Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Dismantling stereotypes about overseas adoptees

Overseas adoption has long been somewhat common in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and there have long been stereotypes and biases regarding children adopted from Korea, China, Colombia, Romania, Mexico, Russia, etc.

An article in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), however, says that many of the stereotypes of overseas adoptees as "problem kids" are simply not true: international adoptees have fewer behavior problems than domestic adoptees.

The money quote:
Most international children who are adopted are well-adjusted and have fewer behavioral problems than children who are adopted domestically, according to an article in the May 25 issue of JAMA.
This is a big issue, with 40,000 children per year moving between more than 100 countries, according to the JAMA study's authors, Femmie Juffer, Ph.D., and Marinus H. van Ijzendoorn, Ph.D., both from Leiden University in the Netherlands. They used medical literature from 1950 to January 2005 to estimate the effects of international adoption on behavioral problems and mental health referrals.

The authors acknowledge that prior to adoption, "international adoptees often experience insufficient medical care, malnutrition, maternal separation, and neglect and abuse in orphanages." But this doesn't translate into long-term problems, as their analysis "showed that the majority of international adoptees are well-adjusted."

They do acknowledge that international adoptees do have slightly more of such problems than non-adoptees (the control group in the research), but that "the effect sizes were small."

Surprisingly, age at adoption was "not important for the development of behavioral problems." But the authors warn that "clinicians should be aware of higher risks for problem behaviors in domestic adoptees and in international adoptees who experienced neglect or maltreatment in the preadoptive period." This, of course, would be true even for children raised by their biological parents.

In Korea overseas adoption is a big issue. Prior to the Olympics it was considered natural that children of mixed ancestry, or children whose parents had died or couldn't care for them, would live better lives if adopted by loving parents in North America or Europe.

But the American media—particularly NBC—cast a negative light on the situation, depicting Korea as a nation of "baby exporters." Domestically, the embarrassment from this unfavorable press resulted in a very strong movement to end overseas adoption. Overseas adoptions were to end in 1996, with exceptions made for "mixed" children (honhyŏra, 혼혈아; or honyŏrin 혼혈인) or children with physical or mental disabilities. This caused an outcry of a different kind: Korea was now seen as a cruel country just trying to get rid of its "undesirables."

The problem was that the overseas adoption debate in Korea was being driven by concerns about the rising economic star's public image, not by the best interests of the children involved. There were many Koreans who supported the continuation of overseas adoption for the sake of the children. These proponents pointed out that there were too few people willing to adopt a child in this increasingly prosperous country, primarily because of the strong emphasis on blood ties within a family structure.

But opposition to overseas adoption remained high, with the public exposed to media designed to mold their opinion. The 1991 movie "Susan Brink's Arirang" stood out among the anti-overseas adoption fare. This well-acted movie, starring Choi Jinshil [최진실], depicted the life of real-life Susan Brink as told through her autobiography. With an emotionally abusive adoptive mother, her life in Sweden was quite difficult, and it made her miserable enough to attempt suicide.

Many Koreans were touched by the film, which also showed interviews of actual European adoptees from Korea telling how much they hated Korea and the biological parents who gave them up. With so little evidence to the contrary, many Koreans were convinced that overseas adoption was cruel and must be stopped.

The necessity of finding homes for thousands of children without homes ended up being the deciding factor, and the 1996 deadline came and went. But the issue does occasionally rear its ugly head. I say the "issue" has an ugly head, because overseas adoptees, like children of mixed ancestry, are enjoying something of a renaissance. At the very least, it is much less common for them to be viewed as freaks or undesirables. Many are greeted "back" with special programs and outreached arms.

And in this respect, the report in JAMA can only help things. People in Korea can feel good that—despite the propaganda to the contrary—overseas adoptees are generally leading happy and healthy lives.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Send in the clones!

I'm still reeling from a grueling chemistry final and my mind is in a science-oriented mode. And just in time for that, today's issue of the prestigious journal Science reports that South Korean scientists have created the world's first human embryonic stem cells that are customized to injured or sick patients. This is considered a crucially important step toward growing patients' own replacement tissue to treat diseases, which is one goal of proponents of cloning research.

