Has A Korean Monk Found the World’s Oldest Newspaper?

This newspaper appears to be in remarkably good shape for allegedly being so old.  Even if it is a fake the history of the first newspaper printed during the Joseon dynasty is pretty interesting:

A newspaper piece on Nov. 23 of 1577, in the lunar calendar, discovered by monk Ji Bong of Yonghwa Temple in Yeongcheon, North Gyeongsang. Possibly part of the oldest newspaper ever printed, the piece contains records on the weather and the constellation. [KIM JUNG-SEOK]

What is possibly the oldest newspaper ever printed has been discovered by a monk of Yonghwa Temple in Yeongcheon, North Gyeongsang. Scholars have yet to verify the authenticity of the newspaper, which is recorded to have been printed in 1577, 83 years ahead of Leipziger Zeitung, the world’s first newspaper, which was printed in 1660 in Germany.“I found it at an auction website that sells old documents and books this month,” said monk Ji Bong on Tuesday. “It was up on the website from January but no one seemed interested. I have been interested in old books and bibliographies for 20 years, so I bought it.”

Ji Bong did not specify how much he paid for it or who he bought it from.

The newspaper is in eight pieces and not all are intact. The dates printed on them are: Nov. 6, 15, 19, 23 and 24, all in 1577, in the lunar year calendar system.

The pieces contain articles about Queen Inseong’s welfare and the fact that the regular discussion of state affairs among the king and the ministers were not held on Nov. 6; that hundreds of cows died of infectious disease on Nov. 15; some records of the weather and the constellation on Nov. 23; and the welfare of ministers, including one by the name of Lee Jung-hyeong, on Nov. 24.

The existence of the oldest newspaper is mentioned in the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty. The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty are the records of the dynasty (1392-1910) from 1392 to 1863, completed in 1,893 chapters in 888 books. Thought to be the longest continual records of a single dynasty in the world, the annals have been registered at the Unesco Memory of the World since 1997.

In the annals for Nov. 28, 1577, in the lunar calendar, King Seonjo (1552-1608) is recorded to have rebuked his ministers for printing newspapers without the king’s permission. Seonjo is recorded to have shut down the publication, rounded up some 30 people who took part in it and sentenced them to a severe punishment.

Historians have said the king was against the publication of a newspaper at the time because he was afraid that state secrets may be leaked to ordinary citizens or foreign powers.

“The publication of the newspaper at the time was a big deal to the royal court,” Ji Bong said. “They say the people who published the newspaper disappeared one morning and the people who possessed any copies had to destroy or hide them.”  [Joong Ang Ilbo]

You can read more at the link.

Final Version of South Korea’s State Sponsored Textbooks Not Very Controversial

It seems like the only thing controversial about the final version of the state sponsored history textbooks is the fact that it is an initiative from the Park Geun-hye administration:

State sponsored history textbooks [KBS World Radio]

The Ministry of Education released Tuesday the final versions of controversial state-authored history textbooks for middle and high school students, which are supposed to go into use from 2018.

The ministry said it made some 760 edits to the textbooks after drafts were revealed to the public in November, using the feedback it received.

The most notable change is the official description of Aug. 15, 1948, as Foundation Day of the Republic of Korea. Some historians have argued that date should be described as the foundation of the government of the Republic of Korea, because the country was founded in 1919, with the founding of the provisional government in Shanghai by independence activists.

While the state-authored textbooks will call Aug. 15, 1948, Foundation Day of the Republic of Korea, the ministry said authorized private history textbooks can describe the date as the foundation date of the country or the government.

The ministry added that schools will still be able to opt between authorized private history textbooks and state-authored history textbooks from 2018, when the state-authored history textbooks will be put to use.

According to the ministry, other notable changes to the final versions of the state-authored textbooks include extended details on pro-Japan forces during the Japanese annexation of Korea from 1910 to 1945. The state-authored history textbooks admit that the government failed to make strong efforts to discover and take disciplinary action against pro-Japan forces.

