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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Blind, Rich, and Afraid: A New View on PreWWII Appeasement


        People often see the politics of appeasement worked up by Britain and France in the build-up to WWII with disgust or irony, perhaps the way they would view two bodybuilders donating machine guns to a skinny starving art major who took up rape as a career. A careful investigation of the socio-cultural, political build-up and the military situation before WWII changes the scenery. The British and French operated in appeasement not out of the naive assumption that Hitler would suddenly be a good boy if they gave him the toys he wanted, but out of a fear and distrust for each other and for the rest of the world.
        Yes, Britain and France underestimated Hitler—and Stalin, and Mussolini, and the post-Meiji government in Japan, for that matter. Hitler's rise to power occurred so subversively that putting a finger on him would have proved impossible, especially in a world where both Britain and France had their economies to focus on. He engineered sex scandals to manipulate public opinion and continually went behind the backs of the national community to make territorial demands. Stalin also appeared wildly popular to the people from the outside. Both France and Britain had difficulty becoming aggressive with dictators because they had difficulty seeing their next move.
        The underestimation of Hitler had more to do with the situation in France and Britain than with Hitler's cleverness or British and French naivete, however. With France's late economic crash relative to the rest of the Western World, the French people had little time to focus on developing a military in response to Hitler. Pride prevented France from using German tanks and caused her to trust the Magineau line instead--even though some the Magineau's newest military technology had been there for over 25 years. As explained in lecture, France included colonial holdings when counting the military, even though the colonies would not prove terribly useful to France in the actual event of War. Additionally, France had several government overhauls during this period. In Britain, the US had become the main economic enemy so that Britain had little time to spare looking for a madman they didn't believe in. Britain acquiesed to Japanese invasion of China because they wanted Japan to acknowledge their control over India. No one had time for dictators when finances were on the line. Even Hitler's anti-semitism tipped no one off, for anti-semitism had grown much more rampant in Britain and other Western nations than in Germany; indeed, German Jews considered themselves Germans first, Jews second, in many cases, because they had received better treatment in Germany than elsewhere.
        Nevertheless, it was not ignorance or complacency so much as fear that prevented France and Britain from behaving firmly towards Germany. Products of the generation that had grown up afraid of war had a strong fear of misjudging Hitler as Germany had been misjudged in WWI: they remembered how the wildly exaggerated propaganda at the beginning of the war had drawn them into so much misery. Not only fear of war, but also fear of each other kept the allies from acting while Germany re-armed. A bug in DeGualle's dining room revealed that he felt the real enemies lay in Britain and the US, and many in Europe felt Roosevelt posed a greater threat than Hitler. During the formation of the Munich Pact, the way that Hitler manipulated the Germans in the Suedentenland to revolt passed completely under the radar because France worried much more about whether or not they would have Britain on their side diplomatically. Britain didn't want to make an alliance with Russia against Germany for fear of angering Japan, Russia's age-old rival. Alliances drawn and re-drawn between cconomic and military rivals left every country afraid of the others, and in a sea of sharks, the one shark with a swastika does not stand out much. Fear, not complacency, had the reigning power in the appeasement.

Monday, May 23, 2011

CD-44 Molecule

This is really, really cool thing I did!!!  It moves and stuff!!!

In short, in this interactive presentation you can learn all about the very important CD-44 molecule, it's structure, and it's function.  This is the only place on the web where this much information is compiled about CD-44 in an interactive, understandable manner, and if you're a researcher it's a useful place to start collecting primary sources.

To view it, you need to use this plug-in: http://www.molsoft.com/activeicm.html

The page is here: http://people.virginia.edu/~jmv7e/JenniferVeldhuyzen2I83/JenniferVeldhuyzen2I83.html

And then you can see the magic happen!  I wanted to imbed it here, but really it's very difficult to do so, so instead just go ahead and click the link.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

My Friend Connie, East Asia, and Free Discourse of Ideas (How Not To Update, How Not To Keep Your E-mail Address Private)

My friend Connie is going to an East Asian country posing as a college student, and yesterday was Draw Mohammed Day. 

What do those two things have to do with each other?  Free discourse of ideas. I may or may not agree with Draw Mohammed Day, and did not participate as no one has yet convinced me that it's really unoffensive and worth my time.  But I do appreciate that someone wants to stand up to violence and tell the world that the free discourse of ideas is important, and that we as humans should not submit to aggressive censorship from any religion.

Connie's trip to East Asia, which is a much less offensive step for free speech, IS worth my time, and yours.  Although Connie will travel with Agape Christian Fellowship, an organization related to Campus Crusade, she cannot tell you what country she will go to (I know where she's going though nya nya nya) because the religious ideas that she's going to share with other college students are restricted by that country's government.  Even if you don't agree with her beliefs--she is a born-again Christian who wants to tell other people that she believes Jesus, a real human God, can get them to heaven--I know you agree that no country should restrict citizen's rights to hear new ideas.  Free discourse helps good ideas grow stronger, and weeds out bad ideas--even religious ones.  Talking about Christianity in East Asia helps promote debate and understanding between multiple belief systems, and Connie's work will ultimately help her also to discover and understand the views of others.  I know you believe in that.

