Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Revoking Medals and the Nokhwa Program

The Chosun Ilbo reports that after months of anticipation, the medals of two former presidents, and others involved in the Kwangju Uprising, will likely be revoked next month:
Government Information Agency chief Kim Chang-ho said Wednesday a policy meeting agreed the list of those to be stripped of decorations will be finalized in a Cabinet meeting next month. The move follows a legal revision that empowers the home affairs minister to propose withdrawing medals without consulting the agencies at whose recommendation they were awarded.
The Korea Times continues:
Chun was deeply involved in the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Kwangju in 1980, for which he received the Taeguk distinguished service order (DSO), the officials said.

Roh, successor of Chun, was also awarded with the Ulji DSO for his role as a security commander during the Kwangju movement. The number of people to be stripped of state medals is estimated at 67, including Chun and Roh, according to the officials.

Despite the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs saying they would wait for the outcome of the defense ministry probe into the 12.12 incident and the Kwangju uprising before stripping anyone of their power, on Dec. 12, the 26th anniversary of Chun's coup, Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan brought up the issue at a meeting of senior officials. He was quoted as saying, "Please review the procedure to cancel the state orders for those who trampled on the pro-democratic movement in Kwangju with force."

The Chosun Ilbo put it a little differently:
Earlier, Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan urged ministers to be fair in deciding who deserves to be stripped of their medals given their role in the coup, adding no exception should be made for the two former leaders.
It does sound like the home ministry is getting a little prodding from above, if what the Korea Times wrote is true. Had this come out earlier, perhaps Kim Dae-Joong (the right-wing columnist, not the former president) could have referred to it specifically in his list of ways in which the ruling party is trying to broaden its support base. At any rate, for more information about the background to this decision, I wrote about it here.

Speaking of the defense ministry probe into its past, yesterday saw the release of an interim report which focused on the 'Nokhwa' or 'greening' movement, and the Silmido incident. (More information about this probe can be found here.) Untangling the information about the Nokhwa program is a bit of a challenge, as three articles that were published yesterday about this report say different things.

As the Korea Times reports:

Pastor Lee Hae-dong, 71, former democracy activist, heads the committee composed of seven civilians and five military officials.

Chun directed then Defense Minister Choo Young-bok to draft students involved in democratic movements to frontline units on April 2, 1981, according to a 1988 dossier of the Defense Security Command (DSM). "Government agencies were found to have systematically implemented the plan, dubbed `Nokhwa (reeducation program),'" Lee said.

Under the Nokhwa program, which started on Dec. 1, 1981, the Chun government conscripted more than 1,100 student activists against their will, he said. Of them, six were found to have killed themselves, the panel said.

The Joongang Ilbo continues:

The Defense Security Command, the military's branch responsible for intelligence as well as internal security, compiled a list of 1,121 college students who were marked by the government as troublemakers and then sent more than 1,100 of them to fulfill their military service at the De-Militarized Zone, after coordinating with other government organizations.

In 1988, when the government first investigated the case, the number of college students on the government's "black list" was initially announced as 447, and only 265 were said to have been drafted.

The committee further revealed that drafted students were sent to front line units regardless of their specialties and were continuously monitored by personnel from the security command. Some students under conscription age or who didn't meet the physical requirements for military service and so should have been exempted from military service were still drafted.
The Chosun Ilbo continues:
Under the “Nokhwa” program designed to emasculate the democracy movement, the Agency for National Security Planning conscripted student activists and subjected them to re-education programs with the aim of turning them against their comrades on campus and using them as spies. The committee found that 1,121 [the Korea Times says 1,200] -- 900 forcefully conscripted student activists and 300 ordinary conscripts -- were thus enlisted. The agency established a department to supervise them on Sept. 6, 1982 and scrapped it in December 1984.
You end up with several dates: April 2, 1981, Chun gives the order to compile lists of students for military service; Dec. 1, 1981, the program begins (presumably meaning conscription for DMZ service begins); Sept. 6, 1982, a department is established to monitor the student activist spies; December 1984, the program ends. Whether the idea of using them as spies was thought of from the beginning or whether the plan evolved (from getting them out of the way and monitoring them while serving in the DMZ, to using them to spy on their colleagues) is something I'm curious about. Exactly how this program was related to the Samcheong Re-education camps, which would have preceded it, is also something I'd like to know more about.

The Joongang Ilbo has an article about 'Mangwon', or informants, and uses the 'Nokhwa' program as an example, but this article about the film 'Spying Cam', with it's Korean title 'Frakchi' says that:
``Frakchi,’’ which comes from the Russian word ``fraksiya,’’ refers to a government spy who infiltrated students’ organizations during the period of military dictatorship in Korea.
Anyone have any idea which word was used at the time of the Nokhwa program?

[There's more to come but I'll just post this for now...]

Monday, December 05, 2005

Some reading material

I discovered an e-book titled "The Seed Of Joy", by William Amos, which is a novel based on his experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer in Chollanam-do during the Kwangju Uprising. Do take a look at the Photos and Reviews sections; the former has photos of Mokpo and Seoul from the late '70s, and the latter has a comment by David Dolinger, who writes "I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in south Korea from 1978 until May 1980, at which time I was forced to resign from the Peace Corps because of my activities in Kwangju." After mentioning that he and Amos were volunteers together, he says, "We had been ordered to leave by the Embassy and the Peace Corps Country Director, but we could not leave our friends, those people who were willing to lose their lives if it meant that other people's children could grow up in a democracy."

Dolinger is mentioned briefly in "Contentious Kwangju", in a piece by Jean W. Underwood, who was one of several missionaries in Kwangju during the uprising. Her essay, along with Linda Lewis's book "Laying Claim to the Memory of May", give one the idea of what it was like to be a foreigner in Kwangju at that time; they also paint the US embassy as being out of touch with what was going on. Underwood mentions the fact that the Peace Corps volunteers were often standing between students and the paratroopers who were trying to attack them, saying, "The courage of these young people was unbelievable!" Volunteer Tim Warnberg wrote "The Kwangju Uprising: An Inside View" in Korean Studies, v.11, back in 1987 - something I'd love to find a copy of.

Zinester and cultural critic Scott Burgeson's "Korea Bug", which compiles numerous interviews and articles from his Bug zine published over the past 8 years, is worth the price alone (even if you own many of the original zines) for an introductory essay which examines the history of expat publications and zines in Korea. Among them were several publications by the members of the Peace Corps (who made good use of their access to a mimeograph machine) which appeared intermittently during the 15 years the Peace Corps were in Korea (1966-81) like "Yobosayo", "The Noodle", and "Jam Pong". Burgeson's interview with Ken Kaliher, a longtime resident (and former soldier and Peace Corps volunteer), also offers fascinating insight into how Korea has changed since 1969, with commentary on life in the Peace Corps, the social scene in Seoul in the 70s, Seoul's development, and the Kwangju Uprising. The book also has lots of other fascinating interviews (with people like mudang, artists, directors, and even Korea's last kisaeng), and prompted me (just this minute) to dig through my email and find the article he wrote about the 2002 Pifan festival, where we had a blast hanging out together with a lot of great people. Anyways, the book is well worth a read.

Just in case anyone wants to read about the exploits of a reporter who covered the Kwangju uprising (albeit briefly), the 1987 democracy protests and the election campaign they led to, you can download some scans of Jame's Fenton's "Kwangju and After", from Granta 24, here (scroll down to the bottom and click 'free', then scroll down again and wait for the 20 second countdown to finish and download away - they're in a zip file).

Speaking of the 1987 election, a friend of mine told me he was in the army during that election, and when it came time to vote, his superiors called him into an office and handed him a ballot.
"Can I, uh, vote for whoever I want?"
"What do you think?"
And that's how, he figures, Roh Tae-woo got a guaranteed 7-800,000 votes.

Not that anyone is shocked by that, of course.

Update: Another student who was in the army at that time said he himself wasn't watched when he voted, but he knew of other units where this occurred, so the figure above is exaggerated, but by how much I have no idea.

Also, the aforementioned Scott Burgeson has a feature article in the Korea Times about his trip to Pyongyang to see the Arirang Festival - do give it a read.

Monday, November 28, 2005

I must be hallucinating

The Chosun Ilbo wrote an editorial titled "GNP Has no Moral Right to Protest Eavesdropping"?
The party has made no apology whatsoever to the people for the illicit tapping done by the ANSI on its watch. How much more clueless about public sentiment can the GNP be? The party must recognize that it was a perpetrator long before it became a victim. Just because the statute of limitations on its crime has expired does not mean the crime itself has somehow evaporated, nor that the people have forgiven it.
Never thought I'd see the day when the Chosun Ilbo started sounding something like Oranckay!