The ministry also said the new textbooks admit the delay in the government’s efforts to get the facts straight on Jeju Island’s April 3rd Uprising. It is generally understood that the details of the brutal atrocities committed against suspected leftists on the island in 1948 were hushed up by the government until after the democratization movement of the country in the late 1990s.

The previous drafts of the state-authored textbooks were also criticized for overly praising the work of former President Park Chung Hee. The initial draft of the high school textbook spent four pages describing the former president’s positive achievements, while allotting only half a page for the negatives that accompanied them.

The revised and final version of the high school textbook, the ministry said, admits that Park’s Saemaul (New Village) Movement “had its limits.” But the textbook will still allot nine pages to history related to former President Park.  [Joong Ang Ilbo]

You can read more at the link, but I don’t see how you can tell the modern history of Korea without a lot of pages on Park Chung-hee considering how long he ruled the country and the sweeping changes he made.

Researchers Claims Document Proves Imperial Japan Executed 30 Comfort Women In China

A bit on an interesting document even though according to the report the document was first revealed in the 1990’s:

A local research team said Monday it found a record of the Japanese military killing Korean women forced to serve as sex slaves when the country was under colonial rule (1910-45).

The operation diary for Sept. 15, 1944, recorded by allied forces of the United States and China, says “Night of the (Sept.) 13th, (1944), the Japs shot 30 Korean girls in the city (of Tengchong, China),” according to the Seoul National University (SNU) Human Rights Center.

The record was discovered at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland, during the research team’s monthlong field study from mid-July to August.

Words such as “whores,” “comfort women” and “prostitutes” were used throughout other relevant records, indicating the 30 women mentioned in the page were former sex slaves, said professor Kang Sung-hyun, a member of the research team.

The existence of this record was already revealed to the public in the 1990s, but the latest finding was the first time the exact institution holding the document has been identified, said the professor at the Institute for East Asian Studies under Sungkonghoe University in Seoul.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link, but Tengchong, China is right across the border from today’s Myanmar:

Of interest is that the document also says that they found two Englishmen were their hands tied behind their backs with their throats cut.  It appears the Japanese may have also executed their wounded.  In the document it states that 1,000 Japanese soldiers were found dead in one quadrant of the city and that half of them were wounded before being killed.  The Japanese may have killed every non-fighting soldier in the city before its fall to limit the intelligence provided to the allied forces if those people were captured.

Church Document Depicts Japanese Police Crackdown During Korean Colonial Period

This document has been making the rounds in the Korean media, but really it doesn’t state anything we don’t already know:

Japanese police sexually abused female Korean protesters during the occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945, an old report by an American missionary group shows.

The report details incidents where Japanese police stripped, tortured and even raped Korean women who took part in the March 1 independence demonstrations in 1919.

The Korean Methodist Church in New York on Saturday revealed the 27-page report compiled by the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America detailing the abuses by Japanese police based on accounts from American missionaries in Korea at the time.

Titled “The Korean Situation,” it explains the historical background that led to the protests, as well as Japan’s brutal crackdown on protesters and changes in Tokyo’s colonial policies after the demonstrations.

The Korean Methodist Church in New York was established in 1921 and served as the U.S. support base for Korea’s independence movement. It discovered the report in its archive while going through old documents to prepare for a book to mark its 100-year history.

The report contains statistics on the brutal crackdown. It shows that 631 Koreans died from March 1 to July 20, 1919 as well as nine Japanese, mostly police. Some 28,934 Koreans were arrested — 5,156 jailed and 9,078 released after being whipped.

“Among the tortures and brutalities dwelt on by writers and especially emphasized by the American press were those dealing with young women and school girls who were stripped and examined, tortured and maltreated,” it says. “No charge is made of rape under these conditions.”  [Chosun Ilbo]

The article opens about the Japanese police raping Korean women, but according to the quote from the document it said no charge is made of rape so I don’t know what is true.  However, the fact that Japanese police were generally pretty brutal against protesters is nothing new.  I recommend everyone read this article about the March 1st Movement that provides a more balanced account of what happened.

