[INSIGHT]Nationalism ruler comes up short

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[INSIGHT]Nationalism ruler comes up short

The principle of Canaan Farmer's School, Kim Yong-ki, speaking to a gathering, said, "Nationality is the 30 million brethren and territory refers to the 1,200 kilometers of land with rivers and mountains. History means 5,000 years of history."

The moment I heard his words my mind was suddenly awakened.

It was the first time in my 40 years of life that the definition of "nationality" struck my mind with clarity.

But from whom and when did Mr. Kim learn about "nationality?"

Now, 25 years after I heard his speech on "nationalism," I am reminded of the question I wanted to ask Mr. Kim. At least one thing is sure, the term nationalism was first used by the Japanese after the Meiji period.

I was told that when China boasts about how their ancestors taught the Japanese Chinese characters and its related culture, the Japanese responded that the Chinese characters for "People's" and "Republic" from "The People's Republic of China," were created by modern Japanese. The "People's Republic" also refers to the nationalism of a country in Chinese characters.

When the Japanese annexed Korea, during the Joseon Dynasty in the early 1900s, Joseon had no national consciousness to feel humiliated.

Nationality and national consciousness are the same thing. In other words, Joseon had no sense of nationality as it was ruled by monarchs and one could say that there was no nationalism.

The Joseon, which was sold out by the nation's arch traitors, including Lee Wan-yong, had both sovereignty and territory but there was no one with national belief who claimed the right to the land and sovereignty.

The sovereignty represented by the aristocratic class, or Yangban in Korean, and the king of Joseon perished on its own accord.

It was not taken away after a fierce struggle with foreign nations. Therefore, it is rhetoric to say Lee Wan-yong and other arch traitors had sold out the country.

Foreign powers such as China, Japan and Russia were fighting over the sovereignty of Joseon, which at the time had no authority to claim its right.

After Japan took over Joseon only a few elites who were pro-Japanese inherited the world left by the Joseon Dynasty. But one cannot refer to the elites as nationalists who were loyal to the fallen Joseon Dynasty.

Nationality becomes conscious when it encounters conflict with other nations and when the people within a nation seek national sovereignty. But national consciousness is false consciousness for a country that has no freedom and democracy.

The Japanese are proud that they built railroads and schools in Korea during the colonization period. Dr. H.B. Underwood, founder of Yonsei University, was very acute in his observation when he said the biggest meritorious service Japan did was not constructing railroads and schools but destroying the aristocratic class in Korea.

But even more worthy of merit is the service the Japanese did the Korean people during the colonial period by helping Koreans realize the idea of national consciousness through the pain and suffering of being dominated by another country.

Most people say the three requisites of nationality are a common language, land and myth, which is also history. The most important among the three is myth, and I believe the common myth for all nationality in modern time is freedom and democracy.

In the 19th century, European nationalism was fervent over creating an ancient myth. However the United States, which had no past myth, created an American nationalism based on freedom and democracy.

I think the national consciousness in Korea started to grow in the 1980s, when South Korean industry and the democratic movement started to pick up momentum. It first started to bloom during the Japanese colonial period, and grew in the 80s as a modern concept.

The myth of personal freedom and prosperity has become the most important factor in Korean national consciousness.

During the colonial period Koreans who continued the national campaign against Japanese imperialistic rule are worthy of praise as the paragon for our nationalism. However, to perceive pro-Japanese groups as traitors is an outdated mistake that compares the past lack of consciousness with the present consciousness.

Therefore nothing could be achieved from the politically regressive thinking that pro-Japanese Koreans should be punished.

Such an assertion is just a perpetual spin like an old record, initiated by politicians who have failed or will fail in the future.


The writer is editor of Millennium-Emerge, a monthly magazine.

by Kang Wee-seuk

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