Friday, March 24, 2006

Japan's Historical Cultivation of Foreign Apologists

After Japan's surprising victory over China in 1895, France, Germany, and Russia forced Japan to give up the Liaodong penninsula. Despite Japan's victory, these European powers had little respect for her as a rising 'imperial' power, and most certainly did not want her moving into Chinese territory. But by 1922, when the above map was published in The Times Atlas, titled The Japanese Empire, she had beaten Russia and gotten the Liaodong penninsula back, was recognized as having an 'Empire', and had even managed to get the western powers to acquiesce to the annexation of Korea. How did it happen? One important factor is discussed in Korea's Fight For Freedom (1920), where F.A. McKenzie wrote this of Japan's actions in the years immediately prior to Korea's annexation:
They had carefully organized their claque in Europe and America, especially in America. They engaged the services of a group of paid agents--some of them holding highly responsible positions--to sing their praises and advocate their cause. They enlisted others by more subtle means, delicate flattery and social ambition. They taught diplomats and consular officials, especially of Great Britain and America, that it was a bad thing to become a persona non grata to Tokyo. They were backed by a number of people, who were sincerely won over by the finer sides of the Japanese character. In diplomatic and social intrigue, the Japanese make the rest of the world look as children. They used their forces not merely to laud themselves, but to promote the belief that the Koreans were an exhausted and good-for-nothing race.
Or as a comment on my last post described Korea at that time, "a country filled with a deep spiritual and physical sickness."

One of the more interesting examples of a contemporary foreign apologist for Japan's designs on Korea was George Trumbull Ladd, who wrote In Korea with Marquis Ito, published in 1908. A fascinating review of this book can be found in Scott Burgeson's book Korea Bug. Needless to say, his review of In Korea with Marquis Ito, which considers both the 'vitriol' with which he wrote as well as some of the hard lessons Koreans could take from it, is nowhere near as dismissive of the book as the 2001 Korean Herald review which first made me aware of it (here; ok, that's autotranslated from French, but you'll get the idea). Long out of print, it has actually very recently been reprinted, if anyone is interested).

The rising sun eclipses the taeguk.
Scanned from Korea Bug.

At any rate, after undertaking a great deal of pioneering research in the field of psychology, and retiring from Yale, Ladd and his wife made their third trip to Japan in 1906. On the first page of his book, Ladd tells two stories related to the Russo-Japanese War he heard while en route to Japan, and explains why he's telling them:
...they are repeated here because they illustrate the code of honor whose spirit so generally pervaded the army and navy of Japan during their contest with their formidable enemy. It is in reliance on the triumph of this code that those who know the nation best are hopeful of its ability to overcome the difficulties which are being encountered in the effort to establish a condition favorable to safety, peace, and prosperity by a Japanese protectorate over Korea.
While the first page alone already gives the reader a pretty clear idea of how he feels about Japan regarding its relationship with Korea (in fact, Burgeson characterizes the book as "an answer in search of a question, one in which the author's mind about his subject has been fixed at the outset, and refuses to open itself to any changes or new discoveries."), he goes on to explain that while he had planned to lecture on philosopy and psychology, as he had done on his previous trips in 1892 and 1899,
The thought of seeing something of the "Hermit Kingdom" (a title, by the way, no longer appropriate) had been in our minds before leaving America, only as a somewhat remote possibility. Not long after our arrival in Japan the hint was several times given by an intimate friend, who is also in the confidence of Marquis Ito, that the latter intended, on his return in mid-winter from Seoul, to invite us to be his guests in his Korean residence.
At a garden party, Ladd finally meets Ito:
After an exchange of friendly greetings almost immediately the Marquis said: 'I am expecting to see you in my own land, which is now Korea'; and when I jestingly asked, 'But is it safe to be in Korea?' (implying some fear of Russian invasion under his protectorate) he shook his fist playfully in the air and answered: 'But I will protect you.'
Later, Ladd recounts a private meeting with Ito:
I was to feel quite independent as to my plans and movements in co-operating with him to raise out of their present, and indeed historical, low condition the unfortunate Koreans. In all manners affecting the home policy of his government as Resident General, he was now a Korean himself; he was primarily interested in the welfare, educationally and economically, of these thirteen or fourteen millions of wretched people who had been so long and so badly misgoverned. In their wish to remain independent, he sympathized with them. The wish was natural and proper; indeed, one would be compelled to think less highly of them, if they did not have and show this wish. As to foreign relations, and as to those Koreans who were plotting with foreigners against the Japanese, his attitude was of neccessity entirely different.[...] Japan was henceforth bound to protect herself and the Koreans against the domination of foreign nations who cared only to exploit the country in their own selfish interests or to the injury of the Japanese.
Ito puts the best spin possible on Japan's reasons for wanting to swallow Korea, and this, Burgeson writes, is essentially the main argument of the book. Ladd goes on to write disparagingly of Korea's history (as told to him by the Japanese) and largely sees Korea and Koreans as being dirty, backward, and in need of Japanese tutelage. In his description of the king, he said:
His face wore a pleasant smile with which he is said to greet all foreigners... although it's asthetical effect is somewhat hindered by a bad set of teeth.
Later, when he dismissed as a forgery a document shown to him by Koreans which supposedly illustrated Japan's plans to annex Korea, he wrote:
The silliness of mind, the almost hopeless and incurable credulity and absolute absence of sound judgement which characterizes, with exceedingly few exceptions, the political views and actions of even the official and educated class in Korea, was the impression made upon me by this, as by all my experiences during my stay in the land.
It's interesting how, when I reread this review the other day, some of Ladd's phrases seemed very familiar, mainly because I had just read the four chapters pertaining to Korea in James Creelman's 1901 book On the Great Highway, (shades of Hunter S. Thompson?) which recount his experiences covering the 1894-1895 Sino-Japanese war. Creelman was, to use a modern term, embedded in the Japanese army along with other journalists like Frederic Villiers.

