Table of Contents
- Korea Focus - January 2013 - TOC - Politics 1. President-Elect Should Humbly Embrace the Whole People 2. For the Republic of Korea, and for History 3. Revival of Japan’s Right-wing Leadership in Question 4. Kim Jong-un’s Mind 5. Fallout of North Korea’s Latest Provocation 6. Obama’s Message to Pyongyang 7. Noteworthy Change in Progressives’ Views of North Korea
- Economy 1. Policy Tasks for Incoming President 2. Feasibility of Park’s Campaign Promises 3. Enactment of Basic Foreign Labor Law 4. Strategy to Attract 20 Million Foreign Tourists
- Society 1. Redefining the Middle Class 2. War of Education, Here Goes Dad! 3. Remember Yeonpyeong! 4. The Humanities as Learning for Healing
- Culture 1. Cultural Balance Sheet: More than Just Being in the Black 2. What the ‘Anipang’ Buzz Means 3. Artists Welfare Act is No Charities Act 4. Preservation of Arirang, an Intangible Cultural Asset of Humanity 5. Hangeul Day: World’s First Alphabet Holiday
- Essay 1. A Review of Marketization in North Korea 2. North Korea’s Changing Culture and Arts in the Kim Jong-un Era 3. Specter of Japanese-style Consumption Slump
- Feature 1. Francisco Chung Grows Chile’s Top Outdoor Product Company
- Book Reviews 1. Dissident Author Hwang Sok-yong’s Literary Journey Enters Last Years 2. Beauty of Alleys in Nine Korean Cities
- Interview 1. Park Won-soon: “I want to make Seoul a city full of fun.” 2. Choi Byeong-hyeon: “Translating our classics is an urgent task to properly introduce Korean culture.”
- President-Elect Should Humbly Embrace the Whole People - For the Republic of Korea, and for History - Revival of Japan’s Right-wing Leadership in Question - Kim Jong-un’s Mind - Fallout of North Korea’s Latest Provocation - Obama’s Message to Pyongyang - Noteworthy Change in Progressives’ Views of North Korea
President-Elect Should Humbly Embrace the Whole People
Editorial The Chosun Ilbo
Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri (New World) Party won the 18th presidential election on December 19, with 15,773,128 votes or 51.6 percent of the total 30,727,198 votes cast, defeating Moon Jae-in of the main opposition Democratic United Party who earned 14,692,532 votes or 48.0 percent. She was the first candidate to win more than 50 percent of the ballots since a 1987 constitutional amendment installed direct popular voting in presidential elections. The voter turnout, which many predicted would hover around 70 percent, reached 75.8 percent. Park’s election to become the first female president of the Republic of Korea also broke the general belief that a higher voter turnout is to the advantage of the opposition candidate.
Sympathy toward Supporters of Rival Candidate
Campaign 2012 was a difficult game for Park as a strong call for a change of power swept public opinion. Park maintained a clear lead in the early stage of her campaign, but “the uncontestable Park Geun-hye” image was shaken by the entry of independent Ahn Cheol-soo. She maintained her top place in the three-way contest of Park, Moon and Ahn, but some opinion polls showed her behind a single opposition candidate. After Ahn exited, the support rate for Moon rose steadily from more than 10 percentage points behind Park to overtake her in some surveys. But she has won.
What is vitally important for the president-elect at this moment is to correctly read the minds of all the people, not only the 16 million who supported her but the other 15 million who cast votes for her rival, and embrace them all wholeheartedly. During the five years of the Lee Myung-bak administration, our nation achieved the fastest recovery among world nations from the U.S.originated financial crisis and then the global fiscal crisis started in Europe. The Gini index, the standard economic measure of income inequality, which had been rising through the previous Roh Moo-hyun administration, was improved to 0.313 in 2011 from 0.320 in 2009. Despite these nominal improvements, or on account of them, people suffered economic pains and a relative sense of deprivation. They were told of the “trickle-down effect” of large corporate profits and high income earners, but no such benefit was perceived.
It is extremely difficult for college graduates to get decent jobs, middle-aged people in their late 40s and early 50s constantly worry about being forcibly retired, and young couples are reluctant to have babies in fear of the high costs of childcare and education. Older people who worked hard day and night in the rapid growth period of the 1970s and 80s for their families, companies and the national economy are faced with bleak retirement without any dependable economic and social security schemes.
New Blueprints for State Management
These realities in Korea are, of course, related to the advent of the age of neo-liberalism that ended the time when a prosperous nation meant rich individuals. But today’s people will not accept their present lives by comparing their situations with those of other nations or the so-called global trend. Instead, they will become more sensitive about inequality of income and inequality of opportunities when the GNI passes the $25,000 mark. President-elect Park needs to read the minds of 15 million people who voted for her contestant, their economic difficulties, their sense of deprivation, their feeling of inequality and isolation. She should communicate with them and embrace them most urgently. During her campaign under the slogan of “Opening the Age of National Happiness,” Park promised 201 items because she was aware of the changes of the times. However, she must realize that domestic and external economic situations are too adverse for her new administration to translate all these promises into practice, which would cost a total of 131 trillion won (US$123 billion). The Korean economy has witnessed the decline of potential growth rates since the latter half of the 1990s. And the economically active population between 15 and 64 years of age will begin to drop from 2016.
Low growth means low tax revenues and a shortfall in the resources for welfare provisions. The world economy, moreover, will not be able to recover from the present adversity at least for the next two years or even five years. The president-elect will have to establish a welfare system tailored to the Korean situation if she is to implement all her welfare programs. Economic growth has to support welfare for welfare, in turn, rolls the wheels of growth. Park has repeatedly said she would “do” something for the people. From now on, she has to ask them to “be patient.” Promises should be fulfilled but it is necessary for her to replace her campaign pledges with short-term and long-term government programs. This will better satisfy the majority of the people who supported Park instead of Moon Jae-in, who made more promises than her. They certainly were in favor of her “responsible changes” rather than Moon’s “changes at once.”
The North Korean and regional problems remain as difficult as ever. The first year of Kim Jong-un’s rule in the North showed no change from the past. Pyongyang launched what is believed to be an intercontinental ballistic missile and is reported to be preparing for a third nuclear test. These moves allow us to predict that it will be difficult for Park to open a dialogue with Kim Jong-un though she mentioned it several times during her campaign. The president-elect now has to deal with China under Xi Jinping, who is speaking of “the revival of the Chinese nation,” and Japan ruled by the Liberal Democratic Party pledging to restore people’s self-confidence after 20 years of slow growth by revising the peace constitution and rebuilding the nation as a military power. Facing these diplomatic challenges, Park should try to strengthen the alliance with the United States, while taking initiatives on the relations with North Korea.
Future-oriented Democratic Leadership Park’s opponents warned of a return to the authoritarian past if she was elected, and some of her supporters did not completely overcome such concerns. In order to dispel their worries, Park should display democratic and future-oriented leadership which will prove that she is not an heir to the past but a leader representing the values of the future. What is important is that she herself should change, and no less important is that she should gather people who will not hesitate to advise her against anything. Otherwise, non-communication between the leader and the people will continue.
The election was a showdown between the daughter of President Park Chung-hee and the chief of staff of President Roh Moo-hyun. It was a fight between the memories of the Park era representing authoritarian rule with economic growth and the Roh era of progressive stretch. The supporters of
either side voted for each candidate not solely because they believed that he or she was satisfactorily speaking for them as their representatives but because they favored the values and meanings of the times carried by the respective candidates. Here is the reason why the president-elect should ask for patience and restraint from her supporters and should exert extraordinary efforts to engage with the opponents. If she fails in this task, there are fears the new administration will destabilize much faster than the previous ones. Park Geun-hye’s father served four presidential terms after a military coup in 1961. She lived in the presidential mansion through her years of middle and high school and college. She experienced the glory and despair, the lights and darkness of those years closely and directly, so she must have a strong determination to lead the nation well. It cannot be overemphasized that the success of Park Geunhye’s presidency will depend not only on the cooperation of her supporters but that of those who voted against her. She should keep in mind that having her opponents call her “our president” is the first requisite to succeed in her job. This is the real “grand national unity” and the genuine “change of the times” the president-elect has spoken of.
[ December 20, 2012 ]
For the Republic of Korea, and for History
Park Myung-lim Professor of Political Science Yonsei University
The showdown has ended. This year’s presidential race was a critical watershed to determine the path of the Republic of Korea for the next five years, or even the future of Korea and the Korean peninsula in the coming decades. I want to congratulate the winner and offer some words of consolation to the loser. It is certain that when Koreans look back at their decision years from now they will realize the immense significance of their vote and feel very fortunate or deeply regrettable. The outcome of this presidential election may be an overwhelming joy to some, but an unbearable scourge to others. Can our society close the widened gap between the two estranged groups?
Indeed, this presidential election has been one of the most important elections since the nation achieved full democracy in 1987. First of all, Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party and Moon Jae-in of the main opposition Democratic United Party waged a neck-and-neck race as champions representing the conservative and progressive forces, respectively. Coming a generation after the nation’s democratization, the race was a cutthroat battle. Despite all-encompassing unity of liberal, reform-minded, democratic and progressive groups, the opposition was defeated by the conservatives who stood united for the first time since 1987.
It was a crushing defeat. Now, democrats and reform advocates should thoroughly regroup to be born again. This is because the future of Korea’s democracy cannot be put in the hands of people who have
lost two consecutive elections that couldn’t seem easier this year ― the general election on April 11 and the presidential election on December 19. In view of the egregious record of misrule by the incumbent Lee Myung-bak administration, these elections seemingly could not be lost.
Second, the election was a crucial litmus test of Korean democracy because of the so-called Ahn Cheol-soo phenomenon, i.e., the emergence of a software tycoon-cum-professor as a strong presidential contender enjoying tremendous popularity among the young generation. The Ahn phenomenon was a double-edged sword, a blessing as well as a stern warning, for the reform-minded democrats, who have remained as vulnerable as ever in the conservative-dominated political landscape pervaded by die-hard anomalies despite political democratization. However, in spite of a string of urgent wake-up calls from outside the political establishment, such as the appearance of “Roh-Sa-Mo” supporters who loved maverick politician Roh Moo-hyun, candlelit vigils that helped Roh’s election as president, the Ahn phenomenon and the election of civil activist Park Won-soon as the mayor of Seoul, the democratic-oriented parties failed to execute revolutionary changes as poignant as self-denial.
As things turned out, there was neither a strong bond between Ahn and the democrats nor a common denominator between Ahn’s principle and the Democratic United Party’s platform. It was a decisively wrong move on the chessboard. Those inside the main opposition party especially must take the blame most gravely and painstakingly for their petty selfishness in adhering to small vested interests within the opposition camp while Ahn gave up his candidacy to support Moon. Figuratively speaking, they forsook a great cause to seek small profits for themselves. The Ahn Cheol-soo phenomenon could well be compared to the “Roh-Sa-Mo” movement, political action by the “MoveOn” group in the United States, the “Jasmine Revolution” in the Middle East, the “Pirate Parties,” the “Occupy Wall Street” campaign, or the “Hashimoto phenomenon” created by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto in Japan. The Ahn phenomenon, which deserves a place in the world history of democratic movements, has been frustrated in the face of the election victory of conservatives. The conservatives and the political establishment, which faced a crisis in the wake of the Ahn phenomenon that threatened Park’s predictable victory, will now bounce back to political superiority and stability for the time being.
Under these circumstances, where will the Ahn phenomenon find its political niche? Will it be inside or outside the establishment? Also, what choices will the young voters and non-ideological, middleof-the-road citizens, who went wild over the Ahn phenomenon, make when the conservatives retain
Third, the problem gets even thornier when considering the political topography in East Asian nations and the pioneering nature of Korea’s democracy in the world. In his book “Lectures on the Philosophy of History,” Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel once made a scathing comment: “In the world of the ancient Orient, people do not yet know that the Spirit ― the human as such ― is free. Because they do not know this, they are not free. They know only that one person is free. This one person is only a despot, not a free man.” Civil liberty, human rights, democracy and justice in East Asia, while the region groaned under dictatorship, fascism, coup d’etat and military rule, have long been the laughing stock of the world, dubbed “Orientalism” or Oriental malaise.
The world has watched South Korea as political leaders in the other East Asian countries have inherited power (North Korea’s Kim Jong-un), assumed power based on behind-the-scenes decisions (China’s Xi Jinping), or taken power in a shogunate style (Japan’s Shinzo Abe) in 2011-2012. As if mocking the world civilization, Abe is a grandson of former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, a “Class A” war criminal. With Park’s election, all of Northeast Asian countries have come to be ruled by second- or thirdgeneration children of their former leaders or strongmen. Park herself is the daughter of the late president Park Chung-hee. Thus far, Korea has written the most proud history of struggle toward freedom, justice, human rights and democracy in East Asia. The Student Revolution of April 19, 1960 was the first homegrown democracy revolution in East Asia, which was followed by the democratic struggle in Busan and Masan of 1979, the Gwangju Democratization Movement of 1980, and the June Democracy Movement of 1987. Now, as Korea, which has been East Asia’s bastion of democracy and peace, also places itself under the rule of the child of a leader who took power through a military coup, I feel fear wondering how the world will regard East Asia and Korea.
In a democracy, all individuals are children of the times. The same is the case with leaders. Through this presidential election, the conservatives have succeeded in winning the presidency and the majority in the National Assembly for the second consecutive term. I earnestly hope that the Korean conservatives will exhibit well-rounded state management ability. The voters’ collective choice based on their free will is clearly the sum of hopes, enthusiasm, anger, frustration and volition of individuals, reflecting a certain zeitgeist that pierces through all of them. Be it a “petty rational wisdom” or not, we should reflect upon the individual and collective implications that this election outcome will have on all of us.
[ JoongAng Ilbo, December 20, 2012 ]
Revival of Japan’s Right-wing Leadership in Question
Sohn Yul Dean, Graduate School of International Studies Yonsei University
Japan has had two painful “lost decades,” a period of nearly uninterrupted economic underperformance since the collapse of asset prices in the early 1990s. During the period, China made rapid strides to overtake Japan in the economic and military spheres to become the primary competitor of the United States. In international politics as well, Japan’s standing has eroded significantly. On the domestic front, political instability has produced six prime ministers over the past six years. Under such circumstances, the Japanese people are craving for a new political leadership that can forestall the decline and shake up the established order.
In the latest general election, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) grabbed 294 spots in the 480-seat lower house with far less than the majority of votes cast. In alliance with its prospective coalition partner, the New Komeito, which won 31 seats, the LDP has secured an absolute two-thirds parliamentary majority. Still, it would be a great mistake for LDP leader Shinzo Abe, tapped to be prime minister, to believe that the landslide victory was because of his leadership and LDP policies. As underlined by the lowest post-war voter turnout, the outcome was as much a fierce rebuke of the incompetent Democratic Party of Japan. The frail support given to the LDP suggests that radical turmoil may destabilize the incoming administration if there is dissatisfaction over its governance and policy operations.
“Strong Japan” has been set as the motto of the Abe administration. There is little reason why any of the neighboring countries should object to Japan’s endeavor to revive its prosperity. Korea is a country that will benefit from Japan’s economic rejuvenation. In addition, close cooperation between Korea and Japan ― and, for that matter, among Asian middle powers ― is crucial to establishing an amicable and cooperative regional order, coping with an international situation in which shifting relations between superpower United States and the emerging big power China may adversely impact the regional order and developments on the Korean peninsula.
At issue is how Japan will reinvigorate. The Abe camp is obviously dreaming of the leadership displayed by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and U.S. President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. In order to cure the chronic “British disease,” the conservative Thatcher employed a neoliberal economic reform sustained by market mechanism and a neoconservative foreign policy based on military power. The LDP led by Abe advocates dumping the Democratic Party’s focus on balanced distribution in favor of revitalizing the country’s stagnant economy through a string of robust measures. It has pledged institutional reforms to make Japan the best country to do business and shore up its exports. In light of the global trend to overcome problems inherent in market capitalism, this policy line is highly retrogressive. The “Japanese disease” can be cured by pursuing a model of complex capitalism that, along with growth, addresses social security, narrowing income gap, welfare and sustainable development. More worrisome is Abe’s militaristic foreign policy echoing those of Thatcher and Reagan decades ago. Under the pretext of protecting the Japanese people’s safety and their territory and territorial waters, the LDP has revealed plans to bolster Japan’s military alliance with the United States, upgrade its self-defense forces to full armed forces, strengthen its coast guard forces, and permit the invocation of collective self-defense power. Japan’s ill feeling against China over their territorial disputes in the East China Sea is understandable. However, profound consideration is needed whether an augmentation of military forces alone would be able to ensure the country’s security.
Japan cannot catch up to China while misgivings prevail about how much the United States would protect Japan. Defense and prosperity of Japan rather depend on its capability to embrace and weave neighboring countries together for regional harmony. In this respect, Abe’s reactionary perceptions about Japan’s history would undermine the country’s security. During the election campaign Abe promised that he would visit the controversial Yasukini Shrine, where war criminals are honored. He also has denied the 1993 statement by Yohei Kono, then chief cabinet secretary, admitting that the Japanese Imperial Army was involved in the forcible mobilization and exploitation of sex slaves
during World War II. Abe has also upgraded “Takeshima Day” from a prefectural event to commemoration by the central government to demonstrate Dokdo is disputed islets.
Japan should seek a networking foreign policy model that embraces both the United States and East Asian countries on an appropriate foundation of hard power. On the other hand, Koreans need to comprehend that the LDP landslide does not necessarily mean a swing to right-wing ideology by the majority of the Japanese people. The Abe administration is reminded that its mere adoption of the Thatcher leadership of bygone days will be of little help in restoring the country’s past prosperity and glory. Japan has to take the lead in exercising a model strategy with a vision to promote the region’s common prosperity in the 21st century.
[ Chosun Ilbo, December 18, 2012 ]
Kim Jong-un’s Mind
Kim Young-hie Senior Columnist The JoongAng Ilbo
All the powers with stakes in Korea have undergone power transitions. U.S. President Barack Obama was reelected and days later, Xi Jinping took the reins in China as state president and general secretary of the Communist Party. In Russia, Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency with a strong focus on Asia, and in Japan, it appears certain (at this writing) that a rightist conservative government will soon return to power. Finally, in South Korea, heated contests are being waged for the crucial presidential election on December 19 with a 50-50 chance the conservatives will lose control. Against this backdrop, the United States and China are engaged in a fierce fight over the hegemony in Asia and the Pacific.
Under these shifting circumstances, what is in the mind of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who began the series of leadership changes a year ago when he replaced his deceased father Kim Jong-il? Because Xi’s ascent had been long anticipated, Kim must have been well prepared for the power transition in Beijing. However, the unseasoned North Korean leader should be concerned about the possibility that the new Chinese leadership, laden with acute domestic problems such as the wealth gap between urban and rural regions and widespread corruption, may apply pressure on Pyongyang to refrain from “troublesome” action.
Kim might have been relieved a bit by the reelection of Obama who is assumed to head a moderate
and middle-of-the-road administration. Obama himself is preoccupied with pressing domestic issues and has little time to pay much attention to Korean affairs for now. The young Pyongyang leader may be thinking of sending a North Korean symphony orchestra to the United States next spring in an effort to sound out Washington’s stance toward his regime, hopefully paving the way for bilateral engagement.
Putin has a grand idea to use Vladivostok as a gateway to Asia and the Pacific and has been pondering the installation of a transcontinental pipeline passing through North Korea to supply Siberian natural gas to South Korea. Pyongyang has to weigh whether to reject a prospective Russian proposal for oil passage to the South or collect a sizable amount of transit tolls for the pipeline. On the other hand, whoever seizes power in Japan, chances are slim for notable progress in its relations with North Korea because foreign policies of rival Japanese parties, especially that toward the North, are essentially identical. Pyongyang made several attempts for rapprochement with Tokyo, taking advantage of the latter’s diplomatic rifts with Seoul in recent years. But, the North would have to give up any such attempt should ultra-rightist Shinzo Abe become Japan’s next prime minister.
Puzzling for North Koreans, as well as other peoples, must be the intricate process and baffling developments of South Korea’s presidential campaign. Notwithstanding the complexity, the simpleminded Kim must be inclined to favor what appears to suit him best. There is the likelihood that whoever is elected, the winner will abandon the hard-line North Korea policy of the outgoing President Lee Myung-bak, who advocated “Vision 3000, Denuclearization and Openness” in North Korea. It promised ample South Korean financial aid and investments in the North to help it triple the average per capita annual income to $3,000 in 10 years if Pyongyang ends its nuclear programs and opens up to reforms. The young ruler must be mindful of his father’s reaction to Lee’s plan. Kim Jong-il called it a “disdainful Trojan horse,” and said, “The South Korean clique’s bid is a childish idea born out of ignorance of the fact that nuclear power is the key strategy of survival for our Republic. Our counterpart of nuclear negotiations is the United States and the prime condition of denuclearization is the establishment of a peace regime that assures security of the Republic.” Indeed, North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are its only way of sustaining international attention and coping with mounting U.S. pressure. Seoul’s aid-for-nuclear proposal was destined to fail from the beginning. North Koreans believe they have to think about survival before worrying about how to live well. No North Korea policy would impress Kim Jong-un unless it contains a
workable road map for attaining Pyongyangâ€™s diplomatic normalization with Washington and replacing the Korean War armistice agreement with a peace treaty. Thus, a fundamental settlement of the Korean peninsula question has to be made within the geopolitical framework of Northeast Asia, including power balance between China and the United States.
Obviously Kim does not heed the pile of mediocre ideas about North Korea that presidential contenders in the South utter. Their pledges range from an early inter-Korean summit talk and the establishment of mutual liaison offices in Seoul and Pyongyang to the formulation of an economic confederation of the two Koreas. Instead of empty promises, the North Korean leader wishes to see an elaborate road map charting ways for the resumption of dialogue and cooperation and leading to the conclusion of a peace treaty. He must believe that a solid road map is a prerequisite to meaningful economic cooperation and exchanges, let alone discussion on the process and format of unification between the two Koreas.
