RAS-KB: The Blog

Lecture Video: Heaven and Hell: Buddhism, Confucianism, and Christianity in Chosŏn Korea

Time and again it is said that Buddhism was so much oppressed when a new dynasty took over in 1392 that it was forced to look for support among the less educated and less confucianized layers of society. This is a gross simplification and this view also obscures shifts in the balance between Buddhism and Confucianism and Catholicism which would affect religious configurations in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Boudewijn Walraven has been a professor of Korean Studies of Leiden University in The Netherlands and is currently attached to the Academy of East Asian Studies of Sungkyunkwan University.


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Lecture Video: South Korean Radio Programs in the 1970s

In Ch’oe Inhun’s linked novel of 1965, The Voice of the Governor General, the author connects Park Chung Hee’s nationalism and the 1965 Normalization Treaty with Japan to the nationalism of the Japanese colonial period by writing in the form of a radio broadcast. Harking back to Hirohito’s infamous radio announcement of Japan’s unconditional surrender and Korea’s liberation, Ch’oe suggests that postcolonial Korea had not really overcome the political and economic conditions of the colonial period. Ch’oe’s use of a radio broadcast also points to the ways the state used radio to discipline the masses into becoming responsible, dutiful citizens.

This presentation will explore the interesting documentary turn that takes place in early 70s Korean radio programming, especially in radio drama or radio theater. Along with programs that retranslated and rewrote classical tales and biographies, docudramas based on recent life stories became highly popular. What was this impulse for dramatizing and documenting and what effects did it produce? How did the radio reshape oral and written literature? How might mass media literary works have produced a space for a critique of the state? It will attempt to show that even in the midst of the state’s propaganda and censorship, the documentary turn in radio played with creating alternative truths and listening pleasures.

Prof. Jina Kim received a Ph.D. in Korean History and Literature from the University of Washington in 2006. She is currently Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies, Smith College, and Adjunct Professor, Korea University. She is the author of Urban Modernity in Colonial Korea and Taiwan (forthcoming), and numerous articles on mass media and literature in colonial and postcolonial Korea. At Korea University’s International Summer Campus she teaches courses on Literary Worlds and Modern East Asia.

Lecture Video: Resurrection City

Seoul is an urban-scale blank canvas, under a constant process of macro-sized upgrading. But for every two steps forward, one step must be taken backward, inconveniencing, relocating, and even sometimes killing citizens. In this lecture, we will examine that one step backward.

Urban renewal in Korea is like nowhere else in the world (beyond a handful of superficial similarities to neighbouring China and Japan). Large plots of land are cleared for "New City" megaprojects, with little thought to urban planning and sensible development. We will look closer at the phenomena created by this process, including moon villages (달동네), nail houses, and evictee movements and modes of resistance. There will also be a focus on the conflicting forces of demolition and preservation techniques, highlighting the sometimes-violent struggle between evictee groups and governments. Urban redevelopment cases discussed will involve Cheonggyecheon, Yongsan, Hongdae, and some of Korea's earliest apartment buildings. The presentation will mainly focus on the past ten years, with glimpses back into the distant past.

Jon Dunbar is an urban explorer who has been documenting urban renewal in Seoul and around Korea since 2007, visiting construction cranes and roofs, underground rivers and storm drains, and everything in between. He curates a database of 266 abandoned areas around Korea, which includes anything from large-scale abandoned neighbourhoods to abandoned amusement parks and various other places.

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Lecture: Mural of Mystery

Painted during the early Joseon Dynasty in 1476, the Amitabha Buddha triad mural in the Hall of Supreme Bliss at Muwi-sa in Jeollanam-do’s Gangjin County presents several puzzles. For one, it is clearly a continuation of the Amitabha Buddha “welcoming descent” genre popular during the Goryeo Dyanasty, despite the Joseon’s Neo-Confucian suppression of Buddhism. However, extant Goryeo paintings of this genre were small scrolls for use at believers’ deathbeds or private meditation in homes. Moreover, although the compositional style and color scheme of the Muwi-sa mural are generally like those of the Goryeo, they are different in some ways, chiefly in that the heads of the bodhisattvas flanking Amitabha Buddha are above his knees. This combination of continuity and change can be explained by the fact that there appear to have been Amitabha Buddha triad altar murals during the Goryeo which were destroyed in the 1590s by the Japanese, who took most Goryeo welcoming descent scrolls with them when they retreated from Korea. More importantly, recent scholarship has argued that some Buddhist ceremonies were supported by the early Joseon despite its general repression of the religion, including a ritual for the dead called suryuk performed at designated temples, of which Muwi-sa was one. Since the Amitabha Buddha welcoming descent genre depicted what believers wanted to see immediately after they died, it makes perfect sense that such an image would be painted over the altar at such a temple. The differences between the Muwi-sa mural and its Goryeo predecessors, particularly the position of the bodhisattvas’ heads above Amitabha Buddha’s knees, however, are still unexplained. This genre of painting no longer exists, but a descendent of it called the 'sweet dew painting' (gamnodo) can be found in Korean Buddhist temples today