Kim Jong-pil Remembers the Hwang Tae-song Incident

Here is another interesting story from the former ROK Prime Minister Kim Jong-pil who served in the Korean government through some of its most interesting times in the country’s modern history.  Here is another interesting story he tells of how a North Korean spy came to South Korea on a mission believed to be from Kim Il-sung to meet with him or Park Chung-hee:

A photo of Hwang Tae-song released by the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, now called the National Intelligence Service, on Sept. 27, 1963. “Spy Hwang Tae-song” is written below. All trials of Hwang were closed to the public. [JoongAng Photo]

This is the latest in a series of articles on the life and times of Kim Jong-pil, a two-time prime minister, based on extensive interviews with the 89-year-old.It was just past 3 a.m. on Oct. 15, 1961, when I received a phone call from my mother-in-law. Picking up the phone, I had a sense of foreboding. Calls at that time of the morning are rarely good news.

“Something bad has happened,” my mother-in-law, Jo Gui-bun, murmured without elaborating.

I urged her to tell me what was going on.

“I don’t think you know about him. There’s a man named Hwang Tae-song, a friend of your father-in-law’s. He went up to North Korea before the war and now he is back here in the South. He asked me to arrange a meeting with you and Park Chung Hee.” To her, Park, then-Chairman for the Supreme Council for National Reconstruction, was a brother in-law.

I could sense the anxiety in her voice. It was understandable given the high sensitivity of the matter. She was calling from the Gumi Police Precinct using an emergency phone line. The head of the precinct let her use the phone knowing that her son-in-law was the head of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency.

I tried to calm her down.

I had never heard of Hwang Tae-song before. I had no idea how or why he made his way to her in the South and why he wanted to meet Park and me. There were many questions about him I had to find out right away using all of my resources as the top man at the intelligence agency.  [Joong Ang Ilbo]

You can read the rest at the link, but I was curious to whatever happened to Hwang Tae-song and discovered this article from the venerable Andrei Lankov that explains how Kim Il-sung thought that since Park Chung-hee was an authoritarian that he may be more amiable than his predecessors with cooperating with North Korea.  Hwang was sent to arrange a summit between Kim and Park followed by a gradual easing of tensions.  Instead of meeting with Hwang, Park had him arrested, tried, and shot as a spy.  Park wanted to erase any doubts about his own communist past and Hwang simply became the perfect example for him to show his US allies that he was all in against communism.

Are Japanese Textbooks Accurately Describing the Korean March 1st Independence Movement?

Interesting analysis over at Popular Gusts in regards to the below Joong Ang Ilbo article which a Korean lawmaker is complaining about how Japanese textbooks depict the March 1st Korean independence movement back in 1919:

korea japan image

History textbooks in Korea and Japan are still riddled with inaccuracies in their descriptions of Korea’s March 1 Independence Movement 96 years ago, the catalysis of Korea’s fight against Japan’s colonial rule (1910-1945).

Rep. Han Sun-kyo, a lawmaker of the ruling Saenuri Party, told the JoongAng Ilbo on Thursday that he analyzed Korean and Japanese history textbooks he received from the Seoul-based think tank Northeast Asian History Foundation and Korea’s Ministry of Education and found the results troubling.

He said a “considerable number of Japanese history textbooks are distorting the facts or minimizing the significance of the March 1 Independence Movement.”

March 1, 1919, remains a touchstone of Korean nationalism as the day when activists declared Korea’s independence and triggered large-scale peaceful demonstrations against Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945).

