Yongusil 74: From Dacia to Daejon, Korean Studies in Romania

By | September 08, 2015 | No Comments

While the eyes of the world focused on Panmunjom and an allegedly extraordinary meeting there, scholars of Korea around the world continued their propensity for healthy and regular discussions. A recent Central European University of Bucharest has concluded another fascinating gathering of Koreanists. Marking its fourth year in the existence CEU-Bucharest’s Korea Foundation Global E-School in Eurasia, a program headed by Professor Youngmi Kim, the conference highlighted CEU-Budapest’s intriguing and almost unique academic connections to the Central Asian republics and institutions such as the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek.

Bucharest provides an extraordinary post-Communist landscape. In Romania’s central government district just across the road from Nicholai Ceausescu’s fallen edifice of dictatorial power, in the equally overwhelming Academia Romania building, academics from across Europe and the wider world whose focus is the Korean Peninsula met to consider past and future challenges to sovereign space.

Readers of Sino-NK would have been intrigued by the prevalence of half buried narratives from Korea’s colonial and immediately post-colonial past. Mark Caprio of Rikkyo University, Tokyo, fleshed out the tumultuous moments of Korea’s immediate post-liberation, as new forms of occupation were put in place and old imperial ambitions were deconstructed. Similarly, Lauren Richardson of the University of Edinburgh considered vectors for connection derived from the last moments of colonialism and the brief moments in which North Korean citizens, once resident in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the moment of the United States atomic solution to the war in the Pacific became the focus for Japanese-North Korean diplomacy. Professor Dong-no Kim of Yonsei University–in one of the conferences’ most extraordinary presentations–sought, as others have done, to delve into the world of Weberian inheritance for possible suggestions and solutions for Japanese and Korean resolution, theorizing that re-negotiating the different historical conceptions of justice across the East Sea/Sea of Japan (Korea’s ‘substantive justice’ in juxtaposition to Japanese “formal justice”) might bring diplomatic and connective fruits which have been as of yet elusive. Finally, Miriam Lőwensteinová of the Metropolitan University, Prague gave what appeared a unique account of Korean conceptions of modernity from the diaries of Yun Ch’iho and Min Yonghwan as they attended the coronation of Tsar Nicholas the second in Moscow, 1896 during the brief moment in which late Yi-era Choson sought and obtained support and favor from Imperial Russia.

No gathering of Koreanists would be complete in our contemporary era without addressing current cultural connections as well as political or historical ones. The conference at Bucharest was blessed with an extensive focus on such matters, as Chris Larsen of Hangkuk University of Foreign Studies considered the role of sport and sporting diplomacy as a set of practices through which both Korea’s might develop their relations. Professor Stephen Epstein of the Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand explored the nature and journeys of K-pop fandom and awareness to the nations of the southern half of the globe, while Virgine Borges di Castilho of Brazil’s Federal University of Pelotas examined the case of Brazilian engagement with new Korean cultural traditions. Professor Epstein later treated those present at the conference to a screening of his co-produced documentary (with Timothy Tangherlini of UCLA), Us and Then: Korean Indie Rock in a K-Pop World, proving perhaps with its joyful moments of Hongdae Oi! and punk rock that the musical and cultural exchanges between Korea and the wider world are not a one-way street from Gangnam.

Equally worth a mention for their academic ambition were Catalina Stanciu of the Academy of Korean Studies and Jung-suk Yoo’s of Erciyes University in Turkey, who undertook a careful analysis of some of the structures and linguistic processes of modern Korean literature. Finally, and perhaps again proving Korea’s cultural encounter with the wider world is more than unilateral, Adele Lee of the University of Greenwich unpacked Shakespearean influence on the 2005 film King and the Clown. Lee posited that in similar fashion to Japanese translation practices, Korean theatre and film production is mature and assured enough to playfully de-construct and reconstruct the global cultural inheritance of Britain’s legendary theatric bard.

Alongside Youngmi Kim and Central European University, Budapest, Ecaterina Balica and Valentina Marinescu of the Institute of Sociology at the Romanian Academy and University of Bucharest deserve enormous congratulations for having put together this stimulating event. The author of this Yongusil for one is certainly looking forward to the 2016 return to the banks of the Danube and the next CEU/Korea Foundation event in Budapest, Hungary.

Correction notice: This article originally identified the 2005 film by Lee Joon-ik as King and the Crown. It is King the Clown.