Thursday, July 01, 2010

Reunification, assimilation, and three-legged races

A few weeks ago I posted unification posters done by some of my students. In the comments, Ben Wagner noted the similarities between this poster...

We are one minjok (race/ethnicity/nation).

...and this colonial era poster calling for 내선일체 (naisen ittai, or 'Japan and Korea as one body'), which I posted here:

Read from left - (on shirts) 내,선 [Japan, Korea] (at bottom)
협력일치 세계복자 [Feel free to offer a translation]

A search for 통일포스터 turns up posters that are even more similar (see here), such as these:

Two dream of winning as being one.

Running together towards that day.

North and South together in the 2010 World Cup!

Three-legged races seem to be popular in both Japan and Korea, but it should be noted that the Korean posters do not specifically feature three-legged races, only similar stances or poses.

Any Korean friends I've mentioned this to have either noted that there are pretty large differences between the situation of North and South Korea now and the situation of Korea and Japan over 65 years ago, or have been dumbfounded by the assertion there could be similarities. I was told by the co-worker who nicely translated the Hanja in the poster above that it was a 'foreigner's point of view.' Perhaps it is, but let's take a look:

By the time Japan instituted the naisen ittai, or 'Japan and Korea as one body' policy in the late 1930s, it was at war with China, and wanted Koreans to assimilate and become Japanese (but without any sort of benefits like political representation) and were forced to learn in Japanese at school and forced to take part in Shinto ceremonies. The policy went even further as the Pacific War began, and soon Korean newspapers disappeared, Koreans were (pretty much) forced to take Japanese names, were conscripted into the army, etc, etc.

While this is seen as being very different from what is perceived would happen with reunification (as a friend put it, Korea could never be a part of Japan), there are some who seem to disagree. Gi-Wook Shin's Ethnic Nationalism in Korea quotes from the 1998 book Korea and Its Futures, by Roy Richard Grinker, who says that unification "can be a euphemism for conquest, a gloss for winning the war... and [a belief] that north Korea must be totally absorbed into the south, its state destroyed, and its people assimilated." [Shin, p. 187] That possibility doesn't sound like much fun for North Koreans, and it seems the knee-jerk assumption in the South is that unification is something that both sides want, and that of course the northerners would want to be under the southern system (though younger generations of southerners increasingly want to postpone unification due to the cost). What might make it a little clearer might be asking the question, "Would southerners want to unify under the control of Kim Jong-il and become part of the North Korean system?" The answer there (except for a comparatively few deluded souls) is most certainly no, though it doesn't seem to occur to anyone that northerners might feel the same way about a South Korea-dominated unification. They - like southerners today in regard to the north and Koreans more than 65 years ago in regard to Japan - might not be too keen on having little choice but to be assimilated into an alien economic and belief system.

While ethnic nationalism could certainly be used to bridge (glaring) differences between north and south when unification comes, the similarity between posters drawn by school children in the south and symbols found in Japanese propaganda* might suggest that a form of ethnic nationalism that touts the oneness of southerners and northerners could be seen by those on the losing end as just as chauvinistic as Japanese attempts at assimilation. If Japan's naisen ittai policy and North Korean plans for reunification are looked upon negatively, why shouldn't unification under South Korean dominance? It's doubtful such dominance would be uniquely beneficial. Considering the problems North Korean refugees have in adapting here, and the discrimination they face (especially lately), these fairy tale renderings of the unity and benevolence of those who share Korean blood might be useful in the short term, but in the long term a disconnect between rhetoric and reality seems likely.

In a related story, a story in the Korea Herald a month ago reveals that naturalized foreigners are taking Korean surnames, most of them preferring common ones such as Kim, Lee and Park.
From January 2009 until last month, 91 foreigners were permitted to change their surname to a Korean one in North Chungcheong Province, according to the Cheongju District Court yesterday. Of them, 81 were women, most of whom were immigrant wives, said court officials.[...]

Chinese-turned-Koreans generally kept their original names, only changing the pronunciation to Korean style. Former Vietnamese or Filipinos, mostly immigrant wives, often chose an existing Korean name which sounds most similar to their original name, said court officials.[...]