So please, even if you're not a Christian, consider supporting Connie's efforts to travel to East Asia, take a language class, and spend her days sharing her ideas with people who haven't had the chance to hear them before.  If you're a Christian--well, this is a little sister of yours, and she's stepping out in faith to do something big and a little dangerous.  Doesn't that seem worth your time and money?  If it does, please e-mail me immediately at petrepan@gmail.com, and I will give you Connie's designation number and the website where you can give.  She needs $2000 by Monday!!!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Christian Explosion or Imperialist Rape: Missions in Korea...(another review)


___   __________
Professor Schuker
HIEU 3412
11/4/2010
The Christian Explosion and European Imperialism in Korea
            Bloodstained priestly garb, sopping with the rape of ideas and the red mutilation of cultures, litters the fields of European interactions with the East in the modern mind. Political imperialists and churchmen play intimate bedfellows in scholarly imaginations, but in Korean historical reality their relationship fades to mere acquaintance, if that. Wi Jo Kang in Christ and Ceasar in Modern Korea and Samuel Hugh Moffett's A History of Christianity in Asia both elucidate the separation between imperialism and the development of Korean Christianity. Moffett holds a stricter position on their separation and even enmity; Kang demonstrates a more complicated view in which Christianity sometimes assists, and sometimes receives assistance from imperialism. In the end, both sources agree on the existence of some major incompatibility.
            Before delving into Moffett and Kang, one must, by way of introduction, acknowledge and deflect the possible contention that European imperialism played little role in Korean Christianity at all. After all, the United States seems to have sent more missionaries to Korea than any European nation, and the European nation with the greatest imperialistic aspirations towards Korea, Russia, never finds itself mentioned with regards to missionaries. However, all of the first introductions of Catholicism and even many major Protestant encounters bore relation to Europeans. Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, France, and many other nations played a role in Korea's opening to the world and several of these, most notably France and Great Britain, sent missionaries. Even when Europeans did not directly involve themselves, they established a precedent for other Westerners both in imperialism and in missions.
            When dealing with these Westerners, different approaches to the same situation reflect different backgrounds. Moffett wrote his book relying on primary sources such as letters, records, and direct experience as the son of an American missionary to Korea. This background does not harm his fairness as a historian, for he carefully writes his account with ample concrete events, but it certainly influenced his positive view of Christianity as directly opposed to imperialism. Kang's slightly more complicated view comes from a Korean ancestry that actually experienced imperialism's receiving end. This often surfaces in fiercely emotional language—only someone with an anti-Japanese history would call work with the Japanese “shameful”1—but it also drives him to examine every angle so that his analysis of historical forces at times goes to greater depth than Moffett's. Moffett's style is more demonstrative; Kang's explanatory.
            Moffett distances Christianity from imperialism first of all by demonstrating that any mission-attempts only prospered because of participation of the Koreans themselves. The first two foreign missionaries and martyrs in Korea during the late 1700s came from China, and the second died largely because he refused to allow his Korean followers to continue to give themselves up in his stead.2 Moffett clearly illustrates that the Jesuit Europeans who trained and encouraged Chinese missionaries made no attempt culturally to undermine Koreans but instead sent someone with whom the Koreans could relate. Rather than putting all church leadership in the hands foreigners, the church made a Korean noblewoman catechist.3 Even before Chinese missionaries arrived in China, Koreans themselves first brought home Catholicism after meeting a French mathematician in the Beijing court.4 Even the first Protestants in Korea were Koreans who migrated to Sorae from a Scottish mission north of the Yalu River.5 If anything, Moffett shows, Christian missions directed towards Korea bore the mark of careful nonintervention, not imperialism. He does not analyze whether or not nonintervention occurred because Europeans simply did not care or because of the Korean government's xenophobia, but clearly Koreans, not Europeans, drove Christian expansion.
            Moffet shows that a second mark of non-imperialistic Christian European missions in Korea involved cultural sensitivity and even admiration, especially regarding the Korean language and the hangul writing system. Early French missionaries made their intentions clear when they published the first Christian book in Korea in hangul, even though all Korean elites read Chinese, which missionaries already knew.6 The British Anglicans took a much longer time to start actually evangelizing in Korea because, unlike the American Protestants, they wanted to completely master the language first. They did not want to “shame the gospel with improper grammar” and as a consequence, they appealed more to the Korean literati than the Americans did. Moffett points out that their hesitation caused them to fall behind the Americans in gathering converts,7 but surprisingly, despite differences in technique and denominations, Europeans and Americans generally worked together. Accordingly, Moffett groups them together, and from his writing one could believe that the European Protestants would probably have supported the new method of baptism that Americans devised to avoid cultural insensitivity: Korean men and women had to remain separate, so the preacher would put his hand through a hole in a divided curtain to baptize women.8
            Moffett cleverly suggests that perhaps one reason the many Koreans did not connect Christianity with imperialism, at least in the case of Protestantism, had to do with Japanese imperialism. The late 18th and early 19th centuries saw the Japanese and the Chinese constantly sending troops and advisors and trade requirements to the Korean peninsula, until King Kojong actually welcomed Russian imperialistic involvement in hopes it could deliver him from his Asian neighbors.9 Moffett never suggests that European nations did not have imperialistic aims towards Korea, of course; merely that the pressure put on the Koreans by Asian imperialism drew possible Korean enmity away from Christianity and towards Japan.
            Politically, it is common knowledge that Europeans did force unequal treaties with Korea, as did also the United States. Moffett separates missionaries from the imperialists by pointing out that among some Western imperialists, a view arose that the Christians undermined the interests of their home countries because some missionaries encouraged Koreans to start businesses that competed against foreigners. This kept goods and trade working for Korea instead of for foreign nations.10
