February 15, 2017

Dr. Hyun Jae Yoo – reflections by John Grisafi

Dr. Hyun Jae Yoo, Research Fellow of Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies at Seoul National University and visiting scholar in the James Joo-Jin Kim Program in Korean Studies, gave a lecture on Tuesday, January 31, 2017 as part of the Korean Studies Colloquium. He spoke about “Circulation of Coins in East Asia: 1650-1800.”

The first Kim Program lecture of the Spring 2017 semester, “Circulation of Coins in East Asia: 1650-1800,” was given by Hyun Jae Yoo, a research fellow of the Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar in Penn’s Kim Program in Korean Studies. Introducing Yoo, Dr. Eugene Park, director of the Kim Program, explained that this talk was somewhat out of the ordinary for two reasons. The first was that it is relatively uncommon to hear a talk on the economic history of early modern Korea. Second was that it is also relatively rare to have a talk by a speaker from a non-Anglophone country comfortable enough speaking English to give such a lecture.

Yoo began his lecture by reviewing some of the history of currency. He explained that traditionally, barter systems were acceptable for conducting trade when there was a “double coincidence of wants.” But when this is lacking, it is necessary to have some sort of medium of exchange. This, according to Yoo, is the commonly-held theory for explaining the origin of coins. He then noted how some forms of currency have intrinsic value (for example, the material value of the metal in a coin) while other forms have designated value, which is usually indicated on the currency and must be backed up by a government or other entity for that value to have meaning. Early forms of metallic money in East Asia were not necessarily coins and came in various shapes, including what is known as “knife money” in Korea, roughly dagger-shaped pieces of bronze.
The design and composition of coins was also a topic of Yoo’s lecture. Coins in East Asia in this period were composed primarily of copper (60-70%) in an alloy with zinc (20-30%) and contained a negligible amount of lead. The process began with refinement of copper ore and then the melting of the copper before molding it into shape. The government of Chosŏn (1392-1910) Korea produced two types of coins this way. Round coins were intended for domestic use while ingots were used for foreign trade. Korean coins at this time were stamped with characters which read “ever-normal circulating treasure,” signifying the status of the coins as legal tender for circulation regardless of date (unlike contemporary Chinese coins, which were stamped with the name of the imperial era in which they were minted).
But the primary objective of Yoo’s talk was answering the following question: “Why did East Asian countries mint coins despite such high costs of production?” (Yoo’s emphasis). According to Yoo, the value of a coin was not very high when factoring in the refining procedure, which was difficult and time-consuming for the government. The most expensive part of making coins, though, was the metal itself. Yoo said that the cost of raw materials made up 69% of the production cost of coins. Despite, or perhaps because of, the cost, coins were relatively uncommon in Chosŏn Korea. In the late 17th and early 19th centuries, there was, according to Yoo, a scarcity of metal coinage in Korea. Coins were thus not used in the majority of private transactions in when barter would suffice.
Why then, did Chosŏn Korea produce the coins? Yoo argues the most important usage of coinage in East Asia, particularly in Korea, was fiscal policy, to regulate prices in the economy or to issue currency to commoners and relieve economic hardship. Specifically, he explained that the exchange rate for silver to coins (that is, the amount of silver the government would pay out for coins) was significantly lower than that of either China or Japan. This allowed the government to make a profit off coinage, a practice known as seignorage. Thus, the state’s motivation for minting coins was not to so much to provide a medium of exchange for everyday economics, but so the that the government could influence trade and the economy.

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.

November 1, 2016

North Korea Roundtable – Reflections by John Grisafi

The James Joo-Jin Kim Program in Korean Studies hosted a roundtable titled “Missiles, Nukes, Markets, Madman?: North Korea in 2016” on Wednesday, October 12, 2016.

The North Korea Roundtable panel, “Missiles, Nukes, Markets, Madman?,” discussed recent developments regarding North Korea in 2016 and the major issues in the larger topic of dealing with North Korea as a persistent and growing power which is considered a threat by some. The three panelists were Hyun-binn Cho (PhD candidate in Political Science and lecturer of “Introduction to International Relations” at Penn), Benjamin Katzeff-Silberstein (PhD candidate in History and co-editor of North Korean Economy Watch) and myself, John Grisafi (double-major in East Asian Languages & Civilizations and History at Penn and intelligence director at NK News; also this author). The panelists each covered a subject pertaining to North Korea in the big picture and in 2016 specifically.

Hyun-binn Cho began with “The North Korean Nuclear Conundrum,” explaining the international relations of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. According to Cho, the North Korean desire for nuclear weapons is – as with all potential proliferation cases – symptomatic of underlying security concerns, but differs in that there is an underlying political tension. North Korea, with or without nuclear weapons, will not accept existence as an inferior regime. According to Cho, the North Korean conundrum is fundamentally about a nation’s political division and ongoing war and getting rid of nuclear weapons will not eliminate North Korea’s significant conventional military forces, which have served as a deterrent to the South for decades.

