A few weeks ago I was asked by someone over there to submit something. After I cleaned coffee off the computer screen I started writing back saying why foreigners don’t really give a shit and are pretty turned off by the whole thing. Moreover, I wrote, it looked like the KT was just being lazy by asking foreigners to produce evidence that would likely be plundered and stolen by local academics to further whatever quote-unquote research they’re doing.
As I was writing that, though, it occurred to me that that'd be an interesting essay to submit. I personally don’t care who gets the Liancourt Rocks, but I like a lot of foreigners am repulsed by the hypernationalism these territorial dispute brings out. Mutilating birds, cancelling student exchange programs, planting flags on embassies, putting babies in danger, fostering hatred in schoolchildren, and forcing a biased point of view on everyone both here and abroad (1, 2, 3, 4), all while telling foreigners here not to get involved in quote-unquote Korean affairs. What’s more, this summer popular attention shifted away from the anti-Americanism of the beef imports to the hatred of Japan, an old stand-by, pretty much overnight. We’re well aware of how easy it is for that anger to be directed toward foreign teachers again. As foreigners, angry protests against foreign countries doesn't appeal to us or make us feel welcome.
More to the point, I always make fun of those Dokdo columns in the papers that use the thesis “Dokdo is ours because Japan is bad" but provide no evidence and do nothing to counter the equally-strong evidence presented for the Japanese claim. This is a generalization, but I think foreign readers will be easier swayed by a well-researched, well-cited piece that thoroughly confronts and disputes the Japanese side, rather than one that bitches, moans, saber-rattles, passes along half-assed historical evidence, and tries to play on an ingrained hatred of past Japanese imperialism that just isn't there for a lot of us.
A few days ago I decided not to put anything together, though, because I'm pretty busy with other stuff. More importantly, since I almost got fired for offering my opinion on such sensitive quote-unquote domestic issues as the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement and the 2002 anti-American riots, you can damn well bet I'd be kicked out of the country for bringing up the D-word. My offer of a reward still stands, though, to any foreigner who gets his or her fake essay published.
I'll give any foreigner 20,000 won if their fake essay wins. I'll give them an extra 5,000 if they include "Hub of Asia," "Yi Sun-sin," or "the Japanese government must acknowledge this fact" in their remarks, and a further 5,000 won if, upon receiving their tickets to Dokdo, they ask if they'll need a Japanese visa.
You know what, let's make it an even 50K. The more I think of it, though, the more objectionable I find this contest. And I think in large part it goes back to the hypocrisy of squashing our opinions when they’re negative, yet fawning over us when we say something complimentary about Korea. Look below, and see how many pictures of white people at the Kimchi Festival went across the wire today, and look at the photos and videos of big-noses you’ll find on practically every domestic festival and entertainment website. Now, I know you’re going to remind me that they've been running articles about Korea's image in the KT all week, some pretty critical, by relative experts who aren’t some young, no-name English monkey. I have to wonder, though, when it comes down to it how many of those names and opinions will be paid any mind when the big meetings are held. Hell, the government just announced that Bae Yong-joon will be the new Ambassador for Korean Tourism. He was famous among Japanese people, like, six years ago, and while the numbers of Japanese tourists to Korea are slipping, last I checked that's not the demographic Korea's looking to attract.
Bae Yong-joon starred in the wildly popular drama "Winter Sonata," which still draws tourists to Chuncheon, Gangwon-do.
Anything submitted in this contest will be used to further support Korea’s position in this land dispute. Yes, of course it will, that's the point of the contest, but see I’m not talking about any evidence compiled, but rather the perception that large numbers of foreigners care about these rocks. Remember a few months ago when some nobody teacher in Minnesota wrote about Dokdo on his Geocities blog? It became a big story on the major papers and websites and was interpreted to be representative of the American opinion. And you'll often read about foreigners and ethnic Koreans overseas making stops to Dokdo or Ulleung-do as part of their indoctrination into Korea’s history. You know, it really wouldn’t surprise me if the winner(s) of this contest---there are six, I believe---turn out to either be Korean-American high school students or non-native speakers of English. You’ll notice, for example, that many of the glowing reviews of Korea that appear on the VANK website are by non-native English speakers totally swept away by the Korean Wave. How about that metaphor right there?
