December 8, 2016

Dr. Ross King – Reflections By Jamie Seah

The James Joo-Jin Kim Program in Korean Studies hosted Dr. Ross King (University of British Columbia) as the Distinguished Lecturer for 2016-2017. He spoke on “Out of the Margins: The Western Wing 西廂記 Glossarial Complex in Late Chosŏn and the Problem of the Literary Vernacular” on Tuesday, October 11, 2016.

For the Kim Program’s Distinguished Lecture 2016-17, the Program hosted Dr. Ross King, Professor of Korean Language and Literature and Head of the Department of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia. Dr. King’s talk centered on his research examining Korean reception of xixiangji (西廂記, or 서상기), one of China’s most famous plays, and Korean interactions with vernacular Chinese through such a written medium. The dramatic work is also known as “The Story of the Western Wing” or “Romance of the Western Chamber” and details a young couple’s consummation of their passionate love without parental approval. It was semi-erotic for Korean readers, who were arguably unfamilar with plays because pre-modern Korea did not possess a dramatic tradition.

In particular, Dr. King was interested in the xixiangji-mania of 20th century Korea and the concomitant manuscript culture it spawned. Today, there exists about 40 to 50 xixiangji manuscripts housed in public collections. These manuscripts were well-produced and interestingly given names such as pogam (“treasure”), exemplifying the extent to which its owners treasured them. In Edo Japan, the publication and circulation of printed copies of shuihuzhuan (a famous Chinese novel written in vernacular Chinese) led to a boom in studies of vernacular Chinese, the rise in study groups, and the development of glossaries to aid in understanding the texts. Similarly, in Chosŏn Korea, Korean readers were intellectually engaging with another vernacular Chinese text, the xixiangji, by making physical markings on the margins of the manuscripts themselves to aid their own comprehension. These markings or glossing usually comprised a mélange of both Chinese characters and Korean hangul characters. Dr. King termed such writing the “recorded sayings” style or ŏrokch’e, a mute form of the vernacular that was sinographic but not spoken Chinese. He further argued that this represented the vernacular “third way”, a literary language that gestured towards or even incorporated vernacular and colloquial elements. Instead of writing solely in Classical Chinese or in hangul, this was a necessary in-between.

Dr. King’s research on xixiangji manuscripts is especially important because modern Korean scholars rarely examine Chinese texts while Chinese scholars have little interest in the reception of vernacular Chinese texts in Korea. As a student of Korean history, as well as both the Japanese and Korean languages, I find his research particularly illuminating, because I often use my native knowledge of the Chinese language (Mandarin Chinese) to enhance and aid my learning of the other two East Asian languages. His work reminds me of the complex interactions between a Japanese audience and a Korean-language play (ch’unhyang, which was likely inspired by xixiangji) performed in Japanese in the colonial metropole, Tokyo, during the colonial period. Nayoung Aimee Kwon looks at these interactions in her recent book, Intimate Empire: Collaboration and Colonial Modernity in Korea and Japan (2015), which I read last semester while writing my final research paper for my Korea in the Age of Empires history seminar.

December 5, 2016

Divided Families Panel — by Elaine Lee

On Monday, November 21, Penn for Liberty in North Korea, Penn Korean Student Association, the Asian Law and Politics Society, and a non-governmental organization called Divided Families USA partnered to host an informational workshop on North Korean refugees: “Faces of the Divided Korea.” Numerous guest speakers formed a panel to engage in a discussion: Michael Lammbrau, founder of the Arirang Institute, Benjamin Silberstein, PhD candidate at Penn, and Daniel Lee, Korean Affairs Fellow of New York Representative Charles Rangel. The event began with a screening of a documentary on reunification of Korean families divided by the Korean War.

The documentary screening set the stage for discussion with the panelists, depicting heartbreaking separation of families and the difficulty of coordinating such reunifications due to absence of diplomatic relations between the United States and North Korea. Recordings of live interviews with reunited family members humanized the tragedy of family separation, showing the many difficulties not just in coordinating such reunifications and obtaining the funding for travel, but also in identifying actual family members and confirming that the right people were being set up to meet. The documentary also stressed the pressures of time in reunifying as many family members as possible, because many of those who were separated from their loved ones have significantly aged since the Korean War, which ended in 1953. Most importantly, the documentary revealed that there has been significant activism within the United States among Korean Americans, who care deeply about reunification of Korean families, have been working hard to secure funding for travel, and lobby their governments to pass a bill that would stress the humanitarian significance of working toward reuniting divided families.

The remainder of the event focused on raising awareness about H.Con.Res.40, a bill pushed forth by Divided Families USA. Daniel Lee moderated the discussion, as he is currently working in Washington, D.C. to supervise passage of the bill. Lee stressed the bipartisan and humanitarian aspects of the bill in the hopes that lack of contentiousness should ease the passing of the resolution and expedite reunification efforts, especially since the number of Korean Americans who have yet to reunite with their families in North Korea are declining rapidly. While questions from the audience raised concerns about actual enactment and engagement with North Korea, Lee emphasized the immediate need to first pass the bill through the House before any further steps.

Placing this issue of Korean family reunification in an international context, the speakers noted that humanitarian reunions of this sort can have implications for other refugee issues that the United States will need to address in future foreign policy. Not just a Korea issue, reunion of families remains a basic universal right, recognized by the United Nations. The most effective ways to address this moving forward are increased advocacy and awareness of both humanitarian issues in North Korea and the lack of support for reuniting Korean families, and mobilizing Korean-American interest to lobby Congress. Additionally, Lee stated that another next step would be to secure moderators for future reunions.