Sunday, March 28, 2010

Catholic Church again reveals its ambiguity about An Chunggŭn

The Korea Times is reporting on Cardinal Nicholas Chŏng Chinsŏk [정진석] stirring controversy on the centennial of uber-patriot An Chunggŭn's execution for the assassination of Japan's former Resident-General of Korea, Itō Hirobumi, "Ahn's patriotic act" (the KT author's decidedly subjectivity-soaked words) which many believe triggered or at least provided cover for Imperial Japan's forced annexation of the Taehan Empire, as Korea was officially called at the time:
In his sermon this week, which marks the 100th anniversary of Ahn's patriotic act, Cheong said the church's decision 'to suspend the priesthood of a Western priest for three months for his sympathetic involvement in Ahn's final days before the latter's execution was a "best decision" to protect the priest, Hankyoreh said.
Indeed, it seems the KT writer decided to do a bit of a smear job on Catholics in general rather than addressing the Cardinal's remarks about An Chunggŭn specifically:
Some Catholic priests' acts in Korea under the Japanese colonial era drew mixed views from scholars.

While some Western priests in Korea at that time were sympathetic toward the Korean underground fighters against Japanese occupiers and helped them, some also tipped the activities of the underground Korean fighters to the Japanese authorities, leading to, for example, the arrest of the 105 Korean patriots, it said, citing theologian Park Young-dae.
I don't know who he is, but I'd be willing to bet dollars to donuts that Park Youngdae is either a Presbyterian with an agenda or is relying on "scholarship" produced by Presbyterians with an agenda. While the vast, vast, vast majority of Catholics, Protestants, and Buddhists in Korea have engendered a spirit of mutual co-existence and even friendship (witness President Lee's own recent remarks about the recent deaths of respected Buddhist and Catholic figures), some have sought to take a page out of the Fundamentalists' playbook back in the US, sowing seeds of religious or sectarian intolerance where there hasn't been much in the past century. Bringing up the allegedly collaborationist activities of other Catholic clergy in a discussion about the one related to the case of An Chunggŭn seems an example of that.

In the past (see here and here) I've stated my own views on An Chunggŭn, who I think saw himself as a patriot but who ultimately played a predictable negative role in Korea's history, though he is nevertheless celebrated — and his narrative distorted — solely because he struck a blow to such a prominent Japanese politico of the day.

I think it is wrong that discussion of his role, whether positive or negative, is stifled by people who make use cries of "anti-patriot" or "pro-Japanese" like some sort of neo-McCarthyism. One can reasonably feel, as I do, that Imperial Japan's takeover of Korea was cruel, unnecessary, illegal, reprehensible, and by no means inevitable, while also feeling that An Chunggŭn should not be revered as a hero.

UPDATE (3/29/2010):
The Western Confucian notes that the purpose of the Cardinals words was to express "regret that 'the Korean Catholic Church hadn’t recognized An as a good Catholic.'" Though I disagree with this point and feel it is the Catholic Church in Korea caving in to nationalist sentiments, it seems all the more that the Cardinal and the church has been the target of a sectarian smear.

The Western Confucian also links to a more thorough and accurate retelling of the Cardinal's words.


  1. as a Japanese view, at that time many Japanese did not want to annex of korea.
    japan was already top lanked country. korea was poorest country
    Ito said " why does japan anexxed with korea" however korea wanted to annexed with Japan ewualy.

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  3. I take back what I said earlier. I can't see what your link says (I'm not a member), though.

    Your first point suggests that Japan didn't want to annex Korea because Korea was a poor country. I always understood Japanese imperial ambitions to be based off a need for more natural resources, so a poor country would be even easier to annex.

    Also, Europeans considered Africans to be inferior to the Europeans, yet they colonized almost all of Africa. (This comparison is valid as Japan at this point was following Europe on many paths, imperialism being one of them).

    Also, while I can't speak for the Koreans at the time, I don't think many Koreans were in favor of annexation.

  4. at, firstm as for Shimonoseki traty
    korea became an independent by Japan country..

    Isabella Bird
    Have you read her book about korea?

    she wrote Korea need Japanese protection

    then Japan supported korea so much to live themselves.
    However, when Japan weakens the pressure...

    As an example of petit Sinocentrism, I quote from "Korea and her neighbors" by Isabella Bird who traveled Korea in the end of 19th century.

