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February 15, 2007

Comments

Jim

I'm already sold on this book. Kudos to Dr. Eckhart for tackling this subject. It's refreshing to see books like this released rather than more tired research on Nazi Germany.

So many university students are taught in detail about the state of Germany after WWI, and how the Nazi regime was fermented in that era. Unfortunately, many of them hardly get any substantial details on the nature of Japan's empire, if any education on Imperial Japan at all, save for "We beat them in WWII." They were just players in the imperial game, just like Britain and the US.

Granted there still were some prejudices in Japanese society in regards to Koreans, but they were nothing compared to, like you said, the British treatment of Africans, or the Americans' treatment of Filipinos.

As for the Korean nationalists, I can only imagine the huge stink they'll raise once they find out about this book. Especially if a mediocre little book like that "Bamboo Grove" story can get them frothing at the mouth.

Abiola

"Granted there still were some prejudices in Japanese society in regards to Koreans, but they were nothing compared to, like you said, the British treatment of Africans, or the Americans' treatment of Filipinos."

Exactly. The Korean-Japanese experience was much more like the relationship between, say, Old New Yorkers who socially looked down on Jewish "upstarts", than it had to do with the "Baas" or "Memsahib" image the word "colonialism" conjures. I've just finished a chapter describing the relationship between Korean enterprise and the Imperial Japanese war effort: it's shocking to read just how invested Koreans were in central planks of said effort like aircraft and ship construction - the Korean Shipbuilding and Engineering Corporation started out as Chosen Heavy Industries, funded mostly by Mitsubishi but with some Korean private investment - or to learn that Korean businessmen were personal investors in Japanese military mainstays like Kawasaki Heavy Industries. Indeed, Korean industrialists even set up of their own accord a Choson Aircraft Company to manufacture planes for kamikaze attacks. Korean and Japanese cooperation in the pursuit of war production (and profits) was extremely tight.

"As for the Korean nationalists, I can only imagine the huge stink they'll raise once they find out about this book"

Indeed, I await with trepidation the inevitable flood of negative reviews by people who wouldn't even recognize the book if they saw it.

gene berman

Somewhere knocking about my house is an old book about Korea--published about 1905 or thereabouts. I think I picked it up for a quarter or so back in the early '70s at a "garage" sale, because my wife was Korean.

It was years before I actually read it but it was surprising in several respects. First, it was written by an English missionary of some Protestant denomination. I don't remember whether the book said so or not--but it seemed as though the author had experience as a naval officer. A significant part was devoted to descriptions of harbor details but even more to many details of Japanese ships--merchant and military, including the movements, behavior, and routines of their crews, gun sizes and placement, etc.

One of the things that was also notable in the book was its attention to the role of women. At the time (and not much had changed when I was there), women did almost everything and the men nearly nothing. That, at least, seems to have changed.

My wife's parents were from Hong-Hae-Do in what is now North Korea. During the period of Japanese reign, they owned and operated the largest Chinese restaurant (40+ employees) in Korea--a place used much of the time as an unofficial HQ by Japanese Army officers. Apparently, relations were entirely cordial.

After WW II but before new war broke out, her father was able to liquidate all his assets and used the proceeds to get his family, including my future wife--4 at the time and a late-30s son by a prior marriage--to Seoul (and to buy an ROK lieutenancy for the son). He made several subsequent trips to remove other relatives but not all were willing to go. Once there, though, he became useless--drinking, gambling, playing chess, and abusive (though a constant, almost obsessive Bible-reader). From that point her mother became the family's support.

Their family name has always been somewhat a mystery to me. In English, it's spelled Yang (and pronounced Yong, as is another, very common name translating to "sheep" or "ram."). However, their name is signified by a quite different Chinese character, the same as the Chinese name translated in English, variously as Leung or Lleung and, in the explanation given me by someone, referring to an ancient (and perhaps legendary) place or kingdom somewhere in China. One other mystery.
I had an assistant (actually older and more qualified than I)--in the pathology lab--a Korean national employed by the Army. He once made the remark to me "It's really amazing, Berman, you come halfway around the world to find and marry another Jew." I once told this to my wife; her interpretation was simply that the natives of South Korea entertained an envy for the entrepreneurialism of the people of the region from which her parents hailed--much like southerners in the US and "Yankees." But I always wondered somewhat. Once he said something, Kim would never explain. He retreated behind "Confucius says a word to the wise is sufficient" and you simply couldn't draw him out further.

I have another, really great story of Kim and his "word to the wise" but I've been long and so will save it for another time.

Won Joon Choe

Jim wrote:

"As for the Korean nationalists, I can only imagine the huge stink they'll raise once they find out about this book. Especially if a mediocre little book like that 'Bamboo Grove' story can get them frothing at the mouth."

But Eckert's book is more than a decade old, and it is quite well-known in Korea. I suspect the lack of crazed, visceral reactions has to do with the nature of the work (complex and scholarly) and the status of the author (a Harvard professor with an unimpeachable track record of enlarging Korean studies there), among other things.

I agree with the thrust of Abiola's post that it is a recommended reading for delusional Korean nationalists. Perhaps even more of a required reading regarding Japan's intent and action regarding Korea is Peter Duus' The Abacus and the Sword.

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Notes for Readers