Kpop in Between Tensions of Two Nations

I wanted to end this year’s blog with what sparked my interest in Korean history and culture in the first place, K-pop. South Korean pop music one of South Korea’s most significant export and currently breaking into the worldwide market and a surprisingly fast rate. I wanted to combine my love of K-pop with my love of Korean history; I wanted to explore a question that has been on my mind for quite a while. Why do Korean K-pop idols promote in Japan, learning, producing and singing in Japanese, performing long tours stationed in Japan? While there are many reasons idols, perform and promote in Japan, diplomatic reasons to strengthen Korean and Japan ties, promote a friendly relationship between the two countries but the wounds from Japan are pretty recent, the scars are still fresh, and the period of Japanese occupation still remembered in the minds of many. There is also censorship that occurs in Korea within certain broadcast companies that censor songs that have Japanese lyrics/words. SHINee member Jonghyun whose album, titled ‘Artist‘ which was released posthumously one of the songs on the album ‘Rewind‘ has been deemed inappropriate to put on broadcast because the lyrics contain the Japanese language. This is not the first time this has happened. As an outside looking inward with limited knowledge of the history, I still wonder, if the past is forgotten or are they trying to move forward?

During the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945) The Japanese forced their own culture onto the Korean peninsula, forcing Koreans to take Japanese names, worship at Japanese styled temples and learning Japanese. (Tudor) These while all a part of the colonial process to strip the colonized of their identity and culture to make them conform to their colonizers. Being forced to learn and speak Japanese, having their Korean name taken away and given a Japanese one instead is nothing short of traumatizing and stripping them of identity that is dearly needed in times of colonization. This dark time in both Korean and Japanese history had led to many years of tension between the two counties, due to dispute on the events that took place during the occupation. “Ties deteriorated again…. when South Korea undermined an agreement of 2015 that was supposed “finally and irreversibly” to have settled the thorniest dispute of all, over the “comfort women”(The Economist).  This does not seem to phase the Korean youth as “the young do not care as much about colonialism.” It is shown that young South Korean and Japanese view each other more favorable than the older generation and even the two countries’ politicians. (The Economist)

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Kpop BoyBand Big Bang

“K-pop entered Japan with the breakthrough of Korean singer Boa with her debut album “Listen to My Heart” which topped the Oricon Chart in 2002.”(Kozhakhmetova 37) This was the first time a Korean singer had topped the charts, and many companies later tried to follow and emulate the success in the Japanese market, “In BoA’s wake, Korean boy bands TVXQ and Big Bang achieved similar success.”(Mitchel) Now “According to Korean experts, Japan is the biggest overseas market for K-pop, and now it is expanding to Europe and America as well.“ (Kozhakhmetova 37) However, the Japanese nation seems to be hostile and disapproves the “Korean wave” as “ In August 2010 there was a six thousand people demonstration against Fuji TV because they were “airing too many Korean dramas.”(Kozhakhmetova 38) Korean artist now learns Japanese to cater to their Japanese audience; they create albums specifically in Japanese to easily breaking into the charts. Many idols groups stay for months at a time touring and performing in Japan instead of their home nation, while that may be due to their lack of popularity in Korea. It strikes me as strange and almost parallel to when Koreans were forced to learn Japanese under the rule of the Japanese. While there is not much force in the choice to learn and promote in Japanese, it is also surprising how little choice there is for many Korean idols when it comes to many aspects of their lives which the companies they are under strict control. There is a dark side to “Korean entertainment industry such as suicide, bribes and sex service.” (Kozhakhmetova 37)

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Kpop Girl Group Twice

While the two countries are tense and in dispute of facts and the Japanese population, for the most part, seems to reject the “Korean wave” while still consuming a lot of Korean entertainment. It makes one wonder why exactly do Idols promote in Japan given the history and the current hostility been the two countries. It could be to facilitate a friendly relationship despite the past but in reality, “the simple answer as to why K-pop groups go to Japan – there’s money to be made there!” (SBS)

Sources Used:
“Despite Diplomatic Rows, Japan and South Korea Are Growing Closer.” The Economist, 18 Jan. 2018,

Kozhakhmetova, Dinara. “Soft Power of Korean Popular Culture in Japan: K-Pop Avid Fandom in Tokyo.” Lund University Publications,

Patrick St. Michel. “How Korean Pop Conquered Japan.” The Atlantic, 13 Sept. 2011,

“SHINee JongHyun’s Song ‘Rewind’ Faces Broadcast Censorship Ban.” Kpopmap, 25 Jan. 2018,

Tudor, Daniel. Korea: The Impossible Country. Boston: Tuttle Pub, 2012.