    - From "Korea and her neighbors"(Chapter36) -

     .. it must be remarked in connection with education in Korea that so lately as the close of 1896 a book, Called Confucianist Scholars' Handbook of Latitudes and Longitudes,had been edited by Sin Ki Sun,Minister of Education, prefaced by two Councillors of the Education Department, and published at Government expense, in which the followlng sentences occur:-

     P.52:"Europe is too far away from the centre of civilization, i.e. the Middle Kingdom;hence Russians, Turks, English,French,Germans,and Belgians look more like birds and beasts than men,and their language sound like the chirping of fowls."

     Again:"According to the views of recent generations,what westerners call the Christian Religion is vulgar,shallow, and erroneous,and is an instance of the vileness of barbarian customs, which are not worthy of serious discussion....
    They worship the heavenly spirits, but do not sacrifice to parents, they insult heaven in every way, andoverturn the social relations. This is truly a type of Barbarian vileness, and is not worth of treatment in our review of foreign customs, especially as at this time the religion is somewhat on the wane.
     "Europeans have planted their spawn in every country of the globe except China.All of them honor this religion(!), but we are surprised to find that the Chinese scholars and people have not escaped contamination by it."

     On p.42 it is said: "Of late the so-called Ye Su Kyo(Christianity)has been trying to contaminate the world with its barbarous teachings. It deceives the masses by its stories of Heaven and Hell: it interferes with the rite sof ancestral worship, and interdicts the custom of bowing before the gods of Heaven and Earth. These are the ravingd of a disordered intellect, and are not worth discusslng."

    P.50: "How grand and glorious is the Empire of China, the Middle Kingdom! She is the largest and richest in the world. The grandest men of the world have all come from the Middle Empire."

    This tirade from an official pen was thought worthy of a remonstrance from the foreign representatives.

    South Korea killed Ito and media all over the world realized that it was impossible that Korea lives themselves well.

    p196 Professor Treat commments,".....every step in the process was 'correct' diplomatically, and the final annexation was consummated by....treaty , nor proclamation."As a matter of record, Japan7s annexation of Korea had considerably more "legal" documentation than most of the empire-building of the Western Powers.

  5. 7Ø7 said...

    Japan annexed korea.
    it was not colony
    korean was Japanese citizen
    they are not slave
    western contries made so many school for african?

    just imagin north and south korea annextion as economicaly

  6. South Korea killed Ito and media all over the world realized that it was impossible that Korea lives themselves well.

    South Korea did not do any such thing. South Korea did not exist, its arrival in this world a direct result of Japan's forced annexation of the Taehan Empire.

    And at any rate, if "Korea's" assassination of Ito makes it impossible for Korea to live themselves well (not sure what you mean), then what does it say about "Japan's" assassination of Queen Min?

    As for Ms Bird, I have read many parts of her book. Here's one:

    It has been said in various quarters, and believed, that the Japanese ministry was shaky, and had to choose between its own downfall and a foreign war. This is a complete sophism. There can be no question that Japan had been planning such a movement for years. She had made accurate maps of Korea, and had secured reports of forage and provisions, measurements of the width of rivers and the depth of fords, and had been buying up rice in Korea for three months previously, while even as far as the Tibetan frontier, Japanese officers in disguise had gauged the strentth and weakness of China, reporting on her armies on paper and, in fact, on her dummy guns, and antique, honeycombed carronades, and knew better than the Chinese themselves how many men each province could put into the field, how drilled and how armed, ...

    Indeed, Imperial Japan was on a mission and looking for an excuse to trigger it. We saw the same thing decades later in the 1930s with the Second Sino-Japanese War.

  7. I haven't read Isabella Bird, so I can't speak for that.

    Regarding Shimonoseki: Korea was more like China's suzerain rather than a true, integrated part of China, and Shimonoseki eliminated Chinese influence. Regardless, Japan did not secure Korean autonomy for benevolent reasons, as you appear to be implying. It was simply the removal of competition. Japan was obviously eyeing Korea. Why not get rid of any rival powers when they could?

    Regarding Ito: A Korean nationalist's assassination of a prominent Japanese politician does not in anyway characterize the nation of Korea as a whole. By that measure, there would be just about no countries worthy of independence.

    "Japan annexed korea.
    it was not colony
    korean was Japanese citizen
    they are not slave
    western contries made so many school for african?

    just imagin north and south korea annextion as economicaly"

    Annex means to add to one's territory. A colony is a "country area under the full political control of another country" (from Oxford). Colonization ≠ slavery.

    Also, are you seriously suggesting that the building of schools (which may not even have been the government's doing or meant for the native people) justifies all the cruelties done to Africa?

    I'm not understanding what you mean by your last sentence. Are you asking us to look at Japanese annexation through an economic perspective, or South Korean annexation of NK economically?


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