[Edit] Foreign correspondents with the Japanese Army.
Detail of Japanese woodcut taken from this page.

If this was essentially the message Japan was trying to project in 1906 -
Japan was henceforth bound to protect herself and the Koreans against the domination of foreign nations who cared only to exploit the country in their own selfish interests or to the injury of the Japanese [as Japan wanted only to] raise [the Koreans] out of their present, and indeed historical, low condition.
- then the following basically sums up the way they wanted their war against China over Korea spun in 1894:
The armies of Asiatic barbarism and Asiatic civilization met on this ground to fight the first great battle of the war that ended in the fall of Wei-Hai-Wei and Port Arthur; and here Japan emancipated the helpless Corean nation from the centuried despotism of China.
The book covers the war from the mid-September battle for Pyongyang to the late November battle of Port Arthur. In those two months, he would have constantly been receiving the Japanese line on the war and their reasons for waging it. Just how close he was to the Japanese officers whose campaigns he was recording, and how important his reporting was for them is illustrated here:
That night, on my way back to Ping Yang, I found the main Japanese fleet at the mouth of the Tai-Tong River. Admiral Ito had defeated the Chinese fleet, and had just fallen back on the Corean coast for repairs and ammunition. It was a great opportunity for a war correspondent. No other newspaper man had reached the victorious fleet, and fortune had given to me the first story of the most important naval fight of modern times -- the battle of the Yalu.

When I boarded the flagship Hashidate, Admiral Ito was asleep, but he dressed himself and sent for his fleet captains in order to help me out with the details of the conflict.

As the Japanese admiral sat at his table, surrounded by his officers, with the rude charts of the battle spread out before him, he looked like a sea-commander -- tall, eagle-eyed, square-jawed, with a sabre scar furrowed across his broad forehead; a close-mouthed man whose coat was always buttoned to his chin. Bending over the maps and smoothing out the paper with his sinewy, big-knuckled hands, the lamp-light gleaming against his powerful face, he was a man not easily forgotten.

And when the tale of that thrilling struggle on the Yellow Sea was over, the admiral turned to me smilingly.

"It is a big piece of news for you," he said.

"Yes," I answered, "but I have received a still greater piece of news."

Then I drew from my pocket the cablegram announcing the birth of my boy, and read it.

"Good!" cried the admiral. "We will celebrate the event. Steward, bring champagne!"

Standing in a circle, the admiral and his captains clinked their glasses together and drank the health of my little son.
Later he tells us that "There was nothing to eat in the little house where I slept, but the field-marshal sent me a bottle of Burgundy." The good impression the Japanese made on him was able, several years later, to overcome the fact that he witnessed this:
"I saw a man who was kneeling to the troops and begging for mercy pinned to the ground with a bayonet while his head was hacked off with a sword...An old man on his knees in the street was cut almost in two...

"All day the troops kept dragging frightened men out of their houses and shooting them or cutting them to pieces...All through the the second day the reign of murder continued. Hundreds and hundreds were killed. Out on one road alone there were 227 corpses...

"Next day I see a court-yard filled with mutilated corpses. As we entered we surprised two soldiers bending over one of the bodies. One had a knife in his hand. They had ripped open the corpse and were cutting the heart out. When they saw us they cowered and tried to hide their faces.

"I am satisfied that not more than one hundred Chinamen were killed in fair battle at Port Arthur, and that a least 2000 unarmed men were put to death. It may be called the natural result of the fury of troops who have seen the mutilated bodies of their comrades, or it may be called retaliation, but no civilized nation could be capable of the atrocities I witnessed at Port Arthur."
Frederic Villiers' account of the Port Arthur massacre can be found here. The Japanese version of events can be found here, while the outcome for Creelman, personally, is recounted to his wife Alice in a December 21, 1894 letter from Yokohama:
I am now the general target for abuse in Japan simply because I have told the truth about Port Arthur. I knew in advance that to lay the naked facts before the public would mean the instant activity of the vast enginery of abuse maintained by the Japanese government and so I considered my duty call. I could not as a reputable journalist nor as an American attempt to conceal any fact of the great crime. It was too monstrous, too cold, too long continued.....[emphasis added]
Less than a decade later, despite witnessing such a 'great crime', and becoming a 'target for abuse' for revealing it, he was able to write
Whatever I may have written of that three days' slaughter at a time when Japan was seeking admission to the family of civilized nations, it is only just to say that the massacre at Port Arthur was the only lapse of the Japanese from the usages of humane warfare. A witness for civilization, I could not remain silent in the presence of such a crime. The humanity and self-control of the Japanese soldiery during the historic march of the allied nations to Peking, seven years later have redeemed Japan in the eyes of history. The Japanese have demonstrated to the world that their civilization is substantial.
Creelman, despite the fact that he thought so much of Japan, did not see Korea in quite the same way Ladd did.
The traveller in Corea is bewildered by the effects of three thousand years of hermit life upon this strange people. They are not savages. Thirty centuries of civilization are set down in their literature. Nowhere else in the world have I seen such magnificent specimens of physical manhood. The ordinary European is a pygmy among the tall, straight, powerful Coreans. An indescribable gravity and dignity of manner lends itself to the impressive grace and strength and the noble features of this ancient race. As the men become old they grow long beards, which add to their naturally majestic bearing.
Yet the Coreans are the emptiest-headed, most childlike, and most generally foolish people among civilized nations. They are the grown-up children of Asia. Their ignorance is not like the ignorance of Central Africa. Hundreds of years ago, they inspired Japan with the love of art, and their literature is as old as Egypt. They are gentle and meditative. Throughout the Corean peninsula, stately quotations from the noblest Chinese odes are painted on the public buildings, in the quaint summer pagodas, and on the walls of dwelling houses. Their very battle flags are inscribed with philosophic sayings. But the Coreans are drugged with abstract scholasticism and demonology. They are credulous almost beyond belief.
Creelman's descriptions of Korean reasoning, or lack thereof - "emptiest-headed, most childlike, and most generally foolish people"; "credulous" - sounds very similar to what Ladd would write over a decade later: "The silliness of mind, the almost hopeless and incurable credulity and absolute absence of sound judgement..." Just in case one were to think this was the common perception at the time, Isabella Bird Bishop had this to say:
The Koreans certainly are a handsome race... Mentally the Koreans are liberally endowed... The foreign teachers bear willing testimony to their mental adroitness and quickness of perception, and their talent for the acquisition of languages, which they speak more fluently and with a far better accent than either the Chinese or Japanese. They have the Oriental vices of suspicion, cunning, and untruthfulness.
Bishop's opinion of Korean mental ablilities is different, but shares in common with Creelman an appreciation for Koreans physically - "a handsome race"; and "magnificent specimens of physical manhood", respectively (though it goes without saying Creelman presents almost every story or observation with a rather dramatic flair). Creelman and Ladd also differed on their opinions of the King of Korea. Creelman presents the reader with this description:
He stood behind a table, in front of a gaudily upholstered European chair, with his small, nervous hands crossed lightly over his ceinture, -- a slender, shy man, with an oval face, thin, silky mustache and chin beard, a kind, voluptuous mouth, and soft, dark eyes. He had the eyes of a beautiful girl. When he smiled he hung his head on one side, half closed his eyes, looked straight at us, and opened them slowly with the expression of a bashful woman.
Ladd wasn't as appreciative:
His face wore a pleasant smile with which he is said to greet all foreigners... although it's asthetical effect is somewhat hindered by a bad set of teeth.
Ladd saw Korea as dirty and feared getting sick; Creelman, while describing Chemulpo (Incheon) as dirty, described Seoul as "the picturesque capital of Corea", at odds with Bishop's description of Seoul only a few months earlier.