“Why K-Pop Groups Go to Japan.” SBS PopAsia, 28 Mar. 2017,

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The Comfort Women of South Korea

The story and reality of Comfort women is a dark and hurtful past that haunts Korea to this day. The horrible product of war and foreign occupation. An innocent name for the horrors it bears 

Comfort women were founded during the Japanese occupation of Korea but later passed down and continued by U.S. soldiers who fought and were stationed in South Korea. South Korea was urged to supply prostitutes to U.S. soldiers and personnel, this lead to an influx of prostitutes; they would train these women in English and etiquette and have them stationed in the camptowns that popped up in response to the U.S. military bases. The South Korean government made it illegal to engage in the act of prostitution, but for some reason, this did not apply to camptowns. See as “Camptown prostitution and related businesses on the Korean Peninsula contributed to nearly 25 percent of the Korean GNP”(Park) These brothels in camptowns near the “military bases [were labeled] as “special tourist businesses.”“(Park) This allowed the continuation of comfort women, prostitution, and sexual slavery to happen for so long from the end of the Korean war and continuing to this very day.

The Korean government did nothing to discourage in these practices that were harmful to women as they were sexually abused, exposed to sexually transmitted diseases and horrible conditions. Their own government allied in forcing their female citizens into prostitution. These women were praised by their government as “dollar-earning patriots” or “true patriots.”(Choe) They were forced to register themselves, “As of 1962, more than 20,000 comfort women registered sexual satisfaction for 65,000 US soldiers.” (Lee)  The Korean government sponsored comfort women as a way to gain revenue from U.S. soldiers Park Chung-hee, leader of South Korea in the 1960s and 1970s, encouraged the sex industry to generate revenue. (Ghosh) It has been speculated that U.S. soldiers contributed one billion dollars to the South Korean economy.

Korean Women and U.S. Soldiers

The Korean government did nothing to discourage in these practices that were harmful to women as they were sexually abused, exposed to sexually transmitted diseases and horrible conditions. Their own government allied in forcing their female citizens into prostitution. These women were praised by their government as “dollar-earning patriots” or “true patriots.”(Choe) They were forced to register themselves, “As of 1962, more than 20,000 comfort women registered sexual satisfaction for 65,000 US soldiers.” (Lee)  The Korean government sponsored comfort women as a way to gain revenue from U.S. soldiers Park Chung-hee, leader of South Korea in the 1960s and 1970s, encouraged the sex industry to generate revenue. (Ghosh) It has been speculated that U.S. soldiers contributed one billion dollars to the South Korean economy.

Korean comfort women 1945 Okinawa, Japan

While some may say that the Comfort Women of the Japanese occupation and the Comfort Women used by the U.S. military are not exactly the same, they were at different times and under different conditions. I will agree, that they weren’t exactly the same, one was forced, and the other had more of a choice. But can one really call it a choice when most of the comfort women that served the U.S. military were uneducated and poverty stricken?  Encouraged by their government, called patriots, honored but in reality, these were women who did not have many options and often times were forced into or forced to stay in prostitution.

What I wonder is did these Americans soldier just see these brothels for what they were or did they chose to turn a blind eye like the Korean government as it benefitted their needs? Was their use of brothels that were illegal but at the same time legal have any connection of their perception of the orient? Did their continue used of brothels, juicy bars, and prostitutes have links with the misconception of the submissive and exotic oriental woman? The way the use of comfort women, was encouraged by may be seen as the orient not speaking for themselves, letting the occident speak for them. Korea was not the economic power that it is today it was significantly weakened by the Korean war; the United States was a newly named superpower. Western ideals overpowered the conservative ideals and culture of Korea and allowed for prostitution to be encouraged and profited off of.