On the topic of VANK, a government agency devoted to addressing distortions of Korean history and culture overseas, heres a reason why I don't want to get mixed up with them and a contest like this. I wanted to devote a whole post to this, but I'll just append it here. VANK takes Korean history pretty seriously, and wants you to do the same. In fact, the group's website suggests role models appropriate for overseas Koreans and other readers who must do their best to confront not only the dormant imperialism just across the Sea of Japan, but also the global conspiracy to slight Korea at every opportunity. Here is an excerpt of the standard email VANK has posted that readers are encouraged to copy and send to book publishers, teachers, and whomever else happens to not give a damn.
On the contrary, though there were several times of invasion by China and Japan through 5,000 years of Koran history, there was no period when the independence of Korea was damaged, but for the time of the Japanese Occupation Period.(1910 - 1945) You may find systematically well grounded information at the following website.
The reasons why you think of Korea as a shrimp between whales, in spite of this sound historical evidence, are because under Japanese Occupation, Japanese scholars twisted and bended Korean history to destroy the national pride and national identity of Korea, and after the independence of Korea, Japan spread wrong information about Korea to the world.
Truth in scholarship
Above all, the fact that such a credential publisher like you has distorted knowledge about Korean history because of the influence of Japanese scholars who neglected the academic truth, hurts all Koreans of the past, present and future. Many people in the world will be influenced by the distorted knowledge about Korea from the books of your company.
Therefore, we, cyber diplomatic mission VANK, hereby, request with our sincerity and courtesy, you to correct the afore-mentioned statement of "a shrimp jammed between whales" from a textbook published by your company and reflect the true national image of Korea to the world. You may be able to find numerous references to introduce the true national image of Korea to the world by a visit to the website below.
We will remain in silence while we wait for your sincere reply at your earliest convenience. VANK's Dream is for all people in the world to learn about Korean history and culture, become "familiar with Korea" and "make friends" that share dreams and friendships with everyone in the world. This can be done though our own effort to make a good image of Korea.
Unlikely they’ll “remain in silence” or refrain from unnecessary quotation marks.
But back to the role models, the three they suggest overseas Koreans emulate are: King Gwanggaeto the Great, General Eulji-Mundeok, and General Soo-hee. Readers ought not only emulate them, but spread the word about their greatness, as they are generally unknown among most non-Koreans. If you’ve made it this far, you can probably guess I have to take exception to the parallels they’re suggesting.
The VANK website tells us about King Gwanggaeto:
After the King Gwanggaeto the Great (375~413)became a king of Goguryeo(37BC ~ 668 AD), he expanded the largest territory and brought the golden age of Goguryeo. He expanded his territory toward all 4 directions and confirmed Goguryeo as the strongest country and the owner of Manchuria. We now want to have you to inherit his spirit and extend the territory of Korean culture toward the entire world in the 21st century. A King Gwanggaeto the Great of the 21st century is the one who conveys massive volume of the publication materials of Korea published by the VANK to Koreans in the entire world. Well mail various publication materials published by the VANK to introduce Korea to those whom we select as a King Gwanggaeto the Great.
A major military figure in Korea’s history, the King’s reputation is now considered vulnerable because of claims by China and Japan on this part of Korean history. Wikipedia tells us a little:
Today, King Gwanggaeto the Great is one of two rulers of Korea who were given the title 'Great' after their name (the other one being King Sejong the Great of Joseon, who created the Korean alphabet). He is regarded by Koreans as one of the greatest heroes of their history, and is often taken as a potent symbol of Korean nationalism. Recently, the People's Republic of China launched its program of attempting to incorporate the history of Goguryeo within the context Chinese history, which has resulted in popular opposition from Koreans.