I (John Grisafi) discussed “A More Credible Deterrent,” detailing the advancements North Korea has made in the past year on its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. I explained how North Korea, over the past year (and more) has made meaningful advancements in the area of nuclear weapon and ballistic missile development. The country has tested previously untested missiles, potentially furthering its military reach and extending the coverage of its deterrent. Additionally, North Korea has developed more diverse weapon systems, making it more difficult for adversaries to counter or preempt the North’s nuclear forces, even making progress on developing a second-strike capability, which could someday allow North Korean nuclear forces to survive even a seemingly comprehensive preemptive strike against the country. Taken together with the North’s claims of  testing a “standardized warhead” this year, North Korea is making clear progress toward a more capable and credible deterrent force.

Finally, Ben Katzeff-Silberstein presented on “Why North Korea Is Not as Poor as You (might) Think,” explaining the current economic situation in North Korea and the minimal effectiveness of sanctions. According to Katzeff-Silberstein, the North Korean economy has been far less impacted by international sanctions than anticipated. The amount of trade with China through the Dandong-Sinuiji border crossing (where the greatest volume of Chinese-North Korean trade passes) remains almost unchanged since before sanctions were applied following the January 2016 nuclear test.

The general consensus of the panel can be understood to be that North Korea is more resilient and resourceful than expected. North Korea has not collapsed as many have been predicting for years. Conversely, North Korea is making progress on nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles faster than anticipated. Defying expectations is the norm for North Korea.

October 18, 2016

Dr. Ross King – Reflections by Juliana Pena

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 this event, Ross King, an esteemed professor from the University of British Columbia came to discuss his research regarding late Joseon Dynasty glossaries and literary vernacular. He describes the Chinese text Xixiang Ji and the Korean’s fascination for the text, comparing it to the Edo Japan craze for another text called the Shuihu Zhuan. Both of these texts spawned the creation of glossaries to facilitate the understanding of vernacular Chinese, as well as provide a space for commentary. Koreans would have the hangul next to the Chinese characters as a way to make pronunciation easier.

King also went through the history of publication and personalization of the book in Korea. It was one of the first texts printed, in 1906, and it was printed through the 1930s, spanning 5 editions. Of the forty to fifty manuscripts in public collections, they are all intact with original covers which show unique illustrations showing the owners thoughts on the book, some even going so far as to create their own title for the manuscript as well. The books were divided by main text, publisher’s commentary, and a written in section by the reader, glosses, to explain Chinese terms in hangul.

Through his presentation, King also mentioned the problems that the Xixiang Ji craze caused in Japan. Teachers and officials found students and exam takers using these Chinese sinographs in their papers rather than using Korean “Idu”. The same problem was found in some military texts as well.

While listening to King’s presentation, I found his section about the spread of manuscripts available for study. He mentioned that certain manuscripts featured regional terms, and I thought this would be an excellent way to catalog dialectical terms during the late Joseon period, which could be useful for those in Korea or abroad studying the evolution of dialects in Korea. I also thought that there should be a better system in place for locating manuscripts in private collections, as they feature important pieces of Korea’s literary pieces, and it is one of the only pieces that had such a large amount of readership in Korea.

King’s presentation was a testament to the rich literary processes going on in Korea at the time, and as a “foreigner” studying Korean linguistics, he is a prime example of the excellent scholarship being conducted now in the areas of Korean history and linguistics.  Having the opportunity to listen to his thoughts of Korean vernacular in relation to the Xixiang Ji and how the text was received in Korea and how it caused problems as well, showed me how complex the area of vernacularization is, and how much research there still is to be done, especially in Korea.

October 14, 2016

Miseong Woo – Reflections by Mia Leyland

The James Joo-Jin Kim Program in Korean Studies co-sponsored the Asian American Studies “Food for Thought” series on Friday, October 14th, 2016. Together, we hosted Professor Miseong Woo of Yonsei University to give a talk about Korean popular culture in the diaspora and especially the U.S.

Professor Miseong Woo: Korean Modernity and Popular Culture

Miseong Woo, Professor of English at Yonsei University and current Visiting Professor of Korean Studies at Cornell University, recently gave a presentation at the University of Pennsylvania titled “Korean Modernity and Popular Culture.” Contrary to what some may expect from the title of the presentation, the discussion did not revolve around an exploration of the current rise of Hallyu (the Korean Wave) in and beyond modern Korean society, but rather the role that the modernization of Korea has played in setting the stage for and creating the current scene of popular culture.