Women in an American Camptown in 1971

Could the blind eye to prostitution(the oldest trade in the world), sexual abuse and human trafficking be because of the relationship between the orient and the occident?

Additional Reading:

My body was not mine, but the US military’s

South Korea: A Thriving Sex Industry In A Powerful, Wealthy Super-State

Sources Used:

Choe, Sang-Hun. “Ex-Prostitutes Say South Korea and U.S. Enabled Sex Trade Near Bases.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia, 7 Jan. 2009, Accessed 8 Dec. 2017.

Ghosh, Palash. “South Korea: A Thriving Sex Industry In A Powerful, Wealthy Super-State.” International Business Times, Accessed 8 Dec. 2017.

Lee, Young Hoon. “그날 나는 왜 그렇게 말하였던가 (Why did I say so in that day).” NewDaily, 1 June 2009, Accessed 8 Dec. 2017.

Pae, Christine. “In Remembrance of Wartime “Comfort Women” | Reflections.” Yale University, Accessed 8 Dec. 2017.

Park, Soo-Mee. “Former Sex Workers in Fight for Compensation.” JoongAng Ilbo, Accessed 8 Dec. 2017.

Said, Edward. “Introduction.” In Orientalism. Pantheon, 1978.

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Invisible Women

Women are often invisible in the narrative of history, not that they weren’t there, but their stories weren’t told, or their contributions downplayed or outright stolen. Women in many different societies have been forced to take the back seat, to be pushed out of society and erased from history, gender has always been a way of division among societies and like any other Korea was no exception. Women of Korea of late Joseon were invisible they had no name, no identity. The rules of society confined them.

Korean women had no names in the late Joseon empire they were often “called by their kin relation, mother auntie, grandmother, etc.” (Kim 274) “Blanks” mother, “blanks” wife, etc. this was how they were identified, Joseon women were not their own person, but a property or possession of another. A name is an identity and Korean women at this time period had no identity. This namelessness was so ingrained into Joseon society that even men did not understand the need and value of a woman’s name, creating a woman’s identity and individualism. “If you ask a Korean man the name of his wife he will not understand you at all.” (Kim 274) Individualism is a foreign topic to Asian societies that are driven by Confucianism, where it is the collective that is important not the individual.

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Women wearing Sseugae chima to cover face while in public

Neo Confucianism made a hierarchy that became the formal and the informal law of the land. Women were inferior to their father as children are under their parents in the hierarchy and when a woman was married off, she becomes inferior to her husband as husbands were higher up on the hierarchy than wives. This hierarchy formed a subordinate mindset and custom, Women had to serve their father or husband, be obedient, supportive, to give birth to a son to continue the line, and not have a voice, this, in turn, lead them to not having a name. “By late Choson women became “nameless entitles” being referred to as “the wife of” or as the “mother of (sons name)” (Seth 162)

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Joseon Husband and Wife

The neo Confucianism ideals made it so that women were second-class citizens no matter their class status they would always be inferior to the men in their lives, “The Korean woman is a slave in the full sense of this word…. who does not have her own name!” (Kim 274) Men and women were segregated in almost all aspects of life, they were subjected to harsh laws that only applied to women, chastity, virtue, obedience, and faithfulness were all expected of women along with avoidance of the seven sins or seven grounds of divorce. Where women could not get a divorce by males could, also women were not allowed to take another husband after being widowed but many could remarry as many times as they wanted and even take second wives. (Seth)

The taking away of a name can strip a person of their identity and culture and maybe even their humanity it turns a person into a thing, an object one that can be used and abused and one that does not have a voice, are seen as lesser as not human but as other. Women in many societies and the Joseon society were seen as other and lesser, gender used as means to segregate and suppress, and restrict the female population, to shape women in the way, men, though they ought to be, not seen, not heard, objects, invisible.

