An Origin of Korean Discontent


A thought struck me as I was taking a shower before work this morning. With the renewal of tension along the North-South Korean border it’s a sharp reminder of the results of history, and what we’re looking at here, could be considered as one of the final plays in the game of the Great Powers. It, like so many skirmishes before, is taking place in a distant field which effects the lives of people so far away they don’t even look real. Well as one of these people I can assure you that it’s quite real.

Since Korea opened up to outside influence in the late nineteenth century, much like many other small kingdoms, was turned into a pawn in the chessboard of empire building. This process set Korea up to be misused and abused by forces outside their control, and today we are experiencing the continued results of this.

Unlike Ireland, which is also a product of imperialism, modern Korea is a result of the lobbying and gamesmanship which didn’t effect Ireland as it was already well entrenched in the British imperial model of manipulation and exploitation. The imperialism that changed Korea was quite different.

A pre-colonial 1851 map of Japan and Korea – note how little is known of the Korean coastline, compared with Japan. (image courtesy of antiqueprints.com)

Following the arrival of the Japanese (note: not a great power, more on this later) in Korea, and later reactions by the French and American navies on Korean territory, Korea gradually opened up its borders and allowed foreigners to enter Korea. Many came as diplomats, government officials, businessmen, and of course missionaries.

If you visit Seoul and spend some time close to Seoul City Hall, take a wander around the streets and occasionaly you’ll happen upon an old European styled building. Several are pre-Japanese rule and can give you a sample of how these new people began to shape a new Seoul with their influence.

Korea, and especially Seoul began to change rapidly. In fact some Irishmen were heavily involved in this enterprise, notably John McLeavy Brown who functioned as chief of Korea’s customs and as treasurer. While McLeavey Brown was functioning here it’s important to note the Japanese influence in Korea was on the increase.

I’ve read a few articles on this situation and for some reason they seem to point the finger at Japanese imperialism, but let’s not forget what year this was, and who McLeavy Brown was representing; he was the representative of the British Empire, not Great Britain or the UK, the British Empire, and this was a time when they were really the Empire.

Of course Britain was one of the Great Powers, the others of course were France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and to a lesser extent Italy. Britain, on the world stage, were by far the most significant entity by a large stretch. The British Empire had significant interests in the Far East, especially in China, but also trade with Japan and I can also assume with Korea.

One of the Empire’s biggest concerns was securing the safety of their Indian Empire which was constantly under threat due to the distance from London, but also from the encroachments by the Russian Empire to the north. Much of the eastern expansion of the Empire was to protect their key valuable south Asian empire. Due to this constant pressuring on the extremities of the British Empire, they established Port Hamilton on Komundo, which is between Yeosu and Jeju Island, in 1885. The base didn’t last long but there are still some remnants in the shape of a cemetery.

The Great Game – Russia and Britain at the turn of the twentieth century.

However, the British didn’t last long here despite the dangers from the Russians to the north in Vladivostok. As a means of establishing security and relieving the pressure on the Royal Navy which was significantly stretched in this area, an alliance were sought, and it was to Japan that the diplomats looked.  In 1902 the first Anglo-Japanese Alliance was signed in London.

Not only did this allow the British the security of an ally in very distant place, it also signified the rise of this up until then very small and provincial empire in the east. More importantly it was Japan’s first real foray into colonialism.

It seems to me that this alliance escapes mention, and that Japan’s first major colonial venture did not go unsupported, and was in fact guided and assisted by the greatest power in the world at that time, the British Empire. This was a period long before the United States came to power – itself busy with its own internal colonialism – and a time when China, a huge empire in its own right, was crumbling under the pressure of the Great Powers commercial expansion in its territories.

In fact the only power at the time capable of rivalling Britain was the German Empire, but this had grown disillusioned with colonialism and was concentrating on its own prominence in Europe. This was a very different Germany of course to one you may confuse with the Third Reich of World War 2 infamy. The other European powers, namely the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the French, and the Russians, were in notable decline by the beginning of the twentieth century.