Strange indeed...

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Test Day at Last!

As I mentioned last night, I saw a group of girls sitting outside the front gate of the local high school, planning to stay all night and greet the test takers in the morning. The Korea Herald described the outcome of the scene I saw (as does the above photo) :
Many students arrived in the early morning to be cheered on by fellow schoolmates. [...] "I came here at 3 a.m., but many sophomores from my school came during lunch time on Tuesday, reserved their territory with green tape on the ground and stayed over night to hold the best spot for cheering," Kim A-ra, freshman at Baiwha Girls' High School, said. "It is very cold, but it's a great feeling to cheer the seniors and wish them high scores."
Yonhap was nice enough to take lots of pictures of students gathered outside a high school (it almost looks like a protest, doesn't it?), cheering on the test-takers and wishing them high scores, as well as photos of police escorting late students to the test ('over 10,000 police were stationed near exam venues and subway stations throughout the country to help students get to the venues on time').

I'm not sure if there were any reporters getting shots like this in Kwangju, as they all seemed to be waiting to get photos of "the nation's little sister", Moon Geun-young. One has to wonder where she finds the time to study, considering how much modelling and acting she must do.

Back to that Herald article.From it I learned something I hadn't known, namely that testing began at 8:40 a.m. and ended at 6:15 p.m. That's... a long time to take a test. Just thinking about having to write a test for that long seems stressful. I haven't mentioned the title of the Herald article yet: "Student kills himself ahead of college entrance exam". Needless to say, the alliterative associations one draws on this day are suneung, stress, and suicide, and all have come to pass today:
As students prepared to sit the national university entrance exam yesterday, a 19-year-old high school graduate, who was due to take the test for the second time, committed suicide in Seoul at around 6. a.m., police said.

"His parents found his body on the ground after he jumped off the 16th floor of his apartment building," a policeman at Seoul Bukbu Police Station said. "We're considering it as a suicide case due to his parents' testimony that Lim was under high pressure because of the exam."

Should I mention that next to the above paragraphs on the website there was an ad for an apartment complex complete with photos of tall apartment blocks? Perhaps not, but it unintentionally provided a visual aid to a rather grim, if predictable, article.

As you might tell from the many pictures linked to above (if you scroll down on each picture page there are more), every Korean media outlet reported on the 수능 today. While online Korean language papers like the Chosun Ilbo have literally dozens of articles, the English language press have managed to print one or two pertinent articles.

The Donga Ilbo posted an article titled "CSAT Preparation for Disabled Students", and kudos to them for reporting on a subject (in English) which often gets little press - in any country. The article looks at students with cerebral palsy, and informs us that it was only 3 years ago that people with such disabilities were allowed to take the entrance exam.
They will take the test at the school together with 16 other students with cerebral palsy living in Seoul. The Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development ensures that students with the same disability will take the test together at the same school.

The enthusiasm and expectation for the class is higher than expected. In 2002, the first year the special admission was implemented, 15 students took the test and 10 of them succeeded in entering universities. In 2003, nine out of 15, and last year, 2004, all 14 students were admitted to universities.
Photos of some of these students arriving for the test today can be found here and here.

The Korea Times posted an article titled "Foreigners Taste Unique Culture in College Entrance Exam Here" (foreigners are not once mentioned in the article), which gives an overview of test day and different traditions which revolve around it (like parental visits to temples and affixing yeot (taffy) to the school gate where tests are being written). The accompanying photo shows students being checked with a metal detector, which is better described in a Joongang Ilbo article:

Supervisors armed with metal detectors watched the halls, checking that students going to restrooms did not have cell phones with them. "Many female students were offended when they were scanned with the detector."
After last year's cheating scandal in Kwangju, when answers were passed to students by text messaging, all cellphones were banned from testing rooms this year. The Joongang Ilbo article says that 12 exam takers were expelled from the test for carrying phones during the test today. One student in Busan who forgot nearly faced punishment from authorities wanting to follow the letter of the law:
The Busan Metropolitan Office of Education said, “He must be punished for cheating in accordance with the CSAT Guidelines, but some have pointed out that it would be too cruel to punish any examinee for the simple mistake of carrying his cell phone. So we have suggested that the Education Ministry allow [him] to take next year’s CSAT”.
The student has no choice but to try again next year because despite being allowed to continue with the test, he was so unnerved he gave up halfway through. While the above quote may seem like bureaucrat-speak which is stating the obvious (that a mistake like forgetting about your phone shouldn't invite harsh punishment), few other schools, according to the Joongang Ilbo, allowed the students caught with phones to finish the test. Just for fun, it's worth looking at how (in English) the different papers described these students. While the Herald called them students "who forgot to turn in their mobiles", and the Chosun Ilbo spoke of students who where "expelled for carrying mobile phones", the Joongang Ilbo's article was titled "Students try cheating by cell phones despite ban". The Joongang even has a ministry spokesperson back up its 'zero tolerance' viewpoint.

That some students would forget something that is so embedded into the fabric of their daily life shouldn't really surprise anyone. The idea that they can't carry their personal window to the world with them on the 'most important day of their life' may seem so inconceivable to some students that they just forget it's there - or they may be so nervous that they just forget. If some students get so stressed out that they jump off of buildings, it doesn't seem far fetched that they they might forget about their phones. It doesn't seem right to make them defer university for two years over a simple mistake.

While high school students slugged through the test, my middle school students had a great day, as all classes were cancelled, while elementary students got to start school an hour later than usual. I'm sure those pleasant associations with test day will be forgotten in a few years, however.


27 students who were found to have cellphones will have their test scores disqualified and be prevented from taking the test next year. Authorities concede that most of them likely had no intention to cheat. A Joongang Ilbo article on the same topic describes two rather unfortunate situations:
A 20-year-old woman in Gyeonggi province left an MP3 player in her bag beside a lectern at the front of the test room after the exam supervisor only ordered "cell-phones and calculators" to be collected. When another supervisor monitoring an English test later asked for MP3 players to be submitted, she did so. The next day, however, the Education Ministry disqualified her and banned her from taking the test next year.
An 18-year-old male student in Gangju was also disqualified after taking the test wearing his brother's coat, which contained his father's cell phone. The father called the cell-phone to find out where it was as the student was taking the test.
Quite obviously, these situations are not the students' fault, but they're going to have to delay their lives for 2 years anyway. The education ministry might be better off rethinking this hastily-passed law, which interprets mere possession of an electronic device as intent to cheat. The Joongang Ilbo also has an excellent article on cellphone culture amongst teens in Korea, at one point describing them as "a part of their owner's psyche."

Oh, and Oranckay had an... interesting photo of a mother bidding her daughter good luck before the test.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Cashing in on the Big Test

Today's the big day. In just a few hours, the test that thousands of kids have spent years studying for will be over. The Chosun Ilbo tells us that
The College Scholastic Ability Test for the 2006 academic year will start simultaneously at 966 schools in 75 districts across the country at 8:40 a.m. on Wednesday. A total of 593,806 people will take the test this year.
On my way home tonight I saw a half dozen students covered with blankets sitting outside the gate of a nearby high school, where, in a show of support, they will wait until morning for the test-takers to arrive. It's the first time I've seen it, (guess I haven't walked in front of high schools the night before the 수능 (CSAT) in previous years) and my obvious question would be, 'Does anyone know where this tradition comes from?' It doesn't seem like the most pleasant time of year to be outside all night (though I guess tonight's temperature of 5 degrees isn't as cold as it could be). It looked a bit like this:

At any rate, this time of year brings the requisite pictures of parents praying for the success of their children at temples and churches, workers loading boxes of these agents of destiny onto trucks, and students checking name lists onto the front pages of newspapers, along with other articles, in the days leading up to the test (very slight variations of the latter photo appeared on the the front pages of both the Joongang and the Chosun...why I'm not sure). It's in the days after the test that we get to read about students killing themselves, usually by jumping off buildings, in response to worse-than-expected test scores.

Happily, the Korea Times has something much more heartwarming to report. After dragging Valentine's Day out for 3 months (much to the benefit of the chocolate, flower, and Chinese food industry), and turning a fun exchange of pepero started at a school in Pusan in 1994 (according to this Joongang Ilbo article) into another consumer goldrush for Lotte, corporate Korea has discovered the consumer possibilities of another event: after-test celebrations! Yes, Lotte World and Seoul Land are giving 50% discounts today on students with exam IDs! CGV is giving a whopping 1000 won discount! Family restaurants are giving out free food! Megabox is letting test takers roll giant dice! "We've sucked your childhood, blood, and sweat from you, prevented you from having a social life for the last year or more, but now we'll give you free food and 1000 won off if you have your ID card with a coupon which you can download from our website, or 2000 won off if you bring the test ID and death certificate of a friend or relative who recently (dated to within 2 days of the test) jumped off a building! Have a nice day."

