- 소년이 온다
- If this is a Man
Lines of Inquiry:
- From the perspective of Korean culture/traditional beliefs? Korean History? A Confucian analysis? Translation
- From the perspective of the history of the Nazis. As a memoir. Author’s message.
- Crime novel. Death of the author. Historical reading
The reading from the perspective of Korean culture or traditional beliefs is certainly a possible one. There are several references within the text such as the use of the term 혼 (魂 though the text notably avoids any use of Chinese characters) which is one of several terms for a soul that the author could chosen from. That may or may not have been a conscious choice of course though it is certainly interesting.
Last but not least, I talked once again to another Sin Doo Gyu who has been participating in the Gwanghamun protests even during the coronavirus. Due to the somewhat hectic nature of the protests, my interviews tended to be quite short so I wanted an opportunity to really sit down and talk to someone about their motivations for joining the protests. Once again the reason that came up was North Korea and communism. He said that he participated in the protests because he wishes for Korea “to maintain a liberal democratic system” which seemed to be a reasonably common theme amongst other protestors from before too along with fear of communism. A lot of what was said is roughly aligned with what I heard at the protests but this allowed for a longer discussion in a less chaotic environment
Audio issues have led to loss of large part of the recording. I probably need more time to figure out what this was about and may need to cut it entirely.
(Discloser: I am not following a strict chronological order with the numbering here). Of course, given all the coverage of protests by those who would likely be considered to have quite extreme views by Korean standards, the question arises if everyone who is engaged in protests share those views and it seems that is not necessarily the case. Along with the Gwanghamun protests I brought up previously, there was also a set of counterprotests and I managed to get into contact with a student who had participated there by the name of Na Geon Woo. He said that he supports the Democratic Party but that doesn’t mean he believes everything they say is perfect. He seemed to be far more of a moderate voice and therefore shared a lot of his views on motivations of those engaged in political activity from further right or left on the political spectrum.
As I’d spent all this time looking into opposing voices, I figured it was only fair to hear out the Democratic Party of Korea. The party currently in government. I had the perfect opportunity to do this through an interview with one of the secretaries to the current parliamentary head of the party, Jo Yo Han. Perhaps given his official status, he seemed somewhat reticent to answer questions fully but I had this opportunity to bounce off of him some of the things I’d been hearing in previous interviews. For example, when it came to relations with North Korea which seemed to be a major issue amongst right wing protestors he said that “I believe that the government is being patient and doing really well although more patience may be needed in the future”.
My second interview with the Korean left came in the form of an interview with a member of the 사회변혁노동자당: Yi Baek Yun (just to throw that in here: romanizations of names are my own as are, once again, all translations). Roughly translated as the social change worker’s party which he described as a party that believes that believes that “this capitalist system cannot be reformed part by part and requires fundamental change which is a very extreme progressive view in Korea”. This was quite interesting as firstly, socialism in Korea is pretty rare but also since he seemed to espouse the most radically left wing views of anyone I’d talked to and it was a chance to look at the social-economic issues the left sees in Korea today as well as to look at the way they express such views such as through labour movements.
My first contact with the Korean left after those protests was in the form of an interview with Gang Han Soo. A member of the now forcibly dissolved Unified Progressive Party. He discussed, among other things, the potential for social democracy in Korea stating for example that “although it’s impossible for everyone to be equal shouldn’t there at least be equality of opportunity or a framework for fair competition”although he also said that from the perspective of youth today it would be better to avoid looking at things from the perspective of ideologies but instead look at them from the perspective of how best to improve society.This interview would be most useful as my exposure to the progressive left in Korea.
My first engagement was at Guanghamun: the gates of the old palace where the Joseon dynasty royal family used to reside. Naturally, they weren’t there to protest a long fallen dynasty but simply because that seems to have become one of the established places to protest in South Korea. Simply being present at the event was perhaps the most insightful part of this all with posters being found saying “death to the traitors” calling (presumably) the governing party the “Satan group” (all of this naturally in Korean. These are just my translations). There were even photos of politicians the protest opposed on the ground for people to stamp on. As far as statements by the protestors themselves went, there seemed to be quite a variety of sentiments. A major component seemed to be fear about communists taking over the South. With one male protestor who looked to be in about his 20s said that if the country turns to the Commuist party there will be no freedom and that a lot of people died in the past. There also seemed to be a heavy Christian sentiment as the protest was led by a pastor and the same protestor just mentioned said that any statement about Rhee Seung Man founding the country based on Christian values is absolutely right. There were other concerns across the protestors however going from about the economy to about national security and not everyone seemed to buy into the hard right wing Christian narrative.
Perhaps the most interesting thing however is the small, police guarded, left wing protest within the midst of the large protest which would be something I’d look into more later