Sources Used:

Kim, Sun Joo. The Northern Region of Korea: History, Identity & Culture. 2010.

Seth, Michael J. A History of Korea: From Antiquity to the Present. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2011.

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Collobrators of Empire

Before the fight for independence, there was complacency from the elites, who were reluctant to give up the power they amassed at the hands of colonizers. Different classes have different experiences and relations with/in an empire. Class was ingrained in Joseon culture; there were various ranks of class in Joseon society, this was all but destroyed after Japanese victory over China which “Coincided with the official ending of the Joseon social structure based on yangban, jungin, sangmin, and cheonmin classes.” (Tudor 19), Yangban the highest social class those who were of this class were awarded land and titles, Jungin the middles social class of those who carried professions like doctors, Sangmin called the “ordinary workers” mostly farmers and Cheonmin the lowest class of peasants and slaves. There were those who held power and those who did not. There was “a process of brutal colonization culminated in the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1910”, (Tudor 19) but the Japanese did not do it alone.

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Japan-Korea Treaty of 1910
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Joseon Noblemen

“Korean collaborators, who ranged from ex-Joseon officials and landowners in the governor-general’s pay to people from lower classes who took work in the police or as informers.” (Tudor 19) While not only were the elites of Korea reaping benefits by helping the Japanese, those of lower classes also practiced in an act called social control. All the while Korean women were taken as sex slaves, Korean men were forced to work as laborers under harsh conditions, Korean born people were given Japanese names and forced to learn and speak Japanese it and worship the Japanese religion. (Tudor) it was an attempt at erasure of culture.

“The collaborators at the top — the high-ranking Korean officials who forced the emperor to hand over Korea’s sovereignty to Imperial Japan — actively sold out their country for their personal gain, condemning Koreans to 36 years of mass murder of independence activists, forced labor in war efforts leading to millions dead and injured, systemic rape of hundreds of thousands of women and live human experiments of biological and chemical weapons. The collaborators at the bottom — the low-level Korean officers for Imperial Japan — acted as the eyes, hands and feet of Imperial Japan that brutally oppressed their fellow Koreans, again for their own personal gain.” (Ask a Korean)

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Last Royal Family of Korea, Yi Dynasty

Ex-Joseon officials had power and wealth before and after Japanese colonization; these Ex-Joseon officials were ministers. Landowners, consul to the monarchy, they had wealth and power, while many may have lost their land and wealth there were those who remained with it due to aligning themselves with Japanese control. “After the loss of national sovereignty, as the collaborators lived as parasites of imperial Japan while oppressing and manipulating their own countrymen.” (Chung)

While “Many Koreans quite naturally took the path of least resistance” (Large 227) one that would offer them comfort and shelter from the brutal colonization of their nation. Many Koreans who did not have the standing to collaborate or would not collaborate with the Japanese felt the effects of the of the colonization of Korea. As those who side themselves with the colonizers reap benefits while those who resist are often discredited, reputation tarnish and more than often jailed and killed. Korean collaboration seemed to fuel Korean resistance, “the public animosity toward them move beyond mere sentiment and developed into action. “(Chung)

Like many other countries who have been invaded and colonized, Peru and the Spanish colonizers, India and the British colonizers, and Korea and Japanese colonizers as it has been shown before, the elites of each country collaborate and assimilate with their colonizers often for their own self-interest and comfort. While those who resist are people who do not benefit from colonization, those who are harmed by colonization and want a sovereign nation that is not exploited. It is often that the lower classes, commoners are the ones to resist and elites are reluctant to follow as commoners have little to lose and a lot to gain in resistance.

Sources Used:

Chung, Youn-Tae. “Refracted modernity and the issue of pro-Japanese collaborators in Korea.” Korea Journal 42.3 (2002): 18-18.

“The Korean on Pro-Japanese Collaborators.” Ask a Korean!, 11 Apr. 2012,

Large, Stephen S. Showa Japan: Political, Economic and Social History, 1926-1989. Routledge, 1998.

Tudor, Daniel. Korea: The Impossible Country. Tuttle Publishing, 2012.