Monday, November 21, 2005

Revoking 12.12 and 5.18 Medals

Back in May, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Kwangju Uprising, Oranckay mentioned the fact that the many of the paratroopers who carried out the bloodshed were awarded medals, which have never been revoked. A Hankyoreh editorial which he linked to mentioned efforts by lawmakers to amend the law on awards and citations.

A September 7 Chosun Ilbo article confirmed that the law had been amended, and that it had been amended with not only paratroopers, but with former presidents Chun and Roh, in mind:
An official with the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs said Tuesday (Sept. 6) that when the amended law goes into effect on Nov. 5, the government would have to decide whether to strip the two disgraced former leaders of their decorations.

Decorations have so far been given -- and withdrawn -- at the request of particular bodies. But the new law amended in June gives the power to the home affairs minister independent of any requests, in this case from the Defense Ministry, which awarded them in the first place.

But the interior ministry is being cautious, saying it would “not be too late” to make the decision once a truth commission in the Defense Ministry has completed its reinvestigation of Chun’s Dec. 12, 1979 coup and the May 17, 1980 declaration of martial law. That probe... has just got under way.

Two weeks ago, on Nov. 6, the Korea Times reported that the law had just come into effect which
gives the [Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs] authority to take away awards from individuals if their achievements turn out to be exaggerated or if they are later held responsible for crimes that result in prison terms of more than three years.
Two days after it came into force, the aforementioned ministry
asked the Ministry of Government Legislation and a fact-finding committee of the Defense Ministry to evaluate the legality of awarding military medals to former presidents and 79 others for their roles in military coup in December 1979 and the Kwangju civilian massacre in May 1980. [...]

Two former presidents and 12 others were found to be guilty in 1997 for their roles in the 1979 military coup, while 69 other military officers received guilty verdicts for suppressing the democratic movement in the southwestern city of Kwangju.
The article confirmed that it would wait for the results of the Defense Ministry’s investigation before making a final decision.

In the scheme of things, I wonder if those who killed other ROK soldiers (in the 12.12 coup in 1979, as well as at Kwangju - 12 out of 23 soldiers killed in Kwangju were killed by friendly fire)
got higher decorations than those who killed civilians.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Save the Youth! Cripple the Film Industry!

I found a lovely editorial in the Joongang Ilbo titled 'Film filth and our youth':
The administration and the ruling party stepped back a bit from their plan to regulate movies depicting school violence in the face of public criticism against such a move. The administration and the party said they would not try to change the law on movies immediately, but that they would look for other measures to prevent children from being exposed to such films.
Recently, a high school student in Chungju, North Chungcheong province, committed suicide after being bullied by her classmates. But the idea of regulating movies to prevent school violence invites opposition for reasons of freedom of expression and adverse effects on the film industry.
Still, we believe that movies that can give impressionable teenagers the idea that violence is acceptable should be controlled in some way. Movies with excessive violence and foul language do influence young minds and the result is the present violence- and obscenity-prone generation.
Yes, that will solve the problem of youth violence, for which movies are entirely to blame. I'm sure growing up in an increasingly commercialized, materialistic society, living in monotonous concrete cities, being forced into a pressure-cooker educational environment which robs them of their childhood, while being exposed to foreign ideas which challenge almost every aspect of the societal order has nothing to do with it. Ending the depiction of youth violence in films will most certainly bring about the end youth violence in Korea, just like the lack of films depicting teen sex has guaranteed that teens here aren't having (unprotected) sex in greater and greater numbers.

(I also enjoyed the non sequitor about the girl from Chungju who committed suicide after being bullied).

Considering how well Korean films have been performing at the (Korean) box office over the past few years, and how well Korean films have been doing at foreign film festivals, and how the film industry's achievements are seen by the government and media as both a valuable cultural asset that is improving Korea's image abroad and as an important industry, it seems like idiocy that politicians would want to do it harm. "Hey, remember when nobody watched our movies because of their cheap production values and because censorship guaranteed we couldn't deal with juicy political and sexual topics? Let's relive those days!" "And hey, remember how the film quota helped pave the way for today's successes? Let's scrap it! (or reduce it at any rate)".

Perhaps the Unification ministry is behind this - they certainly seem to agree with censoring the media, as well as calling only for 'cheerful and admirable stories'.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Guerrilla Conflict in Korea 1966-69

Lost Nomad links to an article about the 1966-69 'Second Korean conflict', when, hoping to create a guerrilla uprising in the south similar to the Viet Cong insurgency in South Vietnam, North Korea began initiating small-unit battles along the DMZ and inserting Commandos into the south, which culminated in 1968 when some 600 incursions by the North took place.
In barracks bombings, ambushes, firefights, booby traps and other attacks, 75 U.S. soldiers, sailors and air crew members were killed and 111 wounded. South Korean forces, defending a far longer stretch of the 151-mile DMZ, had a longer casualty list -- 299 soldiers killed and 550 wounded.
The article is from a US military website and focuses on the conflict from the point of view of the American soldiers who fought there, examining, for example, the fact that many of the US soldiers who took part in the conflict were never considered to have seen combat and were never given combat pay. An article by Andrei Lankov also briefly covers this conflict, but from a Korean perspective.

Each article fills in the gaps left by the other (and make interesting cases about historical memory in each country). As the Lankov article points out, for example, these more aggressive incursions (targeting ROK troops) began a month or so before the first US patrol was ambushed, from which time the US article dates the beginning of the conflict. That article also describes the ways in which the US military dealt with the North Korean incursions (by building an 18-mile, 10-foot-high chain-link razor wire-topped fence, for example) and credits "the allies' savvy tactics and the South Koreans' animosity toward their northern neighbors" for North Korea's defeat.

Lankov, on the other hand, argues that it was not so much animosity toward the north (as the south in the 60s was full of poverty and inequality and ripe for Marxist agitation) but the poor and hurried propagandizing techniques of the northern commandos sent to foment a guerrilla rebellion. Another factor he cites was the difficulty of waging a guerrilla campaign in a land of barren hills and paddy fields, which is what the south looked like before the success of the re-forestation program. The US article makes mention of the Pueblo incident, but fails to mention the 1968 attack on the Blue House by North Korean Commandos (which was the subject of another Lankov article).

What's interesting is that the (foiled) attack on the Blue House culminated in a shootout 300 meters from the target on January 21, 1968 - 2 days before the capture of the USS Pueblo and its 83 crewmen by North Korean patrol boats on Jan. 23.

Learning that these two rather important events took place within days of each other during a three-year-long guerrilla conflict waged by the North lets you see them as being part of a larger whole, instead of the separate incidents they're usually presented as.

Marmot has a post about the response South Korea planned to get revenge for the attack on the Blue House.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Boared Again

Yesterday the Chosun Ilbo posted a hilarious article titled "Seoul Trembles at Wild Boar Invasion". If this isn't a perfect example of "Blowing it all out of proportion", I don't know what is:
The capital is under threat from an unlikely invasion after wild boars were sighted at several locations around the metropolitan area. Last month there were repeated sightings at the Sheraton Grande Walkerhill Hotel; now a den that is home to scores of the aggressive beasts has been discovered in Achasan. [...]

The mountain in the Achasan area is closed to civilians because it houses an emergency oil reserve, and its thick oak and chestnut cover make it an ideal habitat for the animals. "It appears that rogue males that were kicked out of the group due to territorial fights left in search of food and territory of their own," Seoul City said.
Well, there is some new information there, about the den in Achasan. But those 'repeated sightings' near the Walkerhill Hotel were of the same animal on the same day (the one that drowned). Before it gets more ridiculous, the article does provide a new nugget of information about the Guri 'invasion' last Thursday:
In the Guri area of Gyeonggi Province, which borders Achasan, a boar entered a subterranean parking lot on Oct. 27, ramming a parked car and romping around for a while before disappearing back into the woods.
I didn't know it had rammed a parked car, though I'm curious to know just how much damage was done, and whether it was covered by insurance. What with 2 cars damaged by boars in the last week or so, perhaps a new 'wild boar damage' clause will appear in car insurance coverage. At any rate, here's the winning paragraph:
On Oct. 24, wild boars showed up in Changkyong Palace, sending more than 300 visitors scampering for shelter, and on Oct. 19, there were several sightings of wild boars near the Sheraton Grande Walkerhill Hotel in Gwangjang-dong, Seoul. On Sept. 29, wild boars had ventured as far as Amsa-dong on the Han river and injured two people.
Let's see. Scampering for shelter? That sounds somewhat different from the Joongang Ilbo article which read, "palace administrators evacuated the 300 visitors on the grounds". Then it mentions the Oct. 19 sightings of "wild boars" (again, there was only one), and then describes the first incursion by a wild boar on Sept. 29, once again portraying the single boar as plural. Last week's Reuters article mislead readers into thinking the 'invasion' was much larger than it actually was, as it straightforwardly described 3 of the 4 incidents, and then described aspects of those incidents, referring to "sightings in apartment-block gardens, schools and underground parking lots" as being in addition to, or separate from, those 3 incidents. The Chosun Ilbo, however, takes things a step further by making the boar in each incident into 'boars', which is a little more dishonest. And if we can't trust the Chosun to be honest about wild pigs, what can we trust them to be honest about?