For the next two or three years, the Korea question is likely to be pushed back from the policy priority of both the Obama and Xi administrations. For a breakthrough in the nuclear impasse and deadlocked inter-Korean relations and in the face of needs to broaden our economic spectrum to North Korea and Siberia, we must talk about and take actions for peace at the same time. The time frame when Washington and Beijing are too preoccupied with their domestic tasks to pay much attention to international affairs provides us the best opportunity to take initiatives in paving the way to resolve the nuclear stalemate, reinvigorate economic cooperation with the North and establish a durable peace regime on the Korean peninsula.
[ November 16, 2012 ]
Fallout of North Korea’s Latest Provocation
Editorial The Hankyoreh
North Korea has surprised the world with its long-range rocket launch. The [North] Korean Central News Agency reported that the country had “successfully launched the second Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite on December 12 from the West Sea satellite launch site in Cholsan County, North Pyongan province, using the carrier rocket Eunha-3.” Observers in South Korea and the United States believe that the long-range rocket successfully entered orbit. North Koreans may be celebrating, but for the rest of the international community this is an enormous provocation and a dire threat to peace.
The success of this launch means that the North Korean nuclear threat has risen to a new level. Based on its two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, intelligence agencies believe the country may possess as many as 10 nuclear warheads. The North has also gradually built up its ballistic missile capabilities with five long-range launch tests since 1998. This latest development means that it could potentially strike the continental United States with a nuclear weapon. It’s terrifying to imagine the threat it would pose if the country succeeds in miniaturizing its warheads and masters the technology to return rockets into the atmosphere.
The most urgent order of business for the international community now is to prevent North Korea from combining its nuclear weapons with its long-range rocket technology. It is clear that the North will continue to step up its efforts to achieve this. We cannot rule out the possibility of a third nuclear
test as well, because Pyongyang believes that is the only way to guard its regime against external threats and increase its negotiating power using the abandonment of its weapons of mass destruction as a bargaining chip. Analysts are already foreseeing a long and arduous tug of war between North Korea resorting to its brinkmanship and the international community trying to defuse it. It is clear that stronger international sanctions to check North Korea’s nuclear capabilities are on the way. The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting on December 12 to discuss this possibility. But there is clear limitation to the pressure that sanctions can apply in view of the North’s closed economy. This is especially true when Beijing is not actively cooperating. If the international community’s sanctions are to have any effect at all, the countries involved need to step up their diplomatic efforts to bring China on board. In particular, they should note that the new administration under Xi Jinping has been more open than past governments in expressing its displeasure at Pyongyang’s intransigence.
More importantly, a solution needs to be sought through negotiation rather than sanctions and hardline policy alone. The fundamental reason North Korea tests its nuclear weapons and rockets is to guarantee the stability and survival of its regime. A comprehensive solution that involves some giveand-take measures is not out of the question. What’s important is to catch the mouse (North Korea’s nuclear capabilities), regardless of which cat is used ― the black cat (sanctions) or the white cat (negotiation). An eclectic approach that mixes toughness with moderation is needed.
[ December 13, 1212 ]
Obama’s Message to Pyongyang
Editorial The Hankyoreh
While visiting Burma on November 19, U.S. President Barack Obama sent what appeared to be a special message to North Korea: “Let go of your nuclear weapons and choose the path of peace and progress. If you do, you will find an extended hand from the United States of America.” Obama also said, “We don’t need to be defined by the prisons of the past. We need to look forward to the future.” What he said at the University of Yangon that day is not quite different from what Washington has consistently told Pyongyang thus far. But his latest remarks are all the more significant in that Obama made them in Burma, a country in a political and economic situation similar to the one facing North Korea. In a sense, Obama publicly expressed his intention to introduce a policy of “constructive engagement” vis-a-vis North Korea during his second term in office, breaking away from the “strategic patience” policy of his first term. This merits attention from both Seoul and Pyongyang at a time when the political terrain is changing significantly in countries surrounding the Korean peninsula.
Roughly speaking, North Korea and Burma were in a very similar political and economic situation until recently. Dictatorial regimes isolated from the outside world had stayed in power for a long time and their people had to face unbearable difficulties because of international economic sanctions.
Those in power tried to find solutions to their problems by relying on China, a next-door big power, for their security and economy.
Signs of change began to appear in Burma when Thein Sein, a reform-minded pragmatist leader, left the military and became president early last year. Since he took power, he has continued to implement reforms and open-door policies, including releasing Aung San Suu Kyi, an opposition leader, from house arrest, allowing the National League for Democracy she leads to participate in elections, stopping press censorship, freeing political prisoners, and abolishing the nationâ€™s fixed currency exchange rate.
In the same context, Obama visited Burma for the first time and promised massive economic aid. Aside from the peculiar circumstances on the Korean peninsula, including national division, existence of a nuclear issue and hereditary succession of power, the Burmese-style reform and opening up signifies a lot to the North.
Probably because of this, Obama took advantage of his visit to Burma to send a message to the North. While president-elect in 2008, Obama called for â€œbold and direct diplomacyâ€? with Pyongyang. But cold water was poured on the dialogue mood between Washington and Pyongyang after the latter launched a rocket and conducted its second nuclear test in April and May the following year. The rest is history.
Pyongyang needs to hold the hand extended by Obama. It, therefore, should break the logjam to achieve practical improvement in bilateral relations by taking tangible actions, including declaring a plan to stop additional nuclear and missile tests. Seoul, too, should try to create an atmosphere in favor of improved North-U.S. ties and inter-Korean relations.
[ November 21, 2012 ]
Noteworthy Change in Progressives’ Views of North Korea
Editorial The Kyunghyang Shinmun
Progressives supporting engagement policies toward North Korea have taken a forward-looking attitude toward human rights abuses in the North, discarding their hitherto passive stance. This was made clear by the Korea Peace Forum when it released “suggestions for 2013” on its third anniversary last weekend. The forum consists of policymakers from the Kim Dae-jung administration, the socalled “government of the people” (1998-2003), and the Roh Moo-hyun administration, dubbed the “participatory government” (2003-2008), who led inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation. In its “suggestions,” the forum acknowledged the need to seek new policies toward the human rights situation in the North. It all began with the group’s awareness of the general public’s lack of sympathy for its reluctance to make an issue of the North Korean human rights situation. The forum promised a forward-looking approach to the North Korean human rights issue and humanitarian aid to the North on a permanent basis, while recognizing the need to promote the North Korean people’s human rights (right to freedom) as well as their basic right to life. To this end, the group decided to support the U.N. resolution on North Korean human rights and express concerns about the human rights violations in the North, if necessary. We welcome the progressives’ initiative for we have urged political circles to stop taking a dichotomous approach and seek consensus on the North Korean human rights issue. It seems clear
that the group’s suggestions will likely face a bumpy road ahead, depending upon how the North will accept them. But such suggestions are never new as far as the North is concerned, given its human rights dialogue with the EU. The North’s regime has always been sensitive to external comments on its human rights situation because it inherently considers self-esteem to be very important and is overly wary about the outside world seeking its collapse. To completely allay the regime's worries, we should, above all, separate the human rights issue from political and ideological agenda. It was after the North suffered chronic food shortages in the 1990s that the North Korean human rights issue worsened significantly.
There is room for improvement in the North Korean human rights situation, if South Koreans consistently express concerns about the issue, while giving aid to the North on a permanent basis. According to the state-run [North] Korean Central News Agency, Kim Jong-un, in a rare gesture, harshly blamed people’s security [police] officers for infringing upon the human rights of citizens. This suggests that the regime, too, is conscious of the seriousness of the issue. South Korea’s ruling Saenuri Party’s presidential candidate Park Geun-hye has pledged to implement a well-balanced North Korea policy instead of making a dichotomous carrot-and-stick approach. She also promised to provide humanitarian aid to the North in a transparent way, regardless of the interKorean political situation. In this regard, if the conservatives seek to make an excessively ideological and political approach to the North Korean human rights issue, they will find it difficult to reach consensus with the progressives or improve the human rights situation in the North.
Park should make a non-political approach to both the North Korean human rights issue and humanitarian aid to the North. Over the past five years of the Lee Myung-bak administration, the North Korean human rights issue has been used as a kind of excuse for some boisterous defector groups’ “political performances,” including their floating of helium balloons carrying propaganda leaflets across the border into the North. We now propose that both conservatives and progressives take advantage of the Korea Peace Forum’s suggestions as an opportunity to bring down the barriers dividing them.
[November 27, 2012]
- Policy Tasks for Incoming President - Feasibility of Parkâ€™s Campaign Promises - Enactment of Basic Foreign Labor Law - Strategy to Attract 20 Million Foreign Tourists
Policy Tasks for Incoming President
Kim Se-hyung Editor-in-Chief The Maeil Business Newspaper
The power of the president seems to be in reverse proportion to time. Some even say that from the very moment the presidential election is won, the power of the next president decreases day after day. People can judge the identity of the incoming administration by closely watching the people the president-elect meets as well as the events the president-elect attends.
The first thing the late president Roh Moo-hyun did after winning the 2002 election was to meet secretly with the labor union leader of the now-defunct Chohung Bank. Roh, a liberal politician, went on to visit the two umbrella labor organizations ― the Federation of Korea Trade Unions and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions ― and said, “At present, the employers’ organizations are more powerful but the power imbalance will be corrected during my five-year term.” Then Roh made a surprise visit to the Hankyoreh newspaper on January 9, 2003, and asked Jung Yeon-joo, then the liberal paper’s editor-in-chief, to give advice on inter-Korean relations and other issues. Due to such gestures following his election victory, Roh was clearly branded “pro-labor” and “pro-North Korea” from the beginning. President Lee Myung-bak’s first official event after his election victory on December 19, 2007, was to visit the business lobby Federation of Korean Industries on December 28 and declare a businessfriendly policy in the presence of conglomerate owners. A former Cabinet minister known for his
keen observation skills said later that he was stunned to see then President-elect Lee shake hands and joke with the business leaders, as three of them were indicted or convicted on charges of corruption at that time.
Lee, then an elder of a southern Seoul church, was also criticized for appointing his fellow church members to key posts of his presidential transition team. On top of that, the chairperson of Lee’s transition team was ridiculed by the general public for a proposal to teach Koreans to pronounce English words like native speakers and change the pronunciation of orange from “oh-ren-ji” to “eorwin-ji” as part of an English immersion education. The public’s lingering resentment eventually led to the massive candlelight demonstrations in the summer of 2008.
Both Roh and Lee unwittingly divided people into friends and foes. It was a trap caused by their hubris. And the trap eventually pushed the two leaders away from a trajectory of success. Presidentelect Park Geun-hye, the daughter of the late president Park Chung-hee, should learn a lesson from her predecessors’ mistakes. Judging from theories of power and other circumstances, including the protracted economic slump, the ruling party was lucky not to lose the presidential election. It was a fight between a ray of hope for the Saenuri Party’s potential ability to create a better future and the public’s basic instinct for regime change. People may have had some expectations for Park’s promise to increase the nation’s middle class to 70 percent of the entire population under the slogan of her father’s Saemaul (New Community) Movement, “Let’s live better.” The election result also represents a defeat for the economically disadvantaged people. For that reason, the Park Geun-hye government should faithfully embrace voters in their 20s and 30s and residents of the southwestern provinces of Jeolla who voted overwhelmingly for her opposition rival Moon Jae-in. In relations with North Korea, too, she can unexpectedly offer to take a leniency strategy.
President-elect Park now has to distinguish between election and reality. In Korea, the president tends to have slightly over three years to “work” during the five-year tenure. Park should cool-headedly set her policy priorities and determine how to effectively allocate the government’s limited resources. The economy is in a crisis and international circumstances are not favorable. At this juncture, I want to tell the story of the “Ronald Reagan memo” to the president-elect. About 30 years ago, when Reagan took over as president of the United States, the global economy was in a mess as serious as today’s crisis due to the second oil shock. At that time, the best brains offered
economic solutions to Reagan, which boiled down to two points. First, it doesn’t make sense to collect more taxes to help boost economic growth. Second, consistency should be maintained in economic policy so that enterprises can trust the government, expand investments, achieve growth and create more jobs.
If the president is shaken for political reasons, few enterprises are willing to increase investments. Consistency is essential to economic policy. It should not be managed in a helter-skelter way. The Wall Street Journal newly introduced the long forgotten story on the Reagan memo in May this year and said that it wanted to poignantly point out the Barack Obama administration’s frequent reversal of its monetary and tax policies.
President-elect Park should also put forth the principle of trust as soon as possible. The so-called “Park Geun-hye memo” is necessary to motivate domestic enterprises. Prior to the December 19 election, I asked officials of the Samsung and Hyundai conglomerates which presidential candidate they preferred. The business executives replied that they were more afraid of Park because she acts in accordance with principles.
In a free democracy, national development can hardly be expected unless it is backed by three pillars ― creativity (economic freedom), protection of private property (trust) and promotion of entrepreneurship. Park should swiftly put forth guidelines on economic democratization and tax increase without undermining these principles. She is also advised to take a leaf from the U.S.-based Apple’s decision to relocate its manufacturing facilities abroad back to the United States.
The incoming president should maintain cooperative relationships with the National Assembly by visiting the parliament frequently or inviting lawmakers to the presidential office. Unless the new president creates a virtuous cycle of investment, growth and job creation, as demanded by the people, the lame duck phenomenon could happen much sooner than expected.
[ December 21, 2012 ]
Feasibility of Park’s Campaign Promises
Kim Yong-ha Professor of Economics and Finance Soonchunhyang University
The Korean people have just finished their selection of the nation’s next leader with Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party winning the December 19 presidential election. But her campaign promises remain alive and valid. Unlike in the past, empty campaign pledges won’t be tolerated. All the promises Park made during her presidential campaign cannot be neglected, as their fate will be watched closely. We believe that President-elect Park will attempt to carry out her campaign pledges, because she is known to have prioritized trust more than anyone else throughout her political career. For that reason, we feel relieved but worried at the same time.
Park has promised to spend an additional 131.4 trillion won (US$122.3 billion) during her five-year term, which includes 94.6 trillion won pledged during her presidential campaign, 27.6 trillion won promised during the April general elections and 9.2 trillion won in exchequer equalization grants. The planned spending is primarily centered on improving public livelihood ― 30 trillion won for welfare, 23.5 trillion won for women and 18.8 trillion won for education. Unlike in the past, planned expenditures related to social infrastructure projects are scarce. In this sense, time appears to have changed a lot.
All the categories of expenditures are important and contain the long-cherished wishes of people from all walks of life. But the problem is how to secure the financial resources reaching an average of 26
trillion won annually. Park’s presidential campaign team already has constructed a plan to raise 134.5 trillion won, slightly more than the promised 131.4 trillion won. The team has vowed to secure 71 trillion won from budget reduction and adjustment of expenditures, 48 trillion won from reform of tax system and administration, and 10.6 trillion won from reform of welfare administration.
But the outlook for financing the promised projects looks somewhat ambiguous, except for a 7percent across-the-board cut in discretionary spending and strengthening income tax collection. Fewer tax exemptions and a crackdown on tax evasion always are mentioned whenever a discussion on government efficiency arises. However, since the beneficiaries of tax exemptions are mostly small and medium-sized enterprises and financially vulnerable self-employed people, benefits for them should instead be increased. The distribution system for welfare services should also be overhauled though it will not necessarily lower expenses.
Even if financial resources needed over the next five years are secured, questions will remain over their sustainability. In 2010, 11 percent of Korea’s population was elderly and welfare expenditures accounted for 9 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). Around 2020, when the percentage of the elderly population is forecast to be 15.6 percent with per capita GDP put at $33,000, the percentage of welfare spending to GDP is forecast to jump to 12 percent, if the current welfare system remains unchanged. In less than 10 years the nation will struggle to cope with a natural increase of 3 percentage points in the proportion of welfare spending to GDP. Against such a backdrop, getting an additional 2 percentage point hike during Park’s five-year term will not be easy.
Of course, the ratio of welfare expenditure to GDP among member countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is estimated to average around 20 percent. Korea will also be able to cope with a steep increase in its welfare spending. An increase in individual taxes and the social security fee can be a short-term option. Over the mid to long term, however, the government has limited choices in upgrading the welfare level without increasing tax and social security burden. Under Lee Myung-bak, the government has expanded its welfare expenditures without increasing people’s financial burden. But it should not be overlooked that the government’s debt has increased instead.
Above all, the most immediate task for President-elect Park is to resolve issues surrounding the government’s 2013 budget bill. The ruling and opposition parties delayed the passage of the budget bill until after the presidential election. They now have just 10 days left to act. The government allocated 342.5 trillion won for next year’s expenditure in its 2013 budget proposal, with 97.1 trillion
won earmarked for the health, welfare and labor sectors. On the other hand, the National Assembly has demanded additional budget spending for state-sponsored childcare and other welfare programs.
The incumbent government has set the fiscal balance as a percentage of GDP at minus 0.3 percent. Should the budget be further increased, the government’s fiscal deficit will inevitably worsen. Moreover, the government’s tax revenue plan has been devised on the assumption that the economy will expand by 4 percent next year. If the ongoing economic slump continues through next year, the assumed growth will be unlikely. Under such a circumstance, a budget increase won’t be easy. As far as the allocation of government budget is concerned, Park was “Party B” until December 19. She now has to judge and think about the budget from the perspective of “Party A.” If Park holds fast to the principle of the past while negotiating with the opposition parties, she will be criticized for being self-righteous and stubborn. If the president-elect changes her principle, she will be denounced for breaking her campaign promise. She has a daunting situation ahead.
Park has a long list of domestic and international policy tasks to tackle over the next five years. Above all, the most urgent task is to establish a clear policy direction regarding fiscal management. The promises made to the people should be kept. But a lesson should be learned from the Democratic Party of Japan. The DPJ made unrealistic campaign promises, attempted to carry them out from the beginning, and ended up issuing a public apology over broken promises.
As soon as the presidential transition team is launched, Park and the ruling Saenuri Party have to review the feasibility of all the campaign promises of the April general elections and the presidential poll. First, they have to reclassify all the campaign promises based on possibility and priority. It is desirable that public promises deemed infeasible should be decisively abandoned or revised before Park seeks public understanding over her decision.
[ Dong-a Ilbo, December 21, 2012 ]
Enactment of Basic Foreign Labor Law
Seol Dong-hoon Professor of Sociology Chonbuk National University
The economic activity participation and employment rates of foreigners in Korea are higher than the native population, but so is their unemployment rate, according to a Statistics Korea survey of employment conditions as of June this year. Although other data on foreign employment is available, its reliability is questionable. The state-run agencyâ€™s survey, released on November 23, systematically shed light on the labor market participation of resettled immigrants, including permanent residents, Koreans with foreign nationality who hold the overseas Korean resident visa, marriage immigrants and other qualified residents.
The survey showed that Korea had 1,114,000 foreign residents over the age of 15 and that 791,000 of them were among the nationâ€™s 25.117 million employed people, or 3.2 percent of the entire workforce. Employment was defined as working more than one hour per week in order to produce goods and services and earn income.
Among foreign residents, the economic activity participation rate and employment rate stood at 74 percent and 71 percent, respectively. Both were about 10 percentage points higher than the nationâ€™s overall figures. This means foreign workers are helping to fill a void in the Korean labor market. The economic activity participation rate differed widely among visa holders: 99.9 percent of nonprofessional employees, 99.4 percent of professional employees, 88.5 percent of working visitors,
68.9 percent of permanent residents, 64.5 percent of overseas Koreans, 50.8 percent of marriage immigrants and 51.1 percent of other qualified residents.
On the other hand, the unemployment rate of foreigners was 4 percent versus the national rate of 3.2 percent, the first official confirmation of higher joblessness among foreigners. In the survey, 33,000 foreign residents were classified as unemployed, and 290,000 were counted as economically inactive. In particular, the jobless rate of foreign women amounted to 5.6 percent.
The economic activity participation rate of international students was 20.1 percent. In principle, foreign students are not allowed to work but may get a permit for limited employment from the Korea Immigration Service. International students are usually known to engage in part-time work in university towns, but the scale and effects of such temporary employment have yet to be assessed.
The employment figures would be higher if not for exclusions of two sizeable groups. An estimated 83,000 foreigners have violated their short-term visa and illegally stayed in Korea. A large percentage of them presumably are working but are not counted in the official job figures because of undocumented employment. Also, it has been confirmed through the survey for the first time that about 89 percent of the working visitors, mostly Chinese people of Korean descent, are engaged in economic activities.
Naturalized Koreans also were excluded from the survey just because they hold Korean nationality. According to the 2012 data on foreign residents in local governments compiled by the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, the number of foreigners who obtained Korean nationality and had a resident registration number totaled 123,513, as of January 1, 2012. It is necessary to categorize foreigners and naturalized Koreans as immigrants. And the immigrants who participate in economic activities should be broadly classified as the immigrant labor. Now, how long should we remain spectators over the issue of foreignersâ€™ employment? It is time to evaluate the impact of foreignersâ€™ employment on the local labor market and Korean society and systematically reflect the results in the policy making process.
The Ministry of Employment and Labor is currently overseeing the economic activities of nonprofessional foreign workers through the Act on Foreign Workersâ€™ Employment, Etc. But other foreigners employed in Korea remain widely neglected, as the government has no legal and systematic frameworks for overseeing all foreign workers in Korea.
Therefore, the government has to hurriedly enact the so-called â€œbasic law on foreign workers in Korea.â€? It is necessary for the government to build a comprehensive system to handle foreign workers. Skill levels and stay status of all foreign employees should also be thoroughly compiled. In order to back such a system, the basic principles of foreign labor policy and policy implementation process should be stipulated. Those efforts will mark the first step in achieving our goals to create more job opportunities and improve the treatment of employed foreign nationals in accordance with the demands of our times.