These are the same scientists who are headed by Dr. Hwang Woo-suk of Seoul National University, who created a lot of buzz for Korea's cloning industry (which they completely copied from the Japanese and the Americans!) last year when they became the first to clone a human embryo.

The clonings last year were a genetic match to a healthy woman, not a sick person. But now the Korean scientists have cloned patient-specific stem cells, which is important to prevent rejection by the body's immune system.

The "subjects" were males and females from two to fifty-six, all suffering either spinal cord injuries, diabetes or a genetic immune disease. But, they warn, therapy is still years away from being tested.

The same lab also found ways to more quickly and more safely cull stem cells with far fewer donated eggs. It only takes twenty per try.

Not that Korean women are really using their eggs that much, evidenced by Korea's all-time low fertility rate of 1.15 births per woman. Maybe the government could utilize cloning to create more babies, which could be raised by the beneficent state in special centers to turn them into productive members of society (hat tip: Aldous Huxley).

UPDATE (December 15, 2005):
Ah, crap.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Korea versus Corea

NOTE TO VISITORS FROM GORD SELLAR'S ARTICLE ON ANTI-JAPANESE DRAWINGS BY KIDS IN THE SUBWAY: That is one old post at Gord's, but I still get lots of hits from there. Although I think Gord's post is important, it is also misleading. Please take a look at the addendum in this post, particularly the first and last paragraphs, for a bit of perspective on the issue and on Gord's somewhat distorted presentation. (2009.01)

REVISED NOTE: This three-year-old post, easily the most widely popular I've written, is pretty much okay as is, just a little rough around the edges toward the bottom. Some day, when I don't have work and school and serious family issues, I may try to polish it up, but for now it's good to go. (2008.05)

ORIGINAL NOTE: This post is still a work in progress (I had asked people not to link to it, but nobody paid any attention, so I'm officially withdrawing that request), but I'm going to keep it up here as I go along. I'll remove this paragraph when it's ready for prime time. Hopefully I'll have time to polish it up after finals (2005.11). In the meantime, all the information presented is accurate to the best of my knowledge.

ORIGINAL POST (2005.05):
Back in 2002, during the FIFA World Cup, Korean stadiums were awash in a sea of red-shirted spectators. There was a giddy month-long national celebration as Korea's home team shattered all expectations and made it to the semi-finals of world soccer.

Amidst all this, considerable irony abounded, with partying fans wearing the Konglishy "Be the Reds!" t-shirts (irony because this nation-loving display had an inadvertent pro-communist message), and, after making a big deal about Korea's name going first in the 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup name, so many people were displaying banners, signs, etc., with Korea spelled with a C: hence the signs rooting for Corea.

Indeed, this Korea-versus-Corea spelling issue is something that bubbles up from time to time. Most recently (as of this writing), a member of the National Assembly even put forward a bill in 2003 to change the official spelling of the country's name to Corea. (The linked article refers to the "allegation that Korea is a vestige of Japanese colonial rule over the nation.")

The K-v-C issue is not new. In fact, it has become a symbol of pride for uber-patriotic Koreans to label themselves Corean and their homeland Corea. Google yields 6.08 million hits for Corea, 220,000 hits for Corean, and 12,500 hits for Corean-American in quotations (though google did ask, "Did you mean, 'Korean-American'?"). Corea is a badge of honor to wear in the fight against imperialistic and racist forces, both real and imaginary.

But I am getting ahead of myself. I am introducing a value judgment about the K-v-C issue without having first explained how I came to the realization/conclusion that this entire issue is hogwash. A red herring designed to whip up anti-Japanese sentiment.

The argument goes that Japanese authorities conspired to use their nation's power in order to change Korea's traditional spelling of Corea to Korea so that Japan would come before Korea in any international forum.

Indeed, it is an irrefutable fact that Korea was at one time spelled as Corea, largely because of French influence in the 19th century. The usage of Corea is an indisputable part of the historic record, with numerous official items showing the official and unofficial spelling of Corea. Sometime in the late 19th century and early 20th century, however, both official Korean usage and unofficial usage clearly came to favor Korea.

