Are their memories different?

Three months have gone since my last entry, and now I am in Seoul. I stopped writing for many bad reasons, but it might be the way I promised that I would write in Japanese that stopped me from blogging. So here I am. Back in another language.

People have been telling me, and I myself have been telling people, that my research in Korea would be the hardest part. Two full months have passed (!!), and I have a few opinions regarding the difficulty in finding stuff on the full-fledged involvement of the colonial government in the Korean countryside, or finding good testimonies for it.

First of all, I have mixed opinions about the central libraries (like 국가중앙도서관 and 국회도서관 located in Seoul. They are great because you can bring in your digital camera, and/or you can xerox books by yourself, and many of the prewar materials have been digitized and are accessible from outside. In fact, there are other databases like 서울대중앙도서관 [gives some articles of local newspapers] and 국사편찬위원회 databases that allow you to download scanned documents. It is nice but it would be far better if I could stand in stacks and browse through the books rather than doing keyword search online because, however systematically I go through databases, I sometimes found interesting sources by randomly browsing through stacks. I also found out (or I’d love to know if I’m wrong) that there is no good comprehensive search engine for old book titles. The database 한국역사정보통합시스템 sounds as if it lets you cross-search, but it doesn’t work as it claims. The biggest complaint I have (forget the discrimination against Mac users) is that their images are often very unclear and impossible to read. Look at 毎日申報 articles in 국가중앙도서관! What I end up doing is to type up all the dates so I can look them up in hard copies. Another thing I noticed is that 국가중앙도서관 DOES NOT HAVE ALL THE (RECENT) PUBLICATIONS at all. I visited the Naju city hall the other day and they gave me a bunch of their own publications which I never find anywhere in Seoul. Isn’t there a law that all the publications have to be submitted to the central library?! Anyway, overall I like using their systems so I should not complain too much.

Second of all, do old Korean people remember the colonial period differently from the Taiwanese counterparts? It is too hasty to give any conclusion because I only had a few interviews with witnesses, but so far my feeling is: not necessarily. Among those around 80 or over, some people still have fond personal memories, others still have tragic memories, and most of them have both. Just like in Taiwan. The diverging point is those in their 70s, it seems, who technically experienced the last few years of the colonial period, and grew up listening to all the heroic anti-Japanese anecdotes in the immediate postwar period. They think their memories are authentic because they were born under the colonial rule, and they heard first-hand stories. Their narrative of the colonial period is cutting-clear: Koreans fought the Japanese all the way through and never gave up ethnic nationalism. In contrast, the memory of this generation of Taiwanese is more strongly affected by the 2.28 massacre. Some do believe in the resistance discourse for the colonial period, but many are more neutral about it compared to Korean counterparts.

Disclaimer: [This is my quick observation so far. I might be totally off, and it is NOT my intention to offend anyone or defend the Japanese rule at all.]

Category(s): Korea, Research

4 Responses to Are their memories different?

  1. Good to have you back! Interested to hear how your findings go. Good luck also navigating the Korean libraries. I find that it always takes me some time to settle into a library system — even coming back to Berkeley, it took me some time to figure out all the kinks.

  2. Thanks Albert! I hear many horrible stories about archives and libraries in other countries like China, so I really cannot complain, but I hope those libraries compete against each other to become more useful. Hope things are going well back in Berkeley!

  3. Great observation about the politics and demographics of memory in Korea and Taiwan.

  4. thanks Mark!

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