[ Naeil Shinmun, November 24, 2012 ]
Strategy to Attract 20 Million Foreign Tourists
Lee Hoon Professor of Tourism Hanyang University
The number of foreign tourists who visited Korea this year topped 10 million for the first time, suggesting that the nation has become a world-class travel destination. In 2011, a total of 9.79 million foreign tourists visited Korea, surpassing the corresponding figures for Switzerland and Japan by 1.5 million and 4 million, respectively. Moreover, this year’s annual total of inbound visitors to Korea is expected to reach 11.3 million, which nearly matches the number of visitors to Australia and New Zealand.
Concerted efforts by the government and the private sector to improve domestic tourism infrastructures and tourist services have delivered the new highs. They have designated 2010 to 2012 as the “Visit Korea Years.” The spread of hallyu, or the Korean Wave, stemming from the international popularity of K-pop, K-drama series and other Korean cultural exports, has also contributed by helping stimulate a steady flow of Chinese and Japanese visitors. The United Nations’ World Tourism Organization expects the number of inbound tourists in the AsiaPacific countries will increase by about 17 million annually, saying that the region will lead the growth of the global tourism sector in the future. In particular, the number of Chinese overseas tourists has grown by approximately 16 percent annually over the past decade to reach 70.25 million last year. The figure is expected to surpass 100 million by 2020. By then, the Korean government hopes to see
20 million inbound tourists. Still, Korea’s tourism industry is not without problems, particularly in terms of quality. Last year the satisfaction degree of international tourists visiting Korea and their revisit rate fell to the lowest levels in four years. Excessive competition among travel agencies has led to the proliferation of low-quality products and services. Low-priced tours mostly consist of visits to free attractions, while excessive shopping stops are common.
Korea has to revamp its tourism sector and draw a big picture in order to grow into a tourism superpower visited by 20 million international tourists annually. First of all, the quality of the nation’s travel products should be upgraded. Low-priced and low-quality travel packages should give way to high value-added products. The focus of tour programs for foreigners should be changed from conventional tourist sites to cultural experience events, from monotonous programs to combinations such as medical tourism and MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions), tours to provincial regions, and life experience programs featuring visits to backstreets and traditional marketplaces.
Just as fair trade connects people in production and consumption, it is necessary to create a culture of fair tourism in which tourists and local residents respect each other. Tourism in Seoul’s Bukchon district, home to hundreds of traditional Korean houses called hanok, cannot be sustained if local residents are beleaguered by noises from visitors and invasion of privacy. Tourists should behave in a responsible manner, while residents have to understand their visitors’ culture. By doing so, they can communicate with each other and create a genuine tourism culture.
Tourism industry players should also strive to establish fair order and relationship among themselves. Travel agencies, for instance, are forced to buy off-season air tickets in bulk from airlines in order to secure more air tickets for the peak tourist season. In a similar vein, some outbound travel agencies don’t pay travel expenses for their customers to local tour agencies, taking advantage of their position to supply tourists. Such a practice inevitably leads to excessive shopping detours and low-quality tour programs. In order to help resolve these problems, a culture of fair international tourism should be created through cooperation with neighboring countries. At the state level, a comprehensive and fair tourism blueprint is needed. A concept of “Korean Peninsula tourism” comprising travels to both South and North Korea should also be set up. On a broader scale, it is needed to draw up a concept of Northeast Asia tourism that
views Korea, China and Japan as a single travel market. At present, the combined number of international visitors to the three countries is estimated to reach 100 million. Korea needs a broadscale strategy regarding all visitors to Northeast Asia as its target market.
[ Chosun Ilbo, November 27, 2012 ]
- Redefining the Middle Class - War of Education, Here Goes Dad! - Remember Yeonpyeong! - The Humanities as Learning for Healing
Redefining the Middle Class
Bang Sun-gyu Director-general of Culture and Arts Bureau Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism
The collapse of the middle class, the traditional backbone of our economy, has made polarization a hot issue. Most Korean office workers define the middle class as those with monthly income of 5 million won or higher, a 99 square meter (about 30 pyeong) or larger apartment, and a bank account of more than 100 million won, according to a recent survey. Some people who are in the middle class think of themselves as being in the lower class. This makes us reconsider our definition of middle class. Is it desirable to define the middle class solely by income and assets?
Former French President Georges Pompidou suggested that middle class people could improve the quality of their lives by engaging in six activities: speaking more than one foreign language, playing more than one musical instrument and playing more than one sport, cooking, helping the weak and making donations. The United States and Britain also have indices related to spiritual and psychological aspects, not material assets, in classifying the middle class.
These international interpretations of the middle class have a lot of implications for Korea, which ranks near the lowest in happiness index among industrial countries (32nd out of 34 OECD member countries). In the past 60 years, Korea has achieved rapid economic growth to amaze the world. However, the resultant income bipolarization has spread an acute sense of relative deprivation, making the middle class believe they are poor.
Although the government has introduced systems to improve the quality of life, such as the five-day week for work and school, it has not resulted in meaningful activity. The extra time has given children and adolescents more opportunities to play computer games and pushed them into more private education. Meanwhile, adults are spending more time drinking and watching TV. Consequently, household expenditures on private education and socio-economic costs for drinking have increased exponentially, amounting to some 40 trillion won a year.
I suggest that everyone discard their unhealthy leisure activities and engage in one cultural and arts activity such as music or fine arts and one athletic activity. If each individual acquires two kinds of skills through culture and arts education at the workplace or family level, it will naturally enhance his/her quality of life as well as help mitigate social problems such as school violence, game addiction and drinking-related accidents.
Especially, I want to encourage family members to participate together in the free cultural and arts events held on weekends. For example, the Korea Arts and Culture Education Service’s Kkumdarak [Dream Attic] Saturday Culture School is a program for children and adolescents to enjoy along with their families a variety of free cultural events organized by public institutions, culture and arts education support centers, and local culture and arts organizations. A total of 151 programs are currently under way around the country. This year, Korea has become the seventh nation to join the “20-50 club,” a group of nations that have a per capita GDP surpassing $20,000 and a population over 50 million. In addition, Korean athletes’ performances at the London Olympic Games in August have proved that our nation is meeting the qualifications for an advanced country socially and culturally, as well as economically. At the threshold to an advanced society, the government is implementing various policies to revive the middle class.
The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism also continues to expand its investment in culture and arts to improve the quality of life of people. The ministry is encouraging donations by famous artists and sports stars, providing policy support for activities of amateur culture and sports-related groups in conjunction with corporate sponsorship programs, and actively pushing policies to promote sports for all. The quality of life can’t be improved with material affluence alone. As seen in the experience of
advanced countries, productive and creative activities can improve the quality of life. With their shallow pockets amid economic slowdown, people may be able to enjoy the richness of the mind by participating in diverse cultural, artistic and sporting activities at minimal cost. Probably, the â€œPsy feverâ€? could help steer families to more culture and arts during weekends, thereby making life in Korea more pleasant.
[ Dong-a Ilbo, November 1, 2012 ]
War of Education, Here Goes Dad!
Yang Sun-hee Editorial Writer The JoongAng Ilbo
There was a time when “dad’s indifference” was counted as one of the three essential conditions for successful education of children. But the ever fiercer war for college admission has made this popular joke an outdated platitude. Last weekend, a so-called “prestigious private education institute” gave a briefing on strategies for this year’s college entrance exam and fathers accounted for roughly 30 to 40 percent of the audience. Their attendance in similar events has consistently increased in recent years. Briefings for parents of repeat applicants even draw more fathers than mothers these days.
In the days when college applicants competed against each other through a nationwide academic achievement test and an additional exam that only those applying for major universities had to take, fathers used to be forgiven for coming home late after drinking unless they disturbed their children’s sleep or their wives’ 100 days prayer. After the college scholastic ability test was introduced, igniting an information war among mothers, fathers were asked to stay away and not meddle. However, the information struggle to find the best cram schools and to build children’s specs reached a limit. Analyzing thousands of different screening systems for regular and nonscheduled admissions of universities and finding out combinations most favorable to their children’s specs and grades required enormous endurance, concentration and analytical ability. This is where fathers have found their role.
Last year, a father took a leave from work and strained his eyes day and night for three full days to produce hundreds of combinations by running Internet simulation programs, and had his son apply for a bit higher university than the boy’s grade level, which surely seemed tough. As a result, the boy was accepted to the university but failed in a safer application. “For the first time in 20 years since we married, my wife gave me thanks and praises from the depth of her heart,” he said delightedly.
Fathers also find their increased role in composing the letters of self-introduction required in nonscheduled admission procedures. Previously, mothers attended writing classes and jointly wrote the self-introduction letters with their children. However, admission officers acquired a discerning eye for such joint compositions. Hence, private institutes are now marketing their know-how to fathers. Since admission officers are largely males of similar age to fathers, letters written with fathers’ assistance can appeal more to them, the institutes explain. Now, fathers can’t help but diligently study the skills needed to write an appealing letter of self-introduction. Such being the case, people say that “strategy,” instead of “academic ability,” matters most in college admissions these days and the failure in admission is the “failure of strategy.” And in setting up the strategies fathers are increasingly expected to play greater roles.
The ongoing moves in the educational circles, however, make one suspect that fathers should expect tougher days ahead. Recently, Moon Yong-lin, former education minister and the only conservative candidate for the superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, said that, if elected, he would “abolish midterm and final exams for first graders in middle school and give them time to explore their future careers.” The statement alarmed those “sensitive” fathers who have great interest in their children’s education. Career exploration definitely needs help from fathers. A man who has a child attending elementary school said, “In a fast changing era like this, I am worried how I can help my child look for a career, which requires an eye to look ahead a dozen years at the least. If such a system is introduced, colleges will surely ask for specs regarding career exploration in admission procedures. Wouldn’t this be the role of fathers, after all?” “Basically, first and second graders in middle school haven’t yet reached the age to explore their future careers, but they must continue to cultivate their intellectual power.” “Is this really a remark made by the man who is a pedagogist?” “Korean education began to break down with the seventh curriculum revision and now it seems they are giving up public education completely.” These are
responses from some education specialists and related officials I talked with after Moon made the remark. Moreover, other candidates for Seoul education chief as well as presidential candidates, regardless of whether conservatives or progressives, are raising their voices to churn out “antieducational pledges” pushing public education into an even deeper conundrum.
Some pedagogists even argue that sending your child to a good cram school is the best education available. Among them is Professor Kim Young-cheon of Chinju National University of Education, who wrote the book, “Secret of Korean Education that Even Obama Didn’t Know ― Dads Can Die but Private Institutes Never Die.” “Korean education has been sustained by private institutes not schools,” Professor Kim said. “So, fathers should analyze teaching methods of private institutes as well as their children’s strong and weak points in order to find out appropriate institutes for their children.” Now, fathers can no longer stay away from the intense battle that is continuing on Korea’s educational front.
[ November 16, 2012 ]
Yun Yon Retired Vice Admiral
On December 7, 1941, the planes from Japanese aircraft carriers mounted a surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. Commanders at the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters believed that if the U.S. Pacific Fleet suffered a serious blow, its recovery would take about two years. However, Japan miscalculated. Chester W. Nimitz, the new commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific fleet, and his sailors rebuilt the base in just six months. Then, shouting “Remember Pearl Harbor,” the Americans were united toward the single goal of defeating Japan.
In broad daylight on November 23, 2010, North Korea fired 170 or so artillery shells at Yeongpyeong Island. In the surprise bombardment, two South Korean marines, Sergeant Seo Jeong-woo and Private First Class Moon Gwang-wook, and two civilians were killed and many others were wounded. Many houses on the island were destroyed. With the entire island catching fire in the aftermath of the shelling, most of the islanders were evacuated. It was the North’s first artillery attack since the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in an armistice. Eight months before the artillery attack on Yeonpyeong, South Korea was groping for ways to strengthen its homeland security in the wake of the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan by explosion. Following the Cheonan sinking, the South Korean military pledged that “if the enemy touches even a single piece of weed or a single drop of water in the Republic of Korea, it would not
be forgiven.” It said that if the enemy stages any provocation, it would retaliate with firepower “one hundred or ten hundreds times more powerful.”
Nevertheless, while the North was making a surprise attack on Yeongpyeong, the South Korean military remained silent, with only the Navy’s artillery personnel on the island struggling to counter the attack. Air Force fighters which took off upon receiving a scramble order were forced to return after only watching the North Korean artillery strongholds. That was because the South Korean command, which feared escalation into a full-blown armed conflict, did not order an airstrike.
Looking back, the deadly bombardment of Yeonpyeong did not occur because there was something wrong in the rules of engagement. The attack occurred because South Korea had no sufficient information on North Korea, and even after being attacked, it had no will to fight to retaliate. Yeonpyeong Island is now bulked up with outstanding firepower and equipment, but there is a limit to using it to counterattack. North Korea wields thousands of coastal artillery guns and missiles and the impact of any counterattack from Yeonpyeong would be restricted to defense, without question.
If the enemy mounts any provocation, South Korea should immediately retaliate against it, with naval ships deployed in surrounding waters and Air Force fighters. That could deter further provocations by the North. Since the signing of the 1953 armistice, North Korea has made every possible attempt to nullify the Northern Limit Line (NLL), through waterborne, underwater or air attacks. They led to the two armed clashes on the sea off Yeonpyeong Island, the sinking of the Cheonan by a torpedo attack, and bombardment across the NLL at Yeonpyeong Island.
While the enemy is using all means available to incapacitate the maritime demarcation, South Korean politicians are squabbling whether it is a sea border or not. Lately, even presidential candidates vying to become the commander-in-chief of our country's armed forces are making the NLL a political issue. The American people united in shouting “Remember Pearl Harbor!” But our public opinion is split, with nobody shouting “Remember Yeonpyeong!” Baengnyeong and Yeonpyeong islands in the West Sea are god-endowed gifts. They are tantamount to unsinkable battleships safeguarding the West Sea. But they are lethal swords to the North. Without Baengnyeong and Yeonpyeong islands, it would not be possible to safeguard the NLL, and Seoul and the adjacent Gyeonggi Province would be occupied by the enemy in an instant.
Some suggest designating a joint fishing area in the West Sea to establish peace. However, that can be considered only after the North recognizes the NLL and the two Koreas build mutual trust. The second anniversary of the Yeonpyeong attack should be an occasion to unite public opinion. Under the catchphrase of â€œRemember Yeonpyeong!â€? we should prepare to protect our land and seas from destruction by further enemy provocations.
[ Chosun Ilbo, November 21, 2012 ]
The Humanities as Learning for Healing
Kim Hei-sook Professor of Philosophy Ewha Womans University
There are so many humanities studies programs these days that they say the renaissance of the humanities has arrived. Local governments have rushed to open humanities lectures for their residents and the humanities programs offered by the media organizations are popular. On the other hand, the discourse on the crisis of the humanities is widespread. What is the problem?
Basically, Korean society lacks the culture to satisfy the intellectual hunger of people. Those who have not been able to enjoy any hobby while living hand-to-mouth from day to day suddenly feel empty as they look back on their lives. Religious faith cannot quench such a hunger. Numerous lectures on the humanities are like healthy refreshments to relieve the hunger. However, there is a limit to appeasing hunger with refreshments.
Generally speaking, the humanities are related to reading, thinking, conversing and writing. Literature, history and philosophy are aimed at cultivating the ability of an individual to lead a life worthy of human dignity here and now. What will become of our society without such ability? It would be dominated by the barbarism of animalistic greed and self-preservation instinct without any direction. A culture that cannot create the value of life worthy of human dignity will be confined to servility and self-denial.
The humanities propelled the development of Korea. The Joseon Dynasty advocated strong political morality. Compared with Western monarchs, some of them even illiterate, the kings of the Joseon Dynasty were great intellectuals. The humanities provided crucial knowledge for state management and popular aspirations for â€œa life worthy of human dignityâ€? despite poverty was the strength that has guided us so far.
The Confucian classics which served as texts for education abound with rhetorical terms such as integrity, diligence, modesty, abstinence and analytical reasoning. Confidence in truth and righteous life sometimes was so excessively overbearing that they engaged in do-or-die confrontation without tolerance for opposing views.
However, the functionalistic mind-set, which has taken root in our society in the course of modernization, has entirely changed our lives. Nowadays, humanities majors are regarded to have useless knowledge. Traditionally, those who majored in the humanities served as teachers but today teaching jobs are occupied by graduates of education colleges who insist they are better equipped with teaching methods. Humanities majors excluded from public education have dispersed into private education markets. Masterâ€™s or doctoral degree holders in the humanities lose their way, feeling at a loss as they witness their brilliant seniors live in poverty as non-regular workers at universities. Most outstanding undergraduates, therefore, do not dare undertake graduate studies. Humanities programs at graduate and undergraduate schools as well as research in the humanities are in dire circumstances. Anyone proposing increase in funding for the humanities will face questions why there is the need to increase funding for humanities studies that does not require money.
Thinking and questioning based on the humanities constitute the basics in all disciplines of academic learning and the framework for deciding human behavior. You should know where you want to go, or where you should go, before trying to find a fast road. Humanities majors should be allowed in elementary and secondary school education, and those who aspire to major in the humanities should be encouraged to become researchers who can preserve the tradition of Korean humanities research at universities. All this requires institutional support.
Literature helps us to nurture adaptability to complex human relations and phenomena, history enables us to chart out their life paths, and philosophy helps us plan our lives more systematically. It is doubtful that without these abilities Koreans will be able to unswervingly maintain their national
identity in the midst of North Korea, China, the United States, Japan and Russia, and further to build up the values and culture needed to lead the world in the feature. Prior to this, how can they find the meaning of their precious lives?
The strength to reflect on yourself and recognize the value of your own life as well as those of others does not derive from material affluence. The humanities that help cultivate intellectual thinking and enrich our inner world deserve more respect as valuable learning for healing our hearts and minds.
[ Dong-a Ilbo, November 15, 2012 ]
- Cultural Balance Sheet: More than Just Being in the Black - What the ‘Anipang’ Buzz Means - Artists Welfare Act is No Charities Act - Preservation of Arirang, an Intangible Cultural Asset of Humanity - Hangeul Day: World’s First Alphabet Holiday
Cultural Balance Sheet: More than Just Being in the Black
Lee Hae-jun Culture Editor The Herald Business
Last June I went on a trip to Uyuni salt desert in South America. Boasting scenery that is so fantastic as to appear unreal, the desert is in a remote area of the Andes mountains, straddling the border between Bolivia and Chile. To go there you need to travel off the road, kicking up mini dust storms, into the high altitude wilderness for three days and two nights. Together with about 10 travelers from other countries divided into two jeeps, I too drove into the badlands.
And our jeep driver was a hallyu fan. This unsophisticated looking mestizo even had a Korean flag stuck on his rearview mirror. Saying that he was a fan of JYJ, he crooned some melodies unfamiliar to me and danced in his seat, evoking gales of laughter. Realizing that there are hallyu fans on the other side of the world in the South American hinterland was a surprising experience.
The winds of hallyu have long blown in China, Southeast Asia and India, such that when one is revealed to be a Korean, they are likely to meet a dizzying number of locals who talk about obscure Korean songs, but the experience in Uyuni was a new one. Now that the wind of K-pop and Psy is blowing as far as Europe and America, it will spread like a typhoon across the global village. On the back of this Korean pop culture fever, the nationâ€™s cultural balance sheet, which has been perennially in the red is now in the black. Koreaâ€™s balance of trade in popular culture (balance of
payments in individual, cultural and entertainment services) had an annual deficit of US$2 million to US$5 million, but up through September this year it recorded US$37.3 million surplus. And the surplus looks set to increase until the end of the year. While itâ€™s not a big amount, it means that Korea has gone from being a culture importer to a culture exporter â€• a cultural producer. This, together with receiving more than 10 million inbound tourists to Korea, is expected to have a mutual synergy effect. However, the important thing is that the balance of trade for culture is fundamentally different to that for cars, information and telecommunications equipment, ship building and other products.
Rather than a few million dollars of trade surplus, it is more significant that Korean culture is well received around the world, and that people of the world can enjoy it. Global reception of Korean culture, and, going further, Korean spiritual values, has an outsized effect on raising the value of not only Korean products but also Koreaâ€™s overall country brand.
Although our cultural trade balance is in the black now, we must be careful not to look at it simply from an economic or commercial perspective. Clumsy policies to promote hallyu as a new engine of growth, as if drawing up a plan for economic development, can turn out to be more harmful than helpful. Maybe rather than trying to increase the trade surplus in culture, we need an approach that creates conditions under which various overseas cultures can be received and readapted into Korean cultural content.
At the same time, Koreans need to fully enjoy Korean culture, and there must be an environment to foster that. The same holds true for tourism. As important as strategies to attract more inbound tourists is the mindset or attitude of Koreans to enjoy tourism in their own country. When Koreans understand, and thus truly appreciate, the value of their own culture and landscape, foreigners will also notice it, and this is a fast track to raising competitiveness.
[ November 15, 2012 ]
What the ‘Anipang’ Buzz Means
Chung Sung-eun Professor of Communication Studies Sungkyunkwan University
There is a joke about a man named Joe and the most beautiful actress of the times who survived a shipwreck and were stranded on a deserted island. They built a shelter, got food for two, and after busying themselves for several days, they made love one night. The day after, Joe woke up the actress and asked for a favor. He asked her to pretend to be his friend John for one minute. She obliged, and Joe yelled at her, “Guess what, man. You will never believe what happened to me last night. You know the hot chick from the soap opera, right? I was with her last night. Isn’t it awesome?”