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Unity in Language

The thought or hypotheses that Language is a partner to empire, empire to me is synonymous with power, therefore if language is the partner of empire, then language itself is powerful. Korean is one of the world’s oldest living languages. Korea a dynastic country with a royal family and a hierarchy founded in Confucianism, until its colonization by the Japanese in 1910. The most notable and most revered king throughout Korean history is King Sejong the Great.

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King Sejong, the Great of the Yi Dynasty (1392-1910), is known for facilitating the creation of Hangul the written language of Korea. While many other languages are not considered inventions, the Korean language, however, was created through the work of scholars. (Kim-Renaud 19) Despite this Koreans celebrate King Sejong as its creator.

“In the 15th century, King Sejong of Korea appointed a committee to assist him in designing a new script that would be well-suited to the country’s language, and usable by ordinary people. The committee did its work brilliantly, and produced the script that is known today as Hangul.” (Burling 1992, 404)

People not only call Sejong the great for founding the written language of Korea but for think of the people as well. Korea at the time like many other nations ruled by a monarchy is that there was a mass amount of commoners who were illiterate. At the time Korea had no written language of its own it used Hanja as its written language which was only accessible to the wealthy who could afford to educate themselves and their children, in the hierarchy rooted in Confucianism only those of a certain class and gender were able to go to schools and become educated. Seeing this Sejong wanted to make the written language of Korea a language that the ordinary people could use.

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In the 25th year of Sejong rule, the Korean alphabet was complete by 1443, The new written language that had 28 letters. At the time was called by the king “the correct sounds for the instruction of the people” (Kim-Renaud 15) Hangul as it is known today has 24 letters, 14 consonants, and 10 vowels.

By ordering the creation of a language the king help to unify the country under one language, strengthening its power and place in society, in Asia as it no longer borrowed China’s characters. It helps to solidify and legitimize the rule and power of Korea. In unity there is power.

Korea went through a long struggle with language throughout history, first using a borrowed language which “King Sejong noted that using Chinese characters for Korean was “like trying to fit a square handle into a round hole.”(economist) Secondly, the Korean language being banned under Chinese rule and then later Japanese rule. Because of the problematic past, the Korean language has had the Korean people are very proud of their language because of creation and meaning behind it. On October 9th South Korea celebrates the birth of Hangul, with a day off. South Korea known for its booming entertainment industry has even shown their appreciation and pride for the Korean language and Hangul in the form of using music to convey history. In a collaboration with comedians and artists, one that I would like to share that was a beautiful song but still had a more profound meaning behind it.


Sources Used:

Burling, Robbins. Patterns of Language: Structure, Variation, Change. Acad. P, 1992.

“How Was Hangul Invented?” The Economist, 8 Oct. 2013,

Kim-Renaud, Young-Key, editor. The Korean Alphabet: Its History and Structure. U of Hawai’i P, 1997.

Lewis, Jayne. ““Call me X”: Aimé Césaire’s A Tempest (1969).” Humanities Core, 15 Feb. 2018, University of California, Irvine. HIB 100. Lecture.

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Acculturation. I had first read this word during an assigned reading of Thomas Cummins for Humanities Core; I later heard it again the next day in a lecture given by Rachel O’Toole. But I did not expect to see it while researching for this blog post that was meant to take a look at the hierarchy that is shown through clothing specific traditional Korean clothing Hanbok. While looking for articles on hierarchy and Hanbok, I stumbled upon “The Process of Westernization: Adoption of Western-Style Dress by Korean Women, 1945-1962”, where the abstract talked about acculturation among Korean women as they transitioned from traditional hanbok to western style clothing. As it reminded me of the Andean people of colonial South America, and their transition between traditional Inca and Andean clothing to more Spanish and European influenced clothing. As the Oxford English Dictionary defines Acculturation as “Adoption of or adaptation to a different culture, esp. that of a colonizing, conquering, or majority group” and the article by Park which uses the Japanese colonization of Korea as the start of acculturation through the introduction of western clothing to Korea.

