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[HISTORY] "When Whales Fight, the Shrimp's Back is Broken" (Korean History)

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  • madchinaman
    Korean History and Political Geography by Charles K. Armstrong http://www.askasia.org/Korea/r4.html Koreans often use the proverb when whales fight, the
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 4, 2005
      Korean History and Political Geography by Charles K. Armstrong
      http://www.askasia.org/Korea/r4.html


      Koreans often use the proverb "when whales fight, the shrimp's back
      is broken" to describe their country's victimization at the hands of
      larger, more powerful neighbors. China, as the largest and most
      technologically and culturally advanced society in East Asia,
      exerted the most important outside influence on Korea until modern
      times. In the twentieth century, Korea became the focus of rival
      interests among neighboring China, Japan, and Russia as well as the
      more distant United States. But for well over a thousand years,
      until colonization by Japan in the early twentieth century,
      successive kingdoms on the Korean peninsula were able to maintain a
      society with political independence and cultural distinctiveness
      from the surrounding nations.

      Korea Before the Twentieth Century
      Settled, literate societies on the Korean peninsula appear in
      Chinese records as early as the fourth century BCE. Gradually,
      competing groups and kingdoms on the peninsula merged into a common
      national identity. After a period of conflict among the "Three
      Kingdoms"—Koguryo in the north, Paekche in the southwest, and Silla
      in the southeast—Silla defeated its rivals and unified most of the
      Korean peninsula in 668 CE. Korea reached close to its present
      boundaries during the Koryo Dynasty (918-1392), from which its
      Western name "Korea" is derived. The succeeding Choson Dynasty (1392-
      1910) further consolidated Korea's national boundaries and
      distinctive cultural practices.

      Within Korea there are some regional differences expressed in
      dialect and customs, but on the whole regional differences are far
      outweighed by an overall cultural homogeneity. Unlike China, for
      example, regional dialects in Korea are mutually intelligible to all
      Korean speakers. The Korean language is quite distinct from Chinese
      and in fact structurally similar to Japanese, although there is
      still debate among linguists about how the Korean and Japanese
      languages may be related. Many customs, popular art forms, and
      religious practices in traditional Korea are also quite distinct
      from either Chinese or Japanese practices, even though the Korean
      forms sometimes resemble those of Korea's neighbors in East Asia and
      have common roots.

      Traditional Korea borrowed much of its high culture from China,
      including the use of Chinese characters in the written language and
      the adoption of Neo-Confucianism as the philosophy of the ruling
      elite. Buddhism, originally from India, also came to Korea from
      China, and from Korea spread to Japan. For many centuries Korea was
      a member of the Chinese "tribute system," giving regular gifts to
      the Chinese court and acknowledging the titular superiority of the
      Chinese emperor over the Korean king. But while symbolically
      dependent on China for military protection and political
      legitimization, in practice Korea was quite independent in its
      internal behavior.

      After devastating invasions by the Japanese at the end of the
      sixteenth century and by the Manchus of Northeast Asia in the early
      seventeenth, Korea enforced a policy of strictly limited contact
      with all other countries. The main foreign contacts officially
      sanctioned by the Choson Dynasty were diplomatic missions to China
      three or four times a year and a small outpost of Japanese merchants
      in the southeastern part of Korea near the present-day city of
      Pusan. Few Koreans left the peninsula during the late Choson
      Dynasty, and even fewer foreigners entered. For some 250 years Korea
      was at peace and internally stable (despite growing peasant unrest
      from about 1800), but from the perspective of the Europeans and
      Americans who encountered Korea in the nineteenth century, Korea was
      an abnormally isolated country, a "hermit kingdom" as it came to be
      known to Westerners at the time.

      Japanese Colonial Period During the latter half of the nineteenth
      century, Korea became the object of competing imperial interests as
      the Chinese empire declined and Western powers began to vie for
      ascendancy in East Asia. Britain, France, and the United States each
      attempted to "open up" Korea to trade and diplomatic relations in
      the 1860s, but the Korean kingdom steadfastly resisted. It took
      Japan, itself only recently opened to Western-style international
      relations by the United States, to impose a diplomatic treaty on
      Korea for the first time in 1876.