One has to wonder at the difference (and similitarities) in these men's view of Korea, and what it is attributable too. One could certainly speculate about the strength of their characters and their abilities to think for themselves instead of believing uncritically what the Japanese were spoon-feeding them; in that case the principled war correspondent would seem to have been better able to think for himself than the retired academic who acted as an English-language conduit for the views of the powerful men who were wooing him. While this interpretation may have merit, more likely it was the difference in the messages the Japanese were feeding these men.

During the Sino-Japanese War, Creelman spoke of the meeting of the "armies of Asiatic barbarism and Asiatic civilization". The Chinese were to be made to look semi-barbaric (a task made easier by the behavior of their troops), while the Japanese were to be portrayed as a member of the family of civilized nations. Much of this was due to the desire on Japan's part to be taken seriously by the west (with insecurity playing a role) , and so their troops were generally very well behaved throughout the campaign - at least in front of the foreign correspondents. Creelman, travelling by ship to Manchuria, wouldn't have seen the behavior of the Japanese troops who occupied Pyongyang after their victory there:
15,000 - four-fifths of its houses destroyed, streets and alleys choked with ruins... Everywhere there were the same scenes, miles of them... Phyongyang was not taken by assault ; there was no actual fighting in the city...

When the Japanese entered and found that the larger part of the population had fled, the soldiers tore out the posts and woodwork, and often used the roofs also for fuel, or lighted fires on house floors, leaving them burning, when the houses took fire and perished. They looted property left by the fugitives during three weeks after the battle... Under these circumstances the prosperity of the most prosperous city in Korea was destroyed.
While this is certainly not comparable to the atrocities that took place in Port Arthur, leaving a city of 80,000 in ruins is not something I would call very civilized. Beyond portraying themselves as polite warriors fighting barbarians, the Japanese further wanted to be seen as "emancipat[ing] the helpless Corean nation from the centuried despotism of China." In order to make the Koreans seem, indeed, helpless, one would think they would have to be made to seem incompetent or even stupid, which is how Creelman portrays them. That's how Ladd portrays them as well, though Creelman still has nice things to say about Korean civilization, history, and physical appearance.

By the time Ladd came to Korea, however, Japan, having beaten rival Russia, was taking great "effort to establish a condition favorable to safety, peace, and prosperity" for itself in Korea. In order to seem justified in this, their 'code of honor' and civilization had to be emphasized. They had to seem as though they were trying to "raise out of their present, and indeed historical, low condition the unfortunate Koreans." Now the Koreans' 'wretchedness' and 'low condition' had to be made to seem historical, and that only the civilized Japanese could aid them. There could be no more mentions of "Thirty centuries of civilization", or of their "indescribable gravity and dignity of manner", or "impressive grace" and certainly nothing like "Hundreds of years ago, they inspired Japan with the love of art". All of that had to go. As F.A. McKenzie said above, they had "to promote the belief that the Koreans were an exhausted and good-for-nothing race."

Ladd was more than up to the task. His disparaging view of Korea was no doubt coloured by the Japanese guides who explained the country's history and culture (or lack thereof) to him. As F.A. McKenzie wrote in The Tragedy of Korea (1908):
One distinguished foreigner, who returned home and wrote a book largely given up to laudation of the Japanese and contemptuous abuse of the Koreans, admitted that he had never, during his journey, had any contact with Koreans save those his Japanese guides brought to him. Some foreign journalists were blinded the same way.
The opening of Korea's Fight For Freedom essentially consists of character references giving support to McKenzie; they also illustrate how Japan celebrated the foreigners who lauded them, and attacked those who criticized them.
"Mr. F.A. McKenzie has been abused in the columns of the Japanese press_ with a violence which, in the absence of any reasoned controversy, indicated a last resource... It is difficult to see how Mr. McKenzie's sincerity could be called into question, for he, too, like many other critics of the new Administration, was once a warm friend and supporter of Japan.