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While I do not know if Korea had as much of an emphasis on clothing and attire as the Inca did, they both used clothing as a way to portray the hierarchy in their society. Hanbok the traditional clothing of the Korean Peninsula In the Joseon Dynasty hierarchy was founded in Confucianism and enforced vigorously. Royalty over nobility over commoners over slaves; Men over Women. Everyone was born into a class, and upward mobility was almost impossible. People were not equal in this society, this was reflected in the clothing worn by each class.

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Hanbok now is not worn often or at all for everyday life in South Korea, replaced for more functional western style clothing. However, Hanbok is still worn for special occasions like weddings, funerals, first birthdays and other traditional celebratory events. But there has been a reemergence of Hanbok nowadays as fashion designers try to incorporate traditional Hanbok into more modern and western like clothing.

Traditional things can be updated, as Goethe said, to make a better future with enlarged elements of the past. I like Korean Roots, but they must be adapted to the Korean world of today… – Karl Lagerfeld

A culture is conforming to western culture and standards, while this is mostly due to the practicality of western clothing, it is an effort to revive a part of Korean culture which was declining to adapted to a modern world and western influences.

Of 21 women that lived in America but were born in Korea during the time when Hanbok was still worn daily mainly stated that there was a pressure to conform but also felt like it was liberating as western clothing was exciting and was less limited than Traditional Hanbok. (Park)

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But all the while, the decline of Hanbok in favor of western clothing was like one culture residing to be overtaken by another culture, while the culture is not lost it does not have the presence that it used to have. As some of the interviewed women said that “They regarded hanbok as a party dress rather than as Korean clothes.” (Park 46) And Young Koreans of today uses hanbok as an opportunity to take pictures for social media rather than use it to connect with their Korean identity, more like to cosplay. (Han)

Like the Andean people who chose to wear Spanish like clothing, Korean women choose to wear western clothing the Andean people carved their own identity out of a mixture of cultures, Koreans did the same. “The younger group of women is entirely at ease with western dress since they have been wearing it virtually all their lives. They regard it as their own.“ (Park 46)


Sources Used:

Works Cited

Han, Hyonjeong K. Couture Korea. 2017.

Park, Sunae, et al. “The Process of Westernization: Adoption of Western-Style Dress by Korean Women, 1945-1962.” Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, vol. 11, no. 3, 1 Mar. 1993, pp. 39-47.

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Rieul Fashion

North Korea

In this third installment of looking at the Korean peninsula as ruins of empire, I want to look at how the people of Korea specifically North Korea were the ruins of an empire. North Korea is still suffering from the effects of the Korean War. This look into North Korea’s people as ruins was inspired by the article from the New York Times of a North Korean soldier who defected and shocking revelation was found. A North Korean defector was seen trying to cross the DMZ in the “most dramatic” defecting in years with several 10 to 11 in parasitic worms in his intestines. The condition of the North Korean people can be and is considered a humanitarian crisis but what I want to look at is the past, the history behind how a country and its people were left in ruins and how this came to be.

An abandoned girl shown in file photo dated 26 September 1950 crying in the streets of Inchon, South Korea during the the Korean War 1950-1953. (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Abandoned in the rubble

The Korean war caused so much damage that some estimate that “the Korean War had done far more damage to the peninsula than World War 2 had done to the Europeans and Americans.” (Han 12) Damages as in loss of property, lives, separation of families. Near the end of the Korean war approximately three million, ten percent of the overall population was lost to the war. The majority of those killed were in the North. (Armstrong) North Korea, was even more devastated than the South and had little resources to rebuild. Soviet Union, China, and the Soviet-aligned countries of Eastern Europe and Mongolia, and East German all cooperated in sending aid and helping to restore North Korea. In 1962 North Korea was rebuilt. (Armstrong)

Pyongyang, 1953

During the rebuilding of North Korean, it was reported that “In the late 1950s North Korea’s growth rate of total industrial output (averaging 39% between 1953 and 1960) was probably the highest in the world.” (Armstrong). How can it be that a country once in ruins, raise up then once again fall into despair? Is it because of North Korea unstable foundations on tops of ruins or is it because of poor leadership. I stronger suspect it is the latter. North Korea’s paranoid, realist self-help policy and military-driven society, as well as lack of allies, may have a hand in its slow descent. North Korea’s rogue state like actions leaves it very little allies to depend on. The soviet union once North Korea’s ally collapsed due to economic issue also lead to North Korea’s entire economy descending into chaos. This also lead to the North Korean famine, poor leadership and corruption within the government lead to the worsening of the situation which cost many lives.