The number of foreigners applying to register their new Korean surname rose from 63 in 2008 to 156 last year.
It's interesting that this is being reported on so favorably, especially considering how bitterly Koreans remember being forced to change their names during the last 5 years of colonial rule. It should be noted that the migrants changing their names to Korean ones are sometimes doing so for reasons other than convenience:
Aura Aurel Abache, a Filipino who was naturalized as a Korean after marrying a Korean man in 1999, never expected her name to be a problem in living as a Korean. The housewife in Gokseong, South Jeolla Province, soon found that her Filipino name was too long, difficult, and her children were even made fun of by other kids at school for their mother's name.
This suggests that some people are changing their names for reasons that are not as cheerful as the first article might suggest. While this is by no means the same as Japan's deliberate policy to force Koreans to change their names (and is occurring in much smaller numbers), it still stands that some of these people are only changing their names to Korean ones because they feel forced to. You'd think this would set off alarm bells here, but then again, considering how little thought is put into the colonial period by the media (and I imagine, school textbooks) other than Korea = good, Japan = bad, I don't think it's that surprising that it doesn't.

* (not that its alone in that, as B.R. Myers has pointed out)


John said...

Nice post, good comparison

Anonymous said...

The third poster, which reads "하나이기를 꿈꾸는 둘" actually means "The two dreaming of being one." To be "The two dreaming of winning as one it would have to be, "하나로 이기기를 꿈꾸는 둘."

Excellent post, and I must say the similarities with the Japanese policy had never occurred to me, although of course I'm equally concerned that the average South Korean's perception of what reunification could mean socially could be a very dangerous thing if it ever came to it.

Unknown said...

Hello, first time commenter, nice blog, but I think this post is very incorrect.

First, to compare Japan's forced name-colonization of Korea with immigrants who chose to come to Korea (a nation 100% used to three-syllable names) is so funny. WHere are your posts of Asian or Mexican immigrants in US made fun of their native names, and therefore changing their names to English ones...?

Also, Korean homogeneity is a requirement for any possibility of a strong mutual wish to unificiation. North Korea is a failed Communist country, while South is a successful, rich country, so of course the successful country should lead the failed brother. To compare that with forced colonization of that is funny!

Anonymous said...

"North Korea is a failed Communist country, while South is a successful, rich country, so of course the successful country should lead the failed brother."

Ah, it all makes sense now. Kind of like the Japanese thought Korea was a backward-ass poor cousin and Japan a rich and prosperous older uncle. It only made sense to take over things for the bungling kinsman.

matt said...


Thanks for the correction. It might be fun to read this 1904 article and switch 'North Korea' with 'Korea' and 'China' with 'Russia.'


I'm not so sure about marriage immigrants "choosing" to come to Korea (that's who most of the people changing their names seem to be), and the fact that the Cambodian government has banned marriage to Korean men would suggest their unease with the marriage broker process. As for Korea being a "a nation 100% used to three-syllable names," I'm not sure where this leaves students of mine who have given names like 희, 솔, 선, 엘리엇, and 에스더, but then they're clearly not outsiders like many of the people changing their names.

And JSK has rightfully highlighted this quote:

North Korea is a failed Communist country, while South is a successful, rich country, so of course the successful country should lead the failed brother.

Thanks for that, as it makes the connection between Japanese colonialism and Korean reunification that much clearer. As JSK points out, that is exactly how Japan sold its takeover of Korea to the rest of the world. This article gives a slight taste of it, but the writing of pro-Japanese Americans like George Kennan (in essays like "Korea: A Degenerate State" (October 1905)) and George Trumbull Ladd (such as here or in this book) make even clearer the idea that Korea was hopelessly backward (or, a "failed... country") and that only Japan could help Koreans.

Unknown said...

Immigrants CHOOSE to come to Korea, just like Koreans choose to immigrate to US. No one forces them. If you are talking of marriage because of economic issues in Cambodia,etc, then that is a very different kind of "forcing."

ALso, Japan is not Korea. North Korea is Korean. Korea NEVER wanted to unify with Japan. North Korea people WANTS to unify to South Korea. It is an insult to compare the two.

Are you a left-center American? Have you been brainwashed by people from Jon-la-do? You are funny!

matt said...

They may 'choose' to come, (or do they?) but one wonders how much choice they have in staying once these 19 year old uneducated peasant girls arrive and meet their 40 year-old+ husbands. Mind you, that wasn't the really the point of the post, and I note you ignored my point about there being a fair number of Koreans who don't have 3 syllable names.

ALso, Japan is not Korea. North Korea is Korean. Korea NEVER wanted to unify with Japan. North Korea people WANTS to unify to South Korea. It is an insult to compare the two.

You might want to rethink that 'NEVER' bit:

"At last I have reached this conviction: The Koreans must forget that they are Koreans; they must become Japanese in flesh and blood, to the bone; and this is our only way of perpetual preservation. " - Yi Kwang-su, 1940.