"In those days, his contributions were quoted at great length in the newspapers of Tokyo, while the editorial columns expressed their appreciation of his marked capacity. So soon, however, as he found fault with the conditions prevailing in Korea, he was contemptuously termed a 'yellow journalist' and a 'sensation monger.'"--From "Empires of the Far East" by F. Lancelot Lawson.

"Mr. McKenzie was perhaps the only foreigner outside the ranks of missionaries who ever took the trouble to elude the vigilance of the Japanese, escape from Seoul into the interior, and there see with his own eyes what the Japanese were really doing. And yet when men of this kind... have the presumption to tell the world that all is not well in Korea, and that the Japanese cannot be acquitted of guilt in this context, grave pundits in Tokyo, London and New York gravely rebuke them for following their own senses in preference to the official returns of the Residency General. It is a poor joke at the best! Nor is it the symptom of a powerful cause that the failure of the Japanese authorities to 'pacify' the interior is ascribed to 'anti-Japanese' writers like Mr. McKenzie."--From "Peace and War in the Far East," by E.J. Harrison. [emphasis added]
And what were these 'official returns' of the Residency General? Andre Schmid's Korea Between Empires, 1895-1919 gives a description:
...the colonial authorities sought to disseminate to the West the rationale for their growing Asian empire... To this end, an elaborate propaganda campaign was launched by the Resident General Office and, after 1910, continued by the Governor General Office. For a Japanese-speaking colonial administration seeking to gain the West's support for its endeavors in Korea, this plunged the office into the task of preparing foreign-language materials about its endeavors. It's premier series, begun in 1907, was a glossy yearbook written in English entitled Annual Report on the Progress and Reforms in Korea, a less than subtle promotion of colonialism. During the first decade of publication, the yearbooks' format was a "before and after" presentation offering explanitory, pictorial, and statistical evidence of changes Japan had made on the penninsula since establishing the Protectorate. This approach could be applied to almost any topic, from hygiene to road systems, with the contrast achieved through the judicious choice of adjectives. Accordingly, the penninsula's financial condition before annexation was in the "wildest confusion," and expenditures were "wasted to no purpose". But after Japan's reforms, the foundation of Korea's finances was "firmer," and details of how these achievements had been accomplished were buttressed by reams of statistics. This contrastive effect was also captured in photographs, as in the case of two pictures of the Han River south of Seoul. A photograph of a bridge built under the new Japanese administration was placed next to a second photograph showing a few boats moving back and forth across the river, labeled "before the construction of the Iron Bridge."[emphasis added]
A less than subtle, comparative, 'before and after' format using photos and phrases like "wildest confusion" (which in today's parlance might be "basket case")? I wonder if, when the Japanese developed this format for their propaganda purposes, they realized it might also be useful for justifying their colonial adventure long after the fact?

When I read of Japan's elaborate propaganda effort aimed at convincing the West that the Koreans were in need of Japan's aid, and that Japan, as a selfless, civilized country was trying only to help their neighbour, and that it was cataloguing the ways in which it was, in fact, modernizing Korea, I couldn't help but think of this passage in "Korea's Fight For Freedom":
Then Japan sought to make the land a show place. Elaborate public buildings were erected, railroads opened, state maintained, far in excess of the economic strength of the nation. To pay for extravagant improvements, taxation and personal service were made to bear heavily on the people. Many of the improvements were of no possible service to the Koreans themselves. They were made to benefit Japanese or to impress strangers. And the officials forgot that even subject peoples have ideals and souls. They sought to force loyalty, to beat it into children with the stick and drill it into men by gruelling experiences in prison cells. Then they were amazed that they had bred rebels. They sought to wipe out Korean culture, and then were aggrieved because Koreans would not take kindly to Japanese learning. They treated the Koreans with open contempt, and then wondered that they did not love them.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Badly Defended Apologist Views

Regarding the above picture from this post, this comment was posted:
That picture was taken after the Japanese forced modernization on Korea after taking over, and also made the Koreans take care of their cultural heritage.
That picture was also taken before the USAF forced urban renewal upon 69 Japanese cities in the spring and summer of 1945, just to help everyone place it in within a certain time period.

The commenter also left a link to a post about how much good Japan did for Korea between 1910-1945, at a blog called Occidentalism. What follows is my response to a few of the assertions made in the post, as commenting on the post at the blog is no longer possible.

Before you read the post, however, you may want to read Andrei Lankov's brief outline of the colonial period; and you especially should read Plunge's well-written piece about the contribution Japan made to Korea's economic growth (or lack thereof), as the linked-to post seems to have Plunge's piece in its sights. Plunge argues, among other things, that Korea was well on it's way to developing with the aid of many western nations, and that Japan in fact derailed that development to institute its own form of modernization.

Our commenter, in his post, later refers to Plunge's writing as "a flurry of wild assertions and unforgivable deception by omission," which, ironically, is a very good description of his own writing.

If you look at the top of his post, you'll be treated to a photo of a rather pathetic looking Korean person, followed by this caption:

This was the true state of Koreans in the Choson Era.

I'm impressed he found one photo to sum up every aspect of life in Korea over a 500 year period. I can do that too.