With the signing of the Anglo-Japanese treaty, Britain essentially gave its blessing to any Japanese expansion that did not conflict with British interests. In 1906 the Japanese secured their prominence by defeating the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War. The Treaty of Portsmouth was Japan’s prize in this conflict, as well as a renegotiated alliance with Britain, which effectively guaranteed the Japanese complete and unhindered access to the Empire of Korea, which eventually led to Korea being annexed in 1910. With this Korea became another coin in the trading of nations which epitomised the colonial bargaining and pillage of the Great Powers.

Japanese soldiers near Incheon during the Japo-Russo War, 1904 (image courtesy of wikipedia)

Like Morocco and the rest of North Africa, modern day Cambodia and Laos, Nepal, Afghanistan, and so many more territories during that period, European colonial powers carved them up with a pen on a map and distributed them like pieces of cake. Korea’s real carving though would have to wait another forty years.

The dividing of the far east by colonial powers was a colourful affair. (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

To add insult to injury, Korea was again left to the mercy of the dividing pen at the end of World War 2. Korea was not liberated, nor did it win its independence, this was gifted with the collapse of the Japanese Empire in 1945, and this played an important factor in defining the nation’s future. Korea again was set as a buffer between the US and the newly arrived Soviets, who essentially moved the majority of their army from one side of the world to the other following the fall of Germany in a desperate attempt to prevent US hegemony on their Asian doorstep, and they achieved this.

Korean’s watched again as external forces dictated their immediate future, but this time their country was not occupied but it was divided in two. I think it can be safe to say that we know the outcome of this.

The demilitarised zone between North and South Korea.

In the twentieth century two events sealed the fate of this small peninsula. These events, despite the internal mechanisms which may have fought against them, came from outside Korea and were perpetrated by imperial powers. Today both North and South Korea rely heavily on the assistance of their major allies, while those who initially began the process of determining their fate over 100 years ago have relinquished their hegemony.

Much of their rhetoric can be traced to this, perhaps. South Korea insists on standing strong, determined not to let what it has fought hard to achieve be lost in conflict. South Korea has clearly learned its lessons from the past, and while of course now a wealthy nation with much influence in international affairs, has the military support of the United States behind it, the British Empire of our time.

North Korea is not without its lessons also. It’s anti imperialistic rhetoric will certainly ring clearly in the ears of those who live there, as I do not doubt that imperialism is a regular topic in history class. And we all watch as both rattle sabres again, demanding precedence but without much of an idea whether or not one will lunge.

Such is the way the world operates I suppose, but I think this history is worth considering when we try to understand the thinking by both nations at a difficult and tense time like this.

 

This is a rather rough account of my general thought – I don’t really have any further reading links other than the odd Wikipedia one which I used to confirm dates and treaty names. 

I Own My Phone


Haaark!

I own my phone. Congratulate me. Thank you.

For two years I paid my phone bill like a diligent citizen. Included on this was a monthly instalment that paid for the actual device. I couldn’t remember how much it was because when I bought it the salesman spoke very quickly, circled pieces of writing, and showed me a lot of pieces of paper, and all the time I just wanted him to give me the blasted thing so that I could go and touch it constantly. But today I checked my bill and low and behold the bill was a whopping 50,000 won less than normal. Of course this is splendid news for my pocket as I can now divert this sizeable sum to some other bill I struggle to pay every month.

Of course it’s my phone is only a glorified paperweight that I could arguably say I don’t need. In fact I’m very sure I don’t need it. But I do have it. So there. Anyway. It’s all mine now.

One thing though which has made my *ahem* life more interesting/better/exciting/or however you choose to describe it, has been the camera on my phone. For all the other things (with the exception of the twitter for those long lonely toilet breaks) there is nothing I value my phone more for. Anyone who follows me on the internet elsewhere (instagramtwittertumblr (which is basically my instagram feed), flickr) will know that I’m a little obsessive about photographs – but I’m lazy about it.

To celebrate my now 100% of my phone and my love of photographs, allow me to share with you a collection of some photographs which I’ve taken over the past two years with this simple (looking) device. Photographs span across six countries (Korea, Ireland, England, Japan, Thailand, and Malaysia) – I’ll do my best not to include too many sunsets!

(Hat tip to Craig Branch for getting me thinking about this post!)

