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Saturday, July 23, 2005

Jo Jung-rae on holocaust and the Japanese occupation

The one week conference and vacation trip to Yorkshire in UK became a three week hiatus in blogging. For those who've been visiting meanwhile only to see the old messages without any hint of resuming the making of notes, a small apology.

In one of my earlier notes on reading the novel Taebaek Sanmaek by Jo Jung-rae, Oranckay (whose blog seems to stay down – what's up over there?) left a comment about visiting an event where Jo Jung-rae was answering questions. Oranckay told for example that Jo had claimed that occupation by Japan was psychologically harder on Koreans than Nazi Germany was on the Jews. What the hell? I know that teaching of world history may come severely short in Korean schools, but this is one of the most astonishing statements I've heard, coming especially from the most authoritative Korean novelist, from whom Koreans have been taking lessons in history. (On the other hand, Jo's nationalism and relentless animosity towards Japan are no secrets either.)

I searched some, and found the following, which should be Jo Jung-rae's introduction to his 12-volume novel Arirang, in which he depicts Korea under the Japanese colonialism/occupation.

(Note. The Korean text has most likely been copied by the original writer of the message, so there may be mistyped words. The translation, with my level of English and the time I deem appropriate to invest in this, shouldn't be seen but a draft.)

How many Jews were killed by the Hitler government of Germany during the Second World War? According to the Jews the number was three or four million.
So how many of us Koreans were massacred and killed by the Japanese during the 36 years of Japanese colonialism? Is it three million? Or four million? Or is it six million? Unfortunately that estimate has not been made public or official. My estimate is between three and four million. With the writing of Arirang, I am going to make that figure concrete.

That task is one of the objectives of writing Arirang. With the fact that three or four million of us Koreans were killed by the Japanese, I'll present a question to the readers and to the whole nation.
A school class of 60 children are getting five lashes on their palms. Which child of the 60 feels the most pain? I have made this question to several people, and all have immediately answered that it's the first child. But it's a wrong answer. The correct answer is the last child. It is because the first child is freed of the fear of lashing after receiving the strokes and can be at peace while the other children are lashed.

However the 60th child has to feel the fear each time the children before him are lashed.
A hint for this answer can be found also in a proverb. "The one who is caned first is the luckiest."
The Jews were killed on for three years, but Koreans were killed during a period of more than ten times of that, 36 years. Which people suffered more?

Even though we suffered horrors ten times more than the Jews, how is it possible that we still don't know many of us Koreans died?
And how do we feel the tragedy of another people, Jews, as if it was our own and detest the German army while wanting to avoid talking about own tragedy, forgetting and avoiding it? Was it because the times were different? Or was it different?

When naked Jewish girls were dying in gas chambers, the girls of our people were getting gang raped in Southeast Asian jungles as troop following corps in a similar manner. So how have we become such ignorant masses?

We have been subjected to two kinds of mass hypnosis. First, we have been hypnotized by the Jews who have made numerous novels, movies and TV dramas to tell about their suffering for the whole world. Second, we have been hypnotized by the pro-Japanese, who seized every sphere of the society after the liberation and with their organized plot have made the talk about Japanese occupation sound ignorant and stupid.
Jews have maximized their suffering and while securing their self-esteem, and have used it as a power to develop their future. In reverse to them, we have been guilty of living in shame. But to know the history correctly, nothing is too quick or too late. Because nation is immortal.

July 1994, Jo Jung-rae.
제2차 세계대전 동안 독일의 히틀러 정권에 의해 학살된유태인들의 수가 얼마나 될까. 유태인들이주장하기로는 3백만이라고도 하고 4백만이 라고도 한다. 그럼, 우리가 일본의 식민치하 36년 동안 일제의 총칼에 학살당하고 죽어간 우리 동포들의 수는 과연 얼마나 될까. 3백만일까? 4백만일까? 아니면 6백만일까?

그러나 불행하게도 우리는그 어림숫자마저도 공개되어 있지않고, 공식화되어 있지 않다. 나는 그 어림숫자를 3백만에서 4백만으로 잡고 있다. 그리고 작품 <아리랑>을 써 나가면서 그 숫자를 구체적으로 밝히고자 하고 있다. 그 작업은 <아리랑>을 쓰는 여러가지 목적 중의 하나이다. 우리 동포들도 일제의 총칼 앞에서 3,4백만 명이 죽어갔다는 사실을 전제로 나는 독자여러분들과 전체 민족성원들에게 한 가지 질문을 하고자 한다.