How happy they all look, even though they're hard at work. Of course, I'd have to be lacking in critical thinking abilities to make a sweeping statement about this photo, saying that it represented the lot of all Koreans at that time. Percival Lowell, an American who came to Korea in 1883 and served as the counselor and foreign secretary to the 1883 Special Mission from Korea to the United States, lived in Korea for months after his return and wrote the book Choson: Land of the Morning Calm (1886). He also took numerous photos, and to look at these dozens of photos (here; click' search') taken by one of the first westerners to arrive in the country, before the results of early modernization began to be seen a decade later, one might get the idea that Korea was not quite as terrible as our commenter would have it (and though I wouldn't call his photos representative of what all of Korea was like at the time, they provide a broader look at the subject than the single photo of what appears to be a beggar/laborer/slave in the Occidentalism post).

At any rate, he goes on to ridicule Korean medicine (or rather shamanistic rituals), and lauds the Japanese for introducing modern medicine to Korea, when it was actually introduced by Christian missionaries. The first medical school was opened in Seoul in 1886, and by the turn of the century Severance Hospital Medical School was opened, with the first trained doctors graduated from Severance in June 1908 (Severance would of course become Yonsei University).

We're also shown a photo said to be of Seoul's cityscape, full of thatched roofs, which is compared to an older photo of Tokyo, and on the basis of these two photos, Korea is called a 'basket case'. As Kushibo points out, it's a rather misleading photo, as it is by no means representative of all of Seoul. This photo, which appears in Isabella Bird Bishop's Korea and Her Neighbours (1898), shows a cityscape of tiled roofs in northwestern Seoul, which allows for a more favourable comparison to Tokyo.

From Korea and Her Neighbours, plate opposite pg. 426
This photo, also from the same book, looks out from Namdaemun's balcony to the northeast. This area is also apparently mostly tiled houses (as opposed to the thatch roofed street stalls). Both photos would have been taken between 1894 and 1897.

Ibid. opposite pg. 440
We're also shown the following picture of Namdaemun from the 1880s or 1890s, which the writer, judging by the caption, seems to think shows the reader that Koreans lived in slavery.

Compare this to the following photo, taken by George Rose in 1904:
The thatched roofs outside the gate have been tiled (another 1904 view is here); one small example of the progress being made, prior to the establishment of Japan's protectorate over Korea.

I'll quote from Plunge's post for a moment:
In 1904, an American by the name of Angus Hamilton visited Korea... He said of Korea, “The streets of Seoul are magnificent, spacious, clean, admirably made and well-drained. The narrow, dirty lanes have been widened, gutters have been covered, roadways broadened. Seoul is within measurable distance of becoming the highest, most interesting and cleanest city in the East.” He continued on to say, “Seoul was the first city in East Asia to have electricity, trolley cars, water, telephone and telegraph systems all at the same time.” Much of this was thanks to trade with the United States. Seoul Electric Company, Seoul Electric Trolley Company and Seoul Fresh Spring Water Company were all US owned.
Seoul's first telegraph service, from Seoul to Incheon, began in 1885, while Gyeongbok Palace had electric lighting installed by 1886 (as recounted here). Tram service began in 1899, and the first streetlights appeared 1900. The first commercial telephone service in Seoul appeared in 1902; the first train line (Seoul-Incheon) was opened in 1899, and by 1906 one could travel from Sinuiju to Busan via Seoul by rail. Seoul's public water system began service in 1908. As the linked articles relate, in almost every case the companies maintaining these untilities were forced by the Japanese to turn over the companies to them.

In the comments section of the pro-Japanese post, when the above quote from Plunge's post was brought up, along with favourable opinions of Seoul from this traveller, the post's writer at Occidentalism responded:
It is telling that you should neglect to quote one of the most celebrated writers about Korea, Isabella Bird Bishop, who visit Korea four times and met the King and Queen. Her last visit was in 1897 and she described Korea and Seoul as:
*Largely having no currency system
*Seoul the most odoriferous city in the world, caused by narrow ditches for garbage on the streets
*In Seoul, the houses of commoners were thached roofs and walls made of mud
*Seoul and Korea was compared unfavorably with Japan
He goes on to quote unfavourable views of Korea by Bishop, from the beginning of the book, which would have been recorded in 1894. He unfortunately omits these passages, from her last visit to Seoul in 1897:
Seoul, in many parts, specially in the direction of the south and west gates, was literally not recognizable. Streets, with a minimum width of 55 feet, with deep stone-lined channels on both sides, bridged by stone slabs, had replaced the foul alleys, which were breeding-grounds of cholera. Narrow lanes had been widened, slimy runlets had been paved, roadways were no longer "free coups" for refuse, bicyclists "scorched" along broad, level streets, "express wagons" were looming in the near future, [...] shops with glass fronts had been erected in numbers, an order forbidding the throwing of refuse into the streets was enforced [...] and Seoul, from having been the foulest is now on its way to being the cleanest city in the Far East!

This extraordinary metamorphosis was the work of four months, and is due to the energy and capacity of the Chief Commissioner of Customs, ably seconded by the capable and intelligent Governor of the city, Ye Cha Yun, who had aquainted himself with the working of municipal affairs in Washington [...]

Along with much else the pungent, peculiar odor of Seoul has vanished. [...] So great is the change that I searched in vain for any remaining representative slum which I might photograph for this chapter as an illustration of Seoul in 1894.
A deceptive ommission? I'll let the reader decide. What she had to say about the changes in the city between 1894 and 1897 only strengthens Plunge's basic thesis; and the aforementioned favorable impressions of Seoul in 1904 seem to continue from where Bishop left off. If you compare the two photos below (the first, again, taken by Bishop between 1894 and 1897, and the second taken circa 1900, after streetcar service began) , you can see, again, just how quickly Seoul was changing.