 

(for some reason all my photographs won’t upload…maybe too many…but you get the idea!)

Osaka January 2011


Recently I spoiled myself and paid for a pro flickr account so that I can take full advantage of the service. I take a lot of photos and I’m always looking for somewhere to put them, and with the limit flickr has on 200 hundred photos, it kind of forces you into paying eventually, that is if you don’t know another service that’s free (please don’t suggest one in the comments section until at least a year from now).

With this, I’ve began to go through my various folders of photographs which I never got around to organising and sifting through. These are photos I’d always meant to go through, but for whatever reason they got the old reliable and famed long-fingered treatment that is my modus operandi.

This set I’ve posted was from my second proper trip to Japan (I have taken one more overnight trip back in 2005), when myself and Herself travelled over at New Year for four days. It was kind of a Christmas surprise present for Herself, although she kind of knew she was getting it, as she had never been to Japan and we had been talking about it for years.

Despite a brief scare the night before we left because Herself was in the process of being knocked around by a serious dose of flu, I dragged her out of the bed and we drove to the airport and flew over to Osaka. Dodging the quarantine scanners that are a regular sight at Korean and Japanese airports, we eventually found our hotel where herself took a quick nap. When she woke up we went straight out to eat, and even though Herself was struggling we eventually found a sushi restaurant and began to make short work of the contents of the rotating plates. After a couple of huge pieces of jellied eel, Herself never felt better and we were ready to take on Osaka!

 

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Osaka January 2011, a set on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
In December 2010, myself and my wife visited Osaka. We left Korea on December 31 and came back on January 3.

These are some of the photographs I took of the city.

Below are a couple of videos I have on youtube of my time there as well.

The A – Z of Korea


A is for anjou … anjou, oh anjou, I don’t really want to eat you because I’ve just had dinner and the idea of having to eat more really doesn’t make me want to stay drinking here. To add insult to injury, eating is cheating.

B is for booze … booze, yes booze. Korea is infamous for its alcohol consumption rate. Korea has one of the highest alcohol consumption rates in the OECD. You won’t here too many over in KNTO towers (or whatever the Korean tourism crowd is called now) sharing such interesting facts with you. What’s interesting about drink culture here is, even though there is so much alcohol consumed, drinking has so many social rules, it’s a wonder that anyone bothers with it at all.

C is for Corea … Korea gets its name from the Goryeo Dynasty apparently. The use of Korea or Corea is a relatively modern phenomenon though and is linked to the colonial period. However, before the Japanese ruled Korea, Korea was commonly referred to as Chosun after the dynastic rule at the time. Corea and Korea were used regularly before the turn of the twentieth century, but the ‘K’ apparently became standardised the more around the time that Japanese rule was enforced. The theory behind is so that Korea would appear behind Japan in international ordering. To some this might sound bizzare, but this is Asia folks and stuff like that matters, especially when you are supposed to be ruling them. However, the evidence to support an official Japanese dictate enforcing this is merely circumstantial for now. You’ll come across Corea quite a bit at international football games, and often you will hear some school students repeating what their primary school teacher has been preaching. You can read a good article about the Corea/Korea history here.

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A New Vocabulary


A new vocabulary is gradually being learned, a vocabulary of crisis. A very particular crisis. The tsunami and earthquake in Japan shattered the reactors of the Fukishima-Daichi nuclear power plant north of Tokyo on the country’s east coast. If you haven’t heard about this then perhaps you should change the channel on the television or read a different newspaper. With the damage to the plant came a universal threat to everyone, especially those closest to the power plant. Radiation, a slow and silent killer, has been seeping into the air and Pacific Ocean.

The fire at the Fukishima Daichi nuclear power plant which is contributing to the radiation leakage

 

With this crisis new words have been constantly reappearing in the media at a frequency I’m unfamiliar with. These are words that determine our understanding of the severity of the situation. Words like radionuclides, radioactive silver, iodine 131, milliseverts, containment, cesium 134 and cesium 137. These words carry very particular meanings and their existence in our lives carries very particular consequences. These words may appear understandable when directly translated, but their actual meaning relies on more than the best your Oxford English dictionary can muster. These words have been absent from our vocabularies thanks to our own ignorance.

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