At least they provide some advice on dealing with the invaders:
Experts say an encounter with wild boars, which can weigh hundreds of kilograms, is a frightening moment, but if people keep calm they stand a good chance of escaping unhurt.

The most important thing, they say, is never to turn your back, since the beasts have weak eyesight and may not realize that you are running away, while moving objects upset them.
Is it just me, or does "stand a good chance of escaping unhurt" sound a little... less than positive?
They are large, heavy, hooved animals, and they do have some sharp teeth (though I questioned (in the comment section of the last post) whether Korean boars had the same teeth seen in other, foreign species, the second photo on this page seems to answer the question) , but when you consider that one ran around an apartment complex for 90 minutes and no one got hurt, maybe you're more likely to escape unharmed than not.

And while both the Chosun and the Korea Times tell us not to turn our backs or run away, respectively, the Chosun tells us that boars have weak eyesight, and the Times tells us that we should look straight into the boar’s eyes, which seems a tad contradictory.. Who is correct? Perhaps only an encounter with one of the porcine (my new favourite adjective) invaders will provide the answer. And if the Chosun Ilbo is to be believed, that encounter could happen at any time.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


Seoul has had a number of visits from wild boars in the past month, where they have come out of the mountains and into the newspapers. In the English language press, the Joongang Ilbo has definitely found its niche as the online paper that reports on all things boar. If I sound like I'm poking fun, I'm not, really. I remember seeing a boar on a tv news show years ago (when I watched TV) and was fascinated, partly because they aren't to be found where I come from, and partly because Korea has very few large wild animals. Some deer, some reintroduced bears down south, and wild boars, and that's about it for larger mammals. All I've ever seen while hiking throughout Korea were a few chipmunks, a squirrel... and that's about it (though I did see a woodpecker last weekend while hiking at Bukhansan). A few of my students have seen boars in the countryside before; numerous photos of boars in Korea can be found here. A wild boar also played a rather important part in the hit film Welcome to Dongmakgol, the only Korean film I can remember seeing one in (for a photo, scroll down).

The first appearance of a boar (this year - the above link to boar photos makes clear that this has happened in past years as well) was on September 29, when one weighing 130 kilograms appeared in Southeast Seoul and injured two people before swimming across the Han river. By the time 90 police officers were mobilized, it had swum back across the river. Around noon, after a 12 hour 'spree', it was surrounded by police and killed by a hunter. A photo of it swimming across the river is here. Another Joongang Ilbo article from 4 days later stated that Seoul City officials had said that the 160 cm long boar would "be stuffed and displayed at Gildong Ecology Park in Gangdong-gu, Seoul in about 40 days". The official added that "Wild boars are rarely seen in the city."

Just over 2 weeks after this statement, on October 19, another boar appeared in the vicinity of the Walkerhill hotel, likely having come down from Achasan. After an hour long chase by police, it tried to swim south across the Han river and drowned.

(Pic from Hankyoreh)

Five days later, on October 24, a 200-kilogram, 150-centimeter long pig appeared on the grounds of Changgyeong Palace in central Seoul, causing the evacuation of 300 visitors before it was quickly killed by hunters. It was assumed to have come from the mountains to Seoul's north; after three sightings in such a short time, suddenly wild pig experts found themselves getting phone calls from media outlets.
A naturalist said that with tigers extinct and bears nearly so in Korea, the pigs face fewer natural predators and have multiplied quickly.
Choi Sung-gyu of the Korea Society for the Protection of Wild Animals said he thought that population pressure was driving more animals into the cities in search of food.

According to Environment Ministry, there are about 254,000 wild pigs in the country. They caused damage to crops estimated at 8.2 billion won ($7.7 million) last year. Some experts are urging a culling of the country's wild pig population.
With no less than three sightings in almost as many weeks, it was time for the Korea Times to edge into the Joongang's niche, with an article titled 'Citizens on Alert Over Wild Boars', which informed us of Seoul city's plans to establish an emergency task force in November to cope with the appearances of wild boars. An official said
"We will produce and distribute pamphlets and other materials that contain information on wild boars, such as their characteristics and habitats. Citizens should be well informed about how to handle the situation if they encounter boars"...

[A] researcher advised people not to run away or shout when they are faced with a boar on the street, adding that they should look straight into the boar’s eyes and promptly hide behind rocks or trees.
So there you have it, just in case you were wondering what you should do if you see one. The article also mentioned that "[f]armers and professional hunters usually hunt wild boars around this time of year to prevent them from gorging on harvest-ready crops." I was wondering how legal this was until I found this article, from last January, which said that "wild-animal hunting has so far only been allowed if beasts were found to be damaging crops or threatening farm animals and human life". The article said that hunters would soon be able to hunt them if they were damaging tombs.

On October 27, a boar appeared in an apartment complex in Inchang-dong, Guri city, on Seoul's eastern border, and ended up in an underground parking garage before running off, presumably back into the hills next to the apartments.

This suddenly became international news when Reuters covered the story on October 28, with the memorable opening lines "This wild piggy went to an upmarket hotel. This wild piggy went to an historic palace. And all the wild piggies were chased by South Korean police." The use of the word "invasion" and its somewhat misleading descriptions of the 4 sightings make it sound as if dozens of them are running amok in Seoul on a daily basis, which simply isn't the case. It certainly makes for good entertainment however, which is likely why the story has appeared in online news all over the world (just google it).

The most recent boar sighting was not in Seoul, but in North Gyeongsang province, on October 30, where a man driving an SUV driving from Daegu north to Andong suddenly encountered about 20 boars crossing the highway as he rounded a curve. Five 6-month old wild pigs (each weighing 50 kg) were killed when he was unable to stop in time and hit them. A (not entirely pleasant, though censored) photo of the aftermath can be found here.

At any rate, if they're becoming such a nuisance, especially in the face of a lack of predators, allowing hunting to cull the population might not be such a bad idea. According to this site, in 2004 the whitetail deer population in my home province of Ontario was estimated to be between 350,000 to 400,000 (and one might imagine that in an area of the province the same size as South Korea, there would be less than 254,000, the estimated number of boars in Korea); 80,000 deer were killed by hunters in Ontario in 2003. I have doubts that the boar population here could recover as quickly as deer in Ontario do, seeing as the terrain and settlement patterns are very different, but the stories above (and Antti's comment below) make clear that the boar population is getting a little too large, for both city and country dwellers. I can't help but wonder, if they are such a problem in the countryside, that people living there might be annoyed that the boar problem is only getting attention because it's beginning to affect Seoul...

(Hat tip to Lost Nomad for the Reuters link)


Kotaji provides some more information about the intimate link between the Joongang Ilbo and wild boars.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Witness to An Assassination

The Korea Times had an article today about an upcoming concert by singer Sim Soo-bong:
At a college campus talent search in 1978, the then-23-year-old student struck a chord with the audience and television viewers watching across the country with ``That Person From Back Then (Kuttae Kusaram),'' a song that remains to this day one of her most famous songs.
The name of the song immediately made me think "Waitaminute...", and of course the article went on to relay the moment she is best known for - the fact that she was sitting next to Park Chung-Hee when he was assassinated by Kim Jae-Gyu on October 26, 1979. This review gives a more detailed description of her past up to that point:
Shim Soo-Bong was just a debutante when Na Hoon-Ah, the king of trot, discovered her. She was still using her real name, touring festivals promoting herself. He thought she could make it, become one of the greats, like Patty Kim and Lee Mi-Ja. When Shim, at the height of her popularity, was called to entertain the President, she had a reputation for being a great enka singer. He asked for her specifically, because of his love for Japanese culture and music. But after that momentous night, Shim denied ever singing enka to the President. She said all she sang was that famous song, 그때 그사람 (That Person Back Then). Since then, that song has become synonymous with 10/26.
Though the KT article goes on to perpetuate that myth ("The song she sang that night to entertain the President was none other than `Kuttae Kusaram'"), it also describes how Chun Doo-Hwan banned one of her songs, and also barred her from performing on TV for several years ("I later heard that he had said, `that singer performing will remind people of President Park Chung-Hee and may become a problem for my image,’" she said). 