One Japanese middle school history textbook published by Jiyusa says the March 1 independence movement in Seoul “initially was planned as a non-violent rally but gradually became a large-scale movement,” and that “the army was mobilized and because of a clash on both sides, there were many casualties.”  (……)

Korea has been alarmed by Japanese right-wingers’ historical revisionism, which glosses over or denies wartime aggressions and trivializes the victims of its colonial rule over Korea. (……)

But Han added that Korean history textbooks also have inaccuracies, and there are many cases where they “describe the non-violent March 1 movement as violent” or do not mention key events or figures such as Yoo Gwan-soon’s martyrdom  [Joong Ang Ilbo]

However, there is only one problem with the lawmakers complaints, the March 1st movement was violent.  Popular Gusts provides the analysis:

The problem is, the textbooks describing the independence movement as being “violent” are being accurate. While some of the Japanese dispatches during the Samil Uprising reported in the New York Times described violence on the part of demonstrators, I didn’t realize just how violent the protests were until I read Frank Baldwin’s “Participatory Anti-Imperalism:The 1919 Independence Movement” (Journal of Korean Studies, Volume 1, 1979, pp. 123-162). One assumes this contains some of the material in his dissertation, “The March First Movement: Korean Challenge, Japanese Response” (Columbia University, 1969). In his article, he notes that between March 1 and April 10, 1919, there were “approximately 667 peaceful demonstrations” as compared with “approximately 460 violent incidents.”   (…….)

The tale of “peaceful Samil demonstrations” serves the cause of depicting Koreans as a peaceful people beset upon by marauding outsiders; that is to say, victims with no responsibility for their actions. [Popular Gusts]

You can read much more act the link in regards to much of the South Korean myth making in regards to the March 1st Independence Movement. I always appreciate well documented historical analysis like this that cuts through the historical revisionism so prevalent in Korea today.


Gangwha Battle Flag Returned

Picture courtesy of DPRK Studies.

The battle flag taken by US Marines in the American Campaign of 1871 on Gangwha Island is being returned via a lease to the Korean government:

The United States has agreed to return a Korean battle flag to South Korea this month on a lease basis, 126 years after the U.S. Navy captured it during an armed conflict here in the 19th century, officials at a state-run culture administration said Tuesday.

The 4.5-meter by 4.5-meter flag has been on display at the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland since the U.S. took it as "spoils" from Korean general Uh Je-yeon during a 1871 battle at Gwangseong Fort in Ganghwa Island, west of Seoul. The conflict broke out as the U.S. attempted to open Korea to trade, and was subsequently christened by the New York Herald as "Our Little War With The Heathen."
The Culture Heritage Administration said the U.S. Naval Academy has agreed on a up to 10-year lease of the flag to the South Korean side. 

I really don’t have a problem with the return of the flag, but I have to wonder if anything was done to get South Korea to pressure North Korea into returning the USS Pueblo in return for the US giving the battle flag back to South Korea.  I have steadfastly argued that we should cut no deals with North Korea and leverage maximum pressure on South Korea to return the USS Pueblo. 

Sadly I believe the sacrifices of the men of the USS Pueblo are as forgotten now by our country’s leadership as they were in 1968.

People Who Mattered in Korea: Samyeong-daesa

Entrance to Geonbong Temple

Geonbongsa is a little known, but historically significant Buddhist Temple in Korea. Geonbongsa is located in the foothills of North Korea’s famous Kumgangsan Mountain that stretches south across the Demilitarized Zone into South Korea. The temple could not even be visited until 1989 due to the temple’s proximity to the DMZ between North and South Korea. The temple is off the beaten path, but is a worth while side trip for those who may be visiting Soraksan Mountain to the south of the temple.

Geonbongsa was first built in 521AD and was named Wongaksa. Later during the Goreyo Dynasty it was remodeled and given it’s present name of Geonbongsa. During King Sejo’s reign (1455-1468) he made the temple his royal praying temple in 1465 and built a large royal tower on the temple’s grounds. This brought the temple much notoriety and it quickly became one of the Top 4 most important temples in Korea responsible for 31 subordinate temples in it’s jurisdiction.

The main temple area of Geonbongsa.