한 학급 60명이 손바닥 5대씩을 맞아야 하는 단체기합을 받게 되었습니다. 그 60명 중에서 가장 아픈 사람은 누구이겠습니까? 내가 그동안 몇몇 사람들에게 물어보니 대뜸 1번! 이라는 답이었다. 그러나 그건 틀린 답이다. 정답은 60번!이다. 왜냐하면1번 학생은 제일 먼저 5대를맞고 나면 매의 공포로부터 완전히 해방되어 그 뒤의 학생들이 매를 맞는 동안 자유를 맘껏 누릴수 있다. 그러나 60번 학생은 자기앞의 학생들이 맞을때마다 59번의 공포에 시달려야 한다. 이 답의 힌트는 흔란(?) 우리의 속담속에 있다. 매도 먼저 맞는 놈이 낫다.

유태인들은 단 3년 동안에 죽어간 것이고, 우리 동포들은 그 10배가 넘는 세월인 36년에 걸쳐서죽어갔다.
어느 민족이 더 괴롭고 고통스러웠겠는가? 유태인들보다 10배가 넘는 공포에 시달리고 고토을 격었음에도 불구하고 우리는 어찌하여 아직까지도 우리 동포들이 얼마나 죽어갔는지를 모르고 있는 것인가?

또 어찌하여 다른 민족인 유태인들의 비극은 마치 우리의 일인 것처럼 실감하고 분노하며 독일군들을 증오하면서도 정작 우리 자신들의 비극에 대해서는 이야기 꺼내는 것은 역겨워하고 지겨워 하고, 망각하려 하고 기피하려 하는가? 그 시대가 달라서 그러는가? 과연 그 시대는 다른가?

유태인 처녀들이 발가벗겨져 독가스실에서 죽어갈 때 우리 민족의 처녀들도 동남아 일대 정글에서 정신대로 윤간당하며 죽어 가고 있었던 똑같은 시대다. 그러면 우리는 어찌하여 그런 어리석은 군상들이 되었는가. 우리는 두가지 집단최면을 당했던 것이다. 첫째는 자기네들의 수난을 전세계적으로 알리고자 수없이 소설을 쓰고 영화를 만들고 TV드라마를 만들었던 유태인들에게 우리는 최면당했다. 둘째는 해방과 함께 우리 사회 모든 부분을 장악했던 친일파들의 조직적인 음모로 일제시대는 망각이 최선이고, 일제시대 이야기를 꺼내는 것은 촌스럽고 모자라는 짓으로 매도되는 최면을 당한 것이다.

유태인들은 그들의 수난을 극대화하며 자기네 민족의 자존을 확보하는 동시에 미래를 개척하는 민족의 동력으로 삼았다. 그런데 우리는 그들과 반대로 살아온 부끄러움을 저질렀다. 그러나 역사를 바르게 아는 데는 시기의 빠르고 늦음이 없다.

민족은 영원하므로.

1994년 7월 조정래

Now Jews should know they should be lucky that the holocaust took place only within three years, in addition to bearing the partial blame for the Koreans' ignorance and shame of their own history.

Categories at del.icio.us/hunjang:

Comments to note "Jo Jung-rae on holocaust and the Japanese occupation" (Comments to posts older than 14 days are moderated)

<Anonymous Anonymous> said on 26.7.05 : 

Dear Antti,
very pleased to could meet such person who is such interested about my country Korea.
From your essay about Jo, I realize again the great fear of languages, coming out from our mouth and fingers.
I have to say, you must not be understood his words totally, or must misunderstood.

Most of all, that essay was not toward the outside world at all, but just was a private opinion on a domestic press.
The intention of Jo was not to be recognized that Korean is more pitiful race then Jews, just to scold some stupid Koreans of today, who are ignoring the sad history of our past generations, even with wide opened to the tragedy of other races.
Moreover, as you translated, Jo did not conclude his essay with only the criticism.
Couldn’t you notice that Jo is presenting Jew’s brave to be developed from their tragedy, and encouraging Korean to feel free to find out our true history?