            Discussion of the 1886 treaty with France clarifies Moffett's standpoint, especially when compared with Kang's analysis. Kang describes for pages precisely how the Christian missionaries advocated in court that Korea sign a treaty with France11, while Moffett instead summarizes the situation by saying that the missionaries hoped that a treaty with France would keep Russia from mistreating Korea.12 Thus, in Kang's work, the missionaries promote the opening of Korean borders, while in Moffett's, they work to suggest the lesser of two evils. Moffett states that when the French sent a warship in response to Korean persecution of Catholics they only worsened the situation for Christians.13 Kang says something similar, but he calls the situation an “invasion”, despite its small scale, and makes it more like a rescue14 than the excuse for border-opening that Moffett seems to describe. Kang even states that to promote the treaty Korean Catholics committed “treason” in order to support imperialistic invasion that would make French Catholic work in Korea easier.15 Moffett in this case actually gives a better, less emotional justification for missionary reasoning than Kang does, probably because he can understand where they come from, and subtly helps to highlight the tensions missionaries felt between their new home and the old. Imperialism in Moffett's view impeded missions; in Kang's view, Christians in Korea sometimes found it useful.
            In his discussion of later periods Kang continues to see Western imperialists as coincidentally useful to Christians. After the Enlightenment Coup in the early 1880s, an American missionary-turned-medical-officer saved the life of an injured nephew of powerful Queen Min, convincing King Kojong to allow Christians into Korea. When Moffett describes this scenario, he notes the coup but never examines the forces that caused it, emphasizing the role of the Protestant, Dr. Allen.16 Kang, on the other hand, points out the essential role played by the political upheaval as a result of “a shameful episode in Korea's political history,” as he calls the “alliance with a foreign power”17(Japan) that supported the Enlightenment coup. In other words, by some stroke of luck, the conflict made possible by French imperialism in China18 and Japanese imperialism in Korea brought about the opening of Korea to Protestantism. This does not mean that the Protestants had imperialistic aims, merely that the upheaval caused by imperialism incidentally helped them. Despite Kang's emotionalism, his analysis of the historical forces adds a helpful depth that Moffett sometimes lacks.
            Kang's work opposes Moffett's theory that Koreans did not connect Christianity with Western imperialism because they saw Eastern imperialism as a greater threat. He shows that in the Korean mind Western and Eastern imperialism went hand in hand as often as they competed. In the Sino-Japanese War when China and Japan battled for the Korean “sphere of influence”, Britain gave China the use of a British warship, and the Koreans would have noticed this.19 Later during the Japanese annexation of Korea the people saw the West as complicit20 and a Korean assassinated a pro-annexation US official.21 On the other hand, when Russia and Japan vied for influence over Korea, many Koreans did favor the Russians22, as predicted by Moffett's position. Given the overall inconsistency in preference for Western imperialism over Eastern, Kang instead suggests that Koreans drew near Christianity for its own sake, as a tool to defeat Japanese imperialism.23 Rather than seeing Christianity as tied to a 'less-dangerous West,' many Koreans saw it as their own.
            Kang emphasizes this ownership of Korean Christianity from the beginning when he shows how the founders of Korean Catholicism “stood firm [against persecution] because they had a strong sense of pride in having laid the foundation of this new religion themselves.”24 He points out that the emphasis the Protestant missionaries placed on Korean-run churches led to an understanding of self-government that planted the seeds of democratic thinking later on.25 Thus, by rite of its very nature, Christianity worked more efficiently for nationalism than for imperialism. Kang sees this played out again as the Bible in hangul that so boosted the spread of Christianity also promoted hangul itself, and the use of hangul promoted nationalism.26 The behavior of foreign missionaries and Korean Christians, as well as the nature of Christian institutions, easily birthed Korean nationalism. During the 1900 period of Japanese incursion, missionaries would use their privileged foreign status to hide nationalistic Korean Christians from Japanese police.27 In fact, Koreans saw their religion so intertwined with their national independence that many political assassins were Christians: the pro-annexation American foreign minister DW Stevens and Ito Hirobumi, the Japanese general who ruled Korea for some years before official annexation, both met their ends at the hands of Christians.28
            Thus Kang and Moffett both show that Christianity, in the end, played an essential role in developing the Korean idea of nation and rights in opposition to foreign imperialism, Western and Japanese. Their agreement, drawn out in cohesive, well-written histories, brings a refreshing success story to the table of religious history. The balance between modern industry, medicine, and education that Christians promoted in Korea and the respect for Korean culture did nurse nationalism. From the beginning, when French Jesuits first recognized the value of hangul and ordered that Korean Catholics teach it to their children,29 they made the decision to begin on a path of respect, and respect from one party breeds self-confidence in another. One must agree with Moffett and Kang that the idea that Korea deserved to rule itself, independent of any “older brother” nation, truly found a safe haven and breeding ground within the Christian church in Korea and also in Europe. European Christians led the way for cultural appreciation in Korea when they submitted to Korean Christians, and Christianity survived so well in Korea, despite persecution, for this reason. The works of Moffett and Kang both aptly illustrate the success bred by respect.
            Additionally, essential insight emanates from Kang's notes that imperialism sometimes aided the advance of Christianity in Korea. At the least, the ability of a belief system to use different climates of opinion to its advantage speaks volumes for its resiliency. Kang opens doors to an ironic understanding that even systems of thought that subjugate can ultimately serve their own self-destruction. Imperialism protected an institution that supported its later destruction. European nations during the period (1800-1900) may have worked only to benefit themselves, but even selfishness finds itself enslaved to a greater plan. The problem of Christianity's interactions with imperialism also shines light on the open-minded pragmatism of the Korean people. They made brilliant use of Christianity's mobilizing power and demonstrated a true understanding of its messages of equality and freedom. Furthermore, the imperialism discussion can highlight the willingness of Christian Koreans to forgive errors missionaries did make. The story of the Korean church, then, not only speaks of the triumph of freedom and culture, but also shows to all the world the results of unity and tolerance.
1Kang,Wi Jo.Christ and Ceasar in Modern Korea.(Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997)15
2Moffett, Samuel H. A History of Christianity in Asia, Volume II. (New York: Orbis Books, 2005), 313
3Ibid., 313. She protected the foreign missionary in her home and discipled entering converts for communion. Korean law protected noblewomen from physical punishment, but in her case officials suspended the law to torture and execute her.
4Ibid, 309
5Ibid, 531
6Ibid, 313
7Ibid., 534
8Moffett, 533
9Ibid., 315, 537
10Ibid., 535
11Kang, 6
12Moffett, 316
13Ibid.
14Kang, 6
15Ibid., 7
16Moffett, 532
17Kang, 15
18Ibid., 14
19 Ibid., 37
20Ibid., 39
21Ibid., 40 Stevens, who had served as foreign minister aiding Japan in the Korean court, made a public statement supporting the annexation, urging that the US follow Japan's example in the Phillipines.
22Ibid., 36
23 Ibid., 37
24Ibid., 2
25Ibid., 30
26Kang, 31
27Kang, 37
28Kang, 39-41
29Chai, Shin-yu, Ed. The Founding of Catholic Tradition in Korea. (Missisuaga, Ont: Korean and Related Studies press, 1996) 126-129, 128