This joke tells us about how people need to have some kind of interaction with others. Joe is happy that he got lucky, but to him it is not enough. He needs to have someone he can share it with. If he has someone that is happy for him (a best response), compliments him (a good response), or envies him (a moderate response), such feedback from others makes the feeling of happiness and sense of achievement more permanent and the incident takes on more significance.
Even if you get a big prize or you topped the best score on a computer game, if no one recognizes you, then you feel empty inside after a brief period of exhilaration. But you don’t want to brag about it, either, and the more so if you are a Korean. But it is different when everyone gets to know how good you are without you telling them about it.
In less than three months since the game came out, Anipang recorded a whopping 20 million downloads and created a “Pang syndrome” in the mobile game world. The game was so successful because it was connected to the SNS Kakao Talk. In the smartphone game Anipang, what is a personal event becomes a social affair. If you score more than 500,000 points, this is immediately notified to your friends automatically who you chat with through Kakao Talk. You don’t have to hear their voices, but you can imagine in your head what your friends will probably say to you: how they will cheer for you, compliment you, or envy you when they hear about your score.
Personal achievement is relayed throughout social networks and creates a certain value of social significance. It is as if you got four- to five-hit combos in a row. You get to experience the happiness repeatedly. We need others to get their feedback on something we did. The fundamental reason why feedback from others is needed is because it is not easy to understand what happened to one and the meaning it has for oneself without the context of comparing oneself with others. Even if I score one million points, the number alone would tell nothing if I played alone. I need to compare myself with others to see if I did well or not.
In the 1960s, Leon Festinger, an American social psychologist, proposed the social comparison theory and explained that many incidents and behaviors do not have clear meaning by themselves and only through social comparison do people judge whether it was a desirable behavior or interpret the meaning of an incident. Anipang shows other people’s scores and in return gives meaning to my score. When I score higher than my friends, I feel better.
According to other social psychologists such as C. L. Downing, we are under the influence of the cognitive bias of wishful thinking that we are above average. In a survey of 100,000 U.S. high school students, 70 percent of the respondents said that their leadership capabilities would score above average. In a question asking about physical competency, only 6 percent of the students replied that they would be below average. Such “above average effect” or illusory superiority makes it difficult for people to accept below average results. This explains why many people feel a great deal of stress when their Anipang score is less than average, and because they want to beat others they cannot let go of their smartphones even in bed.
Would there have been the Pang syndrome at all if people had been more eager to pay others compliments and spread their friends’ good news offline? I cannot shake off the sad feeling that maybe people play Anipang to get recognition, compliments and appreciation from others. This may be a sign telling us that people are suffering from lack of social feedback and response.
[ Hankook Ilbo, November 17, 2012 ]
Artists Welfare Act is No Charities Act
Noh Jae-hyun Editorial Writer The JoongAng Ibo
I started watching IPTV at home two years ago. On my days off when there is nothing good on TV, I search in the movie section and I can pick from a variety of movies ranging from the latest hits playing in theaters to old classic films. New ones are more expensive and old ones are either free or at most 1,000 won (US$9). A few days ago, I watched for free “Plum Blossom” (2000) directed by Kwak Jikyun. I was sorry that I didn’t have to pay anything to watch his movie because it was the famous Kwak who directed movies such as “Wanderer in Winter” (1986) and “Portrait of the Days of Youth” (1991).
Director Kwak was found dead in his room in Daejeon in May 2010. The police suspected suicide. He had written in his notebook, “It is hard with no work. I feel empty inside.” In the movie “Plum Blossom” known for its beautiful camera work, two of the characters commit suicide. Why did a three-time Daejong Film Award recipient go their way? His acquaintances hint at depression. If eligible artists were entitled to national pension as well as health, unemployment and occupational hazard insurance, then maybe the late director’s life could have turned out differently. I felt guilty for watching the movie without paying anything because it was directed by a man who was desperate for work.
The Artists Welfare Act to be enforced starting tomorrow is the first law in Korean history written for
a special group of people who are not socially vulnerable. The death of Director Kwak as well as the death of the screenwriter Choi Go-eun, who died alone in sickness and poverty, played a part in getting the law passed. However, controversy remains over the so-called â€œChoi Go-eun Actâ€? named after the screenwriter. One is whether the act is able to produce the desired outcome.
In the process of legislation, full social insurance coverage was dropped and occupational hazard insurance was maintained as the sole option. Even that has to be 100 percent self-paid. Artists were placed in the same category as tourism vehicle drivers, courier service providers and CEOs of SMEs with fewer than 50 employees, and were asked to pay for their own insurance. This is unreasonable given the fact that 62.8 percent of Korean artists earn less than 1 million won per month.
National Assemblyman Noh Woong-rae of the Democratic United Party pointed out that support must be provided in paying for the social insurance premium in accordance with the Social Insurance Premium Support Program for Small-sized Workplaces because artists earn a meager income and furthermore to honor the objective of the Artists Welfare Act. He also commented that the act does not mention any measures to finance the welfare foundation.
Artists themselves show mixed responses. Some even claim that the law must be scrapped. Many raise fundamental questions about whether it has clear definitions of artists and artistic activities. For example, to be eligible in the field of literature, a writer has to have published in recent five years more than five pieces of work or critical reviews in literary journals or have published more than one book of his work or critical reviews. A poet expressed his concern saying that the quality of literary works and literary journals varies and if the writers only focus on the quantity, then low quality works may crowd out the high quality works.
In the movie production category, in order to be eligible you have to have worked as a director for more than once in movies that played in theaters during the last three years. A director who received an award at an international film festival said that the pre-production stage of movie planning and scenario writing takes about two years and even may have to fold before finishing because no investor is interested. If that happens, then the director will not have anything in his portfolio.
Despite all the controversy, however, I still think we need to push ahead with the new law. A lot of hard work has gone in to make this possible and we need to have patience. We cannot expect instant miracles from the law. We will be able to maximize the effectiveness of the law by working out the minor details. The most serious question is how only seven billion won (US$6.4 million) out of the
initial 35.5 billion won has been budgeted for 2013. Such a drastic cut makes us wonder why they passed the bill. Koreaâ€™s cultural service balance of payments has always been in the red until this year. In the first three quarters, it recorded a surplus of US$37.3 million and this trend will continue to yearend.
The Japanese government which had been suffering from a major headache for some time because of the hallyu boom of Korean popular culture took the initiative in uniting NHK and private broadcasting companies to launch a â€œcouncil for reviewing measures to promote the distribution of broadcasting contents.â€? This change did not just happen overnight. Artists and the cultural community had worked hard and produced creative ideas to make it happen. Herein lies the reason why we should not regard the Artists Welfare Act as some kind of charity.
[ November 17, 2012 ]
Preservation of Arirang, an Intangible Cultural Asset of Humanity
Editorial Yonhap News
Arirang, an indigenous Korean folk song, has been added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This means that Arirang is recognized by the international community as worthy of being preserved and passed down to future generations. Arirang’s registration was decided on December 5 (local time), at the seventh meeting of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Paris, based on its nomination by the government of the Republic of Korea. Immediately after the decision for designation, Mrs. Lee Chun-mi, the current holder of Korea’s Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 57 (Gyeonggi Folk Songs) and artistic director of the National Gugak Center, gave a stirring rendition of Arirang at the meeting venue. UNESCO made note of the fact that Arirang is not an asset handed down within a particular region, but rather a common legacy that exists in various communities, where it has been constantly recreated and passed down in various forms over the generations.
More than just a folk song, Arirang is a song particularly beloved by Koreans as it shows the Korean identity. It has the power to unite Koreans as one and is often sung wherever Koreans are. In different times and places, Arirang has been by turns a lyrical ballad, a song of resistance, and even a cheer. With the listing of Arirang, Korea now has 15 items on UNESCO’s list of the Intangible Cultural
Heritage of Humanity, including the royal ancestral ritual at Jongmyo Shrine and the accompanying music, pansori narrative songs, and the Dano Festival of Gangneung. UNESCO praised the Korean government’s preparation of a legal basis for preserving its intangible heritage and participation of various stakeholders, such as academics, researchers, local governments and communities, in nominating Arirang. But the road to Arirang’s inscription on the UNESCO list was a bumpy one. In August 2009 the government nominated the Jeongseon local version of the song, but it didn’t come up for consideration, because of the rule limiting the number of applications by each country in a given year. Subsequently, there was a joint push by North and South Korea to register all the Arirang songs on the Korean peninsula, but when this failed South Korea submitted the application itself in January 2012.
In June 2011, China designated Arirang, along with other traditional folk songs and customs of the ethnic Korean minority in China, as its own national intangible cultural asset, forcing the Korean government to quicken its steps. In defining Arirang as a series of songs whose refrain ends with “Arirang, arirang, arariyo,” the Korean government sought to nominate all Arirang versions, including those in North Korea and overseas, rather than confining to a specific region or time of origin.
We must take this as an opportunity to find a way to shed new light on all the Arirang songs scattered throughout the nation as well as reinvigorate the transmission of those songs to the next generation. Starting from “Jeongseon Arirang,” “Jindo Arirang” and “Miryang Arirang,” there are about 4,000 varieties of Arirang in some 60 types on the Korean peninsula alone.
However, due to an inadequate legal framework, it is no exaggeration to say that Arirang sits in a blind spot in terms of preservation. When designating an intangible cultural asset for preservation under the present system, a person or organization must be recognized as being the possessor of that particular skill or artistic ability. Because of this restriction, only “Jeongseon Arirang” has qualified for official designation (Gangwon Province Intangible Cultural Property No.1) with the Jeongseon Arirang Preservation Society named the title holder.
The Cultural Heritage Administration has announced a plan to designate Arirang as an Important Intangible Cultural Property next year. Given that China is making moves to define Arirang as its own national intangible cultural asset, Korea had better pick up the pace. The most urgent task is to ascertain the status of the various Arirang performance groups and select and recognize an authentic
performer (or group of performers) for each version of Arirang. The authorized groups of performers should then be supported and assisted in carrying out their responsibility to transmit the songs to the coming generations.
Other efforts to keep Arirang alive may include the construction of an archive to preserve written records on the various versions of the song as told by its transmitters and collecting related photos and recordings. In addition, it is also important to support academic inquiry and research, host academic conferences, stage permanent exhibitions, support local governments in hosting Arirang festivals, and investigate if other versions can be found in China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and wherever there are ethnic Koreans overseas.
The inscription of Arirang on the UNESCO list demonstrates that the Korean folk song has a global appeal as a piece of music that touches the hearts of all people regardless of nationality. In this regard, making this song known to the wider world can serve as the first step toward the globalization of Korean culture in general.
As part of a proactive globalization strategy, academic resources may be produced and distributed to overseas universities and research institutes. Encouraging Koreans living abroad to promote the song or setting up an international Arirang center may also be good methods. Movies, dramas and musicals could also be used to make the song known more widely. Through these active efforts, this indigenous Korean folk song will reach out to the people of the world to help them find peace and happiness in the beauty of music.
[ December 6, 2012 ]
Hangeul Day: World’s First Alphabet Holiday
Yun Seog-min Department of Korean Language and Literature Chonbuk National University
Hangeul Day will be a public holiday again from next year. It will have been 22 years since Hangeul Day was removed from the list of national holidays in 1991 because there were “too many holidays.” This is very welcome and happy news. There are many complaints that next year’s calendars will have to be made anew, or that there will be fewer workdays, but they seem half-hearted complaints.
Hangeul Day is the only day in the world for celebrating a writing system. While every country has its own various national holidays, I have never heard of a day to commemorate a language or an alphabet. In a sense, Hangeul Day commemorates a heritage that transcends race and embraces all of humanity. Many foreign experts are united in their praise of Hangeul, saying, “It’s the simplest writing system and the best,” and “It’s the most logical writing system in the world.” A scholar from another country celebrates Hangeul Day every year by gathering with his family and friends and having a feast. The fact that for years we have thought of this day as “nothing special, and just a waste of a workday,” is absolutely wrong.
Research by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism shows clearly that economic concerns and uncertainty are truly nonsense. When Hangeul Day becomes a public holiday, because of increased leisure and tourism activities, labor productivity will improve, domestic demand will be revitalized and jobs will be created. What’s more, the research also shows that pride in Hangeul will grow,
Korea’s nation brand will be enhanced, and our quality of life will improve. I’d like to tell one little known fact. Many people believe that because Hangeul Day is on October 9, Hangeul must have been invented on that day. But October 9 is the day Hangeul was proclaimed. King Sejong issued the proclamation at the start of the ninth lunar month of the 28th year of his reign, and this corresponded to October in the Gregorian calendar. King Sejong completed the invention of Hangeul in the 25th year of his reign, in the 12th lunar month, or January by the modern calendar. For that reason Hangeul Day in North Korea falls on January 15. Our practice of celebrating Hangeul’s proclamation, not its invention, dates back to 1926 during the Japanese occupation, when the Korean Language Society set the first Hangeul Day (then called “Gagya Day”). When viewed from the position of the users, not the creator, the day of Hangeul’s proclamation is more important. King Sejong also saw the matter in the same way. Whether it’s King Sejong, or the people who established the first Hangeul Day, they both wished that this day would be one of happiness and pride to all the people. The fact that Koreans started to commemorate Hangeul during the period of Japanese colonial rule, when the use of Hangeul was forbidden, gives the day special historical meaning.
Nevertheless, the reinstatement of Hangeul Day as a public holiday is not sufficient in itself. There is still much to be done. First, we must have hearts that love and honor Hangeul. The abuse of Hangeul is so widespread: odd words borrowed from other languages in the wrong way, signs full of foreign words, and curse words and alien words rampant in text messages and online comments. We must promote the proper use of Hangeul, and to achieve this goal we should rediscover its beauty.
We also need to raise global awareness of the cultural greatness of Hangeul. It is an efficient writing system that anybody can learn easily and use conveniently. It is not hard for foreigners to learn and use it. The number of foreigners who want to learn Korean is rising. Many young people in other countries watch Korean soap operas, eat Korean food and sing Korean songs. Our efforts to globalize Hangeul and other elements of the Korean language will be rewarded with more international attention to our culture. Now we are in the group of top 10 trading nations as the seventh member of the “20-50 club” (per capita GDP of US$20,000 and a population of over 50 million). We are praised as the only country to have grown from an aid recipient to a donor nation. It would be nice if we could also be praised as a country that created Hangeul and possesses outstanding cultural capacity.
Sometime ago, singer Psy said in a lecture given at Oxford University, â€œI will keep writing and singing songs in Korean.â€? This is where he laid out his plan to make the whole world his stage. I think about the pride he must have felt in Korean and Hangeul at that moment. He must have had the assurance that as a tool for sharing his music with his audience Korean is just as good as English might be. What we need now is that kind of pride and self-confidence, not vain discussion.
[ Seoul Shinmun, November 13, 2012 ]
- A Review of Marketization in North Korea - North Koreaâ€™s Changing Culture and Arts in the Kim Jong-un Era - Specter of Japanese-style Consumption Slump
A Review of Marketization in North Korea Yang Moon-soo Professor University of North Korean Studies
I. Introduction Since the official launching of Kim Jong-un’s rule in North Korea last April, speculation has increased around the world over whether the North will begin economic openness and reform. The speculation stems from the North’s so-called “June 28 directive,” an internal government guideline under the title of “On establishing a new economic management system of our style.” However, there was no apparent follow-up for turning the directive into reality. Indeed, outsiders’ expectations that certain economic reform measures would be announced during the extraordinary Supreme People’s Assembly session in September were completely dashed.
The general international assumption is that any economic reform measure in the North would legalize its shadowy market economy because it would be the best option for higher productivity and industrial output. This study will discuss how North Korean society has arrived at this point, how special it is and how the process of “marketization” may unfold.
II. Background 1. Conceptual Framework
Marketization has many dimensions. One is the act of introducing the market mechanism and its expansion. In this case, the market mechanism decides prices through the interaction of demand and supply and the price signal leads households and enterprises to take economic actions. Furthermore, resources in the macro-economy are distributed by the market mechanism.
Marketization also means the creation and expansion of marketplaces. Markets consist of, spatially and functionally, local and external markets and national and global markets. For markets to develop, it is necessary to integrate local and national markets. By the kinds of the objects of transactions, markets can be divided into producers’ goods market,
consumer goods market, capital/financial market and labor market. In a socialist economy, these markets do not exist or they exist in minimum scales. Enterprises obtain raw materials, operating funds and labor from the state or other enterprises in accordance with national economic plans, and deliver their products to other enterprises or the state’s commercial agencies.
Marketization is said to be under way when local and external markets are integrated and a nationwide market is formed, or if the four markets of producers’ goods, consumer goods, capital and labor have been created. If enterprises and farms acquire raw materials, capital and labor through the market and distribute their products through the market, it means the process of marketization is in progress.
It should be noted that marketization is not limited to price mechanism. The market is the combination of all that we call market factors. They include the space where goods can be stored, suppliers, consumers, the customs covering the way of transactions, and laws applied to these activities. Products and money are the two most important elements of market.
Commercialization of goods and the use of currency in transactions promote marketization and subsequently accelerate the creation of markets. Therefore, they can be barometers in measuring the degree of the marketization of an economy.
2. Economic Crisis of the 1990s and the March of Tribulation
Marketization in North Korea began in the 1990s, when it was under extreme economic duress. The state-operated commercial system did not work, the supply of consumer goods was seriously hampered and the food rationing system virtually broke down in the “March of Tribulation” period. Small, legal farmers’ markets operated across North Korea before the crisis, and when the economic turmoil erupted, they developed into large-scale black markets. To survive, people brought to the market anything of value they could put their hands on. This included personal items such as clothes, kitchenware and furniture; agricultural and livestock products from both legal and illegal plots of land; industrial products, raw materials and food stolen or diverted from factories and collective farms; goods imported legally or illegally; and relief goods provided by international humanitarian organizations.
People who initially were hesitant to go to the marketplace decided to join when they saw others who were making a living through market activities. It started on the individual basis but later, the members of farms and enterprises participated with items available at their work places. Thus, what had started as farmersâ€™ marketplaces grew into a large black market system as official control loosened. North Korean authorities regarded the black markets as an inevitable phenomenon to ease the difficulties in the provision of food and necessities under the paralyzed state rationing system. Not only food items but daily necessities, high-priced durable goods and even producersâ€™ goods were transacted. These markets spread from their officially designated locales to streets and spaces near residential areas. At first, markets opened once every 10 days. Later, they opened everyday and those coming to the markets included professional merchants.
3. After the Economic Management Reform Measures of July 1, 2002
With the official start of the Kim Jong-il rule in 1998, four years after the death of Kim Il-sung, North Korean authorities began restoring social and economic order, which had broken down under the
black markets. Internally, they held up “pragmatism” or “pragmatic socialism” and sought improvement of external relations. Under these circumstances, the July 1 economic management reform measures were taken in 2002.
The July 1 measures included partial introduction of the market economy mechanism. The Pyongyang authorities accepted the marketization from the bottom and introduced some elements of the market mechanism as part of the official system. This accelerated marketization. First, the authorities began using “earning indicators” as a means of assessing the performances of enterprises. With this, they allowed enterprises to produce goods in excess of the planned level and to circulate the excess products. It virtually was a permission of enterprises to engage in market activities. In agriculture, state purchase prices for food grains were raised substantially and collective farms were allowed to sell their output themselves. A “socialist material exchange market” opened for the first time, introducing the market mechanism for producers’ goods. This was aimed to have enterprises and factories adjust their shortages and surpluses among themselves. A portion of the products of enterprises were sold at markets, enabling them to secure raw materials with the proceeds. In March 2003, general merchandise markets began to be established. “Farmers markets” were now simply called “markets” and the scope of merchandise expanded to include processed foods and industrial goods. Hence, the previous black markets were now officially recognized as consumer markets.
As markets were legalized, the number of people selling and buying at markets grew sharply and the amount of goods transacted increased rapidly. Not only individuals but factories and collective farms participated in market activities in large scale.
In North Korea, trading firms played an important role in the marketization process. Their primary task had been handling imports for their affiliated enterprises and organizations. They turned to illegally selling imported items in markets. As the government opened general markets and promoted the entry of state-run shops, there appeared “socialist material exchange markets” where factories and collective farms could purchase raw materials and other producers’ goods. Besides, factories and farms were now able to secure funds legally through the sale of their products at markets. Thus, the producers’ market and the consumer market were linked and participants in these businesses influenced each other’s activity.
Commercial activity was illegal in the past and “merchants” were officially nonexistent in North Korea. General markets changed the situation. There emerged people who earned money by full engagement in commerce and were regarded as capitalists. Furthermore, different merchant groups developed, such as merchants engaged wholesale and retail businesses.
As markets were legalized and expanded, credits and financing became necessary. No financial market has been recognized in the North yet and any such activities are private and unofficial. Unofficial financing is conducted between individuals or between individuals and enterprises. And the unofficial financial market has been linked to the producers’ and consumer markets. As players in these sectors influenced each other, business opportunities in all the divided and linked markets naturally expanded.
A rudimentary form of private selling of labor appeared. It was bought by the new capitalists. In the commercial sector, there appeared the relations of private employment between owners of shops and shopkeepers, between owners of ships and fishing laborers, between landowners (illegal) and their tenants, and between workshop operators and skilled workers in manual industry. These relations were illegal in principle but the boundary between legal and illegal businesses became blurred. As a whole, producers’ goods, consumer goods, finance and labor markets were formed, linked up and influenced each other, helping expand the market economy in the North.
4. Shift to Restriction on Markets
The reformist measures began to recede in 2005 and it was apparent that market policies changed from promotion to restraint, beginning around 2007. While the reformist measures were conducted by the cabinet, resistance from the party grew with voices of concern about the socio-economic side effects of reforms, namely the loosening of social discipline and proliferation of materialism and individualism.
