SNU gears up support for Korean studies abroad

Seoul National University announced Wednesday (Oct. 17) that it has decided to open an International Center for Studies on Korea.

A worldwide network on Korean studies is in order to allow the school's academic exchange with nine universities abroad: Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, UC Berkeley, UCLA and the University of Washington in the U.S., the University of British Columbia in Canada, and the University of Vienna in Austria.

The university explained that the idea followed realization that although Korea is rich in researchers for the related subject, there have not been enough institutions to organize and exchange the results abroad, thus making systematic management of Korean studies difficult, overall. Foreign scholars too have pointed to the lack of Korean language programs and quality translation of reference material as big problems for studying Korea abroad.

The planned center is expected to allow a more diverse scholarship, including research projects across national boundaries, by coordinating an international consortium that comprises all the top centers for Korean studies. Students and young scholars are expected to benefit the most from the broad alliance.

Other plans include distributing translated books and journals on Korean studies to universities and libraries abroad through foreign publication. Such include the "Seoul Journal of Korean Studies" published twice a year under the Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies at Seoul National University and the upcoming "Seoul-California Series in Korean Studies," which would be made in collaboration with the Global, Area and International Archive of the University of California. The latter series -- original and translated -- will be available next year in both paperback and digital versions.

Seoul National University meanwhile also runs an annual Kyujanggak Fellowship Program which provides administrative and financial on-site support for research positions at the Kyujanggak Institute for foreign scholars. A year-long position that covers housing and other daily costs provides a chance for in-depth studies for those involved in Korean studies. This year's program began in September. Eugene Y. Park, 39, Andreas Mueller-Lee, 33, and Sem Vermeersch, 39, were selected for the fellowship.

By Kim Hee-sung staff writer
October 17, 2007

UNESCO Recognizes Korean Heritage

By Seo Dong-shinStaff ReporterThe United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) listed two more sets of Korea's historical documents in the Memory of the World Register.The decision came during a five-day meting of the UNESCO International Advisory Committee held from June 11 to 15 in Pretoria, South Africa.The Korean items to become a part of the Memory of World Register include Euigyue, or the royal archive of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910), which documents and illustrates how various royal formalities and ceremonies are carried out. The archive, preserved by Seoul National University's Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies and the Academy of Korean Studies' Jangseogak, was acknowledged as the only such documents existing of Confucian culture.The Tripitaka Koreana and other woodblocks preserved inside Haeinsa Temple in Hapcheon, South Gyeongsang Province are also on UNESCOs list. The Tripitaka Koreana, woodblocks used for printing Buddhist scriptures from the Goryeo Kingdom period (918-1392), is National Treasure No.32. They are the world's only existing woodblocks that bear Buddhist teachings in Chinese characters and are recognized by UNESCO for their role in spreading Buddhism across the Chinese-speaking region.UNESCO's Memory of the World program aims at preserving and promoting fragile documentary heritage of humanity around the world. The inter-governmental organizations support the technology and finance necessary for preservation.Korea already has four registered items in Memory of the World: the Hunmin Jongum manuscript; the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty; Seungjeongwon Ilgi, or the Diaries of the Royal Secretariat; and Buljo jikji simche yojeol, or the second volume of ``Anthology of Great Buddhist Priests' Zen Teachings.''Among about 120 items from 59 countries on the list of UNESCO's Memory of World Register, Austria and Germany have the largest number, each with nine