Park's assassination has of course been brought back into the spotlight this year due to it's dramatization in the film "President's Last Bang" (그때 그사람들); it's Korean title was based on the aforementioned song by Shim Soo-Bong, which is further described in an interview with director Im Sang-Soo here. While most films released in Korea are publicized even before they begin shooting, no information about President's Last Bang was made public until about 2 or 3 months before it was released - something which had never occurred with any other Korean film, to my knowledge. The caution was warranted, considering the film had documentary footage cut from the beginning and end by court order after a suit by Park Chung-Hee's son, and was reviled by rightist critics as being slanderous and full of untruths. Im Sang-Soo goes into quite a bit of detail about this in an excellent interview here (where he says, "I don't really think the film is political. I think it's more of a mob film").

What's funny is that, in this case, the right itself has provided English speakers with the means to see that the film is in fact quite accurate in it's depiction of Park's final hours. Years ago the Chosun Ilbo had a series about the life of Park Chung-hee written by Cho Kap-Je, which began with a very detailed retelling of his final hours, based on the investigation records (which have got to be accurate, seeing as Chun Doo-Hwan was in charge of the investigation, right?). Anyways, the entire story can be read here. Start at the bottom and work your way backwards through the posts, where you can find many photos of the re-enactments as well. 

 (Hat tip to Oranckay for the final link)

Friday, October 21, 2005

Lee Myung-bak's 'Canal Plan'

The Korea Times, earlier this week, posted an article titled 'Seoul Mayor Lee Pushes for Massive Cross-Country Canal'. I'm sure the Times staff were trying to choose between that headline and "Mayor Lee Plans to Throw 10 Trillion in Taxpayer's Money at the Construction Cartel for Utterly Pointless Project" and flipped a coin.

Apparently, this is nothing new; according to the article, he first proposed the idea as a lawmaker in 1996. Why does he think this will work?
``The southern part of the Han River and the upper part of the Naktong River is only 20 kilometers apart. If we are able to connect Seoul and Pusan through an inner-country waterway, it will cut one-third of logistics costs and help the economy by creating more jobs and balancing regional development’’
Sounds wonderful. Luckily, a few sane people have spoken up about this idea:
[C]ritics question whether building a massive canal connecting Seoul and Pusan will be economically reasonable. In a 1998 report jointly published by the Korea Water Resources Corporation (KWACO) and the Korea Research Institute for Human Settlements, the state-run organizations said that it would take more than 10 trillion won to build a canal connecting the Han River and Naktong River.

The groups also questioned the canal’s efficiency as a transport route, saying it would take 62 hours by ship to move cargo up the canal from up to bottom and will need an additional supply of 22 million tons of water to sustain the connection.
Let's address the '62 hours' bit first. I took a ferry once from Incheon to Jeju. It took about 12 hours. The most I could imagine it taking to get to Busan would be 24 hours. So obviously, the canal would save so much time, wouldn't it? Perhaps Lee means to transport goods to inland cities, but there aren't many large ones on the route of the rivers, excepting Daegu.

Let's address, oh, say the following picture:

The Chungju Dam, on the Namhan River, is 97.5 meters high. There's another dam 19 km downstream. There's also a 2km wide dam at the mouth of the Nakdong River. There are two dams on the Han River near the eastern and western boundaries of Seoul, which exist to keep the shallow river high enough for the sightseeing tour boats. According to this page, South Korea has 1,213 large dams, so I would imagine that there are many more dams on these two rivers. This would mean altering these dams to create locks. I can't help wonder if Hyundai Construction (Lee Myung-bak's old company) had anything to do with building these dams. He's already shown with Cheonggyecheon that he's quite good at spending a lot of money to undo projects carried out by his former company years ago. Suffice to say, it's not just a matter of digging a canal between the two rivers, but of building new dams, altering old ones, and carrying out massive dredging projects.

In an interview, he said "The Seoul-Busan Canal plan I announced during the 14th National Assembly is a comprehensive plan to foster national competitiveness and create jobs." Create jobs for who? What industry will benefit from such a huge construction project? He also said, "I went into a firm with 100 employees (Hyundai Construction) and made it into one with 160,000". A plan that will pour 10 trillion won into the construction industry, which happens to be his former industry - what a strange coincidence. Lamenting the fact that Korea does not use its rivers as transport routes, Lee said that "Korea uses its rivers as sewers". I wonder to what degree the actions of his old company played a role in the conversion of Korean rivers to 'sewers'.

It's worth noting that environmentalists opposed to unhindered dam building managed to stop dam building for 6 years, between 1996 and 2002 (though since then work has resumed, with the Peace Dam being finished this month). Much of it centered around opposition to the construction of the Yongwol dam, on the Dong river, in Kwangwon-do, the movement against which is described briefly here. Another article from 1999 mentions that "there are already seven dams within Kangwon, which have led to the displacement of 29,000 people in the past five decades." Considering these numbers refer to only one province, and the variety of dams described here, the effect dam construction has had upon people must be considerable. It's hard not to notice that environmental groups managed to halt projects in 1996, just 4 years after the first civilian government came to power. Under the dictatorships, people wouldn't have been able to complain much about the dislocation caused by dam construction.

One of the more insane projects that was halted only earlier this year is the Saemangeum reclamation project in Jeollabuk-do, where a 33km long sea-wall across the estuaries of the Mangyeung and Dongjin Rivers is almost finished construction. There's lots of information about it here, and relevant pictures are here.

Korean Punk

Speaking of Korean punk rock (yeah, I know it's been a few weeks; I've been doing research on some future posts), I came upon some pages on that topic the other day by accident, and thought I'd post some links to them.

I'd imagine the first article in English about punk rock in Korea would be Stephen Epstein's 2000 article 'Anarchy in the UK, Solidarity in the ROK: Punk Rock Comes to Korea'. It's a lengthy article, but well worth a read if you have any interest in this subject. Eptstein notes that many of the interviews are culled from footage shot for a documentary, released in 2001, called 'Our Nation: a Korean Punk Rock Community', which he made with UCLA folklorist Tim Tangherlini (an article about Epstein and his reasons for making the film appeared in the Korea Herald at the time).

I'd love to see the documentary, but as this page tells us, it only seems available to institutions, for prices well beyond what an individual would want to spend. If anyone is going to be at Seoul Selection tonight, where Stephen Epstein is giving a book reading, perhaps they could ask him about other possible ways to view it.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Fate of the Pants Droppers

Another court related story...

After detailing the scandal that occurred when two musicians dropped their pants on a live MBC music show (and all the abuse hurled at the musicians, the indie music scene, and MBC by politicians, netizens, and the media), the story has come to an end (and only two months after it began - the courts are pretty fast here, at least in this case).

As the Marmot reported two weeks ago, prosecutors were asking for prison terms of two years and one year, six months for the two members of the band Couch who dropped their pants. Happily, today the Joongang Ilbo reported, in an article titled "Rude rockers get suspended sentences for raunchy stunt", (which may win an alliteration award) that
Seoul Southern District Court said yesterday that Shin Hyun-bum and Oh Chang-rae, musicians from an underground punk band called The Couch who exposed their genitals during a live MBC broadcast in July, received a 10-month suspended sentence and an eight-month suspended sentence, respectively, both with a two year probation.
It's nice to see this come to a happy end. The court also thought their time in holding cells was sufficient enough to cause reflection.

MBC, however, still manages to piss its viewers off, this time by showing, repeatedly and in slow motion, "gory accident images".

Re-examining the Past Too.

Update 2:

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea said yesterday (Nov. 15) that legislation is needed to remove any statute of limitations that bars prosecution of state-sponsored rights abuses of the past.


On a closely related note, the Seoul High Court ordered the prosecution's files on KAL858 bombing opened after a suit by a victims' families association.

Two days ago the Chosun Ilbo had an article entitled "
New Reform-Minded Supreme Court Chief Sworn In
", which had this to say:
Lee Yong-hun was sworn in as the 14th chief justice of the Supreme Court on Monday. At his inauguration ceremony, the man widely expected to head reform of the traditionally conservative institution said, “In the decades of dictatorship and authoritarian regimes, the judiciary has not maintained its independence from political pressures nor served as the last stronghold of human rights protection. All jurists deplore the concerns and scars we have caused the Korean public.” [...]