I think such essay is the ‘훈장의 가르침’ you were impressed, from a such ‘authoritative’ old man to all the unknown students of him.
Or, do you think you are playing a role of 훈장..?

(I'm also impressed that you are reading such novels that must be difficult to foreigners. Please keep going to find more and more brilliances of Korea.)

긴 글 읽어 주셔서 감사드리며 혹여 불쾌하셨다면 사죄드립니다.
안 되는 영어로 쓰느라 고생 좀 했습니다..
- 서울에서

<Anonymous Anonymous> said on 6.8.05 : 

3 or 4 million or 6 million Koreans killed during the Japanese administration? What a load of BS!

<Blogger Antti Leppänen> said on 2.11.05 : 

The following are comments transferred from Haloscan to Blogger due to expiration of old comments there.

We're in the process on converting Oranckay's blog to Wordpress. It should last a few more days(?), but a temporary solution should appear soon.
dda | Homepage | 07.23.05 - 5:40 pm | #

Now that's good news!! Thanks.

More from me on Jo later. Thanks Antti for finding that quote by him, now I know that I wasn't just hearing things at that lecture because I have always been annoyed by him.
oranckay | Homepage | 07.23.05 - 7:38 pm | #

Wow, I'm utterly speechless. Aside from the blatant anti-Semitism, this statement in particular caused me to wonder what Korea Jo lives in:

And how do we feel the tragedy of another people, Jews, as if it was our own and detest the German army while wanting to avoid talking about own tragedy, forgetting and avoiding it?

Excuse me? Since when do Koreans avoid talking about Japanese atrocities? The fact that he wrote this in 1994 is no excuse.

Coincidentally, I was recently translating an article by Pak Hosong (박호성), a professor at Sogang University, who quoted Jo's epilogue to Hangang. I don't have the Korean in front of me, but here's my translation. It bothered me at the time, but now that I've read the Arirang excerpt I'm even more disturbed:

Korea’s popular writer Jo Jungrae, in the epilogue of his serial novel The Han River, lamented, “People feel rage at the massacre of the Jews, but there is not universal human indignation about the fact of murder of Koreans under Japanese rule. It has been limited as a ‘Korean problem.’” In the same way, when comparing the Korean and Vietnam Wars, one feels angry about the burying of the Korean War’s historical meaning.

Jo Jungrae continues to vent his indignation. The reason for this is that in the Korean War, over 3 million people died in just 3 years. But during the Vietnam War, in a period of over 15 years, “only” 1.8 million people were killed. In spite of that, the Vietnam War succeeded in that the whole world denounced the evils of Neo-Imperialism. As for the Korean War, it is a very lamentable thing that it has been buried as an insignificant war that happened in a remote corner of the world. According to Jo, “The Korean War was an inhumane, hot war masquerading as a Cold War.” He continues, “It was the most inhumane massacre of the Cold War era.” Jo warns that if we cannot recover universal humanity from the Korean War, the road to reunification will be difficult. We should heed this counsel.

From these writings we can gather that Jo is childishly absorbed in a sort of "My people suffered more than yours" one-upsmanship. How pathetic.
Aaron | 07.23.05 - 9:55 pm | #

This trivialization of suffering is akin to a medals race or the hunt for Nobel prizes. I'll give Jo ample reason for indignation, but the petulance does little good for the country.

I continue to be amazed how often South Koreans draw attention back to their suffering. The kvetching is interfering with the spectacle that will make the world simultaneously notice Koreans. After that, Koreans can remind people all over again, but first comes the achievement.
Infidel | Homepage | 07.24.05 - 4:39 am | #


You could go as far as to say that this is evidence for a very deep absorption of anti-Semitic ideas into Korean society. Not surprising, I suppose, since all sorts of racist ideas have been absorbed into Korean society.

Even more disturbing is the palpable yearning for Korea to become the Israel of East Asia. Effectively the argument seems to be 'we must recover our dignity by exploiting our own suffering'.