That Japan was behind the spelling change in order to come out ahead of Korea is an interesting hypothesis, but it is full of holes in the form of logic and fact. The story is verifiably false for the following reasons:

1. No one has ever been able to come up with hard, conclusive evidence that such conscious decisions were ever made.
When the Japanese government denied official involvement in the mobilization of Comfort Women during World War II, historians combed through document after document to prove them wrong. Japanese historians xxx and xxx found the evidence to show that the Japanese government's denial of official sanction was a lie.

If the Japanese still had records that would implicate the government in something so heinous as the creation and mobilization of the Comfort Women corps, it would stand to reason that the decision to change Corea to Korea would be documented somewhere, too. Yet it has not turned up.

The member of the ROK National Assembly who proposed in 2003 that Korea be changed to Corea does say he has seen a document indicating that Japanese officials complained of Koreans using "Corea" to spell the country's name, which was seen as a sign of nationalism. I have not seen this, but it may well have been that the official was complaining of Koreans not using Chosen, the Japanese pronunciation of Choson, not that he was complaining of Korean spelling. This is purely speculative on my part, but well grounded. Nevertheless, you will see that this is not relevant.

Link to Barbara Demmick article on K-v-C issue, which includes mention of the apocryphal story (my description, not hers) that Japan changed the spelling in time for the 1908 Olympics in London. Note that the Korean Olympic Committee was formed in 1946, before the Republic of Korea was officially established, and in time for the 1948 Olympics when Korea made its Olympic debut (South Korea also participated in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, despite the Korean War raging at the time). Simply put, Korea was not one of the 22 countries that participated in the 1908 London Olympiad.

Of course, the lack of such records is not at all irrefutable evidence. Arguably, it is not evidence at all, since there could be a whole host of reasons why a document may exist (or once existed) but hasn't turned up. Fortunately, this is the weakest piece of evidence why the Korea-versus-Corea issue is nothing more than a red herring. I only mention it because it is the first sign that the pro-Corea argument simply doesn't hold water.

2. As ruler over a Korea that had been absorbed into Japan, there would be no reason for Japan to be concerned with how Korea's name appeared in international forums.
Sohn Kee-chung (Son Kijŏng), known as Kitei Son in Japanese.

1930s medal commemorating Olympic marathon gold medalist Kitei Son (the Japanese pronunciation of Son Kijŏng), an ethnic Korean who, as a Japanese citizen, participated on behalf of Japan. His English name is officially spelled Sohn Kee-chung.

3. The name Korea was used in official government materials long before the Japanese took over Korea.

stamps (although Japanese helped make them)

1884 Korean stamp labeled as Corean Post.

1900 stamp from Imperial Korean Post.

Chosŏn imperial-era 50-poon stamp identifying country as Korea.

Postcard issued by Imperial Korean Post.

Imperial Korean passport issued by The Imperial Korean Foreign Office.
This evidence is not new. In fact, pro-Coreans counter this argument by pointing out that Japanese influence in Korea was strong well before 1910 when Japan annexed Korea, and even before 1904 when Japan began plans in earnest to not just control Korea but absorb it into Japan. Going back to Japan's 1895 victory over China in the Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese government and Japanese individuals had been exerting considerable influence on Korea's politics and its economy.

That is why exhibit #4 is rather important.

4. The Japanese authorities continued to use Chōsen or the Corea spelling during their rule of Korea.

This is where my argument goes beyond that of most others who have debunked the Corea myth. The ultimate way of demonstrating that the Japanese authorities were not behind the Korea spelling for any kind of malicious alphabetic purpose is that they continued to refer to Korea using two spellings that begin with C.

Chōsen, for those of you who are not aware, is the Japanese pronunciation of 朝鮮, the Chinese characters that represent Chosŏn (Joseon in the atrocious NAKL writing system) the name of the Korean kingdom (1392-1910) begun by Yi Sŏnggye (later King T'aejo) at the end of the 14th century. The Japanese continued to use 朝鮮 to refer to Korea, as do the North Koreans even today (although the North Koreans tend to write it in Korean script, 조선).

