Upholding the ethnic pride
I am not in position to make a proposal, but I would like to ask a few questions to South Korea.
I am not intending, herein, to refer all the way back to the Battle of Baekgang-gu in 663, invasions of Korea by Hideyoshi Toyotomi in 1592 and 1597, or other historic events involving Japan and South Korea. The periods I mention are from the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1876, the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1904 (agreed by Japan to Article II: The Imperial Government of Japan shall in a spirit of firm friendship ensure the safety and repose of the Imperial House of Korea and Article III: The Imperial Government of Japan definitively guarantee the independence and territorial integrity of the Korean Empire, etc.), and the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1910.
Setting aside China, it was in 1982 when South Korea began to criticize Japan for perceptions of history. It derives from revisions of certain history textbooks in Japan in which “invasions” of Japan to East Asia were rephrased to “moving in.” In 1991, a coalition of civic groups began to demand apology and reparations to the Japanese government for the comfort women (licensed prostitutes), erroneously identifying them at first as the voluntary labor corps. In 1992, Etsuro Totsuka rephrased the comfort women as sexual slaves at a United Nations forum, which transformed the comfort women issue to a case of human rights violations, by ignoring the reality of their social background or life in warfront. The Japanese and the South Korean governments reached an agreement on the comfort women issue at the foreign ministers’ meeting in 2015. President Moon Jae-in—inaugurated to the office in 2017—criticized the bilateral agreement. In 2018, the South Korean Supreme Court rendered two judgments to side with the self-proclaimed forcibly conscripted Koreans (wartime Korean laborers). Since then, the bilateral relations have sunk into a disastrous level.
The South Koreans claim that it is Japan’s biased perceptions of history that have caused the grievous situation of today. An extreme opinion among them is that Japan is intending to revitalize militarism.
Now, questions I mentioned earlier are as follows:
Question 1: Has South Korea been trying to maintain diplomatic relations with Japan on an equal footing?
It did so while the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty were in power in China although there was a difference in nuance on the part of Japan. Now that we live in the 21st century, even the Qing dynasty is history. South Korea as well as Japan is a part of the international community and both nations are members of the United Nations. Seoul’s speeches and behaviors of late appear to make Tokyo its sole hostile government in the entire world. Because of their impact, I am tempted to suspect South Korean existence as an independent nation depends on Japan alone. Allow me to rephrase it. The situation I see now is it would be unnecessary for the South Koreans to have their own historical perceptions if Japan does not exist as its neighbor.
Question 2: Are they happy without theirs?
Question 3: How have the South Koreans interpreted their own history from 1876 to 1945?
I am not posing this question to interfere with history textbooks they have. My question is to understand what they have been taught about social influences brought about by such key matters as 阿附(아부, abu, flattering), 事大(사대, sadae, serving the great)、交隣(교린, gyorin, neighborly relation), 羈縻(기미, gimi, tying a horse with a long leash), 冊封(책봉, chaekbong, tributary system), 宗属(종속, jongsok, suzerainty relation), and 衛正斥邪(위정척사, wijeong-cheoksa, protecting the right and rejecting the evil). I intentionally brought up those thoughts and policies because there is still room for the South Koreans of today to reconstruct their ethnic identity and confidence. This kind of observation would probably make them denounce me for quibbling over their historical perceptions. I am not quibbling at all. What I meant above is: If they are to understand well why it is necessary to straighten out the influential thoughts of certain periods of their time, the ethnic Korean pride would be spontaneously born and get refined, which is to prove they have the capability to make changes. Freedom of speech is fine, but they must not allow it to divide and jeopardize their ethnic integrity. The freedom of speech in the context above is NOT the exclusive property of the Japanese government or the Japanese people. Though I would not object to incorporating an international issue as a domestic one, a mature, democratic nation must be capable of vouchsafing healthy freedom of speech.
Korea has a long history that dates from the birth of Dangun (2,370 B.C.).
Question 4: If South Korean perceptions of history solely depend upon the presence of Japan, do they need their own history at all?
Question 5: For the past 4,000 plus years and for future, isn’t what they need the world-class Korean view of history?
Question 6: Shouldn’t the ethnic Koreans get united with pride in their nation? They have struggled to rise and risen phoenix-like from the ashes. The Donghak Peasant Revolution, the Sam-Il (3.1) Movement, the 6.25 War, and the 5.16 Military coup d’État must have been unforgettable, blood-stained milestones for it.
No doubt the late President Park Chung-hee accomplished a lot for his country. What I would like to emphasize here is not the dark side of his administration. One year before his becoming the South Korean president, he wrote about history and the establishment of the self-identity (*national or ethnic identity) as follows (*author translation).
“History is something that can be overcome by man’s proactive efforts and motivation. Whatever the case may have been, we must acknowledge our past as having defended or lost our country and as having developed the ethnic culture or set it back. It is we, the people of South Korea, who must bear responsibility for facts that have been inscribed in the history of our nation that is in the corner of the world.
Forging the self-identity means to secure autonomy and demonstrate initiative. … What is demanded of our people today is, more than anything else, to set up the self-identity. It is not too much to say that only our resolve to exploit this fundamental momentum can liquidate the corruption and injustice of the past.”
I would like to mention, off the subject, my personal experience. I spent almost all summer recess from university in South Korea in 1971 and 1972. 30 Japanese students worked for two weeks at a road construction site, hand in hand with as many South Korean students each time. They, without exception, talked about the nation’s future with confidence by saying, “Our nation will continue to considerably evolve from now on.” Their words and deeds were full of their ethnic pride.
In Japan, the self-proclaimed human rights advocates want to loudly talk about the nation’s modern history in a negative sense. This is one facet of democracy. I am not so sure of what they think about the existence of the Imperial Household and the Shogun government and the Meiji Restoration, however, I would not jump to a conclusion that they have forsaken the ethnic pride as the Japanese. Not only they but also the public at large must be proud of literatures such as Manyoshu (Collection of poems), Genji Monogatari (the Tale of Genji), and Makura no Soshi (the Pillow Book of essays); the Meiji Restoration that broke down the feudal system; Nobel Prize laureates who contributed to development of natural science; and young people who have brilliantly performed in professional baseball, tennis, soccer, and other international fields and, above all, the democracy upheld continuously since the end of the wartime.
Question 7: That having been said, what should be done to the status quo between Japan and South Korea? I dare not say to the South Koreans, “Let us mutually make concessions and cooperate with each other.” By looking them in the eye, I will say, “Let’s continue to talk with each other by demonstrating our ethnic pride.” It goes without saying that we should stand on the same footing, focusing not on fabrications but on facts.