The whole thing is steeped in the discourse of race and social Darwinism that, ironically enough, Korean intellectuals learnt from Japanese and Chinese intellectuals.
kotaji | Homepage | 07.25.05 - 4:22 pm | #

Thanks for all the comments.

Continuing what Kotaji says above, I was also reminded of the ideas of social darwinism (of which Pak No-ja has written a lot) when reading Jo's text. A reminder of social darwinism is also what I also often see in the manner how Korean media writes of small and wealthy European nations.

In a true Finnish fashion, I sometimes browse Korean news at KINDS to see what's written of my country; so often is the expression kangsoguk (强小國, "small but powerful country") used to express the idea that Finland were a more powerful nation than its size and population would allow. I've never heard anything like that here (except something like "superpower of UN peacekeeping"), but from the Korean point of view - that a nation must be strong in order to survive - it makes sense.

By the way, here's a Korean nazi blog, for which the word "anti-semitic" is not sufficient.
Antti | Homepage | 07.25.05 - 5:12 pm | #

Good grief. Where did you come across that!
Kotaji | Homepage | 07.26.05 - 1:49 pm | #

After 9/11, I was doing a bunch of interviews around the Itaewon mosque, to get a sense of Muslim opinion in Korea. Pretty much every Muslim I talked to was appalled by 9/11 and terrorism in general. Except for the few Korean Muslims I met, who were surprisingly open with their feelings about the Jews ("I heard no Jews died in 9/11"). Rather impressive, to get your hate on for a people you have never met.
haisan | 07.26.05 - 4:26 pm | #

Fascinating. Antti and Kotaji, do either of you know where the calculation of the several million deaths come from? Is it used more than just in this novel? Is it perhaps reached by adding Korean soldiers who died in China/WWII + Samil movement deaths + something else?
Muninn | Homepage | 07.27.05 - 2:23 pm | #

I am not defending Mr. Jo here, but some bloggers’ accusation of him as an anti-Semite is overrated. Many Koreans even don’t know the word anti-Semitism, which they’d never learned from school. When Jo mentioned Jews in his statement, he didn’t mean to disrespect Jews. But I must say that he is very ignorant of the history of Jews.

The suffering of Jews didn’t occur only for 3 year; the actual event of the holocaust might happen for 3 years, but anti-Semitism (and its consequences) has been more than a thousand years in history. There is no scientific data to show the origin of anti-Semitism, but I would say that it might start around the Roman Empire’s adaptation of Christianity (at the latest). In other words, more than 4+ millions of Jews died from anti-Semitism.

Please, blame Jo’s ignorance, but don't accuse him of being anti-Semitic, which I don't think he understands what it means to be.
june | Homepage | 07.27.05 - 9:08 pm | #

Anti-Semitism is documented as being much older than starting around the Roman Empire. At least it says so in the Bible, if you have read it: why else do you think Egyptian faraoes kept Jews as slaves?

Can we all agree that this Korean writer has a right to express his views!? Anyway, it is aproblem that so few Korean novels are translated to English. Any tips on what else to read?
Martin | Homepage | 07.28.05 - 8:24 am | #

June, ignorance from a writer of Jo's stature is not an excuse. There are two statements here that are clearly anti-Semitic:

1. "We have been hypnotized by the Jews who have made numerous novels, movies and TV dramas to tell about their suffering for the whole world."
2. "Jews have maximized their suffering and while securing their self-esteem, and have used it as a power to develop their future."

The first raises the spectre of a Jewish-controlled media (a classic canard) that is deceiving innocent Koreans with exaggerated stories of suffering. The second suggests that Jews deliberately distort their suffering for "national" gain. The fact that Jo seems to speak of this in an admiring tone does not make it any less anti-Semitic. The "model minority" myth for Asian Americans is a "positive" stereotype, but nevertheless one that most people in that group do not find flattering.

Believe me, as a Jew who has spent time in Korea, I am extremely forgiving to Koreans who express anti-Semitic ideas, simply because I know that 99 times out of 100 this is the product of ignorance and not ill intent. For example, I have been told that the Jews were punished in the Holocaust for not believing in Jesus, and that no Jews died on 9/11. Of course I was uncomfortable and explained to these people why they were wrong, but it's hard to similarly forgive Jo. He is a writer who assumes the status of a folk historian, and should know better. Naturally he has "a right to express his views," and I have a right to vehemently criticize them.