Control on markets was implemented in several ways. Restrictions on merchants concerned their ages, business hours and places and items of merchandise. Outside the general markets, individual investment in service businesses were restricted and trading firms were subject to extensive restructuring. Inspections resulted in punishment of party and state officials and capitalists. In 2009, ill-fated attempts began to change general markets back to farmers’ markets. In late
November that year, an upgraded form of market control was enforced as Pyongyang announced a currency redenomination measure. Ceilings were set for the exchange of old and new currencies to seize the cash owned by large and middle-level merchants and thereby weaken the financial basis of market economy activities. In January 2010, an ordinance was issued to convert general markets into farmers’ markets.
The currency reform, however, was of little effect in suppressing markets. The abrupt reduction of money circulation constrained transactions in markets but it resulted in sharp rise of prices. As the ill effects reached irrevocable levels, the authorities relaxed their control on markets and finally withdrew the series of market restriction measures in a directive on May 26.
5. Return to Allowance of Markets
Markets recovered legal status in May 2010 and the key policies on markets still appear to be intact. However, there have been occasional crackdowns on private activities that could affect market business, including the month-long surveillance from early August last year along the Chinese border by inspection teams called the “Storm Corps” under direct orders of Kim Jong-un. Inspectors checked the use of Chinese-made mobile phones, drug use and sales, possession of South Korean movie DVDs, private trading with China, and arranging trips to China for people who want to escape from the North.
After the death of Kim Jong-il in December 2011, North Korean authorities restricted the movement of their people for the 100-day mourning period. In the Chinese border area, restrictions continued after the official mourning ended. From late in December 2011 until early this year, the local security apparatus along with the airwave control bureau of the North Korean top security agency controlled the use of mobile phones in the border area. These actions were not directly targeting on markets but were aimed at suppressing “anti-socialist behaviors.” Their impact on markets was insignificant compared to the harsh control on markets that began in 2007. Inspections on anti-socialist trend were not new in North Korea.
Since the May 26, 2009 measures lifting restrictions on markets, North Korean authorities have maintained their policies regarding market activities at the level provided by the July 1, 2002 measures. It should be noted that no new actions to vitalize market mechanism in the North Korean economy have been taken since 2009.
III. Characteristics of Marketization in North Korea 1. Dual Structure Strategy of National Economy
One of the key factors of the North Korean economy since the economic crisis in the 1990s is its dual structure strategy. This is found in the basic contrast of planned and market systems and in the balance between the privileged (party and military) and general (cabinet and public) economies. The structure is also seen in the division between the heavy industries, including arms industry, and the light industry. This is purely conceptual observation which risks over-simplification. The dual structure does not completely separate the contrasting sectors nor dictates independent operations. Division is very opaque, especially between the planned and market systems. The crisis of the 1990s practically abolished the “national economy” criterion in North Korea. The circular reproduction structure in the macro-economic system has been destroyed and the North’s national economy has been fractured and fragmented. Without unified operations, the North Korean economy has been divided into planned and market economies and again between the party, military, cabinet and private (unofficial) sectors.
In the 2000s, Pyongyang attempted to formalize the dual structures. First, over the question of rearranging the priority order for the distribution of resources, the state gave up controlling the entire national economy. The government assumed responsibility for the party and military economies and a part of the cabinet economy, but left part of the cabinet economy and the entire private/unofficial economy up to the mercy of the market functions. With its state financial capacity cut in half, this was an inevitable survival strategy.
Nations respond to a drastic cut in fiscal income roughly with two alternatives. One is to cut the budget evenly for all sectors for fair distribution and the other is to opt for unequal distribution. North Korea chose the latter and rearranged its allocation of resources in response to the economic crisis.
For the core industries, the state took strong control within the planned economic formula, or more precisely, beyond the planned system. The state keeps its hands off the rest of the industries. A clear division is drawn between the enterprises and industries that the state directly controls and those free of state control or support. The former are the arms and heavy industries; the latter is the light industry directly related to the general population’s consumption.
The market economy basically operates in a laissez faire, self-sufficient manner. In the economic crisis of the 1990s, the central government, having lost control of the national economy, transferred its responsibility for the peopleâ€™s livelihood to the local administrations and private factories and farms. Having no supply of raw materials and operating funds from the central government, local authorities and economic units had to feed their own members, relying on the market mechanism that the state had only to tolerate. The July 1, 2002 measures had the nature of formalizing the dual structure.
2. Coexistence of Planning and Market in Collective Farms Collective farms, major players in North Koreaâ€™s national economy, operate under state planning and markets, the former for securing inputs and the latter for distributing output. The farms obtain operating funds from the planned sector such as the state and banks or via its own channels and then secure cash by selling their produce at markets or by renting their land. They can purchase farming tools and materials through the supply route of the state while at the same time they can buy those goods through direct transactions with related businesses in the market.
Farm products are delivered to various levels of buyers operating in the state planning structure or sold at general markets for cash. Farmland can be leased to public organizations or enterprises for rents. The balance between the state planning and market sectors vary according to the size and importance of collective farms.
3. Relations between Planning and Market
It is hard to clarify the difference between the planned economy and the market economy. Their boundaries are obscure and they have overlapping elements. At the very least, we can first say that they are complementary but at the same time contradictory. The market depends on the planned economy for much of its material basis. The market obtains facilities, raw materials, parts and electric power from the planned sector, through legitimate supply or sometimes by theft. On the other hand, the market provides food and necessities that the planned economy cannot supply to consumers. The planned economy then absorbs the surplus in the market economy in the form of taxes and quasitaxes.
The market, as a result of the plundering of a large portion of its profits by the planned sector, loses
the potential for growth. The market in this situation cannot expect internal accumulation of profits. The planned sector has more serious problems. It is constantly troubled by the illegal diversion and theft of its resources by the components of the market economy, which result in the weakening of its material foundation. Operators of the planned sector may believe that they are engaged in profitable exchanges with the market, but what the state collects from the market in the form of tax and quasitax are more than offset by the loss in its material foundation.
The surplus taken from the market is supposed to be invested in the planned sector to boost production. Yet, there is greater likelihood that the surplus collected from the market is diverted to consumption, especially when the surplus finds its way to the private components instead of official ones. In this case, the planned economy becomes a losing model.
Furthermore, corruption that increases as marketization progresses has a corrosive effect on the planned economic system. It hampers the state system for delivery and implementation of orders and pushes its components toward private interests instead of the public good.
At this moment, it is difficult to judge whether they are more complementary than contradictory or vice versa and which one gets more benefits from their interaction. When considering not only the economic aspect but also the social and political outcomes, it is believed that the two systems are more in contradictory relations and that the planned sector is the side that loses more. Collusion between political power and economic players will inevitably cause the widening of the gap between the rich and the poor that leads to socio-political instability. The vicious circle of deepening corruption prompting the increase of crime and the weakening of the state control system is foreseen in the future of North Korea. The question is the speed of these negative developments.
4. Dilemma of the North Korean Government
North Korea is in a fundamental dilemma over the question of marketization. There certainly is the need to promote markets in order to revive economy. The state cannot but seek the productive function of the market now that its domestic resources have been depleted and the state has lost the capability to feed its people.
But further development of markets will no doubt increase political burdens on the regime. Marketization poses a serious challenge to the existing socio-political system. It foments individualism and materialism, widens the gap between the rich and the poor, and shakes the
communal order in North Korean society. The experiences following the reform measures of July 1, 2002 confirmed the worries of North Korean rulers. Kim Jong-il frankly remarked that “markets have become the hotbed of anti-socialism.” The rising sense of crisis over the ill effects of markets since 2002 forced the North Korean authorities to apply the brakes on marketization in 2007.
North Korean rulers feel the needs both to promote markets and to restrict them. What they ultimately want to achieve is a manageable market. They would promote marketization to a certain level and then suppress it when its side effects exceed a tolerable level. The timing will depend on their political judgment.
The most important question is whether state control of the market will be possible and in other words whether the state can keep marketization at a manageable level. This is never an easy task. Pyongyang started vigorous control of markets in 2007 and they mounted a determined war against markets in a rather preposterous currency reform in 2009. But these efforts failed and they turned to generally permitting market activities in May 2010.
The problem is that Pyongyang authorities have few ways and means with which to control markets except for physical force. Physical control may have certain effect for some time but cannot fundamentally suppress markets without having the planned economic system sufficiently increase its supply capacity to the level of satisfying the people’s needs.
IV. Future Prospects The positive factor for marketization is the inability of North Korean officials to totally suppress markets. Most importantly, the material and functional foundation of the planned economy has been destroyed. The crumbling planned economy gave rise to markets that made up for what state plans failed to do. In effect, the state’s dependence on markets has deepened. The party, cabinet and other state functions have supplemented their shortfalls with what they collected from the surplus in the market. The state is a virtual parasite on the market. In other words, the state cannot function without markets.
Markets in the North now have a history of 20 years, a time long enough to make them an indispensable part of the North Koreans’ lives. They are still unstable but are being developed into an economic system.
These factors seem to allow the prospect of continued expansion of markets in the North. But we still cannot ignore the other factor that keeps the planned economy from abrupt reduction. As long as the state is in control of major resources such as food and energy, it can prevent the planned sector from declining below a certain level.
The marketization in North Korea has shown limits in self-expansion. First of all, markets in the North have developed under adverse political conditions, both domestic and external. There was the extraordinary process of power succession for the third generation that produced the continuation of an absolute leadership. Relations with the United States have remained closed, keeping the North in international isolation.
Markets developed in the North without being accompanied by an increase of production. While domestic resources were depleted, markets functioned for distribution rather than production. The state deprived the market of the surplus it created in the form of taxes and quasi-taxes but the material foundation of the planned economy has dwindled because of the theft and diversion of state resources by individuals and enterprises. Corruption also threatens the functional foundation of the planned economy.
Overall, the 20 years of economic hardships in North Korea brought about the coexistence of markets and planned economy with the former steadily expanding to reduce the scale and function of the latter. How will be the future situation? What is certain at the moment is that there is no possibility of the planned economy being restored to the past level and the market economy losing its present role. Uncomfortable coexistence will continue for the time being.
The question remains about the speed of change. Given the socio-political conditions in North Korea, it is unlikely that we can see a speedy rise of the market economy and an abrupt fall of the planned economy. All will depend on how much the official system will accept marketization. Here, keen attention is drawn to the implementation of the June 28, 2012 guideline in the days to come.
[ KREI Quarterly Agricultural Trends in North Korea, Vol. 14, No. 3, published by the Korea Rural Economic Institute ]
North Korea’s Changing Culture and Arts in the Kim Jong-un Era Jeon Young-sun HK Research Professor Konkuk University
I. Introduction The recent changes in North Korean culture and arts can be defined in three words: “brighter, younger, and open.” Ponderous and solemn in the past, the culture and arts have become a degree lighter, brighter, and younger. In 2009, the young musicians of the Unhasu Orchestra played jubilantly in dresses that showed their collarbones. In 2012, young female members of the Moranbong Band dressed in miniskirts performed the theme songs to the Hollywood movies “Rocky” and “My Way” on electric guitars. The North Korean people’s shock at these two “unconventional” sights alone can easily be imagined. “Change” — this word that once swept through South Korean society became the keyword of North Korean culture around 2008. Composite forces were at work that year, including coolness in SouthNorth relations and restoration of traditionally friendly ties with other countries, and the worsening health of Kim Jong-il, chairman of the National Defense Commission. When Kim Jong-un succeeded his father as supreme leader in 2012, culture and the arts were used to clearly signal the coming of a new generation. That is, through radical change in culture and the arts, the coming of a new leader and a new era was heralded.
This article examines the changes in North Korean culture and arts since 2008, and their background and significance.
II. Cultural Trends Since 2008 1. Redesigning Foreign Relations through Culture
Change was first detected in North Korean culture and arts in 2008. That year South-North relations became strained with the inauguration of the Lee Myung-bak government in the South, and increasingly poor health of North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-il. The North’s culture and arts circle began looking for change, a move which obviously signaled a policy shift.
Such change became evident in the North’s foreign relations. Culture has always been an important factor in the country’s foreign relations, and hence it was used to demonstrate political change. The first sign came with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance in Pyongyang on February 26, 2008. Broadcast live on radio nationwide, the concert consisted of three pieces, Wagner’s opera “Lohengrin,” Dvorak’s “Symphony from the New World,” and Gershwin’s “An American in Paris,” as well as the North Korean national anthem and the American national anthem. “The Star Spangled Banner,” the anthem of a hostile nation, was heard throughout the country.
With the news of this performance gathering international attention, on February 25, the day before, Lee Myung-bak was inaugurated president of South Korea. The international press made a point of this exquisite timing, and indeed everyone seemed to be more interested in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in Pyongyang than the inauguration of a new president in Seoul. Some media even made hasty forecasts about the North Korea-U.S. relations. While no further progress was made in that area, the American orchestra’s performance signaled a turning point in North Korea’s foreign policy.
Having failed to improve relations with the United States, the North turned to restoration of ties with China. Although the North’s relations with China and Russia had traditionally been friendly, they had been somewhat neglected with rapid progress in the two countries’ relations with South Korea. So with the view of restoring ties, North Korea’s major performing arts troupe, the Pibada (Sea of Blood) Opera Company, toured China throughout April 2008, performing the revolutionary opera “The Flower Girl” in 12 major cities, starting with Beijing. It was the opera company’s first lengthy overseas tour in 10 years. The movie version of “The Flower Girl” had been hugely popular when it was screened in China in September 1972. It was the first foreign film China had ever imported, and as color movies were rare at the time, scalped tickets sold for five to 10 times more than the original price. The 2008 stage performance of “The Flower Girl” roused a great response among old fans of the movie and lit the spark for restoration of North Korea-China ties. The following year, North Korea created an opera titled “Hongrumong” based on the Chinese classical novel “Hong Lou Meng” (Dream of the Red Chamber) and proclaimed 2009 as the “Year of North Korea-China Friendship.” The opera based on an 18th century Chinese novel represented the first attempt in North Korea to adapt a foreign classical work to the stage since its proclamation of Juche (self-reliance) ideology in the 1970s. Chinese artists actively participated in the project, and
when the Pibada Opera Company performed “Hongrumong” in 2009 it became a cultural symbol of restoration of North Korea-China relations.
2. Making Masterpieces by Remaking the Classics
Since 2008 the trend in North Korean culture and arts has been a return to the classics. Works that were popular in the time of Kim Il-sung, the founding leader of North Korea, are being remade for the stage. The major example is the drama “Sanullim” (An Echo among the Hills), written by Ri Tong-chun in 1961 and premiered at the Gangwon Provincial Theater. It is a light comedy depicting those living in the age of the Chollima Movement, a drive to work hard to achieve rapid economic development. Based on the theme of farmers toiling to produce food and develop the rural community, the play was praised by Kim Il-sung as an outstanding work. When the National Theater staged the readapted version of “Sanullim” in April 2010, the occasion was widely broadcast by the media. Starting in Pyongyang, the performance toured the country. From April to June 2010, Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the Workers’ Party of Korea, published articles about the drama 29 times. “Sanullim” went on to win the prestigious Kim Il-sung Award and other awards encouraging such creative activity. Theater works from the Kim Il-sung era were used to evoke memories and emotions from that time.
The North also went on to remake Chinese and Russian classics as well, purportedly to commemorate diplomatic relations. Following the staging of “Hongrumong” in 2008 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of ties with China, North Korea also put another Chinese play on stage, “Sentry under the Neon Light,” and in 2010 the Russian play “Eugene Onegin.” Based on the original 1897 play by Pushkin, “Eugene Onegin” is a famous Russian classic that was set to music by Tchaikovsky and turned into an opera. It was first performed in North Korea in 1958 at the Pyongyang University of Music and Dance. The remake was commissioned by Kim Jong-il on June 8, 2009, when he said, “Our people, with the great pride and dignity of a people soon to live in a strong and powerful nation, need to know more about the culture of the world.” Immediately after watching the performance on May 2, 2010, Kim Jong-il awarded watches and merit titles to those involved in the production. Through newspapers such as the Choson Sinbo, published in Japan, extensive reports were made on the actors and the content of the play and the fact that Russian artists had actively assisted in the production was emphasized.
III. ‘Change’ and ‘Unconventional’ ― Keywords of the Kim Jong-un Leadership 1. Change: Iconography of the Kim Jong-un Era
The greatest concern of the North Korean leadership in 2012 is stabilization of the Kim Jong-un regime. Kim Jong-un rose to the position of supreme leader of North Korea upon the sudden death of his father, Kim Jong-il, and his lack of experience and youth are problematic when it comes to the image of a stable leader. No doubt the North Korean people probably saw him in the same light. He had risen to leadership under the avid interest of people at home and around the world, and the only card he had to play was culture. He lacked time to promote reform of the political structure or economic achievements. As such, culture and the arts were a surefire way to demonstrate change to the people of North Korea and at the same time display the stability of the system.
But what did the North Korean people need most? What did they want most from Kim Jong-un? The answer would have been “a desire for change.” If the country under the young leader proves to be no different to that under his father, then stability of the North Korean system cannot be expected. Conversely, if the people feel that conditions have changed, that the country is different somehow because of the appearance of a new young leader, then they will begin to have faith in his regime.
In addition to its culture and arts, North Korean society today seems upbeat and full of energy. Rather than a mood of mourning for the late Kim Jong-il, a bright and happy mood suited to the image of a new young leader is purposely being generated. The Unhasu Orchestra and the Samjiyeon Orchestra, both composed of young musicians, appeared out of nowhere, and the Moranbong Arts Troupe, which Kim Jong-un formed in 2012, has been showing some unconventionally new performances. Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse, symbols of America, appeared on stage, and the theme from the American movie “Rocky” was performed with footage from the film in the background. The two-hour performance, albeit recorded, was broadcast on television across the country.
The change toward new, young and vibrant is also clearly noticeable in broadcasting. When we think of North Korean television we immediately bring to mind the newscasters with their unnaturally emphatic voices, rigid expressions, and stern way of speaking. The image of such announcers reading the news at nine o’clock on Korean Central TV whenever anything significant happens in the country is familiar to most South Koreans. But since Kim Jong-un came into power, young and sophisticated newscasters have been appearing, bringing new life to television broadcasting.
In fact, broadcasting in general has changed. The female announcers sport fashionable new hairstyles and wear suits that are pink or red or some other bright color. This is a major change from the old way of delivering the news clad in traditional dress, hanbok. The ever present blue background has also changed with the heavy use of computer graphics. Often, the announcer can be seen with a big PDP monitor at her side. Overall, television has become more upbeat and full of things to watch. 2. Unhasu Orchestra and Moranbong Band: Symbols of the ‘Unconventional’
The first performance of the Moranbong Band can be considered a crystallization of change and the unconventional under the Kim Jong-un regime. At their first performance in May 2012, the members of the troupe sang and danced dressed in glittery, revealing mini-dresses and 10cm killer heels, very different to the hanbok-attired performers in folk song concerts. And as mentioned above, symbolic American characters such as Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse appeared on stage, while scenes from “Rocky” played in the background, short but meaningful, and the whole show was broadcast nationwide.
Signs of the unconventional were also found in the concerts of the Unhasu Orchestra and the Samjiyeon Orchestra, which began performing properly in 2009. The Unhasu Orchestra consists of high caliber musicians who have studied overseas or won prizes in international competitions. But it was their fashion not their talent that attracted attention. The young female players wore princess dresses or clothes that revealed the neck and shoulders, an unbelievable sight at a concert in North Korea. In addition, the concerts included some swing music, which seemed to loosen up the performers’ limbs.
The May 2012 concert of the Morangbong Band attested to even greater change. Instead of the electric lights that bring to mind a cabaret, high-tech videos were used in the background and in addition to Mickey and Minnie there were plenty of other things to see. If not for the Korean Central TV logo, the performance seen on television would have passed for a concert in South Korea. It was so unconventional that traditional features in terms of repertoire, stage props and stage manner were hard to find. Of course, revolutionary songs were sung by performers dressed in military uniforms, but the overriding impression was of change.
Indeed, the performance was a vehicle for demonstrating change, Kim Jong-un style. The foundation of the Moranbong Band and nationwide broadcast of its inaugural performance with the appearance
of Kim Jong-un signaled the start of the “real Kim Jong-un era.” The Unhasu Orchestra and Samjiyeon Orchestra were founded in 2009, and while the former is a symbol of the Kim Jong-un era it was founded in the time of his father, Kim Jong-il. On the other hand, the Moranbong Band was clearly made in Kim Jong-un’s era. Moranbong is one of the peaks of Mt. Kumsu and the location of Kumsusan Memorial Palace (aka Kumsusan Palace of the Sun), which used to be the official residence of Kim Il-sung and now serves as a mausoleum for Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. This connection between Kim Jong-un and Moranbong serves as a declaration that he is the rightful successor to Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. This point is also emphasized by the North Korean media. Korean Central TV reported that “Kim Jong-un, first chairman of the National Defense Commission, has said that we must accept the good things of other countries, join them with ours and make them our own; we must raise our music and arts to world standard,” and added, “The new Moranbong Band was created by First Chairman Kim Jong-un himself.” As creation of the Moranbong Band can be counted as Kim Jong-un’s first achievement in the field of culture and the arts, the contents of its performances are a sign of change in society. 3. Kim Jong-un’s Policies Reflected in ‘Arirang’ Mass Games The “Arirang” mass games, first performed in 2002, give an indication of North Korea’s policy directions. “Arirang” is the biggest mass games in the world and a Guinness title holder as the largest event of its kind. The fact that it involves some 100,000 people means it is more than just a performance. Artists, students and ordinary people join together to display the soundness of the North Korean system and as a mass acknowledge the policies of the state.
In 2002 the mass games were originally prepared to commemorate the 90th anniversary of Kim Ilsung’s birth. Later the name was changed to “Arirang,” and after the 2005 performance the mass games were changed slightly every year while maintaining the basic framework and composition. Much of the 2012 performance, held in September, was inevitably adjusted for it had to commemorate the centennial of the Juche ideology, mourn the death of Kim Jong-il, and herald the new leader Kim Jong-un.