Lee also expressed an intention to admit in whatever form that key decisions by the court -- examples include the discredited death sentence for innocent people in an incident known as the People's Revolutionary Party Incident in 1975 [pictured above] -- were miscarriages of justice. “Above all, it needs the courage to confess past mistakes frankly to restore lost public confidence in the judiciary,” Lee said.
Anyone wondering whether this meant that the courts would begin re-examining their past (like the Defense Ministry and the National Intelligence Service) didn't have to wait long to find out. Two days after Lee's inauguration, today's Chosun Ilbo gave us an article, titled "Courts Start Sifting Through Ignoble Past":
Court officials said Wednesday courts nationwide were ordered to collect several tens of thousands of rulings and trial records on security-related cases under Korea’s authoritarian governments. Courts have been told to prioritize rulings made between 1972 and 1988 with words in the title or text like “democracy”, “dictatorship”, “National Security Law” and “Molotov cocktails”.
Not everyone within the courts agrees with this however:
Some judges resist a drive they say could hurt the judiciary’s independence, but others say it comes not a moment too soon. The dissenting judges argue it is impossible to decide who would have the authority to revise rulings by judges who are considered individual constitutional bodies, and warn the effort could undermine judges’ trial authority.
The other examinations into the past by the NIS and Defense Ministry would appear to be fact finding missions, with little (at this point) intention of pressing charges or punishing those who carried out government sanctioned torture or murder. They also have had rather specific cases in mind, unlike the wide-ranging criteria involved in this judicial probe. Also, statements like "admit in whatever form that key decisions by the court were miscarriages of justice" are somewhat vague but could suggest overturning past rulings. I wonder if there is a legal framework that allows them to do this (especially on such a mass scale), or whether the legislative wing of the government will have to get involved. I also wonder if such wide ranging criteria for inclusion into the probe will make it a rather large undertaking - and just who will be expected to do the extra work. I imagine, beyond the judges who were complaining, that there will be a lot of clerks and whatnot complaining bitterly about having so much more work to do...

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Kwangju Narratives in Different Media

In the book Contentious Kwangju: The May 18 Uprising in Korea's Past and Present, there's an interesting essay by Don Baker titled "Victims and Heroes: Competing Visions of May 18". For the curious, Baker was in Kwangju the day after the military retook the city, and the story of his escape from the city, along with Linda Lewis, appears in her book Laying Claim to the Memory of May. (A quick update - in his review of this book, Baker refers to his connection to the city).

At any rate, Baker's essay is influenced by Paul Cohen's book History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth, which distinguishes between the reconstructions of events by historians, contemporary accounts, and, as Baker describes it, the "perspective generated by the significance ascribed to [an] event." He continues:
When later generations draw lessons from a significant historical event...they change the way that event is viewed and discussed. Cohen calls this third perspective, refashioning the past to meet the needs of the present, the construction of a "myth"... [T]he mythical retelling of an event is designed not so much to relate what actually occurred as it is to encourage certain sentiments, arouse certain emotions, serve certain political functions, or fulfill certain psychological needs.
He goes on to describe how such myths isolate or focus on certain aspects of an event, and uses this framework to look at how popular narratives of the Kwangju Uprising in different media illuminate either the tragedy of the victims, or the heroism of those who rose up against those who brutalized them. Those narratives published in the years directly after the uprising (mostly short stories or poems) tended to focus on the victims, while some later narratives focussed on heroism of the uprising.

This essay is well worth reading (in fact, the entire book is), but the reason I'm going into a discussion of it here is that Baker's description of these short stories made me aware of their existence and prompted me to look for English translations of them on the internet. I managed to find a number of them, and so link to them I do.

Kim Jun-tae's 1980 poem Kwangju, Cross of Our Nation, was published soon after the uprising occurred; he was dismissed from his high school teaching post for publishing this poem (another translation can be found here). That's a picture of the poem as it was published in the Jeonnam Maeil Sinmun at the top of this post.

Im Cheol-woo's Spring Day (1984), about a character who feels guilty over his friend's death during the uprising, can be found here, while another story involving Kwangju by Im Cheol-woo, A Shared Journey, can be found here (scroll down to the very bottom).

Choi Yun's There a Petal Silently Falls (Part 1 ; Part 2) was the novella upon which Jang Sun-woo's 1996 film 'A Petal' was based.

Kong Son-ok's short story Parched Season (1993), depicts the lives of marginalized figures who are survivors of the Kwangju Uprising.

Parched Season and Spring Day (and 3 other stories about the Korean War) are discussed in the essay Remembering Trauma: History and Counter-Memories in Korean Fiction by Susie Jie Young Kim.

On the topic of visual depictions of the uprising, Hong Seong-dam's woodblock prints can be found here. Hong made most of the prints shortly after the uprising. In 1989 he was arrested under the National Security Law and sentenced to 7 years in prison, of which he served three. Hong's main offense was to have sent to Pyongyang, North Korea a photographic slide of a large mural that he had painted. He discusses the torture he underwent in prison near the bottom of this page.

Numerous Photos of the uprising can be found here, while documentary footage can be downloaded here (about 2/3 down there are 3 files listed; click on 영상1, 2, or 3 or right click and 'save as' to save. I believe the first file is a music video which contains footage from the second and third files).

Baker's essay mentions that in some cases, as the idea of who the victims were evolved, certain narratives considered the soldiers to be victims as well, as they were forced to carry out such violence. The protagonist of the film Peppermint Candy is portrayed as a person devastated by his role in the violence, for example. A 200 page manhwa (comic book) I picked up in Kwangju during the 25th anniversary of the uprising has none of this, however; the soldiers are depicted as the embodiment of pure evil, such as in the photos below, one of which depicts a soldier stripping a teenage girl (which was common practice for prisoners of either sex), and later, raping her.

This girl, whose name, Jo Hyeon-jeong, is clearly pointed out, isn't just meant to represent one of many victims; the comic depicts what happened to specific people. This makes clear that people in Kwangju, and the narratives that continue to be produced there, view what happened in much more personal terms than those from other regions of the country, for obvious reasons. When I watched high school students re-enact the shootings of May 21, two of the students I talked to told me proudly that their fathers had taken part in the uprising. The event's relationship with the city it occurred in is something Linda Lewis discusses a great deal in her book, a book I recommend most highly.

There are at least 6 or 7 documentaries (in Korean) about Kwangju on emule. Try searching for 518, 광주, or 5-18 and they should turn up. Some have contemporary footage, while others have interviews with surviving citizen's army members, former paratroopers, and foreign journalists.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Psychedelic Sounds

Update: Antti found the site linked to below quite some time ago. Also, a recent article on Patti Kim makes reference to her debut in 1959 on stage at a US Army base.

I pulled out some Sanulim cds that I bought last year and as I was listening to them again, decided to try to more information on the band. Luckily, I came across a link to a great site about Korean psychedelia and folk from the 60s and 70s, which has a biography of the band. I was shocked to learn that once upon a time, in 1977, Sanulim sold 500,000 copies of its first album, which is full of stripped-down, fuzzed-out guitar rock. The band only enjoyed this popularity for a short time, before 'dance music' became popular, but the idea that a band like Sanulim was popular seems almost inconceivable in this age of idols and manufactured, disposable pop bands. The thing about Sanulim was that they didn't sound like anyone else at the time - the site says critics said they sounded like they 'dropped out of the sky'. A diagram, followed by commentary, explained this:

The 1970s Korean music scene was divided into two parts. One is the Group sound (Rock band style) based on the US army stage circuit and the other is the folk sound base on Myung-Dong club. The goal of the former is a superb performance (technical skill and accurate copying ability of western classic rock numbers) while the latter had much more importance in personal expression. But both of them had the common point that the craftsmans mind was strictly trained. But San Ul Rim’s music style didn’t belong anywhere (in these 2 parts).
Now, my first question was: "US army stage circuit?" I was really curious about the influence the USFK might have had on Korean rock music. Another page on this site had some more information, regarding the genealogy of a band called He5, a member of whom came from a band called the Key boys, which had
played some 'Package shows', under the name of the Lock & Key in the stages of the 8 th U.S army which settled in South Korea. Also they played at some new venues like 'Music listen Rooms', 'Live Music Salons', or the traditional ones like in Cinema.
[Cf. At that time the concert was held frequently in Cinema Houses. It was called as 'Cinema Show].