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Good reading about Imperial Chinese Family: Review of Ebrey's Case Study of the Po Ling T'sui Family

______ _____________
Imperial Chinese Family
Cong Ellen Zhang
2/10/2011
The Mechanics of a River: Patricia Ebrey's Study of the Po'Ling T'suis

            A good story usually flows like a stream: soft, light, easy to read, and clear. On the other hand, research papers, even very good ones, usually sit like deep silent pools above hidden underground springs: they do not always move forward with leaps and bounds, but they break new ground and must still remain clear if they wish to provide safe drinking. Patricia Ebrey's “The Aristocratic Families of Early Imperial China” flows like a stream, and this contains advantages and disadvantages for her presentation. In general, she analyzes and explains her points with deep evidence, but sometimes, as she streams forward, she skips over defending her arguments against opposing views. The story-like flow and structure do lend remarkable readability and reflect the intimacy with which she studied her subject. Always, throughout the text, she remains stylistically clear and wonderful drinking for the thirsty mind.
           Ebrey dives right into her research and its methodology with a chapter on the problems in the field and the need for her particular study. She explains the manner in which lack of sources and unpredictable variety in aristocratic families make historical generalization in analysis difficult, and then justifies the place of a case study in the current research scheme by demonstrating that if one chooses a family that according to the early Chinese would have fit the bill, then a case study allows for concrete analysis of some of the general characteristics of aristocratic families, especially concerning their “dual nature...as bureaucrats and aristocrats.”1 She then solves the obvious problems of using only one family and of selecting this family from an bygone, misunderstood and culturally distant era that “had if anything too many different terms” to define status. 2 She does not look for a “typical” family, but merely a family that by the admission of the day fit the standards of the day for high class behavior. Finally, she explains her choice as compared to other families with more common surnames leading to more frequent name-fraud, and sets up for the next chapter.
           Her second chapter contains a long narrative of historical background fraught with general analysis of aristocratic families in general. She quickly and briefly runs through the general history, making claims about families that she does not yet support, and leaves the reader with a great deal of extra information about “big picture” historical figures. It almost seems as if she puts forth all her arguments in this chapter with the intention of supporting them in the following chapters that contain her actual case study. However, in the chapters of the case study, she includes her conclusions about the families after every segment about the T'sui family history, rendering this initial second chapter unnecessary for anything except for historical background.
           Throughout this historical background Ebrey strays into claims which her research really does not justify. For example, she includes in this chapter a section comparing the Northern and Southern aristocrats. She mentions that she does not see the Northern Wei aristocrats following a stricter social code than the Southerners, and indeed posits that they seemed more likely to intermarry lower on the social hierarchy than the Southern aristocrats did.3 Other authors, such as David Johnson, have seen an opposite trend, claiming that social mobility in the North during that period presented even more difficulties under the T'o-pa Wei than in the South.4 While this may seem a minor issue, certainly her section detailing the differences between North and South should at least have addressed the opposition. Besides, her research has no way of proving either way differences between the North and the South because her Po'ling T'sui family all come from one Northeastern area. She probably did not need to address these variations, but as she did, Johnson's research occurred around the same time as Ebrey's and his work, published a year before, must have been familiar to her considering her inordinately thorough research.
           Thorough and comprehensive research is Ebrey's strong point, and the real beauty in her work lies underneath the surface in her stunning bibliography. The most striking evidence of the author's care in source selection lies in the appendices, in which she gives all of Appendix II to description of one branch of the family. These extensive and entertaining records really hit home after Appendix I, where Ebrey carefully analyzes how she double-checked her use of genealogy tables against an incredible variety of other primary material. The story of one branch of the family alone must have taken a great deal of time to compile from so many different sources; the research for the entire great family seems like a magnum opus. Ebrey had the enthusiasm and effort to track down as much information as she could about the life of each man, even extending into the obscure and hard to find, like T'sui Ch'eng-fu.5 She provides an intriguing connection between him and the poet Li Po that illustrates not only her her wide background of knowledge, but also sheer dedication to finding material on a man about whom admittedly little information remains.
           Despite the problems with the inclusion of the second chapter, within that segment Ebrey makes strong claims. She importantly points out that along the evolution of the families into the Tang, they began to emphasize their own supposed achievements and moral superiority rather than holding to their previous obsessions about the pedigrees and successes of their ancestors.6 Later on, in her specific discussion of the T'sui family, she backs up this assertion by demonstrating that as they transitioned from the Sui into the T'ang the old age of their family alone could not defend them; thus, they had the emphasize their current achievements as shih-ta-fu.7 She also interestingly attributes the decline of the great families primarily to the loss of their local power base, and only to a much lesser degree to the decline of the T'ang dynasty.8 Her late chapters clearly illustrate the validity of these points at least in the case of the T'sui family, and the real strength of this case study lies in the ability to follow the development of the family throughout the dynastic transitions.
           In Ebrey's narrative, the T'sui family begins before the Han with the legend of a usurper, threatening the lord of his pre-Han era and ultimately giving his family a bad name later on in the Warring States period. The first historical T'sui, however, appears in a Han official document as an upstanding character who had sufficient funds to secure an education and an office post. Ebrey posits that the early Han T'suis did not gain power by office holding, but that some, such as T'sui Yin and his descendants, held the most prestige in their literature and sage-like scholarly qualities. Later on, during the divided period of the Northern Wei, the T'sui family needed official positions to maintain their status mainly as an occupation; the main power base still rested at home, and the T'suis did not have much role in court politics at all, transitioning from dynasty to dynasty as bureaucrats who simply did their duty.9 Finally, during the Sui and the transition into the T'ang, as already mentioned, the T'sui relied entirely on demonstrating their worth in court, mostly because they had lost their local power base and their unity during the many wars. As they became more reliant on the central government for their power, they declined after the end of the T'ang.
           The analytical ground Ebrey covers in her deep pool of research contains a certain beauty, but the real enjoyment in this book came purely from the descriptions of the T'sui people. Ebrey writes in detail about the Han T'sui who complained about land owners who cheat their tenants and people who spent too much money10. Readers meet the later Northern Wei T'suis who would kneel before their mother every day to inquire after her health, tasting her food to evaluate if it met standards for her, and reporting to her anything they did and anywhere they went.11 Ebrey introduces us to the brave Chu-lun who, upon losing to the rebel Ko Jung, feigned incompetence so that when Ko Jung would have forced him into battle against his earlier master, he instead escaped to the capital.12 Page after page of real, personal lives play before the reader, until the quiet pool begins to move and flow into actual history. Ebrey's analysis conceived a deep pool; her intimate research birthed it as a river.
1Ebrey, Patricia Buckley,  The aristocratic families of early imperial China : a case study of the Po-ling Ts╩╗ui family  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge [Eng.] ; New York :  1978   8-9
2Ebrey, 9
3Ebrey, 27
4Johnson, David. The Medieval Chinese Oligarchy. Boulder, C.O.: Westview Press, 1977. 31
5Ebrey, Patricia. pg. 186
6Ebrey, 31
7Embey, 88
8Ebrey, 33
9Ebrey, 67
10Ebrey, 43-44
11Ebrey, 57
12Ebrey, 70