1937 "green card" (U.S. alien registration card) of Japanese national listing Chosen as country of birth.

The same U.S. Immigrant Identification Card of ethnic Korean of Japanese nationality showing country of birth as Chosen.

Imperial Japanese passport with U.S. visa stamp issued by American Consul at Seoul, Chosen.

1939 postcard with Chosen stationery.

Japanese occupation-era postcard with Keijyo, Chosen postmark (Keijyo, a later alternate spelling of Keijō, is the Japanese pronunciation of Kyŏngsŏng, or 京城 , the Japanese name for Seoul).

Japanese occupation-era postcard with Corea in postmark.

Japanese occupation-era postcard with Custom House stamp issued by Umaji Takahira at Fusan, Corea (Fusan is the Japanese pronunciation of Pusan).

Japanese consul stamp from Kensan, Corea.

Postcard of Chemulpo, Corea with postmark from Chemulpo, Corea (Chemulp'o is the older name of port area in modern-day Inch'ŏn).

1923 postcard postmarked from Kinsen, Corea (Kinsen is the Japanese pronunciation of Inch'ŏn).
To sum up:
1. There is zero solid, documentary evidence that Japan officialdom ever set out to change Corea's spelling to Korea.

2. Having absorbed Korea, Japan would have no need to worry about whether Korea would come above it or below it in an international forum.

3. Korea's royal and imperial governments began using the Korea spelling before Japan started wielding sufficiently hefty influence over Korea around 1904.

4. The Japanese continued to spell Korea's name with a C (as Chōsen or Corea) when they controlled Korea.
The evidence is clear for anyone who wants to look into it. This is all the more reason it is so irresponsible for organizations and companies to jump on the Corea bandwagon: they are unwittingly buying into an argument exists to promote animosity toward another country.

It is also true that some, such as the artist linked here, feel that even if it is not true that the Japanese imposed the Korea spelling, the Corea spelling "represents the lost memories of a pre-occupation pre-war unified Corea, without North and South, without a communism versus freedom connotation. At the very least, it gets people to ask why I spell it like that and learn a little about Corean history, even if they disagree or do not care."

That may be fine, but what kind of history are they learning? The Corea spelling as a modern issue is inextricably tied to attempts to whip up animosity against another country.

And what exactly does Corea hearken back to? It was the spelling of the country when its people were suffering under the weight of a corrupt and oppressive monarchy that was often unable or unwilling to meet the challenges of a new era, which helped Korea become swallowed up by Japan.

Please don't get me wrong, a great deal of horrific things happened at the hands of imperial Japan prior to 1945. And it can be argued that modern-day Japan's current leadership is not facing up to that legacy with the genuine contrition that would be needed for Japan to move forward with the countries it once invaded, occupied, and brutalized. But I feel that the actual atrocities of occupation, forced labor, mobilization of the Comfort Women sex slaves, etc., are enough by themselves to make Koreans take pause when regarding Japan without making up new insults and injuries.

If anything, these fabrications diminish what has actually happened to real people at the hands of the Japanese. It is an insult to the Comfort Women and the forced laborers, for example, because it says to those people, "Sorry, but your actual suffering is not enough for us to whip up anger against Japan, so we have to make stuff up."


Saturday, May 7, 2005

Keep them dogies trollin', rawhide!

I have been called a troll over at Curzon's place. Mutant Frog himself assures us that neither I nor Plunge are trolls.
Kushibo and Plunge are hardly trolls. They're having a debate, trolling is when you start calling someone gay or insulting their mother, comparing someone to Hitler or Stalin, wishing them dead, etc- basically the kind of activity that destroys civil discourse. You shouldn't accuse someone of that just for disagreeing.
That's right. Everyone knows that comparing someone to Hitler or Stalin is a big no-no, on the Internet or in real life.

Unless you're comparing Hitler to Stalin, I suppose. Or vice-versa.

This post is utterly pointless. And no one will probably read it. But Nora says that I must write something on my blog periodically or else it will be up for grabs thanks to terra nullius.