This should be obvious, but the figure generally accepted for Jews murdered in the Holocaust is six million (plus a few million people from other groups, including Roma/Gypsies and homosexuals). I don't state this to get into the "my people suffered more than yours" game, but rather to suggest that perhaps Jo is understating the number to make a point.

And finally, I would go further and say that there is no way one can really compare the organized slaughter of a people with the Korean occupation of Japan, which, brutal as it was, did not seek to destroy the Korean people. Despite the presence of forced labor camps in Japan (which might have been comparable to early Nazi concentration camps), there was no Auschwitz in Korea or Japan, no plan for mass executions of Koreans. I wouldn't compare Korea under Japanese rule to more recent genocides in Rwanda and Sudan either. That is simply another level of human brutality. Surely each individual death is just as tragic, but until I see evidence of a "Final Solution" in colonial Korea, I will not stand for comparisons to the Holocaust.
Aaron | 07.28.05 - 12:30 pm | #

That was one of the stupidest analogies I've ever read. If Koreans rely on this illogical nonsense to understand their past, their country is in the Dark Ages.
Lee | 07.28.05 - 3:19 pm | #

I, too, don't see what is especially "anti-Semitic" about Jo's statement. Surely, in the West people who are anti-Semitic try to deny that the Jews suffered much at all, but it is I think a Western reaction to treat any suggestions that the Jews didn't suffer more than any group in history as anti-Semitic, "denying it ever happened," etc. I've wondered if part of the reason for that is a sense of guilt, or even some Eurocentrism ("since it was the worst thing that happened in Europe, therefore the worst thing ever to happen...")

The reason Jo is trying to make the comparison is probably precisely because he thinks Jews suffered the _second_ most, and thinks Koreans should recognize that they suffered more.

All I find pathetic about Jo's style in this is that he seems to think Koreans' suffering is insignificant and not a worthy source of artistic inspiration unless it was the worse than what the Jews dealt with or that it needs to be exaggerated. I mean really, how many millions is he talking about when he makes those rough estimates and rounds (way) up? There's no reason that many Koreans need to have died for it to have been just as terrible.

Oh yeah, in that lecture I describe in comment linked from original post, he also called the Vietnam war the worst in the 20th century, too. Might have been one of the many worst or whatever, but he _needs_ it to be THE worst.

I see it as just Jo and who he is. When he poses for the cameras he does that 70's Korean artist thing with his berret and cigarette and looks off into the sky like he's in great agony about The History of The Minjok. He still seems to follow that old line about how Korean culture is primarily about _han_. His ideas are not well thought out, like about how the "role of the novelist is to record and show that which historians cannot" because of political circumstances (see link in Antti's post).

Sure there are some anti-Semitic ideas in Korea, but I don't think that is what Jo's about. And yes, Korea does have some wild ideas that spread unchecked (like fan death) but fortunately I have not seen anyone taking Jo seriously on that particular idea of his. On the other hand, I saw someone carrying a copy of Arirang the other day. Much to my surprise. Haven't seen that in a while, whereas there was a time you might have carried _Taebaek..._ around just to make yourself look good.
oranckay | Homepage | 07.29.05 - 8:18 am | #

From the perspective of one born in Korea but having grown up in the US and having visited there a number of times during college days and now getting old in the US again, I have to admit that Koreans are probably as "racist" as the Japanese or any other anti-semite. That said, you have to look at the Koreans' context.

Korea is about a homogenous as Japan. Koreans are very ignorant about racial issues compared to Americans who in all respects is hyper-racially conscious (strange, since there is no scientific basis for race). In the streets of Seoul, remembering the pains of the US civil rights struggle, I remember cringing in shame when a stranger comments about a "kkamdoongi" ("black person" in a less than respectful way) American soldier walking by or show unwarranted regard for a "white caucasians". Organized "racial sensitivity" training will not be found in Korea, yet.

In addition, being ever in the minority or small (the "shrimp" in a sea of "whales" - small in geographic size and small in population compared to the rest of the world), Koreans have a nasty habit of comparing themselves to the rest of the world as a way (a strategy?) to be understood (e.g., "so and so is the Joan of Arc of Korea").