This is the same person who wrote Korea's first modern literary theory, its first modern novel, and who wrote that "Koreans have been without a doubt a unitary ethnic nation (danil han minjok) in blood and culture for thousands of years" and "Koreans cannot but be Koreans… even when they use the language of a foreign nation, wear its clothes and follow its customs in order to become non-Korean." He also argued that "anyone who insults the nation must be denounced as a sinner against the nation." Odd that the man whose ideas about Koreans being 'one blood' are so important to Koreans today also wrote that Korea should become one with Japan.

Also, if Koreans are brothers and South Koreans want reunification, would they be willing to reunify under the control of North Korea and Kim Jong-il, or would South Koreans look at that in the same way they do at Japan's takeover of Korea?

As for funny, I thought your justification for the south 'leading' the 'failed' north which used the same language Japan used when taking over Korea 100 years ago was pretty amusing...

matt said...

Korea NEVER wanted to unify with Japan.

Well, Yi Kwangsu, who wrote the first modern Korean novel, the first modern literary theory, also wrote articles which greatly influenced how Koreans think of themselves as being "one blood" today, writing that "Koreans have been without a doubt a unitary ethnic nation (danil han minjok) in blood and culture for thousands of years" and "Koreans cannot but be Koreans… even when they use the language of a foreign nation, wear its clothes and follow its customs in order to become non-Korean." He also argued that "anyone who insults the nation must be denounced as a sinner against the nation."

And yet in 1940 he wrote, "The Koreans must forget that they are Koreans; they must become Japanese in flesh and blood, to the bone; and this is our only way of perpetual preservation. Under the new system, Korean writers and intellectuals have a threefold objective to pursue: Firstly they must have themselves Japanized; secondly they must devote themselves to have all other Koreans Japanized; and thirdly they must be warriors uplifting Japanese culture and spreading it the world over."

North Korea people WANTS to unify to South Korea.

Okay, let's turn that around. Would you agree that the South's brothers in North Korea should take the lead in unifying Korea, and that Kim Jong-il should be the leader of a unified Korea? Or would many South Koreans consider that to be as bad an idea as that of Japan ruling Korea? And if South Koreans don't like the idea of North Koreans ruling them, have you ever considered that North Koreans, while liking the idea of reunification, might not be too keen on Hyundai and Samsung coming in and taking over their country?

It is an insult to compare the two.

Which makes me wonder why you used the exact same justification for the South 'leading' the 'failed' North as Japan did when they said they would help guide poor backwards Korea and put it on the correct path 100 years ago. I think that's pretty funny, myself.

Anonymous said...

The name-change policy enacted in 1939 was officially voluntary although it is arguable how much pressure there was on Koreans to adopt Japanese names. About 90% of Koreans kept their Korean names, including General Hong Sa-ik, who served the Japanese government. This 1939 law reversed a 1911 statute forbidding Koreans to take Japanese names.

Unknown said...

your logic is incredible, i am amazed!

First: ignore your point about 3-syllable names? WHat do you mean? how about YOU ignored the fact that Korean names have traditionally almost always been 3 syllables? and that significant foreigner presence is very recent? Where is that in your complaints of Korean names systems?

also, you IGNORED my American examples of Asian and Mexican, etc immigrants being told to change their names to American. Is that Japanese style imperialization...or common sense? ha, now it's not so easy for you to say , right?

secondd: what is that article on vietnam to prove? Some koreans do radical things to make money, just like AMERICNAS!

third: oh congratulations! you pulled a quotation from a novelist....from 1940....after 30 years of Japanese murder, brutality, rape, and are right, that single quotation just PROVES Koreans agreed with Japanese anexation! Wow what great evidence!

foruth: What kind of Korean friends do you have, that you dont think NK is a failed, miserable country with famine, and SK a successful country, the envy of many? Becuase only young Koreans, brainwashed by the left centre, think NK is "innocent" against SK "beligrence". Are you really stupid to think that NK can rise by itself without the leadership of SK or (most likely future) China?

Ok, you dont seem so smart, so let me provide an AMerican context. I have been a fan of US history, and i know US had a civil war. THe South lost, the North LED the South, took away SLAVERY. Unlike NK (who wants unification), South did NOT want unification, but separation, yet North forced them.

is that like Japanese anexation of korea? is that like the murders, rape, destruction of Japan on Korea? Cmon i dare you to say it: the North's actions on South after your Civil War, is like Japan's actions on Korea. Make sure you say this to your friends, and then watch their faces: see their reactions! ha, who is the funny person now?

also, i am sorry for my spelling mistakes.

matt said...

