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.