RAS-KB: The Blog
How is it that a Chinese tofu salesman, who lived his entire life in the Middle Kingdom about 1800 years ago and never set foot on the Korean Peninsula, came to be venerated in Korea as a god of both war and wealth? Join us as we trace back the story of Guan Yu, and discover how this semi-mythical figure, described in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms as over 9 foot tall, with a 2-foot long beard, a face as red as a jujube, and eyes like those of a phoenix, first appeared in Korea during the Japanese Hideyoshi invasions of the late 16th century. In a few short years, several shrines were built in honor of Guan Yu, the bean-curd-seller-cum-general. In the last years of the Joseon Dynasty, King Gojong and his second wife had more shrines built in Seoul, giving the Guan Yu cult more impetus. Why was this?
Guan Yu's shrines have been all but forgotten by modern Korea, and yet in some places ceremonies are still held. Where are they carried out, and by whom? Dongmyo is the largest Guan Yu shrine remaining, and the only one in Seoul that still sits in its original location. Some interesting discoveries have been made during recent restoration, but that restoration is also not without controversy.
Jacco Zwetsloot has lived in Korea for 14 of the last 18 years. He has held a number of jobs in this country, and calls himself a Jacco-of-all-trades. Currently Jacco is studying for a Master's degree in Korean Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands. He has previously spoken to the RAS on Hollywood movies set and filmed in Korea, North Korean comic books, and Japanese-run POW camps in Korea during World War Two.
Even though postage stamps may be going the way of typewriters and pagers, North and South Korea continue to produce millions of colorful and stamps each year, providing a window into how the two governments see themselves and the world around them. After exploring the Joseon Dynasty's development of a postal service 120 years ago, Beck will turn to the philatelic rivalry that emerged between the two Koreas soon after division in 1945. He will then trace the development of stamps in the North and the South over the past seven decades and share with the audience some of his most interesting philatelic finds over the past three decades. Beck is currently the president of the U.S.-based Korea Stamp Society (www.pennfamily.org/KSS-USA/).
Peter Beck joined The Asia Foundation as Country Representative in Korea in January, 2012. He is a seasoned Korea specialist and former Asia Foundation Haas intern. Prior to joining the Foundation, Beck was the Council on Foreign Relations Hitachi Fellow at Keio University in Tokyo, and the Pantech Research Fellow at Stanford University. Previously, he was the Northeast Asia Director for the International Crisis Group in Seoul (2004-2007) and Director of Research at the Korea Economic Institute in Washington, DC (1997-2004). He has also served as a member of the Ministry of Unification's Policy Advisory Committee (2005 – 2007).
Peter Beck received his bachelor's degree in Asian Studies from the University of California at Berkeley and conducted his graduate studies in Comparative Public Policy and International Relations at the University of California at San Diego's Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies. Beck studied Korean at Seoul National University, Yonsei University, and Hanguk University of Foreign Studies.
Two countries far apart, the Czech Republic and the Republic of Korea, share a long history of more than 140 years of interactions. From the times the very first Czechs entered the Korean territory as part of attacking US forces in 1871, the relations between the two nations and countries have been of the highest importance. As the Republic of Korea is now the third largest Czech trade partner outside of Europe (after China and the US, and before Japan), and Korean companies invested almost 2 billion USD in the Czech Republic, 150,000 Korean tourists visited Prague in 2013 and not less than 8 weekly non-stop direct flights connect the main airports of both countries, the cooperation between the two countries is increasing year by year.
But there is also a rich historical past in Czech-Korean relations. The presentation will cover the whole history of the interactions, from the early visits by the Czechs to Korea, to the cooperation between soldiers of the Czechoslovak Legion with Korean independence fighters between 1918-1920, and the creation of Czech Korean studies which started as early as 1943. After the communist coup in 1948, Czechoslovakia became a close ally of North Korea in the 1950s, and the presentation will thus follow the most interesting moments of the cooperation between the two countries. The presentation will then cover the development of knowledge of the Czech Republic in Korea since the 1970s and – indeed – the development of Czech-Korean relations in the last quarter of a century, when the newly democratic Czech Republic established fully-fledged relations with the Republic of Korea, while keeping its Embassy in Pyongyang.
Jaroslav Olša, jr (1964) is the outgoing Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the Republic of Korea (since 2008) and author of a series of articles covering a wide range of Czech-Korean relations published in Czech, English and Korean. He earned his MA degree in Asian and African Studies at Charles University, Prague, but studied also in Tunis and Amsterdam. He has published books on African modern art and history and – most recently – edited and authored „1901 photographs of Seoul by Enrique Stanko Vráz and other early Czech travellers´ views of Korea“ (Seoul Museum of History, 2011), „Czech-Korean film encounters“ (Korean Film Archive, 2013) and „The Korean Peninsula after the artistice as seen by Czechoslovak delegates to the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission 1953-1956“ (Seoul Museum of History, 2013). His most recent Czech-language book – prepared together with leading Czech Koreanist Miriam Lowensteinová – covers the life and work of early Korean archaeologist, historian and translator of Korean literature of the 1940s, Han Heung-su. Some of Olša´s articles are available at the Czech Embassy´s website www.mzv.cz/seoul.
Lecturer: Andrei Lankov
While North Korea is usually described in media as a 'Stalinist country', this long has become a misleading description. From the mid-1990s the private sector plays an important, or even dominant role in the North Korean economy. While most of the North Korean businesspeople operate on small level, some entrepreneurs have amassed significant capital, and operate rather large companies. In most cases the North Korean large companies are registered as owned by the state, with the 'foreign exchange earning operations' being the most common cover for such activities. The lecture will discuss how captains of North Korean big business work and live, what is their relations with the state and their possible future.
Andrei Lankov was born in Russia in 1963, he studied in Leningrad State University and Kim Il Sung University in North Korea. His major research interest is North Korean social and political history; he has published five books and a number of articles on this topic. He now teaches at Kookmin University, Seoul.
Highlights from our excursion
Sights and sounds from our excursion.
Here are some highlights from our recent Bukchon excursion including an interview with the tour leader, David Mason.