Many of the aforementioned examples of modernization were also mentioned by F.W. McKenzie, a Canadian journalist who lived in Korea for decades, in his 1920 book Korea's Fight For Freedom (about which more will be said later). Though he was very disappointed in the lack of reform in the political and judicial system (and in Korea's ability to stand up for itself) in the ten years between the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars, he did recognize the changes that had occurred:
In the period between 1894 and 1904 the developments would have seemed startling to those who knew the land in the early eighties. There was a modern and well-managed railroad operating between Seoul and the port of Chemulpo, and other railroads had been planned and surveyed, work being started on some of them. Seoul had electric light, electric tramways and an electric theatre. Fine roads had
been laid around the city. Many old habits of mediaeval times had been abolished. Schools and hospitals were spreading all over the land, largely as a result of missionary activity. Numbers of the people, especially in the north, had become Christians. Sanitation was improved, and the work of surveying, charting and building lighthouses for the waters around the coast begun. Many Koreans of the better classes went abroad, and young men were returning after graduation in American colleges. The police were put into modern dress and trained on modern lines; and a little modern Korean Army was launched.
What really motivated me to write a response to the Occidentalism post was the following claim (using the photo from the top of this post), as it was something I was already looking into while researching this.

Koreans boldly claim that Japan destroyed many Korean cultural monuments that were in truth destroyed by Korean neglect. The above is a before and after photo of Namdaemun. Is this what Koreans mean by Korea being ‘ruined’ by the Japanese?

Again, this is a perfect example of choosing a very selective (and favourable) example. Yes, Namdaemun looks super. But what about Gyeonghui palace, which was almost entirely destroyed during the colonial period? And what of Gyeongbok palace, which had only a few buildings standing by 1945, after the Capitol building had been built directly in front of the throne room; or Changgyeong palace, which had a zoo built on its grounds? (photo, Feb. 1968) Are there pictures of Seodaemun or Hyehwamun available that show how the Japanese restored them? Can replacing the Wongudan altar with the Chosun hotel really be seen as 'preserving' Korean cultural monuments? To see what Seoul looked like at the end of the colonial era, this large map made by the US military in 1946 even shows individual buildings, and allows you to see the remains of former palaces. The Japanese "made the Koreans take care of their cultural heritage"? How? Using the example of the capital city, all but three city gates were demolished during the colonial era, and out of five palaces, only two were left relatively intact. Preserving a cultural monument like Namdaemun, (or, more importantly, Seokguram Grotto) was the exception, not the rule. It was not 'Korean neglect' that demolished these landmarks, but decisions made by the Japanese colonial authorities that these structures were not worth preserving that led to their disappearance.

This comment, written by the writer of the post, appeared in various guises in the comments section:
If Korea was so dynamic, why would US President Theodore Roosevelt say that “…Korea has shown its utter inability to stand by itself”?
Because Roosevelt was justifying abandoning Korea to Japan, which was the politically expedient thing to do at the time. Roosevelt also said it because he was unaware of the situation in Korea. That is to say, he was unaware that guerrillas, known as Uibyeong, or "righteous army", armed at first with rusting muskets, were engaging Japanese troops across the penninsula. In 1907, after the forced disbandment of the Korean army by the Japanese, many of its soldiers joined the righteous armies, leading to better organization amongst them. As Andrei Lankov's article notes, the guerrilla war in Korea lasted from 1906 to 1912, when it was crushed by the brutal Japanese response.

Those wanting a more contemporary view of the conflict, and a better idea of the Japanese response, should read the aforementioned Korea's Fight for Freedom, by F.A. McKenzie, which can be read here (or here, where it's broken into chapters).

McKenzie was a Canadian journalist working for a British newspaper, who, though he initially thought a great deal of Japan, was eventually turned against it due to the brutal nature of its occupation. The book traces the history of Korea from the late 1800s to the Samil uprising in 1919. He wrote in the preface to the book in 1920 that
I have long been convinced, however, that the policy of Imperial expansion adopted by Japan, and the means employed in advancing it, are a grave menace to her own permanent well-being and to the future peace of the world.
A rather precient conviction, on his part. In the autumn of 1906, he became the only westerner to travel out into the countryside and meet one of the righteous armies, as the guerrillas were known, then harrassing the Japanese military. He travelled by horse from Seoul to Icheon, then "Chongju" [likely Chungju], Chee-chong [Jecheon], Wonju, and then back to Seoul. He encountered combatants on both sides, as well as the civilians who had suffered the wrath of the Japanese counter-insurgency operations. [from chapters VIII and IX]
As I stood on a mountain-pass, looking down on the valley leading to Ichon, I beheld in front of me village after village reduced to ashes.

Up to Chong-ju [Likely Chungju] nearly one-half of the villages on the direct line of route had been destroyed by the Japanese. At Chong-ju ....I noticed that its ancient walls were broken down. The stone arches of the city gates were left, but the gates themselves and most of the walls had gone....I struck directly across the mountains to Chee-chong [Jecheon], a day's journey. Four-fifths of the villages and hamlets on the main road between these two places were burned to the ground.

The destruction in other towns paled to nothing, however, before the havoc wrought in Chee-chong. Here was a town completely destroyed...Not a whole wall, not a beam, and not an unbroken jar remained.... Chee-chong had been wiped off the map.
One has to wonder how allowing their military to leave a swath of burned out villages and towns in its wake helped the Japanese 'modernize' Korea. After going to Wonju and then to a place called Yan-gun, McKenzie finally found members of the righteous army. On his way home, while passing through a valley, he was surrounded by other members of the righteous army who, due to his western clothes, mistook him for a Japanese, and was told
"It was fortunate that you shouted when you did. I had you nicely covered and was just going to shoot." Some of the soldiers in this band were not more than fourteen to sixteen years old. I made them stand and have their photographs taken.
This best known photo of the Uibyeong is credited to Mckenzie.