The content referring to Kim Jong-il featured giant models of Kimjongilia flowers and the card section honored the late leader with slogans such as “Kim Jong-il’s patriotism.” The card section
content for Kim Jong-un began with the phrase “The greatest honor to respected comrade Kim Jongun.” The card section also spelled out “Rungra People’s Pleasure Ground” and “People’s Open Air Ice Rink,” achievements attributed to Kim Jong-un in the short time he has been leader. But the most notable part of the 2012 “Arirang” mass games was the act titled “Friendship Arirang,” which dealt with North Korea-China relations. While the act dealing with South-North relations and the unification issue, titled “Unification Arirang,” barely lasted four minutes with a song and accompanying narration, the “Friendship Arirang” act lasted much longer and provided much more varied fare. To start with, the card section spelled out “The friendship of war allies tied by blood” in both Korean and Chinese as soldiers from both countries entered the field. This was followed by the appearance of panda bears, a symbol of China, a joint performance by North Korean and Chinese dancers, and finally the festive dragon dance. The card section continued to present slogans such as “Utmost respects to great comrades Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il and leaders of China” and “Without the Communist Party there is no new China.” Using all cultural rhetoric at its disposal, North Korea stressed its friendly ties with China.
IV. Conclusion “Change” (byeonhwa) and “unconventional” (pagyeok) are the words most frequently used these days to describe the state of culture and the arts in North Korea. The changes, which began in 2008, can be divided into two major streams. The first is the move to remake classical works from the 1950s. The second is the move to confirm friendship and amicable ties with other countries through the means of culture. If the remake of 1950s classics is all about reviving the past, cultural diplomacy is about the country’s efforts for survival. When the conservative Lee Myung-bak became president of South Korea in 2008, relations with the North cooled, and in such a situation the North boosted its efforts to restore relations with China and Russia. In 2009, the North staged remakes of the Chinese classic “Hongrumong” and the play “The Sentry under the Neon Light.” In 2010 the Russian classic “Eugene Onegin” was staged and a ballet titled “Esmeralda” based on Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” In addition to foreign works, the Korean classic “Chunhyang-jeon” was staged and a performance of legendary dancer Choi Seunghee’s dance drama “Story of Sado Castle,” which had been banned under the North’s single ideology system. North Korea’s efforts to remake classic works from around the 1950s, both Korean and
foreign, can be seen as a demonstration of the North’s intent to use them to globalize its culture and revive cultural sensibilities. In this way North Korea is moving to revive its slumping performance arts not with “revolutionary performances” but with foreign classics, showing change through nostalgia. The remake of classics from the Kim Jong-il era shows diverse aspects of the North’s project for “cultural globalization.” In addition to the classics, North Korea sought to revive ballet and concentrate on foreign works, holding a screening of the Polish art film “Chopin” to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of the composer. Such changes should not be seen as temporary. The performance of the theme song from “Rocky” and the appearance on stage of Mickey Mouse at the Moranbong Band’s 2012 performance must be seen as an expression of intent to carry out active cultural exchange with the world. And such change can be seen as a characteristic of the Kim Jong-un regime. By nature, it is difficult to turn the clock back on culture. Once the people have experienced a more sophisticated culture they find it hard to return to the past.
In 2012 North Korean culture and arts was very unconventional at times. It was an important year, being Kim Jong-un’s first year as supreme leader after the death of Kim Jong-il. As the succession of leadership was completed so rapidly, Kim Jong-un had little time to build a solid power base. The instability of his position was highlighted in the case of Ri Yong-ho, chief of the general staff of the Korean People’s Army. Known to be the most powerful person in the North Korean military at the time of Kim Jong-un’s succession to the leadership, Ri was inexplicably relieved of all his duties.
Under these circumstances, the biggest challenge facing North Korea in 2012 was to solidify Kim Jong-un’s position as fast as possible. The North had to minimize problems related to the speed of Kim Jong-un’s succession to power and give the people a vision that would justify the event. At the same time, it had to provide a new vision for a new century as the centennial of Kim Il-sung’s birth was marked. At a time when the Kim Jong-un regime had to find stability and build a good image, culture and the arts were the most useful means of expression of change and a vision for the future. Using this means, Kim Jong-un is signaling that the North will follow the world trend while remaining faithful to the memory of his father.
Kim Jong-un has inherited the legacy of his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, and his father, Kim Jong-il. As mentioned above, Kim Jong-un had little time to build an image for himself since he was selected as the next leader of North Korea in 2008, so at first he decided to lean on the image of his grandfather.
Unlike his father, Kim Jong-un is drawing close to the people, shaking hands or hugging citizens and soldiers, creating the image of a friendly leader. But at the same time he is harking back to the Kim Il-sung era through remakes of the classics. Through such unconventional moves, the Kim Jong-un leadership is associating itself with globalization and change. For the time being change will continue. The Kim Jong-un regime will boldly try to show that with the appearance of a young leader “things will now change” and that North Korea will become “a new society.”
[ KDI Review of the North Korean Economy, October 2012, published by the Korea Development Institute ]
Specter of Japanese-style Consumption Slump Kang Joong-koo Economist, LG Economic Research Institute
Lee Geun-tae Research Fellow, LG Economic Research Institute
I. Introduction Concerns are mounting about the lengthening consumption slump in Korea. Since the turn of the 2000s, private consumption has fallen short of economic growth â€• except for the excessive consumption shown in the run-up to the credit card crisis of 2003. The consumption slump has become even more conspicuous since the global financial crisis of 2008. The average annual economic growth rate between the fourth quarter of 2009 and the second quarter of 2012 was 3.8 percent while private consumption grew 2.2 percent (Refer to <Figure 1>).
One of the reasons generally cited for the gap between growth and consumption is the deterioration of trade terms; the growth rate of gross national income (GNI) has been below that of gross domestic product (GDP). Export prices have declined amid fiercer competition among makers of IT parts and components while the prices of major commodity imports, including grains and crude oil, have
surged, forcing a considerable part of the GDP to flow out of the country instead of lifting per capita income. Between the end of 2009 and the first half of this year, Korea’s GNI growth rate remained at 2.7 percent, hovering below the average economic growth rate.
Lack of income growth naturally retards consumption. But the problem involves more than the GNI decline. Average household propensity to consume also has fallen rapidly since last year and in the third quarter of this year it sank to a record low of 73.6 percent. The persistent malaise is reminding Koreans of Japan, where suppressed consumption has become a fixture since the 1990s. This report examines the reasons for Japan’s consumption slump and the possibility of Korea having the same experience.
II. Reasons for Japan’s Protracted Recession and Consumption Slump The average growth rate of Japan’s private consumption has fallen sharply amid an economic recession or slowdown since the nation’s asset bubbles imploded in the early 1990s. In that decade the consumption growth rate averaged 1.5 percent compared to 3.7 percent in the 1980s and in the 2000s the rate slid further to 0.9 percent. The main reason has been aggravated income since the 1990s. It has shrunk spending faster than income and also dragged down the average propensity to consume, which was 76.4 percent in the late 1980s (1985-1990) and then went into a post-bubble decline to 71.3 percent in 1998 (Refer to <Figure 2>). The propensity to consume has rebounded somewhat in the 2000s but still remains below the 1980s’ level. The vicious circle in which moribund consumption stunts industrial production, which in turn puts a damper on employment and income, has thus made sustainable economic recovery in Japan all the more difficult.
1. Savings Rise amid Decline in Asset Prices and Long-term Slide of Growth Rate Experts have offered several explanations for the fall in Japanese households’ propensity to consume. One is that the plunge in asset prices has produced a negative wealth effect. The price index of housing land in Tokyo has dropped 9 percent annually since the bubble bust. In 1992, it fell to 76 percent of its peak recorded in 1989, and further dipped to 57 percent level in 1999. Japan’s stock price index showed a similar pattern, too. The Nikkei 225 index plummeted to 18,934 at the end of 1999 from 38,915 in 1989.
Sinking asset prices tend to reduce household consumption because it puts a dent in their lifetime income if not in their current income immediately. The consumption elasticity caused by asset price change when Japan’s bubble bust was estimated to range between 0.01 and 0.05 depending on analyses. This means a 10 percent drop in asset prices reduces consumption by 0.1-0.5 percent. The elasticity itself is not big, but considering the huge drop of asset prices in Japan, one can guess its negative effect on consumption has been considerable.
Even the families who did not suffer losses from the bubble implosion felt more compelled to save because of heightened uncertainty. When economic growth rate falls, households try to judge whether the fall is temporary or chronic. If they believe the decline will be short, they don’t reduce
consumption much and maintain their consumption levels. Conversely, if they believe the downturn will be prolonged, they increase savings as a precaution for less future income. Japanâ€™s average economic growth rate plummeted from the 4 percent range in the 1980s to 1 percent range in the 1990s (Refer to <Figure 3>). As the low economic growth rate continued, households realized the slide would be persistent and boosted savings.
2. Pressure for Debt Settlement Reduces Consumption The householdsâ€™ debt settlement is cited as another reason for lowered propensity to consume. In times of bubble formation, Japanâ€™s household debts also sharply increased along with its corporate debts, thanks to the heightened mortgage values, loosened bank screenings and easy access to credit. Starting in 1986, household debt increased by 12.2 percent for four years (Refer to <Figure 4>), raising the percentage of household debt to GDP to 84.1 percent from 68.9 percent.
Since the turn of the 1990s, demands for debt settlement have increased amid falling property value. But bankruptcies of financial firms have reduced credit availability. This has led to stalled growth of household debt, which in turn has reduced their ability to consume. Some researchers have found that the larger the debts households had before the bubble bust, the sharper the declines in their consumption.
Japanâ€™s rapid population aging also is being regarded as a contributing factor to its lower propensity to consume. In his analysis of householdsâ€™ saving and consumption behavior in the 1990s, Yasushi Sekigawa concluded that uncertainty about life in old age could have reduced consumption. As the aging accelerated, uneasiness about post-retirement life, including the sustainability of pensions, has also deepened. As the Japanese economy entered into a prolonged weakness and its employment situation became unstable, the extent of future risks felt by consumers also enlarged, leading to their savings-oriented behaviors.
Lastly, another convincing view is that consumption by the Japanese has reached the saturation point. As the living standards of Japanese households rapidly rose in the 1980s, the demand for durable goods and services peaked during the bubble economy era, and the subsequent lack of demand for goods and services has pulled down consumption, according to this view. The distribution ratios of new IT products and expensive cars have been on a steady rise, but those of basic durable goods, such as TVs and refrigerators, already reached 98 percent in the mid-1980s, saturating the markets and leaving little room for new demand.
III. Possibility of Prolonged Consumption Slump in Korea A series of phenomena that occurred during Japanâ€™s protracted recession, such as weak asset prices, lower growth potential, heavy household debt, rapid population aging and lack of consumption-
leading sectors, are also seen in Korea. Some factors are not as serious as in Japan, but most of them are feared to affect consumption in the long run.
1. Low Possibility of Crash in Home Prices
First, concerns about a long-term decline in housing prices are being frequently raised. With housing prices still considered high compared with income, housing demand is expected to shrink due to the declining economically active population in the years ahead. The housing price-to-income ratio (PIR, as calculated by the Kookmin Bank) in Seoul and in its vicinity was 8.3 times in 2011. It had been in decline since 2009 but was still considered to be high compared to major industrial countries. Korea’s long-term population decline is also cited as a factor that reduces housing demand. The Construction & Engineering Research Institute of Korea, in its report titled “Outlook for Mid- to Long-term Housing Demand,” released in May 2011, forecast an average decline of 7,000 to 8,000 homes until 2030. Considering that housing price declines have nearly coincided with the drops in economically active population in major advanced countries, some experts predict Korea’s housing prices will begin to fall from the mid-2010s, when the nation’s economically active population begins to turn downward.
Still, it is unlikely Korea will experience such an abrupt shock in housing prices as Japan did. It is difficult to expect a sustained upward surge in prices as seen in recent years but it is also hard to predict an uninterrupted descent. Considering Korea’s limited usable land compared with its population, among other factors, it is somewhat difficult to directly compare its home prices with those of other countries. A new housing culture, including the increase of one-person households and environment-friendly houses, may possibly create new demand.
Korea had experienced a long slump of the real estate market since the 1990s, but began a strong rebound in the mid-2000s. There are differences by regions and housing types, but the rise in Korea’s housing prices has largely been on par with consumer inflation since the late 1980s, producing few, if any, bubbles (Refer to <Figure 5>). An analysis of the linear trend curve of housing prices shows the prices in Seoul at their peak in 2009 were estimated to be 20-30 percent higher than the trend line.
In contrast, housing land prices in Tokyo soared by an annual average of 12.7 percent between 1976 and 1989 while consumer prices rose 3.1 percent on average. Land prices in Japan were estimated to be 219 percent higher than consumer prices and 73 percent higher than the linear trend curve.
Korea also has strict regulatory systems, such as loan-to-value (LTV) and debt-to-income (DTI) ratios, leaving less room for a vicious circle of housing price falls leading to financial firmsâ€™ management crisis than Japan. As the government is also considering introducing additional supplementary measures, including collateralized investment trust system, the possibility of a collapse of housing prices, like that of Japan, will likely be slim in Korea.
2. Slow Growth Spawns Anxiety
There are also growing voices of concern in Korea about the slowdown in mid- to long-term economic growth rates. Deleveraging, or debt reduction, will likely continue all over the world at least for the next few years, and weakened demand-pulling force in major industrial countries is expected to stunt the global economyâ€™s growth rate to the 3 percent range. The Korean economy, which heavily relies on overseas factors, averaged 4 percent annual growth through the 2000s, but will likely remain in the low 3 percent range.
Of course, Korea’s growth rate is unlikely to fall as steeply as that of Japan did. Japan saw its growth rate plummet from 4 percent to 1 percent after the bubble bust. However, Korea already has experienced a steep downturn of growth rate, a drop from 7 percent before the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis to 4 percent in the 2000s. As the nation continues to register lower growth rates than in the past, people will come to gradually realize the shrinking growth potential, which in turn will depress consumption.
3. Debt Settlements Cause Consumption Setback
As the nation proceeds to settle high household debt, its adverse effect on consumption will likely continue for a considerable time. Korea’s household debt began to increase rapidly in the 2000s, contributing to property price hikes and consumption growth. The nation’s growth rates of household debt, consumption and housing prices show very similar movements (Refer to <Figure 6>). This is because people bought houses on credit, and part of the consequent increase in liquidity led to consumption. As of the second quarter of 2012, Korea’s household debt (owed by families and nonprofit corporations) totaled 1,121 trillion won as seen in the money flow table, accounting for 89 percent of GDP. On the global scale, the percentage is high, even topping Japan’s robust level when its bubble burst.
Recently, however, there are clear signs of settling household debts. The growth rate of debt has slowed and its influence on consumption also has retreated. The monthly growth rate of household debt has fallen to 4 percent this past August from 8.8 percent in August 2011. The households’ debt settlement will likely continue for the time being. Amid the continuous slump of housing markets, the demand for home purchase through bank loans is expected to dwindle. Financial service firms, exposed to greater risks in loan retrieval because of slowing economy, will also likely refrain from extending loans to a certain extent. Particularly, the government’s active policy of curbing lending to households to reduce financial risks is working as another damper on debt increase. Households’ debt settlement is needed for reducing long-term risks, but it can adversely affect private consumption. To look more closely into the effects the households’ debts and assets have on private consumption, such effects have been disassembled factor by factor, calculating them by using a behavioral equation. It was found that income was the biggest factor. It showed an elasticity of 0.75 on private consumption. Higher lending and consequent easing of liquidity restraints also showed meaningful explanation ability toward higher consumption.
Debt burdens, as indicated by debt-to-income ratios, and interest rates reduce private consumption. The effect asset price changes have on private consumption showed the right direction, but its explanation ability was somewhat weak. This is in part because the scope of asset price changes was not big recently. A bigger reason, however, was that housing prices moved in the same direction as the debt factor, taking away part of the explanation ability asset prices had on private consumption.
An analysis of factors behind the recent consumption setback, on the basis of behavioral equation, shows the slowing income growth in the wake of the global financial crisis was the biggest cause of the private consumption slump. Adding to these were negative factors coming through the debt channel, such as slowing debt growth rate and swelling debt burdens, further pulling down the private consumption increase, which in turn led to lower propensity to consume. (Refer to <Figure 7>
4. Falling Consumption of Aged People
The rapid aging of Korean society is also seen to exert a negative influence on consumption. In general, old people have tended to spend more than they earn, and therefore the higher the share of aged population, the higher the propensity to consume. In Korea today, however, a phenomenon has occurred since the turn of the 2000s, in which the elderly have cut back on consumption more sharply than other age groups. A look at urban householdsâ€™ consumption growth in the first nine months of this year compared with the same period in 2000, using household income and expenditures, illustrates this trend. While the average consumption of households increased 4.5 percent, the comparable growth rate of the households of those in their 50s or older was 4.1 percent, and that of the 60s or older remained at 3.0 percent, hovering below the average. On the other hand, households of those in their 40s and younger had an above-average growth rate.
The steeper fall in the consumption of senior households is due to their lower income growth compared with younger families, and to the rapid drop in their propensity to consume. The average propensity to consume among the households of those in their 50s sank from 82 percent in 2000 to
72.3 percent in 2011, and that of 60-something families even showed a sharper decline, from 85 percent to 71.3 percent, over the cited period (Refer to <Figure 8>). While the demographic share of old generations has increased, their consumption became more sluggish, denting overall consumption.
The visible drop in consumption among aged people seems to be attributable to their insufficient life savings, which in turn should be ascribed to heavy expenditures on their childrenâ€™s education. In addition, the changing social environment makes it increasingly hard for older people to expect financial support from their children. The social safety net, such as the national pension system, has never been too sturdy and the weak financial structure of the state pension system is making the retirees feel even more uncertain about the amount of money they will be able to receive. In addition, life expectancy is growing increasingly longer in Korea, forcing the old people to tighten their purse strings even further. As these trends are highly likely to continue in the future, the old generationsâ€™ propensity to consume is also expected to remain low, despite some possible changes depending on economic situations.
5. Dearth of Sectors Driving Consumption
An increasing number of experts point out that Korea has few sectors and items that can be engines to push up consumption. Communication and education have led consumption growth since the
1990s. Communication-related consumption rose sharply from 2.2 percent in 1990 to 7.3 percent in 2003, but dropped to 5.9 percent in 2011 (Refer to <Figure 9>). Korea’s popularization of high-speed Internet and mobile phones was completed by the early 2000s, and the productivity growth of communications equipment and services has pulled down their unit prices, eroding communicationrelated consumption expenditure.
Spending on public and private education steadily increased to account for 13.8 percent of total consumption expenditure in 2009, but the growth rate started to flatten out in 2010. The recent slowdown in educational spending seems to be attributable to the relative success of the government’s policy to strengthen regulations on private tutoring institutes, increase the role of educational TV broadcast, and improve the admission system of special-purpose high schools.
In addition, the nation has made excessive investment in education as shown by the college entrance rate of more than 80 percent, and the rise in college tuition has further pushed up educational investment cost, making people less convinced that their spending on education will correspond to future income. From the standpoint of the national economy, Korea’s ability to create profits through investment in human capital dropped as the nation’s economic growth rate fell to a lower level. The share of educational expenditure in Korea, which is far higher than those of advanced countries, will very likely drop in the long run.
While the growth of these factors that have led consumption will probably slow down, other sectors have yet to begin taking up the slack. Health and medical care in keeping with population aging as well as leisure and cultural sectors, which are absolutely in short supply among Korean consumers, are the areas with huge potential for consumption growth. But medical expenditures cannot increase sharply in the short run, as it requires the establishment of infrastructure, such as medical personnel and equipment. Strict government regulations on the medical sector due to its public nature also are restraining its expansion. Similarly, poor infrastructure is also blamed for the weak leisure and cultural sectors. The nationâ€™s work culture of long hours limits the time available to enjoy cultural and leisure activities. Even if there is spare time the shortage of accommodation facilities limits access and availability. Unless these barriers are resolved swiftly, it will be difficult for the leisure and cultural sectors to greatly enhance their ability to lead future consumption.
6. Sharp Decline in Discretionary Consumption by High-income Classes
Consumption by people in the high income bracket is shrinking noticeably. The top 10 percent earners account for 22 percent of total income, or twice the average amount of all Korean households. But the top 10 percentâ€™s propensity to consume remained at 57.9 percent in 2011, indicating they spend only about half of their income. This is far below the 76.7 percent in average propensity to consume (Refer to <Figure 10>).
Moreover, the high-income householdsâ€™ propensity to consume sensitively responds to business cycles. A look at the correlations between propensity to consume by income levels and economic growth rate shows the higher the income rises, the more similar the movement of their propensity to consume becomes to that of economic growth rate (Refer to <Figure 11>).
Particularly, while the propensity to consume among households in the bottom 70 percent of income levels moved in the opposite direction to economic growth rates, that of the upper 30 percent moved in the same direction. While low-income households try to reduce their consumption amid economic slump, they can hardly trim essential consumption so they cannot but maintain a relatively high propensity to consume. The high-income households, on the other hand, can reduce their consumption even more sharply than their income declined, as they show a higher tendency for discretionary consumption. The spread of Eurozone crisis, the increase in global uncertainty and concerns about a long-term decline in Koreaâ€™s growth rate seem to have combined to drastically pull down discretionary consumption among high-income households (Refer to <Figure 12>).
By items, the top 10 percent income group reduced their consumption most noticeably in areas such as durable goods, including home appliances and household items, medical supplies and other healthrelated goods, dining out and lodging, and leisure-culture activities. In general, low-income households tend to sharply reduce their discretionary spending when the economy sputters, but these days high-income households are showing such behavior even more conspicuously than those in lower income brackets.