It seems like once again that poor leadership is at play again, once again the leader of North Korea is starving his citizens for the pursuit of military power, and advancement in nuclear weaponry. Hearing of the condition of the recent North Korean defector it makes me wonder how a country can treat their citizens like this. The conditions of these citizens are not the ruins of an empire any longer but seemingly the ruins of their own country as the leader’s failure to do right by their citizens.

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Kim Jong Un Supreme leader of North Korea


Sources Used:

Armstrong, Charles. “The Destruction and Reconstruction of North Korea, 1950 – 1960’1950-1960.” The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, Accessed 18 Nov. 2017.

Jong-Woo, Han. Power, Place, and State-Society Relations in Korea: Neo-Confucian and Geomantic Reconstruction of Developmental State and Democratization. Kindle edition, 2015.

Sang-Hun, Choe. “Surgery Reveals North Korean Defector Is Riddled With Parasitic Worms.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia, 17 Nov. 2017, Accessed 18 Nov. 2017.

Weissmann, Jordan. “How Kim Jong Il Starved North Korea.” The Atlantic, 19 Nov. 2017, Accessed 18 Nov. 2017.

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Ruins of Korea cont.

As a political science major with interest in politics around the world; I am always wondering about the political scene of countries and fascinated by corruption. In this continuation of the ruins of Korea, the people in power (political power) sparked my interest. How those in power also help to create ruins by causing the downfall of their “empire.”

Greed and corruption human traits that can cause so much harm to the innocent, is also the cause of the collapsing of empires. Many Korean people, those that held power at the time cooperated with the Japanese and helped with the colonization of Korea, “Japanese political control was implemented not only by Japanese administrators but with the help of large numbers of Korean collaborators who ranged from ex- Joseon officials and landowners in the governor-general’s pay to people from the lower classes who took work in the police or as informers.” (Tudor 19)

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Korean volunteers in the Imperial Japanese Army, January 1943

Corruption in government is something that seemly has always happened and of course, happens behind closed doors. In recent news, corruption in the case of Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, Donald Trump (and collusion with Russia?). There was also corruption and infighting in Rome which ultimately lead to its downfall. Trouble in its leadership/political sphere lead of barbarians dismantling one side of the Roman empire. Even in J.M. Coetzee’s, Waiting for the Barbarians there was a hint of corruption, agents of the Empire suspected the Magistrate of corruption.

A brief note on Japan’s occupation of Korea, “The 1905 Japan–Korea Protectorate Treaty turned Korea into Japanese protectorate and in 1910, Japan effectively annexed Korea by the Japan–Korea Annexation Treaty. Korea was controlled by Japan under a Governor-General of Korea until Japan’s unconditional surrender to the Allied Forces in 1945.”

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Japanese language being taught in Korean public schools

Corruption leads to ruins. The greed of those who wanted money, land, power, or at times safety from punishment/harm lead to a weakness that was exploited. Those officials, landowners, police, and informers may all have their different reasons for collaboration with the Japanese, but their collaboration and not resistance, their corruption lead to the colonization or their land and people. They helped to contribute to the suffering of their people from the cleansing of culture to the exploitation of labor and more. Corruption lead to the fall of the Joseon empire, and left behind were ruins. After Japan’s surrender to the Allied Forces in 1945, a fractured country split into two, occupied once more (for a little while) by the west (the Soviet Union and the United States). And for a time Korea was left in shambles, only knowing destruction, war, and loss.

Sources Used:

“The Koreas | Boundless World History.” Lumen Learning – Simple Book Production. n.d.

