean women, was shut down by, as Marmot put it, the "media-driven cyber assault" of Korean netizens after different media outlets picked up the story. As the internet witchhunt continued, it was seen as possible that the violence might move offline, but apparently this never happened (though it did prompt more searches by immigration for foreigners teaching English illegally). The targets of such possible violence would have been foreign males, however, who might not have seemed so easy to confront offline. Of course, foreign males were not the only targets of netizens; Korean women who dated foreign English teachers soon became targets - especially the women who had appeared in the photos posted at English Spectrum:
Online rage switched targets from foreign men to the Korean women in the photos. Some online media described the pictures as "scenes of women openly enjoying sex with foreigners." These stories were often accompanied by malicious comments like, "Whores, are Western bastards that good?" Even more frightening was that calls for the women's names, work places, email addresses and phone numbers to be made public were promptly answered.

The club manager describes the pain that followed as "trampling on her life." "I get anonymous threatening phone calls at the club all the time. 'Why don't whores like you just die quietly,' 'Foreigners' whore! Why don't you shut down your club?' 'We will hold a picket demonstration in front of your club'... I get nervous anytime I hear the phone ring."

The victims are suing the Internet media behind publication of the pictures. Their lawyer Im Sang-hyeok said, "Just as the tsunamis in South Asia left wretched survivors in their wake, Korean women were left as victims in the places swept by excessive Internet enthusiasm."
Foreign men are not known to have experienced offline violence as a result of the English Spectrum-Gate witchhunt, but these women did; that the 'Dog-dung girl' could face violence in person is much more likely precisely because she is female. It's worth noting that the netizens, of course, need a target for their cyber-attacks. In the case of the Dog-dung girl, the university someone assumed she goes to (and just who was that someone?) was inundated with traffic by angry users until the server went down, and then users resorted to phone calls. Phone calls seem to figure heavily in these cases as the second step, and are a more direct form of harrassment. Other examples can be found in the article I linked to at the top, which also has this quote:
Attorney Lee Yeong-hui said, "People tend to think that illegal acts committed online are not a serious matter. This is a big problem. Even if the content is proven to be factual, posting a photograph or spreading personal information can result in punishment for defamation, which is something Internet users need to know."
There are a lot of things that are illegal in Korea, but a good many people tend to think that the law doesn't apply to them; perhaps this is just another example. I do think, in such instances where a third party (often a very large third party) of netizens intervene to administer what they consider to be justice, that we are seeing traditional Korean conflict resolution played out on a massive scale in cyberspace.

As anthropologist Linda Louis writes in Laying Claim to the Memory of May:
As a social process, the Korean cultural scenario for conflict resolution involves the public expression of grievances by both sides, as a means of informing the neighbors, of shaping local consensus, and of mustering popular support for each side of the argument.

It is above all else also a process that relies heavily on the involvement of a third, mediating party for a sucessful outcome. In fact, it is through the public airing of the dispute that the antagonists solicit the intervention of others. Intense verbal aggression and the public expression of grievances serve not as a prelude to physical violence, but function to mobilize third party intervention, to prevent just such an escalation in the dispute.
If we apply this model to internet witchhunts, we most certainly see the public airing of grievances and the mobilization of a third party. In most cases, however, the dispute is already over. The girl had already failed to clean up after her dog. But, in that case, as in others, people on one side of a dispute which traditionally would have appeared to be over decide to air their grievances, such as in this case, which appears in the article linked to at the beginning:
Last April, relatives of a 30-year-old woman who committed suicide after her boyfriend broke up with her wrote about him online. Soon, the location of his workplace and even his cell phone number were being circulated. He eventually quit his job.
Here we see the relatives of the dead woman airing their grievances, and the third party who obviously intervened, but it was not to prevent violence but to harrass someone who was thought to be guilty. Also in that article was this quote:
A recent poll at an online community called Damoim found that 23 percent of its 1,805 members agreed with the statement, "When the law is not strong enough, the Internet must be the judge."
Obviously this form of conflict resolution is continuing, in a modified form, into the digital age. However, considering the sheer number of people on the internet in Korea (some of whom spend perhaps too much time on the computer), the degree of broadband penetration, and the organization of portal sites, the third party in such conflicts has grown to an immense size. Still, it's interesting to consider that anthropological research done 30 or 40 years ago in small Korean villages is applicable to the actions of thousands, perhaps millions of people on the internet today. As Vincent Brandt, who developed this model of conflict resolution wrote, in a village "the sound and fury of conflict is there for all to see." Go to any portal site and the issue of the day will be easy to find; obviously, it would be more correct to say not that "the Internet must be the judge", but that "the public must be the judge." Therefore it's worth considering this statement from a Gregory Henderson essay I read recently:
In the non-socialist world, I have so far sensed nothing comparable to the South Korean shadowing of the private by the public sphere.
Though he was referring to the role of the (authoritarian) government in 1985, the concept of the "shadowing of the private by the public" most certainly applies to South Korean cyberspace 20 years later. The degree to which the relationship between public and private in Korea has been replicated online in Korean cyberspace - the web of online forums, chatrooms, "mini-hompis", digital cameras and cellphones - is well worth studying further.

There does seem to be a growing awareness that these witchhunts are getting out of hand; I saw the titles of several Korean articles referring to this as the hunt for dog-dung girl raged. The Chosun Ilbo recently had an editorial about 'Online Terror':
Finding that there is no redress for online slander and abuse is no longer a rare experience. Anyone can be put on trial by Internet at any time and see their reputation sentenced to death... Most cyber terror victims have no alternative but to put up with the abuse. In extreme cases, victims lose their jobs and social life and attempt suicide. Cyber violence has long crossed the danger level, to the point where some are calling for the use of only real names online, a measure that could threaten many of the Internet’s benefits.
These cyber witchhunts tend to take on a logic of their own; it may well be that unless action like that suggested in the editorial is taken (wherein there would be consequences for such behavior) things will continue as they have. Of course, the Korean government has shown itself quite willing to interfere in cyberspace in the past (it regularly blocks sites it considers harmful to youth), so the measures suggested in the editorial aren't as far-fetched as they would be considered to be in other countries. I have my doubts that the sheer mass of netizens, who have been learning this behavior for some time, will change anytime soon without there being reason to.

This may be confirmed by Isabella Bishop's discription, in her 1898 book "Korea and Her Neighbors" of "Gusts of popular feeling that pass for public opinion". Over 100 years later, I doubt anyone could come up with a better, or more poetic, description of Korean internet culture.

(Hat tip to Lost Nomad)