In June, 1908, a high Japanese official said that about 20,000 troops were then engaged in putting down the disturbances, and that about one-half of the country was in a condition of armed resistance.... The taunts about Korean "cowardice" and "apathy" were beginning to lose their force.
They would further lose their force after the Samil movement, a civil disobedience campaign against Japanese rule which began on March 1, 1919, the colonial authorities' response to which left thousands of Koreans killed, imprisoned and tortured. McKenzie spends a good portion of his book covering the Samil movement, offering first-hand accounts of the brutal treatment of those demonstrators targeted and arrested by the authorities. McKenzie's book goes a long way towards showing that Koreans were attempting to stand up against the Japanese, at first with rusted rifles, and later, without any weapons at all.

The Japanese response to Korean activism throughout the first decade under the Japanese is described in detail in the recent paper "American Missionaries in Korea and U.S.-Japan Relations 1910-1920" by Akifumi Nagata. Another description of the Samil movement is by Frank Schofield, a Canadian doctor working at Severance Hospital who was very active and vocal during the Samil movement (and whose story is well worth reading, as he was the only foreigner to be told of the demonstrations in advance, who visited a number of villages burned by Japanese troops, and saw first hand the conditions in Seodaemun Prison before being forced to leave by the Japanese). On April 13, 1919, Schofield had this letter published in the Seoul Press (a Japanese-run English-language newspaper):
Since its occupation of Korea, Japan has been saying that materially it has done much for Korea, but I want to raise a question, Has it been solely for Koreans? The duty of the government is to make the majority of its people happy. Only then, the government can be said to be doing the right thing. The duty of a government is not just to provide the people with material comforts, education, and strength, but to make them happy and secure as well.

The Japanese government must realise that the reason as to why Korean people have risen against it with what must seem like foolish courage. The Japanese government must do deep soul searching and recognize that what the Korean people want is not material things but real freedom.
His experiences at this time can be read here, while links to other time periods (some in Korea) can be found here.

The subtext of a great deal of pro-Japanese commentary over at Occidentalism is not just that Korea as a country or a society or an economy was backwards, but also that Koreans as a people were (and are) backwards, and benefitted from Japanese 'tutelage'. If we separate the racist aspect of this thinking from the fact that Korea as an economy and society was not as advanced as the west, or as advanced as Japan was, an obvious question is 'why'?

McKenzie certainly had his own ideas about this:
The Yi method of government killed ambition--except for the King's service--killed enterprise and killed progress. The aim of the business man and the farmer was to escape notice and live quietly.
The Chosun dynasty's brand of Confucianism is often blamed for the lack of Korea's development (as is corruption and factionalism), but Samuel Hawley, in his book The Imjin War, has his own ideas about Korea's lack of progress, and roots them in the results of the 1592-1598 Japanese invasion of the Korean penninsula: [from pgs 564-5]
The scorched-earth policy pursued by the Japanese in the latter part of the war, coupled with the flight of farmers from their fields, additionally dealt a serious blow to Korea's economy, a blow that fell most heavily on the breadbasket provinces of Kyongsang and Cholla in the south. In the survey of 1601, the first conducted in the wake of the war, it was found that only 300,000 kyol of cultivated, tax-paying land remained in the kingdom, down from the 1.5-1.7 million kyol assessed just prior to the war in 1592. This loss of four-fifth's of Korea's farmland meant not only a tremendous drop in the amount of food being produced, but also a huge reduction in the amount of taxes the government could collect, taxes that were now desperately needed to fund the nation's rebuilding. It was a blow from which Choson Korea would never fully recover. One hundred years after the war, the amount of land under cultivation had still not returned to pre-war levels. Two hundred and fifty years after the war, Kyongbok palace in Seoul, the residence of the King and thus the center of the kingdom, still remained a burned-out shell. The government lacked the funds to rebuild it. [...]

The government, its tax revenues down to a mere fraction of prewar levels, was forced to sell upper class yangban status and official titles to the highest bidder to raise desperately needed funds. The number of yangban in Korea accordingly increased, and with it the number of individuals eligible to serve as public officials. This in turn intensified the factional fighting that resumed once peace was restored [...] leaving the government embroiled in an endless series of obscure political wranglings, blind to the changes taking place in the outside world.
Needless to say, it would be incredibly ironic if Korea's 'backwardness', which Japan used as an excuse to establish a protectorate over, and later, colonize, Korea, was in fact aided in part by the effects of Japan's previous invasion, 300 years before.

To say something nice about the post at Occidentalism, it does have a number of interesting photos; it's just the misleading way they're used that's a problem. I don't have a problem with apologist writing hewing closely to the Japanese right's line - it's the fact that it's so poorly written and argued that's annoying, along with the misrepresentation and glaring omissions (which its adherents seem to be oblivious to). On the other hand, responding it gave me a chance to clarify my own thoughts on that era, and learn a lot in the process, so I guess I should thank him for his comment.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Touring Seoul's Palaces... in the 1950s

Paul E. Black's 1959 photo of Donhwamun, the main gate of Changdeok Palace. Rebuilt in 1607, it is the oldest wooden gate in Seoul.

Seeing as the last post was about a piece of 500-year-old architecture, it brought to mind some other old architecture I'd seen recently. In this post, a few days ago, Antti reminded me of the existence of Neil Mishalov's website. Mishalov served with the US military in Korea back in 1968 and 1969, and took hundreds of photos of the countryside around where he was posted (near Anyang), Seoul, Incheon, Osan, and other places around Korea. Also to be found on his site are photos taken by two other servicemen (Donald Gaydos, in 1954-55, and Paul E. Black, in 1958-59). It goes without saying that it's a fascinating site.

At any rate, there are a number of photos of traditional buildings amongst Paul Black's collection (on this page) which are labelled as unidentified temple scenes . They're actually palaces, and most of the photos are of Changdeok Palace. You can see the comparison between 1958 and present day here:

At Changdeok Palace:
the Queen's residence in 1959, and today;
the Main Hall, in 1959, and today;
and inside the Main Hall, in 1959, and today.