7. High-income Bracketâ€™s Consumption and Effects on Other Income Classes
The propensity to consume rises among 70 percent of Korean households when economic growth rate falls. But the average propensity to consume shows a proportional relationship with growth rate, as the high-income bracket accounts for a relatively larger share in overall income and consumption. In other words, the high-income group’s consumption can serve as a factor that widens business fluctuations further. The drop in high-income bracket’s propensity to consume has been particularly conspicuous since the Eurozone crisis intensified in 2011. The decline was even steeper than those recorded during the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis and the 2008 global financial crisis, reflecting their uneasiness about the future state of Korean economy. Japan saw a similar phenomenon during the prolonged recession after the country’s bubble bust. The propensity to consume among Japan’s top 20 percent income group fell from 72.4 percent in the late 1980s to 69 percent in the 1990s and further to 67.6 percent in the 2000s. As of the 2000s, the drop in the propensity to consume was most noticeable among the top 20 percent income bracket. The United States, too, saw its high-income bracket sharply reduce their consumption in the aftermath of its subprime mortgage crisis.
An examination of the spillover effect on consumption between income groups shows the higher the wealth the greater the influence. This is because the higher a group’s income level is, the bigger its overall consumption scale becomes. Also, the high-income bracket tends to spend relatively more on discretionary goods and services, which stimulates hiring, rather than on essential goods produced mostly by primary and manufacturing industries.
IV. Policy Suggestions The factors that have resulted in consumption setback during Japan’s protracted economic weakness are appearing in Korea, too, albeit to a lesser degree. The recent slump of private consumption may reflect the movement of short-term business cycle, but it is due largely to long-term trends. The fall of growth potential, settlement of household debt, old population’s uneasiness about the future, and a lack of consumption-leading sectors will continue to constrain consumption. Although Korea is unlikely to experience an abrupt consumption nose dive as Japan did, sluggish consumption growth hovering below economic growth rate is feared to prolong the slump of the domestic demand.
The settlement of household debt and population aging are inevitable factors, but there are other
factors, too, which can be eased by policymakers’ efforts. For instance, it is necessary to improve pension systems to help lessen old people’s unease about the future, and delay retirement age to extend preparation for post-retirement life. Considering the old population’s high dependency on real property, it will be necessary to expand housing pension system and induce gradual adjustment of asset values.
Leisure and cultural services and health-medical care sectors are the areas that have not grown in earnest despite their potential to create high value added. If excessive regulations hamper the supply of services, this is time the government should boldly relax these regulations to induce their consumption. High entry barriers to the establishment of medical institutions have hampered the diversification of supply channels of medical services, hindering higher demand for health care for the aging population aging from leading to corresponding growth of consumption. In the leisure and cultural sectors, the policymakers, by taking high land prices and traffic congestion into account, should provide greater support for infrastructure build-up by expanding cultural and lodging facilities.
Also, policymakers need to rack their brains to find ways to speed up consumption by the high-income bracket, which has the ability to spur more consumption in other income classes. Currently, Korea lacks in high-end consumer goods and facilities that can induce wealthy people’s consumption, in comparison with advanced countries, forcing the wealthy to rely on imports or overseas consumption. There is the need to increase high-quality leisure and tourism facilities to redirect their consumption homeward, while encouraging the production of high value-added consumption goods. It is true the Korean society has negative perception about extravagant consumption by wealthy people amid income bipolarization, but the policymakers need to check whether excessive regulations are unduly suppressing consumption.
[ LG Business Insight, LGERI Report No. 1224, November 21, 2012, LG Economic Research Institute ]
- Francisco Chung Grows Chileâ€™s Top Outdoor Product Company
Francisco Chung Grows Chile’s Top Outdoor Product Company
Han Hyun-woo Staff Reporter The Chosun Ilbo
During the miraculous rescue of 33 Chilean miners who were trapped 700 meters below ground in 2010, the emergency supplies delivered to them through tubes included air beds and towels produced by Doite, an outdoor equipment company founded by Francisco Chung (Chung Won-jae).
Chung, 57, immigrated to Chile in 1980 and set up his company in the mid-1980s. He is now regarded as the most successful Korean entrepreneur in Chilean. Doite is second to The North Face in the Chilean outdoor equipment market with US$36 million in annual sales. Its regular customers include Chilean researchers and explorers in the Andes and the South Pole. In addition to other countries in Latin America, Doite’s international presence includes Norway, China and New Zealand.
Chung initially declined our request for an interview, saying that his story is not worth public attention. He finally agreed to meet us on October 31 at Doite headquarters in Santiago. The company occupies the second floor of a new posh high-rise building in the capital’s burgeoning business district, Las Condes.
Q. Why did you decline our request for an interview? As your company plans to establish a foothold in Korea, it could be an opportunity to promote Doite products and raise public awareness of the brand.
A. I was afraid that a press interview may present me as some kind of success icon. My priority is clearly set for the sake of my company and Chile, and I am not very interested in presenting myself in public as a symbolic figure of Korean entrepreneurship in Chile. With respect to the concept of the “Korean immigrant community,” I wish it could be more open and inclusive. Chile is a country with a relatively short history of 200 years as a nation. I am not opposed to the Korean community as an organization, but I think Koreans should become more integrated and inclusive toward non-Koreans. Patriotism is a valuable pursuit only if it remains inclusive, rather than seeking myopic interests of a certain closed group.
Q. I heard that you are neither participating in the Korean community activities nor actively socializing with other Korean immigrants in Chile.
A. Actually I am not participating in any of those. I am struggling with my own issues and I cannot afford to spend hours arguing this and that. I am a Catholic but I have stopped attending masses in the Korean church. Of course, I have quite a few Korean friends and I maintain friendly relationships at the personal level. If I continue to do my best on my own duty in this country, it would also help make some contribution to my home country in one way or another.
Even though Korean people settling down in Chile are proud of his achievement as a fellow Korean, his seemingly nonchalant attitude tended to estrange him from the majority of Korean immigrants. While most Koreans there would like him to get involved in Korean community activities more actively, Chung thinks what he sees as closed collectivism is “anachronistic.”
Q. Why did you set up an outdoor and camping equipment business?
A. I came to Chile at age 25. I had been just discharged from military service after my first year in college. The father of one of my friends was the Korean ambassador to Chile, and he suggested that I come to Chile. I came and got undergraduate and master’s degrees in business administration at the University of Santiago. To finance my studies I worked at a Korean-owned importing firm, where I was especially interested in tents and mountaineering equipment. I like drawing and making my own designs for different goods, and this hobby helped me in the early phase of my business. Tents are cumbersome products. Instead of showcasing samples, it was important to visualize tents in product catalogues. While I gained expertise in making catalogues, I gradually established contacts with tent manufacturers in Korea as well.
Q. Doite ― what does it signify?
A. This is a brand name for the tents that I made during my first year in Chile. I picked up and assembled syllables from the Spanish sentence “Yo te doy,” which means “I give you” in English. A German outdoor company has a similar brand name, “Deuter.” They also set up the business at nearly the same time when Doite was established. When asked if one could have copied the other, I say they probably imitated our brand name.
Q. Has the outdoor equipment market in Chile grown a lot over the years?
A. It has, but the local market is quite small. The Chilean population is only 16 million. That is why Doite sought to expand its market reach outside of Chile, starting from other South American countries in the 1990s. In the late 1990s, our products began to be sold in New Zealand and European countries. These days, the outdoor business potential in Korea seems immense. The Korean market grew rapidly only to second the U.S. market. Whenever I visit Korea, I am quite surprised to see so many people putting on their trekking wear and mountaineering shoes on a daily basis.
Q. Doite is the top local player in the outdoor equipment market in Chile.
A. Counting on market rankings does not mean much. If we sought to make money only, we could be the top manufacturer in Chile, ahead of The North Face. Of course profit-making is an important aim for a corporation. However, I believe that the ways in which we make money counts as much as the amount of money we eventually make. Doite specializes in camping equipment such as tents, gas appliances, cook sets and sleeping bags. The North Face has its own strengths in outdoor apparels and shoes. Doite does not deal with shoes business. We focus on our own strengths, even though a shoes segment could be a potentially lucrative business profile. The company’s sales network is strong with more than 130 stores in Chile, including its own 11 brand stores. Doite tents, lanterns and a wide range of other outdoor products can be purchased at these stores. At Korean restaurants in Chile, gas stoves with Doite brand name are commonplace. Doite employs approximately 150 people, including 30 working at the headquarters. The Korean headcount, however, is merely four. On my way back after the interview with Chung, I saw a Doite store on the ground floor of the large Parque Arauco Mall in Santiago. Located next to the mall entrance, the shop was crowded with customers.
Q. What are the reasons for your decision to settle down in Chile?
A. In the beginning, I did not plan for a long-term settlement. I just wanted to learn Spanish and go back to Korea or leave for the U.S. It was only when I met with my wife in 1989 in Chile that I thought I should settle down here. That seemed like my destiny. Having married her here, I was motivated to work harder and plan things with a long-term vision.
Q. Did you have to overcome certain cultural and institutional obstacles while doing business in Chile?
A. I have not felt anything particularly so. This company was not established by some external investor. I grew it from scratch, step by step. Doite has a corporate profile that features structural resilience and resistance to external shocks. Furthermore, the business environment in Chile is very sound and competitive. During the past 30 years, I have never bribed government officials to smooth things out. I did not have to look for upper-class people to help me out, either. In Chile, you can expect the soundest market competition as long as you have the right products.
Q. Doite has also experienced the Pinochet era of military dictatorship.
A. I am not sure how I may sound if I say that the competitive business environment was fostered by the Pinochet government. His years-long grip on power left numerous victims of his authoritarian rule, for sure, but we need to reflect on the reasons why he came into power and why he left. Corruption, a common ailment of military dictatorships around the world, is not found in Chile. Pinochet, I would say, established the foundations for the rapid economic growth Chile has achieved for the past 20 years. I do not mean to justify his abuse of human rights. However, opinion polls indicate that the military and police are the social groups that are most highly respected by the general public here. What does this mean? It leads us to think about the other, lesser-known side of military dictatorship in Chile. Pinochet reinforced social order in the country and declared a free market economy in the early stage of economic growth. Different market players can test the competitiveness of their products on a level playing field. The market transparency encourages competition. Once you have enough competitiveness to sell your products in Chile, you know you are good enough to compete in any other countries as well.
Q. Have you experienced any disadvantage for being a Korean in Chile?
A. Until the 1990s people here still had the prejudice that Asian manufactures made only low-quality products. It was just like the “Made in China” tag gives consumers the impression of cheap goods these days. To avoid the widespread prejudice, I ensured that sales were carried out by Chilean employees in direct contact with customers. Due to that marketing strategy many people still do not know Doite is a Korean company. Many think of Doite as a European brand.
Q. Do you think the global emergence of Korean conglomerates such as Samsung and Hyundai helped Doite to overcome the negative perception of stereotypically low-quality Asian manufactures? A. I don’t think so. Doite does not owe them anything for its brand perception. After all, Doite is not a Korean brand. Well, during the past decade or so, I have often heard foreigners appreciate Korean product quality and Korea as a country. This would help raise Korea’s brand image in general.
Q. What do you think are the differences in corporate culture between Korea and Chile?
A. I used to feel puzzled when an employee suddenly takes a vacation just before hectic business schedules. Chilean employees do not share the type of mutual reliance or friendship that is quite common among Korean colleagues. For example, between close friends in Korea, we tend to not make clear distinctions between my possessions and my friend’s things. In comparison, Chilean people have a clear sense of ownership even between very close friends. People here would buy two sets of two-person outdoor cook sets, rather than buying one four-person cook set. They are more individualistic. Since Chile is geographically isolated by the Andes in the east, the Pacific in the west, deserts in the north and the South Pole, people’s attitude tends to be quite defensive, I sometimes think.
Q. When you are confronted with such cultural differences, do you encourage your non-Korean staff to follow your decision, or do you try to be more understanding of their needs?
A. I choose the latter. The ultimate goal of a corporate organization is coexistence. My role is not to lead people to follow my direction but to assist the organization to function at its best. What I have learned from a few decades of management experience at Doite is that I should aim to earn people, instead of earning money alone. In the end, it is all about managing people, and finding those who share the same vision with you and whom you can trust. That’s the key to success. Anybody can earn
money ― some less, some more. What makes a critical difference is not the amount of money you make but the self-confidence and psychological reward about your own work as an entrepreneur. That counts a lot.
Q. During the past decades you must have experienced certain difficulties as well as success.
A. Yes, we had difficult times. I especially remember two critical moments. The first came in February 2010 when an earthquake destroyed Doite’s storage houses. Immediate financial damages were reimbursed by the insurance company but there have been subsequent ripple effects. Back then we had an office and logistics center in Quilicura, north of Santiago. We moved those facilities to Santiago six months ago. However, a real, second crisis arrived last year. The “greatest crisis” in his business means the passing of his wife Clara Park (Park Jeong-hui), who lost her life to cancer. Five years junior to Chung, she was a renowned eye doctor in Chile. She served at Pasteur Ophthalmological Clinic, while working for a number of public medical clinics and giving lectures at universities. She also used to offer free medical services through a philanthropic medical foundation called UAPO. Commemorating her dedication to the less privileged, UAPO renamed its free medical service tours in provincial areas as “Clara Park Mobile Clinic.” The widowed Chung continues to support the foundation.
Q. Do you mean that the bereavement resulted in a crisis to your company?
A. I lost my motivation to achieve and to succeed. In desperation I just wanted to put an end to my business and the company. My wife was the engine for my drive to work, and she always gave me the support and encouragement for me to move on and grow my business. She was always a large part of me as a human being and entrepreneur. In this sense, she was the critical inspiration for the success of Doite. She fell down after years of fighting against cancer. Her absence made me question the reasons and value of my success and achievement. How could I continue to run the course when my lifetime partner fell down?
Q. How did you recover from the crisis?
A. A full recovery is impossible. I just had to learn how to live on with the feeling of her absence. Before losing her, I was too proud. I was successful in everything, from my business to my family life. Everything worked out smoothly without a problem. Initially my wife seemed to have recovered
from cancer after a surgery but the cancer appeared again. As I calmly reflect on her passing, I think she gave me a chance to live my life in a different way. Everybody falls in the end. Typically Korean people live by working like crazy until they are in their late 40s. Suddenly they become a 50something, when they pause and question â€œwhat am I doing here and what does all this mean?â€? That was my case. Now I come back home right after working hours, and I take a full rest over the weekend. Taking a rest does not mean becoming a couch potato. I try to distract myself from my routine business. I spend the weekend exercising, reading or researching. I also try to spend more time with my children.
He has a daughter, 21, and a son, 19, both of whom are college students.
Q. What was the most important value that factored in your past decisions as an entrepreneur?
A. To grow a successful outdoor equipment company in Chile means that I can sell anything. If I can sell tents, I can also sell other things. For me, it was important that I do things that I want to do, rather than doing things that are urgent or important at the moment. This may sound quite vain because most people in Korea cannot afford to live a life and grow a business this way. That is what the Chilean society has allowed me to pursue. I am thankful to Chile for allowing me to do so.
I did not come to Chile only for the interview with Chung. I was lucky to have the chance to meet with him on my reporting trip to Chile. Even though the interview was done around dinner time, he did not invite me to a dinner out of politeness as Koreans would usually do. I did not feel offended at all after having known him better.
[ November 10, 2012 ]
- Dissident Author Hwang Sok-yongâ€™s Literary Journey Enters Last Years - Beauty of Alleys in Nine Korean Cities
Dissident Author Hwang Sok-yong’s Literary Journey Enters Last Years
Baek Na-ri Staff Reporter Yonhap News
“The Sound of the Rapids” By Hwang Sok-yong, Consonant and Vowel (Jaeum-gwa moeum), 496 pages, 15,000 won It has been 50 years since Hwang Seok-yong debuted with his first short story “In the Vicinity of Menhir” in 1962. The then 19-year-old boy will soon turn 70. He is known to “bring trouble” so people have been told to keep away from him for the past 50 years. He may have lived the same number of years as any 70-year-olds, but what with the wars, wanderings, exile and imprisonment, his life seems much longer. In his new novel “The Sound of the Rapids,” he talks through the voice of a 19th century storyteller about his life and his nostalgia for what is native to him. Hwang says, “If I were to divide my novels into two periods, the earlier works were strictly based on realism and they reflected the harsh reality as it was. The novel ‘The Guest’ was a turning point from which I began to deal with more universal topics but at the same time I experimented with the native narrative and style. ‘The Sound of the Rapids’ is the gateway for me into my last years of writing marking my 50th anniversary of literary debut. It is a chance for me to tie the loose ends of my later works in life.” In the novel, the native storyteller stays inside the community and remembers and reproduces what happens within that community in a native manner. It is different from the universal
storytelling style of an outsider who cannot stay in one place. Hwang identifies himself with such a non-native storyteller and when asked who his rival is, he replies, “Lee Mun-gu,” paying tribute to native storytellers. “Toward the end of the Joseon Dynasty, bookstores appear in the streets of Hanyang (present-day Seoul) next to stores selling paper and cattle. Modern stories are made into books, but the external forces put a stop to this. The link between the past and the future literature is severed. Modern literature was not generous about things native. I miss what we lost. I am in awe of what is native. It is to bring back the noisy bustle from the traditional narrative.” There are countless stories that are told from mouth to mouth, but of them some are written in books. They survive sending shock waves to the previous establishments and fixed mindsets that people are accustomed to. The protagonist in “The Sound of the Rapids” is a young man named Yi Sin-tong, who lives in the later years of the Joseon Dynasty, which restricts upward mobility because of the class system. He roams the country, tells stories, edits them and writes them down, and those stories lie in peril because they may be lost forever in making their way to the modern age. This is very much similar to Hwang’s stories released over the last 50 years. Yi Sin-tong walks the twisted bends and trails with Hwang’s shadow lurking over his shoulders. The narrator Yeon-ok also leads a life full of sorrow. She goes looking for Yi Sin-tong with whom she made love but who left her behind. To take an objective look at the modern age scars and wounds at the sacrifice of femininity and motherhood, Hwang produced the female narrator Yeon-ok, but he is also not at ease. “In my later novels most of the narrators are women. I wanted to see the world through their eyes. Yeon-ok is a victim. At the time, it was common for men to leave and wander about, but it was the women who were left behind with all the memories and the pain. It is a way of expressing regret on my part.” Hwang poised at the threshold of last years of his literature will be writing medium length or short stories because “they can capture the contemporary ideas concisely and they fit nicely into smartphone screens.”
He has yet one motif saved for his novel. He had wanted to write about a three-generation family of railroad men. Hwang said, “I don’t have much time left. This will probably be the last saga I will be able to write.”
[ November 23, 2012 ]
Beauty of Alleys in Nine Korean Cities
Ye Jin-su Staff Reporter The Munhwa Ilbo
â€œWalking Down the Alleys in Old Citiesâ€? By Han Pil-won, Humanist, 384 pages, 23,000 won
You can feel the warmth and closeness of neighbors in the meandering alleys of small provincial towns. People and buildings strike a balance to produce a unique effect. Many of the alleys are being turned into tourist sites, packaged as walking down a memory lane. Alleys are much more sentimental and breathing with life in old provincial cities. The author has a special way of reading the spatial effect of alleys. His analysis does not stop at individual cultural relics or landmark buildings. He looks at the city as a whole.
As an architectural humanities researcher, Han Pil-won claims that the urban space must possess certain human scale in order for the city to be imbued with an air of humanism. For example, it must take no more than about 15 minutes to walk from east to west in the Old Town and it must be small enough so that a 30-minute leisurely walk can take you anywhere from any given point in the town. And the building cannot be so tall that you risk your life when you fall.
The author traveled nine different cities and visited every nook and cranny of alleys over seven years and he wrote a book about it. It is interesting how he looks at the dead-end alleys that are typical in
any old cities in the context of Korean urban space. These spaces cannot be readily used and may be thought of as waste but they produce some irregular aspects that make the city all the more dynamic and richer for that matter. They create some cozy and intimate space where you can rest comfortably.
The author unravels his thoughts that were on his mind when he was traveling the nine provincial cities of Miryang, Tongyeong, Andong, Chuncheon, Anseong, Ganggyeong, Chungju, Jeonju, and Naju. His comments on Tongyeong are as follows: “The city stimulates the five senses. There is rarely a city that we want to meet with all of our five senses on alert. You can lie down on the floor of the military guesthouse dating back to the Joseon Dynasty, feeling the soft and warm wooden floor, and step outside and taste the best seafood dishes out on the pier.”
Regarding Chungju, he said that the front wheels of art and culture best represented by the inner city and a rock boulder where an ancient musician played his zither as well as the rear wheels of military spirit residing in Chungnyeolsa, where a Joseon Dynasty general is enshrined, will carry the city forward. His observations of Anseong are interesting and worth mentioning. He said that when all the buildings talk to each other at the same time, even if the voice is soft, the city as a whole can become quite noisy. But according to him, Anseong is not a city bustling with noise and therefore is very peaceful. In discussing Miryang, he said it is where the river’s curves and the main street’s straight line intersect.
[ November 2, 2012 ]
- Park Won-soon: “I want to make Seoul a city full of fun.” - Choi Byeong-hyeon: “Translating our classics is an urgent task to properly introduce Korean culture.”
Park Won-soon: “I want to make Seoul a city full of fun.”
Chang Seung-kyu and Lee Hu-yeon Staff Reporters Weekly Hankyung Business
“It seems time has flown in a flash,” said Park Won-soon, 56, the mayor of Seoul, when asked about his first year in office. But his office showed that the past year was not that fast. Numerous files and data were stacked against one wall and mountains of paper were piled up on his desk and a nearby table. All these are the data on city administration Park had reviewed over the past year. “I’ve tried to bring everything back to normal based on common sense and rationality,” he said. “My biggest achievement is that I’ve been able to shift the paradigm from growth and development to the quality of life.”