Monday, May 2, 2011

Why Christianity Survived in Korea: Swing Dancing and Different Perspectives

5/2/2011
Dancers and Diatribes: Discussions on Korean Christianity and Political Activism
         Good swing dancers move without speaking. Communication happens in a flowing, spinning, or bouncing moment of bodies moving past each other, and a watcher might find herself hard-pressed to say who really "makes" the dance. Is the "lead"'s solid fulcrum really in control of "making" the dance, or does he rely on the flairs of the "follow" to make it more than simply pretty steps across the stage? Even the dancers, in the heat of the moment, cannot envision the entire dance, but only feel the push and pull at the boundaries of their own bodies.
         So with the history of Christianity in Korea, for long after the complex dances of ideas, people, and politics passes, historians have a difficult time determining what made and continues to make Korean Christianity an integral part of the Korean ideological and political sector. The three texts presented here have different perspectives on the "dance" because their authors stand at different places in the "room": Wi Jo Kang in Christ and Caesar in Modern Korea, himself an activist Christian, is a dancer, while Chun-shin Park, a strict historian in Protestantism and Politics, is a watcher on the dance floor. The authors of the selections in Christianity in Korea are dancers, watchers, or theorists on dance, depending on the author. Dancers may miss parts of history others participate in; watchers may misunderstand the passion of the dancers and the subtleties of their strategies; theorists offer information on strategies and techniques, but little else historically. Despite these varying approaches, or perhaps because of them, all three books ultimately show the reader that while the exact mechanics of the relationship remain up for debate, the political atmosphere in Korea affected and became affected by Korean Christianity in positive ways.
         Of the three texts, Wi Jo Kang speaks with the most passion, as a past active participant in the democracy movement in Korea. His book grants access to information other texts do not, such as details of relationships between the missionaries and his own activist life. His love for Korea causes him to betray an intense dislike for many foreigners in Korea, specifically the Japanese, and his emotional involvement with one story of liberal Korean Christianity allows him to downplay other sectors of the Korean Christian movement. While historical completion (and thus accuracy) would require a different book, Kang's merit lies in how he immediately forces his readers to form a vested interest in understanding Korea, rather than allowing them to remain quietly calculating, studious foreigners to his world.
         Kang's text begins with the strongly opinionated, nationalistic, and fiercely story-like tale of Roman Catholicism in Korea that focuses on persecution, imperialism and the relationship Korean Catholics had to foreigners and the "opening" of Korea. Kang divides his book into political interactions, not chronological stories. Almost the entire third chapter discusses the work of one missionary, Dr. Horace Allen, whom Kang uses to claim that the Protestant missionaries did advance Korean societal, technological, and economic improvement, but sometimes out of selfish gain. Afterwards, four out of the sixteen chapters discuss interactions with Japan, and foreign affairs dominate much of the rest of the story, with a great deal of space given to analysis of anti-American and anti-Japanese sentiment. Generally, Kang emphasizes the Japanese war atrocities and, especially leading up to the March 1st movement, the active role of the churches in opposing Japanese rule (35-42). After the March 1st movement, Kang suggests that relations cooled between Christianity and the Japanese because the Japanese made efforts to appear more tolerant on the world stage, but that during the Shrine controversy, under intense government pressure Christians cooperated with the Japanese (43-70). Roughly another quarter of the book addresses the democracy movement, claiming that while the majority of Christian churches supported the Rhee and Park regimes (99), Korean Christians provided the main force behind opposition to oppressive regimes in South Korea(99-116). Another quarter describes the politics of unification and communism, emphasizing the South Korean church as the major possible force for unification (128) while condemning the conservative South Korean church for remaining overly anti-communist (98) and overlooking the role of conservatives as primarily passive. He concludes on a seemingly optimistic note that reunification will require compromise on the part of the South Korean church with the humanist regime in North Korea.
         Chung-shin Park, on the other hand, writes as a historian, a watcher, with a rhetorical style characterized by questions awaiting answer moving through chronologically organized arguments. As such, he emphasizes the role of historical developments and incidents in setting the stage for Christianity's influence in politics, and suggests that the theology of Christianity alone did not convince Christians to push for the causes they promoted in Korea. Rather, he traces how Christians in different times reacted to different political situations with their theology (8). As a watcher unable to feel the feelings of the dancers, the emphasis of the effects of historical events on people sometimes goes too far. The merit in his book lies in the diversity with which he illustrates different Christian political reactions to different eras and regimes.
         Park's first three chapters deal with the growth of Protestantism in Korea from a religion focused on the poor and down-trodden to a powerful social institution. He argues that this change in social position changed the church's theological direction from one ready to change strict Confucian society to one willing to compromise and acquiesce with dictators (13-95). He then shows in his next chapter how churches, as the only ideological organization allowed to continue under Japanese annexation, became "an organizational base for Korean nationalist activities" (117). Because nationalist politics could only happen in church, the church grew during this period as people looked for places to remember their nationhood. Later, as the Japanese removed certain restrictions after the March 1st movement, the church no longer held a monopoly on nationalist organizing, and some activists left the church when it no longer conformed to their political expectations. The political role of the church became more marginal (142) and the failure of the March 1st movement caused many Korean nationalists within and without the church to turn to socialism and communism (141). Although at first the two nationalist groups--the Christians and the socialists--tried to cooperate, "some of the so-called Christian socialists...[became] apologists for Christianity and eventually would turn antisocialist." (145) Whenever the church became more powerful and institutionalized, he argues, it tended to cooperate with the government rather than oppose it.