It's interesting to note how the buildings have changed since 1959 (only six years after the war). The buildings today have fresh paint, and do not allow people to approach as closely as in the past. In the last set of photos, the throne, and the painting above it, have changed, but the room is still the same. Thinking in terms of 'branding' as I mentioned in the last post, is the new throne more representative of what would have existed there during the Chosun dynasty, or does it (and the painting) just look more regal? At any rate, I don't know if the Secret Garden was open to the public in 1959, but Neil Mishalov took some pictures of it in February, 1969 (the last three photos on this page, and the first three on this page).

Some of the other photos are from Deoksu Palace, such as this and this. In two other photos (here and here) the same fountain can be seen (the two photos are facing west and east, respectively). Seokjojeon, the European-style building in the first photo, was completed in 1910, and is now an art gallery, as it was under the Japanese occupation.

Also taken at Deoksu Palace are photos of the display board for a water clock, and a picture of a bell; this is how they are displayed today. It's interesting to see how information boards have changed - and is that water clock truly one of only two in the world? I have my doubts.

Intrepid palace watchers may have a better idea where these photos (1 2 3) were taken.
The first two are of the same building, but I have no idea which palace it is to be found in (ditto for the third photo).

I imagine there would have only been two palaces intact (for the most part) in 1959: Changdeok Palace and Deoksu Palace. A glance at this photo makes clear that there wasn't much left of Gyeongbok Palace by 1945, and I doubt much restoration would have taken place by 1959.

I'm not so sure about Changgyeong Palace, however. I know that a zoo was built there during the colonial era, and judging by the photos at the top of this page (photos 4-9), Neil Mishalov was able to visit it in 1969. Whether it was open in 1959 I have no idea. It's probably worth keeping in mind that Gyeonghui Palace, was only opened to the public in 2002, after a 14-year -long restoration. The fact that it was once so large it was connected to Deoksu Palace by an overpass is fascinating, considering how small the restored palace is today.

If you've made it this far, you may be interested in this article, about a women (and her family) who learned how to make bricks the traditional way, and whose bricks are often used in restoration projects involving traditional architecture.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

99 years?

Photo from the Chosun Ilbo

The passageway through Namdaemun has been opened to the public for the first time in 99 years. As the Chosun Ilbo tells us,
entrance to the national treasure had been forbidden since 1907, when the occupying Japanese government regulated traffic by removing the fortress walls on both sides and putting in a road and streetcar line.
So now, you can see a long hidden painting on the ceiling. "But how do you get over to Namdaemun? Isn't it surrounded by a huge traffic circle?" you may ask. Not anymore! Seoul City, under mayor and presidential hopeful Lee Myung-bak, has not only uncovered Cheonggyecheon and built a grassy plaza in front of City Hall, but as of last May, it has also built a grassy knoll in front of Namdaemun, which allows people to walk up to the gate without fear of certain death. This article describes how Namdaemun came to be left adrift in a sea of traffic prior to the appearace of Sungnyemun Square:
Sungnyemun, built in the seventh year of the Chosun King Taejo’s reign (1398), is the oldest wooden structure in Seoul, but the surrounding fortress walls were removed in 1899 to build a streetcar route. After the destruction of much of the area as a result of Japanese colonial urban planning, the gate had stood on a desolate traffic island, unapproachable to visitors.
So now, you - hold on. 1899? I thought it was 1907 when the walls came tumbling down. Oh well, anyways.... Robert over at From the Nakdong to the Yalu linked to a post about the re-opening of Namdaemun at Max Watson's photoblog. There are lots of photos of the re-opened gate, including the ceiling painting. Further down the page, he's also posted a few historical photos of Namdaemun, one of which I'll post here:

Now, if the doors of Namdaemun have been closed since 1907, then obviously this photo must have been taken before then, as you can clearly see people walking through the gate. My first thought, however, was, "That's Seoul in 1907? Look at all those multi-storey brick buildings. It seems a little too modern looking for that time. I dug up a photo taken from Namdaemun's balcony around 1900:

Only two buildings over one storey tall are visible. Still, it might be possible to build that much in such a short time (Kushibo's post on Incheon's modernization (take the quiz yourself!) helped convince me of this). Searching around some more, I turned up photos from the book Korea Through Australian Eyes, which is a collection of photos taken by Australian photographer George Rose in 1904. The latter link has several (sample) photos, including one of a newly created Tapgol Park. At any rate, the three photos at the top of this page are of Namdaemun and the city wall in the vicinity of the gate. Let's have a look:

The first photo is easy enough to identify; the second is a view of the city wall snaking towards Seodaemun, taken from Namdaemun. [EDIT - Actually it's Namdaemun seen in the background, taken from Namsan - see comments] As these were taken in 1904, they raise some rather important questions:

Were the walls around Namdaemun torn down, the small houses razed, the entire area paved, and several multi-storey buildings built in the space of just 3 years? Or is the "1907 Photo" (again, below) actually from a later date, when the passageway through Namdaemun was still open? And if it was still open to the public at a later date, why is the city telling us it's been 99 years?

The Chosun Ilbo, above, showed that it was able to give two different dates (1899 and 1907) for the destruction of the walls around Namdaemun. Is the city government also making a mistake? Is it ignorant of its (possible) error, or does "99 years" make for better marketing? As Cheonggyecheon was voted as the best 'brand' of last year, it doesn't hurt to think this way. Is Seoul city playing fast and easy with historical facts to make a more compelling tourist attraction? Are they just dimwits and unaware of their mistake? Or is it I who is mistaken about the pace of Seoul's development between 1904 and 1907? Only time will tell!