[KS] Re: KSR 2000-14: _Korean Politics_, by John Kie-chiang Oh
pak at HUMnet.UCLA.EDU
Sun Oct 8 19:17:43 EDT 2000
REPLY sends your message to the whole list
I noticed that my recent message was edited by the moderator who
added the phrase "new address and position" on my contact information
in big BLOCK letters, perhaps because I had earlier asked to
send the address change (and had some technical problems) and was put
on hold. Wonder if we should debate about editing vs. moderating the
message?:- Thank you anyway.
My more serious comments will address the book review of:
Korean Politics: The Quest for Democratization and Economic
Development, by John Kie-chiang Oh, (Cornell University Press, 1999),
by Norman Thorpe, Whitworth College.
Especially as I had earlier organized a conference on "The Origins of
Korean Democracy" with John Oh and myself as presenters at the Wilson
Center in Washington DC in July, I feel compelled to speak about the
issues of the "history and philosophical foundation of democracy" on
modern Korea which Thorpe explored.
For example, Thorpe begins with:
>How does a country that has no history of representative government,
and no philosophical foundation for it, establish a democracy?
And he adds:
> Generally speaking, the concept of democratic procedure is only five and
> a half decades old in Korea, which was ruled as a monarchy for centuries
> until it was annexed by Japan in 1910. When Korea was liberated from
> Japanese rule in 1945 at the end of World War II, and the occupying
> Americans pushed on it a democratic government, there was no democratic
> tradition to serve as a foundation.
I am afraid Thorpe is only partially right. Of course, he said
"generally speaking" but even under the Choson monarchy, the
Independence Club did in fact initiate and practice democratic
procedures. The democratic philosophy was also introduced by the
Christian church and newspapers such as The Independent, among
others. Very well-known but worth a mention.
Also, my own study, "An Ch'angho (1978-1938) and the Nationalist
Origins of Korean Democracy" reveals that the Korean independence
movement of the several decades before 1945 led by An Ch'angho was
essentially a democracy movement --- which importantly laid the
democratic foundation. For example, An Ch'angho created the first
Korean republican organization. Sinminhoe, in 1907 and wrote a series
of democratic constitutions for his revolutionary associations as
part of the anticolonial struggle. Also in terms of "representative
government" before the Liberation, one could highlight the
Provisional Government in Shanghai unified by An in 1919. It seems to
me that a lack of historical analysis of such significant "democratic
tradition" of modern Korea, i.e., the Korean nationalist movement, is
actually a critical weakness and lacuna in Oh's work.
> Nonetheless, Oh points out, Korea did have in its recent history the
> populist Tonghak concept of righteous people who would unite to correct
> wrongs perpetrated by unjust authorities.
> Overshadowing this protodemocratic belief system, however, was
> Korea's much longer tradition of authoritarian Confucian rule.
This was particularly problematized in the conference. Did Tonghak
as "protodemocratic belief system" actually have any concretely
modern democratic programs and reform proposals? Of course, Lew
Young Ick and others have suggested that the Tonghak's call for and
vision of the righteous government was still within the traditional
Confucian monarchy. Subseqeuntly, the Ch'ondogyo certainly played an
important role during the 3.1 movement but still the Chodogyo leaders
did not offer specifically modern democratic nation-building paradigm
or programs during this time.
In any case, I appreciate the book and the review. And there is much
that I like about Oh's book, which included the troubling past
of Park Chung Hee (which made the reader see how he evolved to
become a Machiavellian dictator) and thoughtful and
balanced descriptions of the political dramas in the past decades.
Well, just wanted to update some of the salient points of debate
which may be useful for further discussions on the subject of Korean
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