I think Jo Jung-rae in Arirang, being as racially ignorant as any less famous Korean, is falling into this Korean habit of comparison while forgetting that tragedies are ultimately incomparable: Great or small, million deaths or the death of a single individual, all tragedies are unforgettable, in some circumstances unforgivable, and in all circumstances unforgettable, no matter what the indended audience.

Comparing tragedies is similar to foregetting them in favor of selective memory. We have limited memory, we have limited heart, we have limited pity, so we will choose to remember this one tragedy. Unfotunately we have to forget that tragedy. The result is that we repeat that other tragedy. We cannot afford to forget any tragegy.

Thanks for your work and comments.
Charles | Homepage | 07.29.05 - 6:07 pm | #

Surely, in the West people who are anti-Semitic try to deny that the Jews suffered much at all, but it is I think a Western reaction to treat any suggestions that the Jews didn't suffer more than any group in history as anti-Semitic, "denying it ever happened," etc.

Oranckay, I don't think you were trying to imply that this was my position, but just for the record, it is not. I do not believe that the Jews suffered more than any group in history. Assuming that we could make such a calculation, which is of course unrealistic, I would not wish to know which group has "suffered the most." That is not a useful question. And honestly, I don't really see a Western tendency to find anti-Semitism in any suggestion that the Jews were not the most persecuted people in history. There is, however, a tendency to link understatement of the number of Holocaust victims with Holocaust denial. While they are qualitatively different, the road to denial begins with understatement. (The majority of deniers acknowledge that some Jews were killed, but not in any organized or methodical way.)

The inappropriateness of the comparison between the Japanese occupation and the Holocaust should be clear to anyone. The goal of the Nazis was the complete and total extermination of the Jewish people. If the Japanese occupation of Korea were really as brutal as, say, the Nazi occupation of Poland, then the Japanese would have established extermination camps and almost no Korean would have survived without going into hiding.

If we define anti-Semitism strictly as hatred of Jews, then I agree that Jo's views for the most part exhibit not so much anti-Semitism as a perverse philo-Semitism. He praises the Jews for their ingenuity in making their suffering known to the world, and urges Koreans to follow their example. Hence my comparison with the "model minority" stereotype of Asian Americans in the U.S. Both ideas are ostensibly positive but ultimately demeaning.

Still, his deliberate understatement of the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust to make a point (and it must be deliberate, because I really cannot believe that he is that ignorant) is very troubling.

There's no reason that many Koreans need to have died for it to have been just as terrible.

You hit the nail on the head. If Jo's goal is really to tell the world about Korean suffering, then it makes no sense for him to go around peddling wildly exaggerated statistics. Such behavior creates skepticism rather than sympathy.
Aaron | 07.29.05 - 10:50 pm | #

Aaron stated: "..Korean occupation of Japan, which, brutal as it was, did not seek to destroy the Korean people."

Japan, during its colonization of Korea, carried out destruction/tampering of cultural heritage and forbade the use of Korean language all in an attempt to erase Korean identity and history. I am curious as to why that doesn't constitute as destruction of korean people. IMO, a systematic destruction of a whole national identity is also a policy of genocide.
curioesb | 08.09.05 - 10:43 pm | #

End of comments transferred from Haloscan.

<Anonymous Anonymous> said on 5.6.06 : 

Antti, I don't think the trackback worked, so I'm noting that I linked and quoted your post here.

<Anonymous Anonymous> said on 20.2.07 : 

"I have to say, you must not be understood his words totally, or must misunderstood.

Most of all, that essay was not toward the outside world at all, but just was a private opinion on a domestic press."

That is totally insulting. Foreigners couldn't possibly understand Korean, could they? Of course not.

Hitler made his statements for domestic consumption, too. It's not excuse.

<Anonymous Anonymous> said on 5.10.07 : 

Jews gained nothing from their treatment by the Nazis and lost everything.

The Japanese occupation of Korea was terrible and no doubt there were countless atrocities commited on the Korean people.

But you never hear that, as terrible as the Japanese occupation was, the country did benefit somewhat from it. Some of Korea's remarkable growth after WWII can be directly attributed to the development of the country during the Japanese occupation.

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