Tudor, Daniel. Korea: The Impossible Country. Boston: Tuttle Pub, 2012.

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The Ruins of Korea

As someone who is interested in Korean culture from its rich history of dynasties, traditional clothing, and music to the more modern culture in the form of technology, and the entertainment industry. (While I am not too fond of the food albeit this may be due to my own history of being a picky eater.) I wanted to connect what I have learned so far in Humanities Core to my interest in Korea. So I began to wonder how a country with a deep history of war between neighboring countries such as China and being colonized by the Japanese in 1910, and being destroyed at the start of the cold war, became the thriving country that it is today. I have many questions about how a nation so decimated, and with such lost could ever rebuild into what it is today. South Korea did not only rebuild but over time they surpassed the country that they used to be and became a more powerful nation.

I deem that a brief history of Korea is necessary. Korea was a ruin left behind by the Japanese empire after it was defeated in World War 2. “Japan annexed and then colonized Korea in 1910” (Han, 2015)

Groundbreaking ceremony of Gyeongbu Line at Busan, 1901
Opening of railway from Seoul to Busan

This led to the brutal colonization of Korea by the Japanese, in 1930 and early 1940’s women were taken as sex slaves and men forced into labor. The Japanese then forced their own culture onto the Korean peninsula, forcing Koreans to take Japanese names, worship at Japanese styled temples and more. (Tudor, 2012) After Japan’s rule and eventual defeat by the United States, Korea was torn apart by war, North against South, Democracy against Communism, West against East, the United States against the Soviet Union. Korea was a ruin left by empires but was able to have a swift economic development in less than half a century. (Han, 2015)

A woman and child wander among debris in Pyongyang, North Korea, after an air raid by U.S. planes, circa 1950. The war began on June 25, 1950, when the North Korean People's Army crossed the 38th parallel and easily overwhelmed South Korean forces in a surprise attack.
A woman and child wander among debris in Pyongyang, North Korea after air raids by U.S.

What sets South Korea apart from other countries destroyed by war that made it possible for the nation to be able to bounce back from its ruins and into a state that is worthy on the playing fields of other world powers?

Could this bounce back be the cause of pity for a destroyed nation? Orientalism? The United States fight for democracy over communism? Or the will of the South Korean people? While I am very sure that any South Korean person will assure you and I that it was the will of the South Korean people that brought them to where they are today; but it would be nice to explore all options.

Is it possible that the United States (the occident) felt the need to assist South Korea during the Korean war was mainly based on keeping communism out of the whole of Korea, the southern part of Korea? Or was this intervention a way to have control over a part of the Orient. Could there be underlying reasons like how the occident views and perceives the orient? “Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the orient.” (Said, pg 3) The United States intervened, fought in and showed dominance in the Korean War.

The 1st Cavalry in Korea, July 1950.
24th “Victory” Division

This can be connected to how it shows an imbalance of power between the orient and the occident. The occident has the mindset that they need to intervene and show the orient the “way” which at the time was democracy. In the western world democracy is deemed right and communism as evil, or even seen as barbaric, evil and backward while democracy is forward and modern. South Korea was seen as a county, an orient country that needed guidance or else it would fall into the grasp of the communist like the North did.

While this is only a small bit of what can be explored, there is so much more to explore in the case of South Korea and it’s rise to success in economic development, technological advances, and military power. It is a shame to end this here but hopefully, I am able to connect and explore empire and its ruins in not only Korea but other East Asian countries as well.

Sources Used:

Jong-Woo, Han. “Introduction.” In Power, Place, and State-Society Relations in Korea: Neo-Confucian and Geomantic Reconstruction of Developmental State and Democratization. Lexington Books, 2015. Kindle edition.

Said, Edward. “Introduction.” In Orientalism. Pantheon, 1978.

Tudor, Daniel. Korea: The Impossible Country. Boston: Tuttle Pub, 2012.

Images Used:

Mydans, Carl. “First U.S. infantry outfit to shed blood in the Korean war was the 24th “Victory” Division.” LIFE. 1950. LIFE Picture Collection.