With these latter [venues] they were known to general 'Korean' public... (Cf. Because the stages in 8th Army of U.S. was for the Korean in the forbidden area for the evident reason of security. So generally a Korean group or artist who played there was a totally unknown figure to general Korean public).
It goes on to say that the Key Boys broke up (one member joined the Korean army's entertainment unit, which was sent to Vietnam) and He5 was formed by Wha-Yang Entertainment Inc, which managed several bands and picked guys from the different bands to be in this 'supergroup' (management and record companies putting together bands? Sounds familiar...). It also mentions that "Wha-Yang Entertainment Inc. was one of the enterprises who dealt with matters concerning the distribution of musicians and entertainers for the 8th Army of USA.- with Universal, Dae-Young, Dong IL." He5 apparently played often in Itaewon. The article says that their live shows were 'heavy and psychedelic' but that the record company wouldn't let them make such records in the studio. On the other hand, the Christmas Album with the 'psychedelic sound' pictured at the top of this post has a 13 minute version of 'Jingle Bells' mixed with 'In-a-gadda-da-vida', and my heart just breaks that the 'Listen' link is broken.

Now, I was vaguely aware of the Myeongdong folk music scene, as well as the history of Itaewon (mostly due to the article 'Itaewon as an Alien Space within the Nation-State and a Place in the Globalization Era'), but I knew nothing about the 8th Army touring circuit, so now I'm intrigued and want to learn more about the effect of the USFK on Korean rock'n'roll. The effect of the US military presence on Japanese and German popular culture is a little better documented, but I don't know how much this has been looked into regarding Korea.

Well, if a Chosun Ilbo article posted today is anything to go by, it would appear North Korea has been aware of the US army's effect on Korean music for some time now:
The U.S. military in South Korea spreads “Yankee culture and all sorts of social ills,” North Korea's state-controlled Pyongyang Broadcasting has claimed. In a program on Wednesday, the broadcaster ... blasted the USFK for spreading "decadent music," citing the corrupting influence of blues and rock and roll in the 1960s, soul in the 1970s, disco in the 1980s and rap in the 1990s.
Ironic I would read this article and discover this psychedelia site on the same day. One question I wonder about - how available was US/UK rock music in Korea in the 1960s and 1970s? Was the USFK the primary conduit for rock'n'roll in Korea, or was edgier American rock music available on Korean record store shelves at the time? Anyone know?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A Single Spark

Update: Oranckay commented on protest suicide and it's political use by the left and the right, and Antti introduced me to the Chun Tae-il Memorial Foundation website which has lots of photos and even a comic about Chun's life.

The Chosun Ilbo, in an article titled 'Seoul Immortalizes Single Spark that Changed a Nation', says that when Cheonggyecheon is fully restored on October 1st, Cheonggye6-ga, the street which runs north and south between Dongdaemun and Dongdaemun Stadium, will be renamed Chun Tae-il Street. It was on this street, on November 13 1970, in front of the Peace Market (a building full of sweatshops where he toiled as a garment worker), that 22 year-old Chun Tae-il immolated himself in a protest against the labour conditions he and his coworkers were subjected to. Sweatshops like these were densely packed into the markets around Cheongyecheon street:

The article has a fairly good account of Chun's life and the year or two that led up to his death. Perhaps worth noting that it was the Kyunghyang Ilbo which, on October 7, 1970, printed a story at the top of it's city section titled "16 Hours of Daily Labour in the Back Room", a story which gave Chun hope that the publicity would force the owner of the Peace Market to make changes. When this failed, and the labour inspectors failed to keep their promises, he decided to burn his copy of the Labour Standards Act; or that's what he told his friends. Feeling that there was no other way to bring attention to their plight, he had decided on a more radical course of action, one portrayed in the 1995 biographical film, A Single Spark:

The Chosun article has a photo pointing out where he 'died'.

Well, actually, the spot, pointed out by the yellow circle, was where he fell, still covered in flames. He died 8 or 9 hours later after being sent to two hospitals. And 'Do not let my death be in vain' wasn't his last sentence either; he was conscious for several hours after having his entire body burned, and talked with his friends and mother for some time. As he hadn't eaten for two days, his final words were 'I'm hungry'. According to his biography, the reason he was so badly burned was that his body had been in flames for 3 minutes before anyone thought to put the fire out, so shocked were the people who had seen what had happened. It's a shock that has long since worn off, I think. In a time when self-immolation is still a reasonably common form of protest, it's hard to imagine a time when it was unheard of in Korea, when it could shock people so much they wouldn't think to put it out. While some might jump to blame Chun for starting it all in Korea, I think the blame falls more with the followers.

Within 3 days of Chun's death, several Seoul National University School of Law students had met with Chun's mother in order to take part in his funeral, and 400 held a demonstration. Another demonstration on November 20 led to SNU's indefinite closure, and the next day police arrested a student carrying a gasoline can. In short, it took 8 days for someone to attempt to do it again. That same day, Kim Dae-jung spoke out about Chun and months later Kim included Chun's name in his party's platform prior to the 1971 election (after which election Park Chung-hee declared martial law, before creating the new Yushin constitution in 1972). His name constantly appeared in the press, on the lips of politicians, religious leaders, and student activists. The manner of his death, and the fact that it brought the plight of these garment workers to national attention, almost guaranteed that others would use self-immolation as a form of protest, precisely because it had worked. What these other people who died by setting themselves alight didn't realize was that it was the shock of someone doing this for the first time that had worked, that had roused people into action (or more often, just words). Can you remember the name of another person who used the tactic?

And yet, one gets the feeling, reading a comment like "We Christians have come together not so much to grieve Chun Tae-il's death, but to lament over the apathy and hypocrisy of the churches of Korea," that Chun's name was being used by people to advance their own agendas. The fact that Chun was a Christian could be used by churches to help exaggerate their own importance, while of course the media just wanted to sell newspapers. Students had been protesting Park Chung-hee's 'heavy-handedness' and the extension of his rule (by amending the constitution in 1969, which allowed him to run for a third term in 1971), and it seems Chun's death was a great symbol of all that was wrong with Park's developmental dictatorship, which they seized upon within a matter of days.

Perhaps some of this sounds very similar to what happened to the deaths of Shim Hyo-sun and Shin Mi-seon in 2002, (with Park Chung-hee being targeted instead of the US military). Unlike the accident that killed these two girls, Chun's death didn't help a president get elected (or did it? Maybe one of these panels needs to turn its attention to the possible voting fraud in the 1971 election). If this sounds cynical, it's worth noting that these events cause both genuine anger and often see the rise of people who take advantage of this anger to advance their own causes.

Beyond Chun Tae-il and the girls killed in the 2002 accident, there have been several events where an 'unjust' death has changed the path of Korean history. The reaction to the death of Kim Ju-yeol, a high school student in Masan whose corpse was found floating in Masan harbour after a protest (with tear gas shell fragments embedded in his eye), was the final straw that pushed those angry with Syngman Rhee's fraudulent election onto the streets on April 19, 1960. After protesting crowds were fired on, leading to 192 deaths, Rhee was forced to step down (more info here). On June 9, 1987, Yonsei university student Lee Han-yeol was killed by shrapnel from a tear gas cannister which had exploded above him (in a month when 300,000 tear gas cannisters were fired by police). His death (helped perhaps by anger at Roh Tae-woo being given the presidential nomination the next day) helped propel more people into the streets, especially for a funeral procession where 1 million people marched from Yonsei University to city hall, where some forced their way to the roof and lowered the flag to half mast. On June 29th, Roh conceded to opposition demands for direct presidential elections and political reform. The Joongang Ilbo had an excellent article on Lee Han-yeol's death this past June.

While Chun Tae-il didn't bring about political change in the short term, Chun's protest did kick off the post-Korean War labour movement in Korea, even though martial law in October 1971, and the advent of the Yushin constitution forced it underground until 1979 (at which time the YH strike sparked off a series of events that led to Park Chung-hee's assassination). The movement had another burst of activity in 1980 (urged on this time by the Sabuk Strike), but was again held back by the Chun Doo-hwan regime, before finally kicking into gear in 1987.

It's been argued that the union activity after 1987 led to increases in wages that allowed people to be able to afford to buy more things, thus enlarging Korea's internal economy and leading not just to rampant consumerism but also to more and more people buying cars. Chun's immolation will have not only led to having a street named after him by a city that ignored the conditions which caused his suicidal protest (and having this chronicled by the Chosun Ilbo, a newspaper which likely never gave a shit about those same conditions when Chun was alive); it may have contributed to the traffic jams that will be found on this street every day.

(Most of the information here came from "A Single Spark: The Biography of Chun Tae-il", which is published by the Korea Democracy Foundation).

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Investigating the Past

I found an issue of the Korea Journal (from 2002) which has several essays about "Settling the Past". Anyone interested in this will find lots to read there.

At a press conference on Monday, the Defense Ministry announced that a truth commission will investigate some of the darker episodes that took place during the decades of military or dictatorial rule in Korea. Eight episodes will be investigated in two rounds of investigations.