On the occasion of the 17th founding anniversary of the Hankyung Business, a sister publication of the Korea Economic Daily, we interviewed Park on October 20. He took office as the mayor of Seoul on October 27 last year.
Q. What do you think of your performance in office over the past year? A. Seoul citizens chose me as their mayor in last year’s by-election, because they wanted “change.” I’ve tried to satisfy their demand. Of course, there are many issues that can’t be solved overnight. I’m still looking hard for solutions to them. Looking back, I think the past year has flown in a flash. There
have been many changes so far. Our society is always moving in a dynamic way like this.
Q. What do you think is the greatest achievement of yours?
A. What I emphasized most after I was sworn in was to bring everything back to normal based on common sense and rationality. It may sound easy but it was actually difficult to do. I think I’ve created a framework for a rational decision-making process, as required by our times. Specifically, I’d like to talk about problems surrounding new town development, for which I’ve helped find clues to a solution. I’ve also found clues to resolve problems concerning free, eco-friendly school lunches, cutting college tuition in half, and converting non-regular workers into regular employees. Welfare, which is the biggest issue in the ongoing presidential race, was first raised during the Seoul mayoral election campaign last year. Currently, the city government is allocating about 30 percent of its entire budget to welfare programs. I think I have achieved a paradigm shift from growth and development to the quality of life. Q. Isn’t there difficulty in trying to work harmoniously with city government officials? A. It’s not easy. Of course, on the surface, nobody has refused to work with me and quit. (Laughs) Perhaps, it was as hard for them as for me, or even harder for them than for me, to adapt to a new environment. It’s because I keep talking about change. Bureaucratic stability and continuity is important, but they should know a new mayor has a new style.
Q. When was the hardest time for you? A. In many cases, I can’t see a way out when I want to do well. This is also true of the new town development projects. Meeting many experts and listening to local residents, I feel there’s some way out. But it isn’t easy to find a correct solution. The most difficult time was when I had to face irrational criticism about alternative policies that I presented after much effort and agonizing consideration. But I am thankful for such criticism. It’s good that I can get advice and criticism before I make incorrigible mistakes. That's democracy. Through such experience I have learned once again that a leader should have all-encompassing tolerance, patience, and magnanimity. In the past, I once thought I was doing well. But I realize I still have a long way to go. It seems I’m learning to tolerate and accept more. I was praised for whatever I did for my NGO activity. So, after becoming mayor, it wasn’t easy at first to put up with criticism from others.
Q. What’s your opinion of the administrative system of Seoul city? A. Its bureaucratic system has been well stabilized. Seoul is a huge republic. In a certain sense, it’s bigger than the central government. While the central government only implements large-scale policies, the Seoul metropolitan government is a working-level municipality. Trains run day and night on 12 subway lines crisscrossing the city. And we impeccably handle the garbage thrown out by 10 million citizens every day. The very fact that this huge city keeps operating without stopping even a day itself proves how competent our officials are and how effective our system is. But this alone isn’t enough.
Q. Are you pursuing any other goal as mayor? A. Goldman Sachs has predicted Korea will emerge as the world’s second largest economy by 2050. It sounded too fabulous, so I looked up the company’s report. Singapore always ranks top whenever Asian cities are rated. It hurts our pride. How can Seoul be compared with Singapore? Seoul has far superior assets in terms of human resources, history and natural environment. Seoul can come first, too. I founded the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy and made it the best civic group in the country, and the Beautiful Foundation I founded ranked first in fund raising. Only five years after it was set up, the Hope Institute ranked top in the political and social category of top 100 think tanks selected by Hankyung Business. If I am given just five years, I can make Seoul the best city in the world. (Laughs)
Q. What do you think is the biggest issue in redesigning Seoul?
A. The entire Korean society has so far revolved around manufacturing and hardware. But if things go on like this, we would be overtaken by China or third world countries sooner than later. We should try to increase value added through knowledge industry and creative economy. Tourism and entertainment industries are important economically. Fortunately, Seoul possesses cutting-edge technologies as well as a long history. No other city has both. Seoul has been a capital city for 2,000 years. We need to develop our many historical assets into tourism resources, combining them with the entertaining talent of Korean people. Q. The “Book Reading Seoul” campaign stresses library culture. A. Japan emphasizes citizen power. Let’s say we have a debate forum for citizens of Tokyo, Seoul
and Boston. Then the power of knowledge will be clearly revealed. We need to enhance the knowledge and wisdom of Seoul citizens to a higher level than citizens of any other city in the world. One of the basic ways is reading books. So far, we’ve only regarded building big libraries to be important. From now on, we will focus on building small libraries so everyone will have easy access to books. The old city hall building has been made into a public library representing the city. I want to make Seoul a city of book reading, a city of lifelong learning, an intellectual city, and a city of liberal arts. Q. You’re pushing forward with a neighborhood project. But we doubt whether it’s possible in a megalopolis like Seoul. A. Many people point that out. But there’s no ideal city like Seoul for neighborhood communities. This is because people are the core of a community. These days, there are few people in rural areas. In contrast, apartment complexes in Seoul are overcrowded. The problem has been that most people stay inside their homes after returning from work. Fortunately, the settlement rate is rising steadily. In the past, people had to sell their houses and move around frequently, because homes were objects of speculative investment. We have all kinds of difficult problems erupting nowadays, such as suicides, depression and felonies. If things go on like this, the society will disintegrate and eventually collapse. The only solution is the reconstruction of communities.
Q. Are there precedents in other countries?
A. There are many successful cases of community construction in Tokyo. Not only Tokyo but many major cities around the world also have similar activities. Western societies have a long history of this movement. It’s actually far from unfamiliar to us. Until recently, Koreans have been simply too busy struggling to earn livelihoods and survive in a competitive society to think about having a conversation with their neighbors. I have traveled around the world and written a few books on villages alone. Neighborhood community is a universal and historical trend. Korea can’t move forward to the next stage unless we put this into practice now.
Q. There is criticism that the Seoul city government lacks growth plans. A. In the past, the city government’s growth policy was singularly centered on civil engineering and manufacturing industries in the style of President Lee Myung-bak. But the world is now headed for the knowledge and creative industries. Twenty percent of London’s gross regional domestic product
(GRDP) comes from the creative industry. Social corporations account for 10 percent of the entire GRDP of Paris. There is no future in a society where many people ask whether a social corporation is an enterprise run by socialists. Look carefully, and you will find a new stream already in place in our society. This means the U-turn has started already. The government and politicians are the slowest to respond. People are already moving in that direction. Q. You are known to be reviewing the city’s basic development plan. A. I’ve visited hundreds of cities around the world, but I haven’t seen a city so beautiful as Seoul. It’s because Seoul has high mountains and the beautiful Han River. You must not forget that we have historical assets as great as those of Rome. The present plan does not fully consider these factors. What’s important for Seoul at present is urban regeneration and redevelopment, not fresh creation. I believe Seoul needs an agency dedicated to its urban regeneration. The old city center, within the four gates of the Joseon Dynasty era, should be cultivated as a historic city. We need a master plan for this.
Q. How is the riverside reconstruction along the Han River going?
A. Each section has its own distinctive conditions, but the project has been suspended or scrapped due to inadequate feasibility at many places. It seems the project needs some modifications, depending on the changing circumstances, thinking of the times, or demands of residents. Construction of buildings over 100 stories is rare in most advanced countries these days. Super highrise buildings have clear limitations in terms of sustainability and energy efficiency. Q. What do you think of the “Han River Renaissance Project?”
A. I find many good ones among policies of my immediate predecessor, such as increasing accessibility to the Han River and construction of an ecological park. I will continue to carry out these projects. The most controversial project is the Ara Waterway. It was envisioned to connect the Seoul Marina to the West Sea through the Ara Waterway for 5,000 ton-class cruise boats to sail along the Han River. This project hit a snag as the Board of Audit and Inspection pointed out its weak feasibility while my predecessor was still in office. Despite a foreseeable lack of demand for such cruise travel, the waterway project required an enormous cost for dredging. I decided to suspend the project after taking office. I also decided to scrap a riverside opera house project, which had been blamed as a typical case of wasting taxpayer money. These controversial projects aside, I`m in favor of active development of the Han River. I think the river can be made into a place to offer a lot of enjoyment
to citizens without spending much money. Q. What’s your plan to improve the Gwanghwamun Square?
A. At present, the square is little more than a wide median strip, without clear character. But it cannot be dug out to be completely mended. Still, the traffic along the road on the side of the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts could be blocked on weekends to hold various events for citizens. This will bring about many changes.
Q. Are you going to amend the public bus management system, too? A. It needs a lot of thought from various angles. It never is a simple matter. We’ve set up a committee of experts from various sectors to start discussion. Q. You have interest in enhancing Seoul’s brand value as well. A. A simple ad copy can change the brand image of our city. I don’t think that “Hi Seoul,” which has been used for years, can do it. We are seeking advice from experts to devise a replacement.
Q. What is the direction of your overall improvement plans?
A. The general impressions and word-of-mouth stories that foreigners spread after visiting Seoul are very important. About 10 million tourists visit Seoul each year. Seoul’s brand value will rise greatly, if these visitors return home with deep impressions of the city. Then, there will be no need for additional PR efforts. It is a comprehensive job to strike a chord with visitors. We should change everything, from what they see upon arriving at Incheon International Airport to the attitudes of taxi drivers, paintings hung on walls and trees along the streets. Storytelling is also important. Seoul’s great tourist resources can touch the hearts of visitors when they are woven into impressive stories. This office of the mayor itself is full of stories. Two or three hours will be needed to unravel all the stories hidden here and there in this office alone. A storytelling task force will be launched. I want to make Seoul a city full of fun. Q. What are your key points in drawing up next year’s budget?
A. Seoul city executes a massive budget. My point is that not a single penny is spent on anything
unnecessary. I am reviewing a draft budget for next year category by category these days. They say the previous mayors received briefings on results, instead of personally participating in the detailed process of examining budget plans. I don’t think the mayor should make every decision. But you should have an eye as shrewd and delicate as one needed for a precision strike to eliminate waste and enhance efficiency even a bit higher. Q. You were elected mayor as an independent candidate last year. In the run-up to this year’s presidential election, independent hopeful Ahn Cheol-soo is getting high approval ratings. What are the aspirations of people you find in this phenomenon?
A. Last year, I happened to participate in the mayoral election somewhat unexpectedly. I won by running on an independent ticket, which symbolically manifested the profound distrust the people feel toward the current party politics. There has since been a whirlwind of political changes. Nonetheless, Mr. Ahn Cheol-soo, who is an independent presidential hopeful, is enjoying over 30 percent approval ratings. This reflects the people’s pressing demand that Korean politics change thoroughly.
Q. Do you believe an independent candidate can win the presidential election?
A. On the contrary, we may ask the critical question whether the existing political parties receive enough support from the people. After my election, I joined the Democratic United Party because I thought it would not be appropriate for the mayor of Seoul to serve with no party affiliation. In the same context, we may ask the critical question whether the nation’s president can work properly without support from a political party. After all, voters will choose between these two viewpoints.
Q. Your relations with opposition candidate Moon Jae-in and Ahn Cheol-soo are well known. We wonder whether you have any special relationship with ruling party candidate Park Geunhye.
A. No. I met Ms. Park one on one just once. I met her before the last general election because Saenuri Party lawmaker Yoo Jeong-bok contacted me to arrange a meeting with her. She said nothing particular when we met, which I felt was a little awkward. I went to meet her because of a request from her side. I remember I tried to break the ice myself and lead the conversation.
[ Hankyung Business, No. 883, October 29, 2012 ]
Choi Byeong-hyeon: “Translating our classics is an urgent task to properly introduce Korean culture.”
Kwon Gyeong-an Staff Reporter The Chosun Ilbo
The Honam University campus at the foot of Mt. Eodeung in Gwangju is steeped in an atmosphere of mystery as the sunlight mixes with the mist rising from the Hwangnyong River. That day, when the view brought up images of Walden Pond, Choi Byeong-hyeon, 62, professor of English literature, writer and translator of the classics, sat in his hillside office talking about Henry David Thoreau, who famously recounted his time at Walden.
Saying that right and wrong could not be decided by numbers, he began to talk about the lives of the creative few who have the firm belief that history will prove them right. “John Milton said that ‘Paradise Lost’ was written for such readers, few though they might be. I do my own writing and translation of classics in the same spirit,” said Professor Choi. “If we think about the lack of interest in translation in the world at large, it is like swimming without water, or fighting a battle without an enemy,” he added, to describe the arduous path he has taken as a pioneer in the field of classics translation. His desk is scattered with books and leaflets needed for English translation of The Annals of King Taejo from “The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty” (Joseon Wangjo Sillok). He plans to finish translating the daily chronicle of the six-year reign (1392-1398) of the founding monarch of Joseon by early next year.
Choi is already well known for two previous translations: “The Book of Corrections” (Jingbirok, National Treasure No. 132) by Yu Seong-ryong (1542-1607), which vividly details the reasons behind the Japanese invasions that began in 1592 and relates how the nation overcame the crises, published in 2003; and “Admonitions on Governing the People: Manual for All Administrators” (Mongmin Simseo) by Jeong Yak-yong (1762-1836), the man who comprehensively defined Sirhak, or the school of “practical learning,” published in 2010. These books drew international notice from scholars as they were published by American university presses in line with international standards. Alone he has stuck the Korean flag in the territory of classics translation, 100 years after it was marked out by Japan and China. ● The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty and the Tripitaka Koreana
Q. You have taken on the job of translating the historical text, The Annals of King Taejo. A. It’s been two years since I started, and I’ve completed the first draft of the translation. But I still have to do the footnotes, and check a lot of other points, so I won’t be finished with it until early next year. The translation will be published by an American university press and posted on the website of the National Institute of Korean History.
Q. Why did you choose that particular text? A. “The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty” is National Treasure No. 151 and has been inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. Aside from translation from Chinese characters to Hangeul, it has never been translated into any other language. In the age of globalization, it may as well not exist. It is shameful that we have been unable to turn our proud cultural heritage into something we can boast of. I was thinking to myself “I should translate this···” about two years ago, when I got a phone call from Kim Byung-kook (professor of political science and international relations at Korea University), who was serving as president of the Korea Foundation. He had read “Admonitions on Governing the People” and suggested that I translate “The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty.” So I dared to take on the challenge. The translation came to about 40,000 words. When translating the Chinese characters one by one, it was digging up the roots of a tree firmly planted in the ground using a pickaxe, and when translating whole sentences it was like making a furrow in the field with a cow. The completed translation will be like fertile land where any seed can grow. What greater happiness is there?
Q. Will you continue to translate the annals of other kings after you finish the annals of Taejo?
A. It is impossible for any individual to translate the complete annals. However, when I am finished with the King Taejo part, I hope other scholars will pick up the lead and finish the rest. While I was working on the translation I thought to myself that if the end result is properly promoted globally it has the potential to become world heritage in the true sense. The 15 volumes that make up the annals of King Taejo alone give deep insight into the transition of a Buddhist nation to a Confucian nation, so the 2,000 volumes constituting the entire annals are like “the depths of the ocean.” As the task is beyond one individual, the translation project has to be tackled together by experts and scholars in all related fields, translators and English language scholars, Korean language scholars, and historians, with the support of the public. In that sense, I would call it the second Tripitaka Koreana [entire Buddhist canon carved on some 80,000 woodblocks]. ● Classics for Resonance with World Readers
Q. It is unexpected for an English literature scholar to take the lead in translating Korean classics.
A. In the late 1990s I taught both American literature and Korean literature at Maryland University in Yongsan, Seoul. In 1997, the year the Asian financial crisis broke out, I was listening to the radio while on the bus on my way home from work when the ruling and opposition parties were fiercely attacking each other over responsibility for the crisis. The bus was stifling and the traffic was jammed, and the battle was going nowhere. Then suddenly, Jingbirok came to mind. Perhaps the national crisis seemed similar to the crisis 400 years ago during the Imjin War. As soon as I got home I translated the preface. Like the words in the Bible from Genesis, “···he saw that it was good.” It seemed that every word, every line had come alive. Six years later, after all sorts of difficulties, it was published by the Institute of East Asian Studies, UC Berkley, in the United States. For such a book to be published by an American university, it has to be recommended by three scholars from the Asian Studies Department. It has to meet strict international standards in regard to translation, footnotes, definition of terminology, etc. You could say “The Book of Corrections” was the first classical Korean text to be published by a famous U.S. university.
Q. Were you worried about the response after the book was published?
A. I was truly curious as to whether Korean classics had any competitiveness in the international
community, and how foreign readers would respond. As soon as “The Book of Corrections” came out it was distributed globally. The response was better than I had anticipated. Major American universities adopted it as a textbook in their Asian Studies courses, reviews in major journals were all positive, and Wikipedia and ordinary people began to cite it as a reference. It also received five stars in Amazon reader reviews. So I knew that it had competitiveness. Being assured on that point, I began translation of “Admonitions on Governing the People: Manual for All Administrators.” It was published by the University of California, and likewise major universities in America, including the University of California, Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Washington (Seattle), and the University of Michigan, as well as universities in Canada, adopted it as an Asian Studies textbook or reference book.
Q. Why did you choose this particular book?
A. It comes down to the question of which books should be offered to a global audience. That is, the contents have to find response with international readers and be relevant to the world situation today. “The Book of Corrections” is not relevant only to the Korean people as it deals with a situation in the late 16th century when Korea, China and Japan were at war on the Korean peninsula. As it deals with national crisis, it is a book that people in any country will find interesting. “Admonitions on Governing the People” deals with the incompetence of government and corruption of bureaucrats, a perennial problem seen throughout the ages, in both the East and West. So it holds value as a reference for all people around the world. ● Urgent Movement to Translate the Korean Classics
Q. We look forward to your future translations. A. I’ll be finishing The Annals of King Taejo next year. Then I plan to organize all my notes, the ups and downs in the whole translation process, and my thoughts and conclusions reached from experience. It’ll be like “The Pilgrim’s Progress in the Translation of Korean Classics.” I want to pass on my experience to my contemporaries and the next generation. When I first set out to translate historical material, I had to find the exact meaning of the terminology and the countless titles of government posts, and then define them properly in English. Naturally, in the process I’ve accumulated enough material for a terminology dictionary. Q. It’s a lonely path you’ve taken. You probably have a lot to say about the state of academia.
A. In our education and academic research we have been practicing not “practical learning” but “empty learning.” Children learn English from a young age, they even go overseas to study it, and even though there are plenty of English literature scholars it is hard to find people capable of translating the classics. There’s something very wrong here. From the perspective of practical learning, the goals of foreign language education have to be fundamentally reset. The goal should be to build the capability to export our culture. It’s time to make moves to translate the Korean classical texts. It’s the only way to revive the humanities, like the Renaissance. Scholars need to carry out research with a clear objective. What point is there for an English literature scholar to do no more than analyze and critique Western poetry, for example? It’s no good to make pretenses about expertise without contributing to the development of Korean culture, literature and history, like a bee stuck in a beehive. Is it a good thing for Samsung to be more well-known than Korea? If we fail to export our culture along with our products, then we’ll end up as nothing more than a nation of merchants. We have to become a country more concerned with the roots than the fruits, and if we hope to win a Nobel Prize in literature, we have to translate the classics so that the judges don’t end up wondering about the literary tradition that produced the works up for consideration. In the volume of poetry that he published in 1977, titled “The Piano and the Geomungo” (traditional Korean zither), it seems Professor Choi had already foreseen his fate. As suggested by the use of the two words representing East and West, Choi is a writer who started out with Korean literature, spent 18 years studying English literature overseas at the University of Hawaii, Columbia University, and the City University of New York, and then came back to Korean literature. An English poem titled “Confession,” the outpouring of a young man’s passion for creation, which Choi wrote as an undergraduate at the University of Hawaii, won the university’s literature award. His professors recommended him to Columbia University, where he continued his studies. His novel “Language,” written in a combination of poetry and prose, won the first Hyun Jin-geon Literature Award in 1988. Numerous papers have been written about this work, which is considered the precursor to Korean rap music. “The king turtle, the soundless laborer, swims thousands of miles to a lonely island, lays its eggs in the sand, and silently returns to the sea,” Choi writes, as if this were his fate, too. The parrot in “Language” that learns another’s language only to lose its own nature in the process ― what does it represent? It seems to satirize those studying “empty learning.”
[ November 3, 2012 ]
Korea Focus is a monthly webzine (www.koreafocus.or.kr), featuring commentaries and essays on Korean politics, economy, society and culture, as well as relevant international issues. The articles are selected from leading Korean newspapers, magazines, journals and academic papers from prestigious forums. The content is the property of the Korea Foundation and is protected by copyright and other intellectual property laws. If it is needed to reprint an article(s) from Korea Focus, please forward your request for reprint permission by fax or via e-mail. Address: The Korea Foundation Seocho P.O. Box 227, Diplomatic Center Building, 2558 Nambusunhwanno, Seocho-gu, Seoul, 137863, Korea Tel: (82-2) 2151-6526 Fax: (82-2) 2151-6592 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ISBN 979-11-5604-013-2
Publisher Kim Woo-sang Editor Lee Kyong-hee Editorial Board Choi Sung-ja Member, Cultural Heritage Committee Hahm In-hee Professor, Ewha Womans University Hong Chan-sik Chief Editorial Writer, The Dong-a Ilbo Kang Byeong-tae Chief Editorial Writer, The Hankook Ilbo Kim Hak-soon Proessor, Korea University Kim Yong-jin Professor, Ajou University Kim Ho-ki Professor, Yonsei University Peter Beck Korea Represetative, Asia Foundation Robert Fouser Professor, Seoul National University Yun Chang-hyun Professor, University of Seoul â“’ The Korea Foundation 2013 All rights reserved.