         The third text, Christianity in Korea, is a compilation of different authors' articles and thus slightly more difficult to treat as a whole than the works previously mentioned here. Nevertheless, the editors Buswell and Lee demonstrate a clear purpose of their selection of the articles in their introduction(1). Essentially, they selected articles to prove the Christian contributions to modernity and political mobilization against the Japanese and for democracy, with a special place given to the ideological effects of Minjung theology on Korean social and religious thought. They claim that they also hope to demonstrate the importance of Koreanness to Christianity on a world stage, but all of the articles they select deal predominantly with what Christians or Korean Christianity as an abstraction performed in Korea, not vice versa. The book really does discuss "Christianity in Korea," more than "Korean Christianity," with the exception of the chapters on Minjung theology. The Minjung theology chapters deal predominantly with the "Koreannness" of Minjung and its biblical hermeneutics, supplemented with evidence of its impact on society. Most of the authors write only from their strong theological background about advice for the church or theology within it, making them distant theorists rather than observers of the "dance." Because article topics must tend towards the specific in order to really prove anything in such a short space, these texts tends to focus on narrow aspects of Korean Christianity, and they have trouble thoroughly proving larger claims. Nevertheless, this book provides a useful reference on a wide range of subjects and opinions on Christianity in Korea.
         As mentioned above, Christianity in Korea contains a wide range of articles general and specific, mostly organized in chronological groups. Several of the articles contain specific life stories that demonstrate the impact of Christianity on individual lives and the subsequent contributions of Christians to society. Of these articles, the one written about Ahn Changho most strongly illustrates how the man's theological beliefs affected his actions, actually analyzing the Old Testament passages that appealed to Anh and laying them out with his actions (132). The article on Kil Son-ju seems the least relevantly explained, because while it shows clear theological connections to political inaction and reaction, it overemphasizes the impacts of a movement that, almost a cult, fell quite far from mainstream Christianity, despite its impact on politics and despite the millennial trends still present in the modern Korean church(160). The relationship of this movement to the mainstream of Christianity needed more fleshing out. Overall, these articles on human lives add a more personal understanding to the history of Korean Christianity while providing useful case studies demonstrating the positive or sometimes simply important effects Christianity had on people's lives. They are the highlight of this book.
         The book also contains several articles explaining the ideological interactions of Christianity with Confucianism, liberal theology, and Buddhism, as well as several chapters on Christianity and women, and finally some chapters making general claims over large eras. One of these general claim chapters, an overview by Grayson, claims that "to understand this history...we have to understand what the Christians of Korea believed."(7) He never summarizes these beliefs, but does describe at length their actions in promoting medical care, education, democratic movements, and even acquiescing to Korean culture early on. This short overview effectively demonstrates the positive things Christians have done for Korea, but does not really explain what theology motivated them. Indeed, through much of the Christianity in Korea book, any central thread between basic Christian theology and political action seems largely forgotten in the favor of descriptions of social trends and new and exciting, non-mainstream theologies.
         None of the segments effectively connect core Christian theology with political action. The first largely theological segment describes the early Catholic teachings on society that resonated with and differed from Confucianism, giving a theological explanation for why Catholicism took root at all in Korea.(35) This segment perhaps represents the best of the theological comparisons, for it demonstrates on a subject by subject basis the hope that Catholic equality ethics could have brought to those dissatisfied or downtrodden by Neo-Confucian norms. It only explains the new ethics of Christianity, however, and not effects of the core theology from which these ethics stem, thus castrating Christianity by failing to explain what really made it different. Other movements have also promoted social equality and ethical behavior, and a close study of other religions will demonstrate that it is the death and resurrection of Christ for salvation of sins, not Christianity's ethics, that make it primarily different from other belief systems.
         A strict definition of or introduction to the core, common beliefs of Christianity would have aided all of the texts. All three founding authors or editors, as Christians, assume that the reader has familiarity already with the doctrines of Christianity and the meaning of a strict or liberal interpretation of the Bible. While Park consistently dedicates a few sentences to developing the meaning of particular theologies, a brief paragraph of information on basic Christian beliefs would have greatly assisted an understanding of how these theologies fit into the picture of Christianity, and specifically Korean Christianity, as a whole. The compilers of Christianity in Korea could easily have slipped a summary of mainstream Christian beliefs into their introduction, especially because the last few chapters of the book emphasize different interpretations of Christianity including Minjung theology and millenarianism. An understanding of the foundation off of which these different interpretations branch would have furthered understanding of the interpretations themselves and to what extant they relate to the whole of the churches of Korea and historical Christianity. More importantly, for the sake of historical clarity and an understanding of what "Christians" really did in the political development of Korea, one must have a working definition of Christian to determine whether activism stemmed from the mainstream, fringes, or simply different sectors of the Christian whole. Kang especially would have benefitted from a concise, page-long definition of Christianity as a belief system, because his lack of a definition compromises his arguments in the book later on. He helpfully gives examples of philosophies that stand at odds with Christianity, allowing for the general understanding to emerge that Christians believe in the deity and centrality of Christ and emphasize his sacrifice for sins as necessary for salvation from Hell--but one can only pick up these pieces of definition through his discussion of the Unification church, Confucianism, and juche, so that not until the end of the book does a real picture emerge.