In an article misleadingly titled 'Panel to investigate four past military incidents in '70s-'80s' (only four?) the Korea Herald reports that
The panel, "Truth Commission on Past Military Incidents" consisting of 12 members - 7 civilians and 5 Defense Ministry - was launched in May as part of efforts to shed light on unjust history, a key agenda of President Roh Moo-hyun's administration. The panel aims to investigate questionable deaths and abuse that occurred during the military dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s.

The chairman of the panel visited the Defense Security Command yesterday, which retains records of past military events. The DSC announced that "We will actively support the disclosure of reports that the Truth Commission Panel requests, in order to uncover the truth about past suspicions".
A Yonhap article titled 'Military to review brutal crackdown on 1980 pro-democracy revolt' adds this comment:
"We aim to clearly disclose before the public the past wrongdoing committed by the military so as to prevent the recurrence of such misconduct and lay the foundation for the military to receive greater public affection and confidence," said Lee Hae-dong, head of the panel.
(The Korean version of this article has a different photo than the one above - that of Chun Doo-hwan speaking as head of the Joint Investigation Headquarters, which was formed to investigate Park Chung-hee's murder - and from where he was able to maneuver his way into power). The Chosun Ilbo, in an article titled 'Defense Ministry to Review Gwangju, 1979 Coup', continues:
"We considered whether the incidents occurred in the process of the military intervening in politics and whether massive violations of human rights took place against civilians” when determining which incidents to investigate, a commission member said.

The first round of investigations will look into the rise of the Chun Doo-hwan regime, including the 1979 coup, the May 17, 1980 declaration of martial law and the May 18 democratic uprising in Gwangju the same year. It will also look into the Samcheong Re-education Program, the so-called "Nokhwa” or “greening” project of recruiting college activists, and the Silmi Island revolt.

The second round will look into the government's Oct. 27, 1980 clamp down on Korean Buddhists, the forced merger and closing of media companies and firing of journalists, military investigations of civilians during the Chun and Roh Tae-woo administrations, and suspicions of trumped-up spying charges against Koreans in Japan.
The Herald article provides further descriptions of a few of these incidents, like the 'Nokwa' project,
the alleged forced conscription of student activists by the former military regime led by President Chun Doo-hwan...Chun allegedly recruited around 1,100 students whom he considered dangerous to his regime between 1980 and 1984. They were brainwashed or forced to spy on other student activists or activist groups, and ordered to collect information about anti-state activities pursued by fellow students. The panel will probe into who led the conscription and how 6 students died in the process.

Another military abuse under investigation includes the so-called 'Samcheong' incident in which the government arrested around 60,755 alleged criminals in 1981, in the name of uprooting disorderly elements from society. These people were forced into labor, assault and suffered human rights violations. Around 54 people are known to have died in the process, but human rights committees suspect the death toll is much higher.
Of the Silmido incident, (which is well known due to the second most successful film in Korean history being based on it) the Herald tells us that "the panel will attempt to identify the secret agents and uncover the process of their recruitment and where their bodies are buried."

Though the focus on Kwangju will be to determine who gave the order to fire, the Chosun Ilbo article ends by telling us that
The incidents involving the Chun Doo-hwan regime could prove a hard nut to crack. In the case of the bloody crackdown in Gwangju, hearings on the matter in 1988 failed to establish who gave the order to fire, and if those involved continue to keep their mouths shut, the probe could hit a brick wall.

The truth commission also lacks the authority to force figures to appear for questioning and will thus find it hard to investigate key figures in Chun's "New Military Group."
This website has some information about the 1988 hearings on Kwangju:
In August 1988, opposition legislators managed to form the Special Investigative Committee of the May 18 Kwangju Pro-democracy Campaign within the National Assembly, to conduct an inquiry into the government cover-ups. The committee found that 77 of the officers who had led the crackdown against the uprising had been decorated.

In 1989, the National Assembly investigations into the Kwangju uprising took place on a full scale when the hearings of the Special Investigative Committee opened in the spring. The victims of the military crackdown and the army officers involved were summoned for testimony. Their testimony was televised, live. The army officers had become senior officials in the government. Chun Doo-hwan was also summoned, and he testified on December 31. Due to its limited powers, the Committee could only publicize the proceedings, not prosecute those responsible. Attempts to introduce laws to punish the perpetrators of the Kwangju massacre were unsuccessful due to the power of the ruling party in the National Assembly.
From the wording of the above paragraph, ("summoned for testimony") it sounds like the 1989 hearings did have the authority to call people to testify, even if they kept their mouths shut or lied on the stand (This book picks apart some of their testimony by comparing it with contemporary military records regarding Kwangju). This testimony and the existing documents were compiled into the 'Complete Collection Of Historical Records of The Kwangju May People's Uprising' (광주오월민중항쟁사료전집) back in 1990. So while this is not the first time Kwangju has been investigated, questions linger, especially considering Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo were not found guilty of murder during their 1996 trial. Existing evidence suggests that the orders were coming from the top, but there is no way to prove this. If they are actually hoping to answer the question of who gave the orders this time, when they failed to last time, you have to wonder why they made this commission more toothless than the previous one.

The other incidents should be investigated as well, expecially considering the numbers of people involved in the Samcheong and Nokwa cases, and the number of deaths that resulted. Of course, the Defense Ministry isn't the only government ministry investigating its past right now. The Yonhap article reminds us that
In a separate development, the National Intelligence Service began probing past questionable incidents involving its former agents [something it announced back in February]. The cases include the death of its former chief Kim Hyung-wook in 1979, the kidnapping of then opposition leader Kim Dae-jung in 1973, the mid-air disappearance of a Korean Air passenger jet in 1987 and the execution of eight student activists in 1974, only 20 hours after they were sentenced to death [which has become the basis for both a novel, and perhaps a future Park Chan-wook film].
(The related articles to the right of most of the above linked articles are well worth reading, especially regarding the investigation into the death of the former KCIA head.)

A lot of people were victimized in the historical events which are being investigated by the Defense Ministry and the NIS, and I imagine these people, or their families, might be relieved to see the names of their former torturers, or the names of those that caused their family member's deaths, brought to light. Not everyone agrees that this is a good idea, at least judging by the debate a post on this subject by the Lost Nomad has caused. I think it is, as these events have been hidden from the public for too long. Hell, it took a movie being made about Silmido to really bring that incident into the public eye, and the Defense ministry panel now wants to learn who the Silmido operatives were and where they were buried. Whether such documents exist after 34 years is another question entirely, and is another reason to hold these investigations now. The most recent events occurred 20 years ago, and waiting longer will just make it more likely that those who were making the decisions will no longer be around. Not that these people will necessarily talk now, but in 10 or 20 years it may not even be possible to try. Of course, considering how toothless these commissions seem to be, they may not even be able to accomplish some of the simpler tasks they've set out for themselves, especially if they have to rely on possibly nonexistent documents.

As a postcript, I should mention that there is another government commission reconsidering the past, which is referred to in this August 18th Joongang Ilbo article titled 'Two leaders of 1980 strike deemed freedom fighters':
On Monday a government commission made the controversial decision to recognize two leaders of a violent 1980 labor strike as freedom fighters. The two men, Lee Won-gap and Shin Gyeong, led a four-day miners' strike known as the Sabuk Incident. That strike, during which hundreds of miners briefly seized control of a Gangwon province town, is remembered as having launched nearly a decade of strikes under the military dictatorships of the 1980s.

"The Sabuk Incident started out as a labor strike, but because it was carried out under martial law, it can be seen as an act of resistance against the authoritarian regime," said a staffer for the Commission for Restoration of Honor and Compensation for Democratization Movement Activists.

The commission, which was launched in 2000, is charged with investigating the history of the pro-democracy movement since 1969, redeeming the reputations of activists who were unjustly charged with crimes and providing financial compensation when merited. The commission's nine members are appointed by the president, the National Assembly and the chief justice of the Supreme Court. To date, the commission has awarded 22.4 billion won ($22 million) in compensation.

Some observers have said extending its mandate seems more likely since President Roh's speech Monday, in which he called for changing the statutes of limitations for crimes committed by the government.
(Oranckay makes a mention of this call for the change in the statute of limitations here). While designating striking miners as freedom fighters may push the limits a little (but I'll agree with it, considering the influence of their struggle), I don't know what to make of the attempt to rehabilitate Kim Jae-gyu (Park Chung-hee's assassin) as a martyr for democracy. I'm not sure if being 'not as bad' as everyone else makes you a democratic martyr, especially when we have only Kim's word that this was his intention.