Woo began her presentation by pointing to the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), an ultramodern building located in one of Korea’s most well-known shopping districts. The DDP, completed in 2014, was designed as a hub of fashion, culture, and modernity with the motto “Dream, Design, Play” – three aspects which Woo claims have been lacking in Korean society until recently. Events at the DDP include high-end European brand fashion shows, art collections (i.e. Andy Warhol), a special exhibition on the “Kansong Collections from the Joseon Dynasty,” and “Klive: K-Pop Hologram Hall.” What is interesting about the range of these events and exhibitions, argues Woo, is the blatant “lack of popular culture” in the 20th century. Indeed, the Joseon Dynasty exhibition covers a timeline spans the 19th century and the Klive exhibition reflects 21st century popular culture, but what represents the popular culture of the 20th century?

For Koreans, the 20th century reflects a time of trauma, resulting in what Woo calls “cultural amnesia” in which 20th century memories are repressed. Japanese colonial occupation, the Korean War, and U.S. military occupation taint the Korean 20th century – a time when Korean popular culture was unable to flourish. Instead, Koreans embraced American culture as a standard of westernization and fell into a catch-up mentality to succeed in the ruthless competition of global capitalism; in other words, Korea was focused on modernizing the nation. Dubbed the “Miracle on the Han River,” following the Korean War, Korea experienced compressed modernity – modernization over a short period of time – in which the nation rushed forward without incorporating a Korean cultural identity.

Compressed modernity drove the nation into a fast-paced race toward material success, which is reflected in today’s Korean popular culture. “Hallyu contents function as cultural and symbolic vehicles through which the viewers and listeners could project their own diasporic sense of displacement in the age of fast-paced digital technology and engage in their own desires to cope with [a] rapid, compressed, and uneven process of modernization on a global scale.” As someone who became interested in Korean Studies through the avenue of Korean popular culture, it is interesting to be confronted with such an analysis on the development of that culture. While I have come across a number of studies on the history of Hallyu, the current value of Hallyu (i.e. what it has done for Korea, where it stands on the international stage, etc.), and the future of Hallyu, Woo provides a refreshingly new perspective on the discussion by addressing why the popular culture has developed the way it has – Korea’s race against itself in obtaining a modern society fit to compete on a global level.

October 12, 2016

Dr. Ross King – reflections by John Grisafi

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.

In Chosŏn Korea, Chinese graphs were the predominant writing script, especially for the aristocratic yangban class. Classical Chinese in particular was highly valued among the educated elites of society. Spoken Korean was, of course, a distinct language from both classical Chinese and the Chinese spoken at the time. What place then, did the vernacular Chinese of Qing China – and works written in such language – have in Chosŏn Korea?

In his guest lecture for the Kim Program, Dr. Ross King enlightened the audience as to how Koreans of the Chosŏn dynasty engaged with a specific example of vernacular Chinese literature, the Xixiangji. Dr. King described Xixiangji as “China’s most famous play” and semi-erotic for Korean readers in Late Chosŏn. It was not printed in Korea but manuscripts from China were circulated and copied. Korean copies of the work remained printed in vernacular Chinese, but the text was supplemented by marginal notes, glossing (explanatory notes to aid understanding of words or phrases), commentaries, and glossaries. These forms of additional content aided Koreans in engaging with a work which contained otherwise unfamiliar phrases and terms from the colloquial language of Qing China.

One example of how Korean readers engaged with the text was to gloss portions of the text by writing more familiar Chinese characters, Korean hangul script, or a combination of the two, alongside the Chinese characters. This aided readers in identifying the meaning of unfamiliar phrases from vernacular Chinese found in the Xixiangji. This was not an effort to learn colloquial Chinese, however. The glossing in hangul showed Korean pronunciations of words, not the way they were pronounced in Chinese as spoken in Qing China. Other forms of supplement to the text were commentaries which told readers “how to read a Chinese play.” including explanations of play terminology, and glossaries listing unfamiliar Chinese terms for reference.

Aside from the aforementioned efforts to increase the readability of this work for a Korean speaking audience, there is ample evidence to suggest Xixiangji was a popular and highly-regarded work in Chosŏn Korea. According to Dr. King, readers took great care in putting together their manuscript copies, which tended to be “neatly and lovingly produced” and included covers which featured time-consuming illustrations. Readers gave the copies names such as Kisŏ (“marvelous book”) and Pogam (“treasure”).

Dr. King argued that examples such as the Xixiangji demonstrate a “third way” of Korean writing in this era. While Korean scholars tend to exclusively study either Chinese literary works as originally written in (usually classical) Chinese or Korean works as written in Korean, the Xixiangji represents an underemphasized middle ground where Korean language was used to engage with otherwise Chinese language works. Rather than a direct shift from writing in classical Chinese to writing in Korean with hangul, the transition was gradual and less than linear. Amidst this long transition, Korean readers were engaging with vernacular Chinese works through limited usage of hangul as well as Chinese graphs as they were understood by Korean speakers.