Hal Swindall was born in the Bay Area of California in 1963. He received a PhD in comparative literature from UC Riverside in 1994, writing a dissertation on fin-de-siècle British, French and Italian novels and art criticism. He went to China to teach in 1994 and has taught at universities in Malaysia and Taiwan as well as China and Korea. Presently he teaches in the Department of Global Studies at Pusan National University. Although his main research interests continue to be in late 19c Europe, he has developed new ones, especially Buddhist and Daoist temples and their art.

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The Visual Georgraphy of the New Korea

A long time ago, in a Korea of another age, Seoul was a truly conservative, extremely reserved place where people didn't hold hands and certainly never hugged or kissed in public. But Korea has developed into a consumer economy based on choice, freedom and the ability to indulge one's carnal urges.
Today’s lecture will focus on a collection of images that conveys the hard-felt passions of the New Koreans, who are young-at-heart, more carefree, play hard, and expect some gratification now and not desires forever deferred. These images define the style of a new kind of street, one in which, laughter, love and yes, sex are all in the air.

Michael Hurt is a photographer and professor living in Seoul. He received his doctorate from UC Berkeley's Department of Comparative Ethnic Studies and started the first street fashion blog in South Korea, and has covered Seoul Fashion Week for the last fourteen seasons. He is also author of "The Seoul Fashion Report," the first and only photo book about Korean street and runway fashion and runs an online site of the same name covering Korean fashion and lifestyle. He is assistant professor at Hongik University (Hongdae) teaching both photography and culture courses. His pictures can be directly followed on Instagram under the ID kuraeji.

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Lecture Video: A Forgotten Terrorist

Kang Mincheol was a captain of North Korean special forces. His military service number was 9970. He was one of the three terrorists sent by North Korea to Burma in 1983 to kill the South Korean President, Chun Do-hwan, while the latter was on a state visit there. The group of three terrorists successfully detonated the bombs they had hidden on the roof of Aungsan Mausoleum killing most of the South Korean delegates gathered there to pay reverence at the place. They missed, however, their main target the President who survived through a chain of lucky accidents. After the attack the terrorists were left on their own to escape from the country. North Korea did not only had no preparations to help them out of the country but also washed their hands completely off the whole incident, insisting that they had nothing to do with it. In encounters with the Burmese security forces, one was killed and the other two Kang and a major were seriously wounded and captured. Kang had sustained grave wounds throughout his body. Both were sentenced to death. But Kang was given a reprieve and put in the Insein prison where he died in May, 2008 after surviving 25 years on two meals a day. Hardly anybody in Korea, neither in the South nor in the North, paid any attention to his death.

Ambassador Ra Jong-yil is currently a University Distinguished Professor at Hanyang University, Seoul. After studying Political Science at Seoul National University he received a PhD in International Relations from the University of Cambridge (UK). He then became a professor of Political Science and Diplomacy at Kyunghee University, Seoul, where he held various senior administrative posts. In the course of his distinguished career, he has held many important positions. In 1996 he was appointed Special Aide to Kim Dae-jung on Diplomacy and Security. In 1998-9 he served as First & Second Director, National Intelligence Service. From 2001-3 he was Korean Ambassador to the United Kingdom. 2003-4 he was Senior Advisor to the President for National Security. From 2004-7 he served as Ambassador to Japan. From 2007 until 2011 he was President of the Woosuk University. he is currently the Chairman of the Special Committee on Human Rights in North Korea, National Commission for Human Rights, and a member of the Presidential Committee of Preparation for Unification. He has authored many books and innumerable articles.

