Thoughts on Japan from a Korean provocateur“Pro-Japanese Proclamation,” a book by the eccentric artist, singer and mischief-maker Cho Young-nam, was stirring controversy even before it hit bookstores last Thursday.
The book, whose cover depicts a rising sun, symbol of Japan, and a picture of the author staring provocatively at the reader, is as bold as its title. Tackling the strong anti-Japanese sentiments that have long been felt by many Koreans, the book arrived just as public emotions were being roiled by the revelations in the newly-released documents concerning the 1965 treaty that normalized diplomatic relations between the two countries.
A vein of humor runs throughout Mr. Cho’s book, and keeps it afloat. Its full title, for instance, is “A Pro-Japanese Proclamation, Written by an Author with the Expectation of Being Battered.”
Its arguments touch on some sensitive subjects, such as Japanese politicians’ official visits to Tokyo’s Yasukuni shrine, which memorializes, among others, Hideki Tojo, the military commander and prime minister who played a major role in Japan’s 20th-century aggression.
Mr. Cho, 60, is irreverent in conveying his feelings about the shrine. He says, “It’s funny how full-grown adults in the Asian ‘biggies’ have been fighting over such a matter for decades like kids.” (The “biggies” referred to are Japan and Korea.)
He makes the argument that Genghis Khan became a major historical figure because he won his battles, but that Hideki Tojo became a war criminal because he lost. This is “a tiny difference,” he says.
Mr. Cho demonstrates a quirky historical consciousness. “Let us also leave a record in history that our country, too, has invaded others,” he writes at one point. “I am tired of praising local heroes who spent their entire lives just defending their country.”
Some readers say Mr. Cho is able to make such provocative arguments because he belongs to a post-war generation that has few bitter feelings about Japanese colonialism.
Kim Eo-jun, founder of a satirical Korean Web site, calls the author “a hero who allows his readers to get to know Japan without praising or bashing it.” He called Mr. Cho “a ragpicker version of an independence activist.”
Other writers have praised Mr. Cho for his boldness, saying he brings up issues that need to be raised.
by Cho Woo-suk
More in Features
[Shifting the Paradigm] With one epidemic under control, another is threatening Korean society
Kakao TV launches this month, takes on Netflix
[TURNING 20] In a sea of hate, change flourishes
Criticism of sex ed books for kids raises more questions than answers
When it comes to sex ed, this Danish author says just talk about it