      Japan, China, and Russia were the main rivals for influence on Korea
      in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and after defeating
      China and Russia in war between 1895 and 1905, Japan became the
      predominant power on the Korean peninsula. In 1910 Japan annexed
      Korea outright as a colony, and for the next 35 years Japan ruled
      Korea in a manner that was strict and often brutal. Toward the end
      of the colonial period, the Japanese authorities tried to wipe out
      Korea's language and cultural identity and make Koreans culturally
      Japanese, going so far in 1939 as to compel Koreans to change their
      names to Japanese ones. However, Japan also brought the beginnings
      of industrial development to Korea. Modern industries such as steel,
      cement, and chemical plants were set up in Korea during the 1920s
      and 1930s, especially in the northern part of the peninsula where
      coal and hydroelectric power resources were abundant. By the time
      Japanese colonial rule ended in August 1945, Korea was the second
      most industrialized country in Asia after Japan itself.

      Divided Korea and the Korean War
      The surrender of Japan to the allies at the end of World War II
      resulted in a new and unexpected development on the Korean
      peninsula: the division of Korea into two separate states, one in
      the North (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, D.P.R.K.) and
      one in the South (the Republic of Korea, R.O.K.). In the final days
      of the war, the United States and the Soviet Union had agreed to
      jointly accept the Japanese surrender in Korea, with the U.S.S.R.
      occupying Korea north of the 38th parallel and the U.S. occupying
      south until an independent and unified Korean government could be
      established. However, by 1947, the emerging Cold War between the
      United States and the Soviet Union, combined with political
      differences between Koreans of the two occupation zones and the
      policies of the occupation forces on the ground, led to a breakdown
      in negotiations over a unified government of Korea.

      On August 15, 1948, a pro-U.S. government was established in Seoul,
      and three weeks later a pro-Soviet government in Pyongyang. Both
      governments claimed to legitimately represent the entire Korean
      people, creating a situation of extreme tension across the 38th
      parallel. On June 25, 1950, North Korea, backed by the U.S.S.R.,
      invaded the South and attempted to unify the peninsula by force.
      Under the flag of the United Nations, a U.S.-led coalition of
      countries came to the assistance of South Korea. The Soviet Union
      backed North Korea with weapons and air support, while the People's
      Republic of China intervened on the side of North Korea with
      hundreds of thousands of combat troops. In July 1953, after millions
      of deaths and enormous physical destruction, the war ended
      approximately were it began, with North and South Korea divided into
      roughly equal territories by the cease-fire line, a Demilitarized
      Zone (DMZ) that still forms the boundary between North and South
      Korea today.

      The Two Koreas
      Since 1953, North and South Korea have evolved from a common
      cultural and historical base into two very different societies with
      radically dissimilar political and economic systems. The differences
      between North and South Korea today have little to do with pre-1945
      regional differences between northern and southern Korea. North
      Korea has been heavily influenced by Soviet/Russian culture and
      politics as well as those of China. It has developed a self-styled
      politics of juche ("self-reliance") based on economic and political
      independence, having a highly centralized political system with
      a "Great Leader" at its apex (Kim Il Sung until his death in 1994,
      his son Kim Jong Il since then) and a command economy. North Korea
      developed into perhaps the most isolated and controlled of all
      communist states, and even 10 years after the collapse of the Soviet
      Union, showed little sign of political and economic liberalization
      despite severe economic hardship.

      South Korea, on the other hand, has been greatly influenced by the
      United States and, in a more subtle way, by Japan. The U.S. has
      maintained close political, military, and economic ties with South
      Korea since the R.O.K. was founded in 1948. While South Korea has
      often been less democratic than Americans would like or the Korean
      leaders claimed it to be, since the fall of its military
      dictatorship in the late 1980s democracy appears to have become
      increasingly consolidated in the R.O.K. Meanwhile, South Korea made
      impressive economic gains in the 1970s and 1980s and can be
      considered now among the world's developed industrial countries.
      South Korea recovered rapidly from the Asian financial crisis of
      1997 and is currently the third-largest economy in Eastern Asia,
      after Japan and China.

      As in many other countries, American popular culture is an important
      presence in South Korea. To a lesser extent, Japanese popular
      culture is influential as well. However, South Korea has developed
      its own distinctly Korean forms of popular culture, while
      traditional Korean culture has undergone something of a revival in
      recent decades. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, South Korean pop
      music, film, and television dramas were becoming quite popular in
      other parts of Asia too, especially China and Vietnam.