         Specifically, Kang's discussion of North Korean Christianity suffers because it stands at odds with his descriptions of "true" Christianity from early in the book, in addition to omitting important facts. He clearly shows that the Unification church did not qualify as a strictly Christian church because it denied the deity of Christ (81-82); how then can he claim that the Kim's North Korean church, founded upon the story of a grandmother who did not even believe in the existence of God (161), does? Additionally, the complete acceptance of anecdotal evidence and statements of North Korean authorities, one of tolerance in North Korea(160), despite evidence that Christians in North Korea continue to face severe persecution, demonstrates either a lack of research or perhaps a lack of available sources at the time the book received publication in 1997. Kang believes that Christians met with persecution during and before the Korean war, but now, afterwards, accepts the North Korean story that assumes Christianity's failure to re-establish itself stems from loss of church buildings and the original members who moved to the South (160), not because of government persecution of any who remain. It seems, however, that Kang did have access to information, as he mentions house churches, but he does not go into detail about why Christians would need house churches if the North Korean government really tolerates open meetings and church buildings not controlled and constructed exclusively by the government(161). It seems as if Kang would like to emphasize the tolerance of the North Korean government in hopes of convincing South Korean readers that "Christianity...and juche...share some common ground." (161)
         Closer investigation and further reading shows that Kang does not hope to prove that juche and Christianity share common ground, but rather than "there is a future for Christians on both sides of Korea." (163) He discusses the opposition between juche's humanism and Christianity's God-centered philosophy, and dismisses the question of common ground as "academic." He ultimately suggests that finding a common ground will become imperative for unification (162-163), and ends on a hopeful note. Given his information on the disconnect between juche and Christianity on a fundamental level, his hope seems unwarranted, unless he can indeed prove a Christian presence in both North and South Korea that can unify the peninsula. As shown, his proof for a Christian presence in North Korea remains paltry at best.
         Indeed Kang's entire emphasis on reunification seems almost arbitrary. He backs a claim that North and South Korea need each other for "economic stability," but clearly South Korea has managed economically on its own, although the same cannot be said of the North. This leaves only the "peace" argument for reunification, that unless reunification occurs both nations will end each other in "bloody conflict."(163) This assertion certainly may hold some historical weight, given the conflict on the peninsula and continued military attempts on North Korea's part, but that history only throws additional water on his fiery hopes of reunification because while South Korea has had policies of negotiation with the North, militarism seems to remain the North's preferred interaction. Whatever the actual possibilities for reunification, Kang does not effectively show whether or not South Korean Christians really have a united front towards this goal, and if they do, it seems that they more likely must convert the North Korean philosophy rather than compromise with it if they hope to remain Christian.
         To some extant, Kang's omission of information for the sake of a rallying unification cry and an additional inability to clearly see the conservative movement during the Rhee and Park eras seem to stem from his role as a political activist within the story and not an observer on the outside. A swing dancer can never see her own pancake-flip the same way an observer can. Kang has a mission to carry out for reunification, and his goal remains to convince others to celebrate that mission through historical discourse. Regarding his discussion of the conservative movement, the fact that a political activist could minimize another side of the same religious spectrum further demonstrates the fragmentation of Korean society that continues to plague the Korean church. In this light, Kang probably did not purposefully downplay the conservative branches of the Korean Christian movements out of enmity, but simply glossed over them because from within his role in Korean politics he could not see their action significant to the nationalist goals that he sees as really essential to Korea past and present. This book remains good reading precisely because this mission stirs the Christian reader to consider the importance of Korean politics and asks the politically oriented reader to think about the influence of Christianity in a more human, emotional way. Kang makes the reader care because he cares, and that alone influences the reader to pick up other books for a fuller historic overview.