The Gwanggaeto Stele, a six-meter monument erected by King Jangsu in 414, was rediscovered in Manchuria in 1875 by a Chinese scholar. Although the stele gives us a great amount of information of his reign, it also caused a controversy about historical view. This is because it contains several references to Japan.
I love these lines, too:
Most people find it odd that an artifact dedicated to the great achievements of Goguryeo would mention a Japanese achievement not related to Goguryeo or King Gwanggaeto. Also, historians indicate the technological difference between Japan and Korea at that time. It would have been almost impossible for Japan to have subjugated a country which had superior technology. That would have been like saying a country in Africa came across the Ocean and subjugated the USA or Canada.
That’s a good encyclopedia right there. King Gwanggaeto's reputation was in so much jeopardy that the local entertainment industry did the only thing it could: brought in Bae Yong-joon, out new Tourism Ambassador, to star in a drama about the king.
The casting doesn't seem accidental, considering his relative popularity in East Asia makes him among the most influential Korean stars. Perhaps it was thought he could thusly attract Japanese and Chinese viewers and "correct" their distortions.
I’m sure this will draw heat from some of my readers in the military, but I don't think a warrior and imperialist should be emulated in this day and age as anything other than an anachronism and a representative of his time. War is still fashionable, but celebrating it and exalting its quote-unquote heroes does nothing to lament its destructiveness or extinguish old regional grudges. For a country that spent much of the past century fighting itself, it sure has a bizarre love affair with death and murder (see Jinju Lantern Festival).
It is with that in mind, then, that I was really shocked to come across the following page a couple of months ago. On General Eulji-Mundoek:
In 612, three hundred five thousands soldiers of Soo from China invaded Goguryeo(37 BC ~ 668 AD). General Eulji-Mundeok by himself infiltrated into the quarter of Soo at the Aprok river and spied on the weakness of the camp of Soo. And the Soos force knew his spying and chased him. General Eulji-Mundeok lured them out to the distance of 30 ris from Pyoungyang City.What the article doesn’t mention is that the Battle of Salsu is considered the bloodiest battle in history, as those 300,000-plus Chinese were murdered when the general opened a dam on them. Frightening that he's a character whose actions people would want to model themselves after. It's arguably purely symbolic, those 300,000-plus deaths, but I don't think extermination is a viable parallel to a present-day territorial dispute over an outcropping of rocks, although as we’ve seen there are certainly plenty in the “Dokdo is ours because Japan was bad” camp who make that connection.
As the soldiers of Soo realized that they were imposed, they attempted to escape back to their camp.
But the forces of Goguryeo attacked them from ambush and defeated them at Salsu, currently Cheong-cheon river for the victory over the war.
Wisdom, intrepidity and patriotism of one person, General Eulji-mundeok, placed our pride as Korean in high and Goguryeo as a grand key nation in the Northeaste Asia.
Japan claims the right to describe as the sea of Japan because 97% of the maps in the world does so. We now need an Eulji-mundeok of the 21st century who has his intrepidity to confront against Japanese claim. It is an activity to confront against Japanese claim by increasing distribution of the maps with East Sea and Dokdo described on in the means of attaching the world map in English describing as East Sea and Dokdo at home, school and work places.
I had been saving some of these excerpts for the “Why Do Expats Complain So Much” submission that is now in developmental hell. Though the third historical figure on the site, Soo-hee, is ostensibly celebrated for being a diplomat and avoiding war with the Chinese, the amount of aggression and anger that goes in to these historical grievances is disgusting and not conducive to friendly relations across borders. I don’t want to spend much more time on that site because it hurts my brain, but as you browse the pages I've linked and anything else on that site you'll see that the aggression is paralleled in the way students comport themselves in trying to “correct” differing opinions and in spreading their propaganda to friends, teachers, and strangers.
A few days ago I linked a thread about a foreign university professor here whose picture was unwittingly used by his own school's newspaper to compare him with notorious pedophile Christopher Paul Neil, and we talked a little about what happens when foreigners' photos and liknesses are used in ways unapproved and unintended. I don't know if anything bad would come from this; on the contrary, if I actually won a trip to Dokdo I'd be getting all kinds of