      Despite the general cultural homogeneity of Korea, regional
      sentiment has become an important factor in South Korean politics
      and in other areas of contemporary life. The main regional division
      is between the Cholla area of the southwest and the Kyongsang area
      of the southeast. Although some would claim that these regional
      differences go back to the ancient Three Kingdoms period, in fact
      modern South Korean regionalism is mostly a phenomenon originating
      in the rapid industrialization that began in the 1960s. At that
      time, President Park Chung Hee focused on the economic development
      of his home region of Kyongsang, and drew much of South Korea's
      leadership from there. This bias toward Kyongsang continued through
      the succeeding presidencies of Chun Doo Hwan, Roh Tae Woo, and Kim
      Young Sam, who were all from the region. Meanwhile, Cholla remained
      relatively backward and was seen as a place of dissenters, including
      long-time opposition figure Kim Dae Jung. As a consequence, voting
      patterns in South Korea have shown overwhelming favoritism toward
      candidates from the voters' home region. After Kim Dae Jung became
      president in 1998, he attempted to bring more regional balance to
      economic and political development in South Korea, but regional
      identification and prejudice remain strong.

      The division of Korea into North and South was imposed upon the
      Korean people by outside forces, and many if not most Koreans insist
      that the two Koreas must one day be reunited. In the early 1970s,
      mid-1980s, and early 1990s, the two Koreas appeared to be reaching
      breakthroughs in inter-Korean relations, but each movement toward
      reconciliation and reunification ended in frustration. Finally, in
      June 2000, the leaders of North and South Korea met in Pyongyang, in
      the North, to discuss improving North-South relations. This was the
      first time such a summit meeting had ever taken place, and the event
      once again raised expectations of reconciliation and eventual
      reunion between the two halves of the divided peninsula. However,
      there is still very little contact between the governments or the
      people of North and South Korea, and barring a dramatic turn of
      events, the hope for reunification appears to be a long way off.

      The Korean Diaspora
      In addition to the 46 million people in South Korea and 23 million
      in the North, some 6 to 7 million people of Korean descent, or
      approximately 10 percent of the population of the two Koreas
      combined, live outside the Korean peninsula. In proportion to the
      population of the home country, the Korean "diaspora" comprises one
      of the largest groups of emigrants from anywhere in Asia. The
      largest communities of overseas Koreans are in China (two million),
      the United States (over one million), Japan (700,000), and the
      former Soviet Union (450,000), mostly in the Central Asian republics
      of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

      The Korean diaspora is distinctive both for its relative size and
      the fact that it is almost entirely a twentieth-century phenomenon,
      with the exception of Koreans in China and Russia, who began to
      immigrate there in large numbers in the 1860s. There were no Koreans
      in U.S. territory until after 1900, and most Koreans in Japan today
      are, or are descendants of, immigrants who came during the colonial
      occupation period of 1910-1945.

      Koreans were first brought to Hawaii in 1903 as workers in the
      sugarcane fields. Later, Koreans settled increasingly on the U.S.
      mainland, especially in Southern California. Koreans in the U.S.
      still numbered only in the few tens of thousands until after 1965,
      when restrictions on immigration from Asia were relaxed. By the
      1980s, Koreans were among the most rapidly growing groups of
      immigrants to the United States. Immigration from Korea leveled off
      after 1988 and began to decline in the early 1990s, but increased
      slightly again after the Asian financial crisis hit South Korea in
      1997. The main concentrations of Koreans in the U.S. are in the Los
      Angeles area, New York, and Chicago.

      At the beginning of the twenty-first century, South Korea is among
      the major industrialized nations of the world and is widely
      recognized as a success in economic development and political
      democratization. South Korea has evolved remarkably from the poor,
      backward country that emerged from the shadows of Japanese colonial
      rule in 1945. It is also a country with a strong sense of national
      identity and great pride in its culture, traditions, and
      accomplishments. At the same time, Korea remains divided into North
      and South, with nearly two million men under arms on the peninsula
      and a high state of military tension. As it has for more than a
      century, Korea occupies a strategic place on the world map, and any
      conflict on the peninsula would have the potential to draw in
      neighboring countries, if not farther. Korea may no longer be
      a "shrimp," but the waters it swims in are not yet entirely safe.
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