Park would have provided that fuller historic overview, with important observations that Kang left out--when discussing the Shinto shrine controversy, for example, Park shows that the conservative fundamentalists had become the Christians opposing the Japanese, demonstrating that not only liberal branches of theology promote activism.(155) The Christianity in Korea text cannot provide the overview, because while it provides information and perspectives on the entire period of Korean Christian history, it often employs one or two perspectives on one or two main subjects within each era rather than providing overarching overviews on each era. Park's unified narrative text gives a better sense of the multiplicity of Christian perspectives rather than putting all Christians into one segment of political beliefs and social actions. The last few chapters of Christianity in Korea emphasize Minjung theology to the extant that they almost seem to indicate that every Christian who opposed the Rhee and Park regimes believed that Jesus did not come for personal salvation from sin but for social liberation from oppression. The beliefs of the earlier Korean Christians would not even have classified these people as Christians, but as members of a Christian cult. What relationship did liberation theology have to mainstream Christianity? This question best finds its answer in Park's unified narrative, even though his work sometimes over-demonizes institutions and conformity as social evils.
         Park's demonization of institutions comes through clearly in his analysis of the cooperating church during the Japanese colonial period. "The religious community became institutionalized...as a consequence, the church became a religion led by socially and economically established individuals with no desire to improve conditions." (157) Park demonstrates that many of the day began to feel that the church had become socially lame, and that the more educated, upperclass clergy had begun to consider themselves better than their less-privileged lay people. (150-152) He cannot give evidence as to whether or not this latter charge in pride was actually the case or simply an angry accusation of the press because the "church ceased to be of political use" (151) when other more political organizations arose as nationalist outlets. Nevertheless, he shows that the church did acquiesce to the Japanese in the later period of occupation, and that at that point the church had become highly institutionalized.
         The mere link of existence between the "institutionhood" of the church and its lack of political virility does not prove the causation that Park attributes, however, and could quite easily show correlation instead. Kang has shown that the Japanese continued to put pressure on the clergy long after the March 1st movement ended and a more tolerant governor was instituted, arresting and torturing clergy who did not support them and upholding those who did. With the most political members of society moved into political interest groups, natural selection could easily have dictated that pastors who stood up for political reasons disappeared, and that the church instead became a place of conformity and wealth. Indeed, Park mentions that the church's institutional organization had been one of the main reasons for its usefulness politically during the initial period of the nationalist movement (117). One cannot really blame institutionalism primarily for the lack of motivated clergy during the late nationalist period if it provided such an important use for networking during the early period. A combination of factors--Japanese pressure, institutional depression after the March 1st movement, new political groups legalized--seems more appropriate. Indeed, it almost seems from Park's narrative that the new association of socialism with the nationalist movement and the enmity between socialists and Christians after the united front movement failed (145-146, specifically 3rd paragraph 146) might have driven conservative Christians away from political involvement. While Park does address this possibility (146), which has a great deal more weight behind it given his evidence, he still casts the main blame for political inaction on institutionalism, whose connection proves correlation at best.
         Perhaps Park did not want to pin the blame for conservative inaction on enmity between socialism and Christianity because of his hopes of unifying the two streams of thought. During his discussion on the period of national division, Park goes out of his way to say that Christianity and anticommunism did not always need to remain diametrically opposed, but he shows no review of similarities strong enough to keep the two together. His statement that Kim Il Sung was "driven" by the Christian church to oppose Christianity (161) thus seems unfair--rather, it seems that the two simply could not coexist ideologically.
         On the other hand, perhaps connective lapses stem primarily from Park's occasional overemphasis on historical events as motivating factors. "While it is partly true that theology has influenced the Korean church's political behavior, this study has shown that theology has functioned rather to justify and reinforce Protestant Christians' political positions and activities, which have been oriented primarily by their social status and the historical circumstances under which they have to live." (201, emphasis mine) This statement claims that Christians primarily behaved as historical actors only reacting to their political climate rather than people motivated by their feelings of spiritual truth. On the extremes, this argument stops very short of saying that most Christians merely pulled out or fabricated theology that would benefit them in their particular political situations, rather than acting in politics based on theological beliefs that were important to them: to claim that theology reinforces already held political beliefs inherently implies, by diction, that the political positions arose before the theology based on historical circumstance. Despite these dangers of extension, Park does successfully prove that the role of theology fluctuated; not all Christians thought alike always; that not only liberation theology promoted activism; that people also acted because of their place along the x axis of time and the y axis of space. Ultimately he demonstrates that historical events in many cases simply lined up to allow Christian theology to motivate Korean politics.
         To some extant, arguments over whether Christianity motivated politics or the political sphere manipulated Christianity really come down to a chicken-or-an-egg argument, for just as some chickens come before some eggs, in the lives of some people one or the other dominated their thinking. In the end, no one can really explain why Christianity took root so firmly in Korea to the point that it affected political decisions, while it did not take off similarly in Japan or China. Speculation about "why" history happens falls outside of the "how" which historians can easily prove. Although these talented writers have addressed strategies and coincidences guiding the process, no one can really pin down a human or natural reason for the historical stages ensuring the success of Christianity in Korea and its effect on Korean politics. Can we chalk the reason up to miracle? Or does that reason lie somewhere in the story of Christ that really makes Christianity different?