Monday, December 21, 2009

Are you sure you're not talking about North Korea?

“…the Korean people have a hard time; but among the inscriptions in Chinese ideographs over the shops of Korean merchants in Seoul I observed and copied the following:

“The People Enjoy Peace and Pleasure,” “We are Successors to the Work of Shinno and Save the People,” “Heaven and Earth are Comprised in this Residence,” “The Spring Light is Clear and Beautiful,” “Thousands of Treasures Gather Together in the Morning,” “Ten Thousand Pounds of Pure Gold,” “Distribute Liberally and Save the Populace,” “The House of Happiness and Virtue,” “Benevolence, Righteousness, Courtesy, Wisdom, Fidelity, and Filial Obedience.” These inscriptions would certainly lead a newcomer to suppose that in Korea he had found at last a land of virtue, prosperity, and happiness; but the mental jolt that he would get when he came to investigate the palace would probably dislocate all his facilities and reduce him to a state of imbecility!

The activities and operations of the existing Korean Government may briefly be summed up as follows: It takes from the people, directly and indirectly, everything that they earn over and above a bare subsistence, and gives them in return practically nothing. It affords no adequate protection to life or property; it provides no educational facilities that deserve notice; it builds no roads; it does not improve its harbors; it does not light its coasts; it pays no attention whatever to street-cleaning or sanitation; it takes no measures to prevent or check epidemics; it does not attempt to foster trade or industry; it encourages the lowest forms of primitive superstition; and it corrupts and demoralizes its subjects by setting them examples of untruthfulness, dishonesty, treachery, cruelty, and a cynical brutality in dealing with human rights that is almost without parallel in modern times."

- George Kennan, describing Korea in a 1905 article entitled, "Korea: A Degenerate State."

6 comments:

Shinbone said...

What a difference a century makes!

dokebi said...

No. This was the Joeson government.

I'm sure & this is why the Japanese historians argue "oh but Koreans weren't any better off when they were free; no harm done during the Japanese occupation."

kushibo said...

Wasn't Kennan a propagandist for Japan, writing things against Russia (and apparently Korea) as a justification for Japan in the Russo-Japanese War?

Or am I thinking of someone else?

His sentiments are a bit different from Ms Bird, no?

Sperwer said...

George Kennan, who was a (much) older distant cousin of George F. Kennan, in fact was a famed explorer and Russophile who started out as a supporter of the czar, but later came to support revolution in Russia, but was no partisan of the Bolshevik variety. You may be confusing him with either Durham White Stevens or George Trumbull Ladd.

matt said...

Kushibo and Sperwer,

You're both right. After becoming known as a Russophile, Kennan became a critic of Russia due to the abuses of their penal system and unsurprisingly supported Japan during the war. The articles he wrote for the Outlook in 1904-05 (and later as well) lauded Japan as a modernizing nation and portrayed Korea as 'degenerate' and 'decayed,' a country that Japan would have to work hard at to 'uplift.' One of his articles criticized the Portsmouth Conference and Roosevelt and in response Roosevelt privately wrote him and explained some of the behind the scenes politics (and also made clear he sided with Japan). I'll be posting more on all of this in the future.

Mike in Korea said...

the more things change the more they stay the same