During the Japanese Toyotomi Hideyoshi, invasion of Korea in 1592, the Japanese destroyed the temple and took a relic of the holy Buddha, a tooth, that had been enshrined in the temple. The head priest of the temple, Samyeong-daesa, raised an army of 6,000 warrior monks to battle the Japanese in an effort to regain the holy Buddhist relic. Samyeong-daesa would later move his base of operations from Geonbongsa further south to Gounsa temple near Andong to continue his fight against the Japanese.

During the invasion of Korea the Japanese did not expect heavy Korean resistance because Korea had a very weak national army and government due to the ineffective leadership of the Yangban class and internal infighting which was ruled by King Seonjo at the time of the invasion. The Japanese initially had no problems defeating the Korean forces and the Battle of Sangju is just one example of this.

One of the outer temples of Geonbong Temple.

Later bogged down by Korea’s mountainous terrain, poor roads, and the entry of the Chinese Ming Army into the war the Japanese supply lines and outposts became easy targets for what became known as Korea’s “Righteous Army”, which were bands of nationalistic guerrilla fighters intent on defending Korea. Samyeong-daesa’s warrior monks were heavily respected part of the “Righteous Army” by the Japanese. In fact so respected was Samyeong-daesa that he was allowed to enter the Japanese Seosaengpo Fortress near Ulsan four times, where he asked for the holy relic back. He was unfortunately denied the holy relic each time.

A picture of the shaman mountain god San-shin, in a shrine dedicated to Samyeong-daesa.

By 1598 due to the Ming Army, the Korean resistance, and the heroic naval exploits of Korean Admiral Yi Sun-shin combined with the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the Japanese forces finally withdrew from Korea. However, Samyeong-daesa still didn’t have his holy relic to enshrine back in his beloved Geonbongsa Temple.

In 1604 Samyeong-daesa left Korea as an envoy of the Korean government to go to Japan. In Japan Samyeong-daesa was allowed to meet with the ruling Japanese Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu who had consolidated power in Japan after Hideyoshi’s death. Tokugawa no doubt held respect for Samyeong-daesa since he was a proven leader and warrior for the Korean resistance during the occupation of Korea. In a display of this respect Tokugawa gave Samyeong-daesa 3,500 Korean prisoners and his holy relic back to return to Geonbongsa, which he did in 1605.

One of the few remaining artifacts from the original temple.

To this day the holy relic is still enshrined in Geonbongsa Temple even after the temple was destroyed again during the Korean War. The temple has been rebuilt since the war, but it still has not reached it’s past grandeuar as one of the Top 4 temples in Korea. The echos of it’s past glory is still evident by the number of stone foundations that surround the present day compound.

The temple is surrounded by old foundations and is ringed by the foot hills of Kumgang mountain.

The temple has an elaborate museum near the entrance that shows many artifacts from the temple’s history and also has a number of video displays highlighting Samyeong-daesa’s warrior monks courageous actions against the Japanese.

Elaborate museum honoring the warrior monk Samyeong-daesa

The temple is still under construction as it continues to expand in hopes of recreating it’s past glory. However, visitors looking for something off the beaten path with small crowds will be well served by visiting this little known but historically significant temple in Korea.

The Showdown Over Yanghwajin Foreigner Cemetery

The Joong Ang Ilbo has now reported on the controversy surrounding the Yanghwajin Foreigner Cemetery in Seoul.  The article is a good read and provides a decent overview of the fight going on over the future of the cemetery:

Those visiting the cemetery’s 14,000 square meters likely appreciate the sacrifice of those early missionaries, but they may be unaware that a present day conflict is underway between two Protestant churches one foreign and one Korean over the right to manage the cemetery and affiliated properties.

The foreign congregation, Seoul Union Church, with 100 members, claims that its Korean neighbors in the 2,000-strong 100th Anniversary Memorial Church are trying to push it out of a chapel on the cemetery grounds, which the union church has occupied since 1986 and has shared with the memorial church since 2005.

Seoul Union, founded in 1885, was the first Protestant church in Korea and its congregation has included some of the most venerable foreign families in the country. Many of its former members are buried in the cemetery. It worries that a demand by the memorial church that it change its service time from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. is a disguised attempt to displace it from the cemetery and the chapel. The deadline for the schedule change is Sunday, Aug. 5.