History Told Through Reforms

In any organization or society, there are always those who resist change. The more their interests are tied with the status quo, the louder and stronger their resistance. Confrontations ensue between those who favor change and those who do not. This struggle can lead to significant societal transformation or just fizzle out. That explains how the previous couple of government administrations came up with 'reform' as their political motto in their early stages, and how they slowly backed away from those ambitions. The more they push ahead with the social overhaul, the bigger the obstacles, namely the intransigent resistance of the champions of the status quo. Historian Lee Duk-il’s new book Successful Reform, Failed Reform gives an excellent explanation to historical cases of 'challenge and response' of reform. Out of 16 cases, some were stifled immediately by conservatives and other reforms took more than 100 years. Still others were revolutionary, overturning longstanding orders. The author explains that the success of reform highly depends on the set agenda, contents of the reform, support from the populace and the ability of the reform initiators. In the case of Kim Yu-sin (595-673), who ended thousands years of division on the peninsula, Lee said Kim succeeded in setting a future-oriented and revolutionary agenda of unifying the three nations. While his rival political parties were engrossed in winning the short-term power struggles in the narrow frame of the court, Kim could present the unimagined plan to his motherland, which had long been an underdog on the peninsula. The vision led the general to win the heart of the kingdom’s monarchs and the majority of the people, which ended the division in the kingdom’s court and, further, on the peninsula. In another chapter, the author takes the example of King Kwangjong (949-975) of the Koryo Kingdom (918-1392). The third king of the ancient kingdom could bulldoze out the powerful family noble clans in the court by introducing a series of advanced political systems. He adopted the state examination to recruit public officials for the first time, liberated many slaves and designated hierarchical uniforms among his vassals. The bold introduction of new systems led to the establishment of a stable and lawful state, which, at the same time, expelled wayward political clans from the court. The author points out that Kwangjong’s campaign shows that the reform’s content can justify change itself and fend off any challenge. The study of 'Taedong-pop law,' a traditional tribute system for the central government, illustrates the conflict’s tedium between supporters and opponents of reform. The law, ruling a progressive taxing system to levy heavier taxes on the rich, faced fierce opposition from the gentries of the 17th century. Even though a group of reform-minded politicians pushed ahead with the overhaul to alleviate pain of the grass roots, it took a century since its tentative implementation in Kyonggi Province in 1608 until its nationwide introduction in 1708. Kim Yuk (1580-1658), the system’s most fervent champion, said ``Since the implementation of the system in the Cholla provinces, farmers dance in the fields and dogs no longer bark at public officials.’’ The author Lee notes the success of the reform is a very exceptional case of silencing the diehard denunciation from the landlords, for the sake of the commoners. ``They are very rare examples of reformers’ victory,’’ he writes. Lee also takes notice of King Chongjo (1752-1800). When he ascended the throne at age 24, the court was dominated by the 'Noron' political faction, which set up the assassination of Chongjo’s father, Prince Sado. Fending off the challenge from the aristocracy, he led a flowering cultural renaissance in the 18th century despite the rampant faction-dominated politics of the day. He was a great king in that he went forward step-by-step accepting his limited authority. For example, the monarch established 'Kyujanggak,' saying it is merely a royal academic institute. In fact, it served as a seedbed for the future reformers free from the faction politics,’’ Lee writes. The case of Lee Ha-ung (1820-1898), father of Choson’s 23rd monarch testifies how important public support is in driving reform over opposition from the aristocracy. Even if he could not be a king, Lee made the most of his son’s authority and defeated the dominant political faction. The author observes how the politician won over the public. He overhauled the corrupt military service system and social service system for the sake of grass roots as well as crack down on covetous public officials. ``The public applauded Lee because his reformative measures were focused on enhancing the livelihood of them,’’ the author writes. While illustrating a few successful cases, the author also analyzes a couple of examples of reform failures, including the Kapsin coup in 1884. The author said the reformers at that time failed to communicate with the public. The author occasionally goes to far in forced analogies between historical cases and present situations, and there are a few omitted words in the book due apparently to mistake during the publication. The shortcomings do little to the qualities of the book as testifying that the history is a fine mirror of the present. Caption: Leaders of reform through Korean history have used different methods to deal with conservatives, usually their biggest enemies. Kim Yuk (1580-1658), left, a high-ranking bureaucrat, negotiated with them, King Chongjo (1752-1800), center, struggled against them and Lee Ha-ung (1820-1898), father of King Kojong, suppressed them. Courtesy of Mariseosa. By Kim Ki-tae (Staff Reporter)2005-06-24, the Korea Times

Ceremony held to mark return of historic records from Japan

Seoul National University held a ceremony Friday to mark the return to Korea of the Mount Odae edition of the , commonly known in English as the official "Annals of Joseon Dynasty" or just the . The decision to release the 47 remaining volumes was recently made by Tokyo University, where they had been held. Seoul National University president Chung Un-chan said that the school will be "unsparing in the preservation and research" of the primary historical material. The Mount Odae version is expected to be named a national treasure by the related subcommittee of the Cultural Properties Committee when it meets on July 19. The same week, there will also be a special event held at Woljeong Temple, where the historical records had originally been kept before being taken to Japan. Then, beginning on July 26, the annals will be on special exhibition at the National Palace Museum until October of this year. The is the official historical record, described in chronological order, of the history of the Joseon state and the 472 period (1392-1802) between kings Taejo and Cheoljong. It covers a while range of subjects, from Joseon society and culture to politics and other areas, and is composed of 1,893 sections recorded in 888 volumes. Until the early 20th century, versions were tucked for safekeeping in special facilities at Mount Taebaek, Mount Jeongjok, Mount Jeoksang, and Mount Odae. The Mount Jeoksang edition was kept in the residential library of Korea's remaining imperial family in Seoul, but was taken by North Korean forces during the war and today is kept at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang. The editions kept at Taebaek and Jeongjok were taken to Japan in 1910 but have been at Seoul National University since liberation from Japanese colonial rule in 1945. The Mount Odae edition was taken by the first Japanese colonial governor in Korea in 1913. What remains of it is being returned after 93 years. In March, the head monk at Woljeong Temple formed a committee to work for the return of the Mount Odae edition and was negotiating with Tokyo University when in May the school suddenly announced it was going to "donate" the annals to Seoul National University. (August 28, 2006)