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Lecture Video: A study of the possible influence of Beijing drum song and Yangzhou xianci on Korean p’ansori


This lecture will look at possible ways in which the Chinese narrative tradition affected the development of p’ansori. This will involve investigating trade between Korea and China in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, as well as examining Chinese stories, actors and singers appearing in p’ansori texts and literature. The similar characters and differences of style between p’ansori and certain Chinese narrative songs, such as the drum song or “drum singing” (dagu 大鼓) performed in the north and northeast of China in areas such as Heibei, Beijing, and Tianjing and the popular storytelling tradition in Yangzhou (Yangzhou xianci 弦詞) on the East Coast of China, will also be considered.

Yeonok Jang holds a doctorate in ethnomusicology from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. She has taught courses on Korean music, Korean culture, world music culture, and Korean music performance at a variety of universities in Korea and the United Kingdom. She currently teaches at Yonsei University. She is the author of Korean P’ansori Singing Tradition: Development, Authenticity, and Performance History (2014, Scarecrow Press).

Lecture Video: Guan Yu: Why Koreans Worship a Chinese Tofu Seller

How is it that a Chinese tofu salesman, who lived his entire life in the Middle Kingdom about 1800 years ago and never set foot on the Korean Peninsula, came to be venerated in Korea as a god of both war and wealth? Join us as we trace back the story of Guan Yu, and discover how this semi-mythical figure, described in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms as over 9 foot tall, with a 2-foot long beard, a face as red as a jujube, and eyes like those of a phoenix, first appeared in Korea during the Japanese Hideyoshi invasions of the late 16th century. In a few short years, several shrines were built in honor of Guan Yu, the bean-curd-seller-cum-general. In the last years of the Joseon Dynasty, King Gojong and his second wife had more shrines built in Seoul, giving the Guan Yu cult more impetus. Why was this?
Guan Yu's shrines have been all but forgotten by modern Korea, and yet in some places ceremonies are still held. Where are they carried out, and by whom? Dongmyo is the largest Guan Yu shrine remaining, and the only one in Seoul that still sits in its original location. Some interesting discoveries have been made during recent restoration, but that restoration is also not without controversy.

Jacco Zwetsloot has lived in Korea for 14 of the last 18 years. He has held a number of jobs in this country, and calls himself a Jacco-of-all-trades. Currently Jacco is studying for a Master's degree in Korean Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands. He has previously spoken to the RAS on Hollywood movies set and filmed in Korea, North Korean comic books, and Japanese-run POW camps in Korea during World War Two.

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Lecture Video: A (Small) Window on the Two Koreas: Stamps

Even though postage stamps may be going the way of typewriters and pagers, North and South Korea continue to produce millions of colorful and stamps each year, providing a window into how the two governments see themselves and the world around them. After exploring the Joseon Dynasty's development of a postal service 120 years ago, Beck will turn to the philatelic rivalry that emerged between the two Koreas soon after division in 1945. He will then trace the development of stamps in the North and the South over the past seven decades and share with the audience some of his most interesting philatelic finds over the past three decades. Beck is currently the president of the U.S.-based Korea Stamp Society (www.pennfamily.org/KSS-USA/).

Peter Beck joined The Asia Foundation as Country Representative in Korea in January, 2012. He is a seasoned Korea specialist and former Asia Foundation Haas intern. Prior to joining the Foundation, Beck was the Council on Foreign Relations Hitachi Fellow at Keio University in Tokyo, and the Pantech Research Fellow at Stanford University. Previously, he was the Northeast Asia Director for the International Crisis Group in Seoul (2004-2007) and Director of Research at the Korea Economic Institute in Washington, DC (1997-2004). He has also served as a member of the Ministry of Unification's Policy Advisory Committee (2005 – 2007).

Peter Beck received his bachelor's degree in Asian Studies from the University of California at Berkeley and conducted his graduate studies in Comparative Public Policy and International Relations at the University of California at San Diego's Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies. Beck studied Korean at Seoul National University, Yonsei University, and Hanguk University of Foreign Studies.

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Love and Loss: An Evening of Music with the RASKB

Join the RAS for an evening of music on November 14th at 7:30 PM. Tickets are 10,000KRW each and can be reserved by submitting the reservation form. See the accompanying flyer or contact royalasiatickorea@gmail.com for more information. We hope to see you there!


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