You're making some incorrect assumptions about my nationality. Not everyone who speaks English is American, as you might figure out if you read one of the other posts on my front page.

One last thought - why would you want to reunify with a country that started a war that killed more Koreans than the Japanese ever did? While the Japanese were incredibly brutal in China, there was much less of that killing in Korea due to the fact that they fought no war to take Korea over (they basically just walked in and took over in 1904. The largest killings that occurred in Korea under the Japanese were the suppression of the Uibyeong, or righteous armies, from 1907-1910, and the suppression of the samil movement in 1919, with the high estimates in those cases (from the Korean side) being about 15,000 killed in each case. Compare that to the millions killed during the Korean War.

Unknown said...

hahhahhahaha you skip all my criticisms and try to change the topic!

Unknown said...

"why would you want to reunify with a country that started a war that killed more Koreans than the Japanese ever did?"


why not ask:

"why does abrahama lincoln want to forecfully unite the South? The Civil War killed more Americans than any war!"


matt said...

You're also missing the point that I'm not American, but whatever. The point you made was that the south (during the civil war), y'know, LOST a war. The north (Korea) has lost no war. So you're basically saying that the south should be allowed to take the north forcefully. Which North Koreans might not like so much (and South Koreans wouldn't like if the North did it to them). Forcefully incorporating the north into a reunified Korea might not make North Koreans very happy (as southerners wouldn't be if the north forcefully 'reunified' them). Do you not see how this is similar to how Koreans felt when Japan took them over (with the difference that Japan basically just walked into Korea without fighting a war against Korea (though it did have to defeat two Russian ships at Chemulpo))?

And my point about names was that Koreans do not '100%' have three syllable names, and I gave several examples (though my comment seems to have disappeared at the moment), and this non-three syllable name thing goes back to Eulji Mundeok at least...

Anonymous said...

Yeah, don't try to dodge those tough questions, you sneaky Canuck. Hahahahahahahaha. Looney Tunes doesn't seem to grasp why US immigrants changing their names the US Civil War are irrelevant to a Canadian living in Korea and blogging about people, places, and things Korean. Hohohohohoho.

Unknown said...

1. you ignore my other points. Such as: Do you think NK is not a failed Communist place, and SK successful? Do you think "Korea unification under SK successful democracy is a great goal" is same as Japanese actions?? Also, do you understand that 우리 위대한 장구님 is a calculating monster, and to say "You wouldnt want SK to be ruled by him, so why should you rule NK?" is so ridiculous, that you embarrass your brain into fleeing your head?

2. i dont remember saying SK should use war to regain NK. Where did i say that? I simply said SK, like NK, wants reunification. Preferably under SK's leadership. (Japan agrees, US agrees, even CANADA your country, agrees that Korea should be united under SK. Ask your Canadian brothers!)

YOU SAY; "why would u want to reunify? you had a war with them, i dont understand" ... yes, u dont understand, i agree.

3. I didnt say every single Korean in the 4000 plus history of Korea had 3 syllables. you are purposely insane. First, you post a Vietnamese link about a single Korean doing bad stuff for money, as if that is proving anything (want me to post article of a Canadian, your nationality, doing something bad to "prove" how bad Canada is? of course not, it is ridiculous). I simply said that Korea has a strong tradition of 3 syllable names, (in my life, I only knew one korean, he had just two syllables), that is why 3 syllable is so established.

소나기: if you come to Korea, expect pressure to change your name to korean (culturally homogenous, until recently). if you come to US or Canada, expect the same for English (and US, CD is multicultural!). if you live in Kazahkstan or Uganda, etc, expect the same. This i s reality.

matt said...

My brain is pretty embarrassed, all right...

Unknown said...

you have no response?

Ok, thanks for this nice debate. I hope you dont erase any comments here, so future people can see what we debated!

I like your blog!

matt said...

Uh... yeah.

Sonagi: Sorry, comments have kept appearing and disappearing on this post the past few days (hence my double post above). Just saw your first one above. Where are you getting the figure of 90% keeping their Korean names? I've read that a great many changed their names, and that Koreans needed Japanese names for civil service jobs, to get ration cards, etc, etc. Korea, Old and New: A History states that "over eighty-four percent of the population complied with this cruelly insensitive edict." I'd be interested to look into other, hopefully objective sources...