The situation has become so bitter that it seems headed for court. Both sides accuse the other of mismanaging the cemetery, while Seoul Union leaders say a long-standing agreement to leave the property under the effective control of the foreign church is being violated.
Union church member John Linton, a prominent Seoul doctor whose missionary family has been in Korea for more than a century, says the prospects for resolution are bleak. “We think this is a kind of war,” he said.

Yes war has been declared and it appears August 5th is when battle is going to commence:

Rev. Prince C. Oteng-Boateng, the current pastor of the union church, recently sent a letter to Korean church leaders asking for help. The pastor requested supporters to attend the morning service at union church on Aug. 5 and block any physical coercion by the Korean church.

“We believe that any attempt by the memorial church to disrupt or forcibly remove Seoul Union Church from its rightful home, and to obstruct our right of usage, will result in a public demonstration [against] its actions,” the pastor said in the letter.
“We are appealing to you and the entire Korean Christian community to pray with Seoul Union Church and to seek your direct intervention in defeating this persecution,” the pastor wrote.

The controversy over the Yanghwajin Foreigner Cemetery in Seoul has been covered in great detail before by guest blogger Robert Neff over at the Marmot’s Hole.  He was the first person to get the story out about why the Korean Memorial Church wanted to get rid of the foreigner composed Union Church; because they planned to disinter the bodies of foreigners in the cemetery:

In an interview with The Korea Herald, Kim Yong-nam, who identified himself as administrator to the Church and Yangwhajin, supported the claim that those who were unsuitable for the cemetery such as Koreans, a foreigner he described as an “Itaewon pool player,” and members of the U.S. military – who chose to be buried at the cemetery along with their families – would be removed at some time in the future.

Many of the graves that may be disinterred include members of the US military.  Robert Neff in a later posting at the Marmot’s Hole provided names of all the US military servicemen and their family members buried at Yanghwajin.  The list was forwarded to the US Embassy and USFK, but there has yet to be any feedback on what course of action if any US officials plan to do.  The list of servicemembers and their families buried at Yanghwajin is quite long, and it is sad to think these people, even death, are not free from discrimination of foreigners in Korea.

This is why the Union Church is fighting so hard to protect the cemetery from the Memorial Church and it appears this is headed for a final showdown on August 5th.

Family members of Korea’s most famous Christian missionary family, the Underwood family, are buried at Yanghwajin.  The members of the Memorial Church never caused any issues until Dr. Horace Grant Underwood III died in 2004.  It cannot be understated the amount of respect and influence a man like Horace Underwood III had in Korea.  It seems more than just a tad bit coincidental that this dispute over the fate of Yanghwajin began shortly after his death.

It would be interesting to hear what the Underwood family has to say about this matter, but the remaining members of the Underwood family left Korea for unspecified reasons shortly after the passing of Horace Underwood III.  The way things are looking now foreigners buried in the Yanghwajin Foreigner Cemetery maybe leaving for “unspecified reasons” as well.

China Makes Further Claims on Korean History

This is quite a bold claim from the Chinese:

An academic will publish this week a complete translation of an official Chinese study that co-opts the early Korean Shilla and Bakje kingdoms for Chinese history. The offending paper was published by a research center under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, which is under the jurisdiction of the Chinese State Council and includes the Baekje (18 B.C.?660 A.D.) and Shilla (57 B.C.-935 A.D.) kingdoms in addition to Koguryo, where claims have already been documented. The research center is in charge of the so-called Northeast Project.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Chinese are getting bolder in their claims considering the weak response to the Koguryo history controversy.  It is only a matter of time before the Chinese claim that all of Korea was part of China due to its tributary status until the loss of the peninsula to the Japanese in the aftermath of the Sino-Japanese War. 

I wonder if we can expect President Roh to declare diplomatic war against the Chinese anytime soon?