New Nationalism and New Democracy: Assessing An Jae-hong’s Legacy

By | September 29, 2015 | No Comments

A photo of Korean nationalist An Jae-hong, in 1946. | Image: Wikicommons

A photo of Korean nationalist An Jae-hong (1946). | Image: Wikicommons

Histories of the “modern” Korean nation-state are concerned mainly with the colonial period. Andre Schmid’s Korea Between Empires and Henry Em’s The Great Enterprise are a few representative works in a long list of scholarship. These modernist interpretations of national formation underscore the efforts of Korean elites, like Shin Ch’ae-ho, in laying the ethno-cultural foundations of the modern Korean nation-state. Subsequent scholarship would show how a sense of ethnic self was instrumentalized by Park Chung-hee in South Korea and Kim Il-sung in North Korea for state- and nation-building purposes.

But what about the period(s) in-between? One equally important but little explored period is the time immediately following liberation before the establishment of two independent states in North and South Korea: the era of liberation (1945-1948). It was an time of opportunity and possibility, similar to the post-March 1st colonial Korea–except this time it was more than just ideas about national autonomy; liberation had arrived. The colonial period and the immediate liberation era were intertwined, no doubt, but liberation from Japanese colonial rule created new political conditions, opening doors for some and closing them for others.

To provide a glimpse into this period and the ideas prominent at the time, Dr. Kim Natalia (School of Asian Studies, NRU “Higher School of Economics” in Moscow) explores the ideas of the Korean intellectual An Jae-hong, a scholar-gentleman whose career spans colonization and was entwined with debates over Korean nationalism, channeling the insights from her work on the period and her book, South Korea, 1945-1948: A Political History. Focusing specifically on An’s cultural nationalism, as revealed in his work, Dr. Kim shows how An’s thoughts on the Korean nation and the ideal political type (his “new nationalism” and “new democracy”) were influenced by Korea’s historical experience and the global political realities of his day.

In addition to her interest in the liberation era, Dr. Kim is also working on two research projects, entitled “Gender and Politics in the Contemporary History of Korea (DPRK & ROK),”and “Roh Moo-hyun’s ‘Participatory Government:’ Seeking Growth and National Development in the 21st Century.” — Steven Denney, Managing Editor

New Nationalism and New Democracy: Assessing An Jae-hong’s Legacy

by Natalia Kim

The “era of liberation” [해방 시대] is critical to understanding the circumstances surrounding the establishment of the Republic of Korea and the subsequent political development of that state. The liberation of Korea from Japanese colonialism in 1945 ushered in unprecedented political activity of the Korean people in the zone controlled by American occupying forces; Koreans had never before enjoyed such freedoms of expression, assembly, and association. As a result, liberation catalyzed the rapid creation of a large number of political and public organizations, stirring a violent competition among them for political power.

Because Korea was liberated by the Allies, and its future depended mainly on the will of the Great Powers, the role of the Koreans themselves within the liberation is disputed. None of the Korean nationalists could officially agree what role Koreans themselves had played. Complicating matters, many of those who called themselves nationalists and actively participated in South Korean politics after the liberation were former Korean collaborators. For example, the leadership of the Korean Democratic Party (한국민주당), one of the most influential political parties in the period of liberation, included several well-known Korean collaborators (Chang Teok-su, Kim Seong-su, etc.). Officially, Korean cannot be said to have done nothing to bring about liberation. Take Yeo Un-hyeong (여운형) for instance, a Korean centrist who created the Korean Restoration Brotherhood (조선건국동맹) before liberation, indicating his and others’ political preparedness for what seemed like the inevitable. What is more, the Provisional Government of Kim Koo had its own army.

In other words, to varying degrees, most of the Korean nationalists contributed to liberation. Those who did not truly contribute officially could not declare as much. With regard to this perception of the liberation, Korean nationalists as well as communists engaged actively in the political struggle for the implementation of their own projects and nation-building strategies. Thus, political contradictions between the rightists (nationalists) and the leftists in South Korea during the era of liberation can be understood as a struggle for the implementation of a single, specific model of nation-building and governance.

Article in the Dong-a Ilbo about the founding of the New Korea Society (신간회). | Image: Wikicommons

Article in the Dong-a Ilbo about the founding of the New Korea Society (신간회). | Image: Wikicommons

An Jae-hong’s concept of “New Democracy” and Korean Nationalistic Doctrines | An Jae-hong (안재홍; 安在鴻, 1891-1965) was a prominent Korean nationalist who was well-prepared to expound his own concept of nation-building after liberation. In 1914, after graduating from the Department of Political Economy at Waseda University in Japan, he came back to Korea and subsequently joined the Korean national liberation movement in the 1920s. Under Japanese rule, An Jae-hong served in various executive roles at the Chosun Ilbo. Having been arrested several times for his anti-Japanese activities, he spent a cumulative total of eleven years in prison in the span of time from 1919 to 1945. An Jae-hong was a moderate rightist whose name was rather well-known in the Korean national liberation movement due to his executive position in the New Korea Society (Sin’ganhoe; 신간회), a single and unique united front of nationalists and radicals in the colonial period. Having spent the entirety of the years between 1914 and 1945 in Korea, his background would serve him well in the environment of liberation.

In September, 1945 he created the National Party (국민당), whose political program was based on his theory of New Nationalism and New Democracy (신민족주의-신민주주의론). In order to understand the program’s rhetoric, or its appeal to Koreans in the liberation environment, it is necessary to backtrack and establish the root doctrines to which An would appeal.

Korean nationalism emerged in response to the rapidly changing international environment at the end of the 19th century: colonization of the East and Southeast Asia by the Western powers, imposition of unequal treaties on China, and the Chinese–Japanese rivalry over Korea. All of this required flexibility of domestic and foreign policies from Korean politicians, and skillful adaptation to the ongoing situation. At different stages of Korea’s development, the nationalists set related but sometimes different tasks for implementation. What these tasks consisted of was contingent upon the international situation around Korea and its own domestic policies.

The international environment created challenges to the preservation of Korean statehood, while the internal political situation in the late 19th century impeded the construction of a modern national state. Differing conceptions of the international challenges at hand, and of issues relating to internal development, resulted in various approaches to government reform. As Michael E. Robinson noted, “among Korean intellectuals nationalism was not a fixed idea but was subject to a rich variety of differing interpretations.”1)Michael E. Robinson, Cultural Nationalism in Colonial Korea, 1920-1925 (Seattle, WA; London: University of Washington Press, 2014), 11.

The Japanese colonial regime challenged the unity of Korean nationalists. Having been influenced by the sophisticated cultural policy of Japanese authorities, many Korean nationalists inside the country in the 1920s gradually re-evaluated their attitudes towards the current regime and the steps that they should take toward national independence. Instead of promoting narratives of fierce and continuous struggle against Japanese colonialism, Korean nationalists formulated the idea that cultural self-improvement and spiritual self-cultivation of the Korean nation were preconditions for achieving national independence. As a result, it led to the formation of such an ideological phenomenon in Korean nationalism as cultural nationalism, which had various interpretations of the current tasks of the Korean national liberation movement.

An Jae-hong’s ideas propounded in the 1920–1930s may be described as a moderate cultural nationalism. In 1930s, An took an active part in the different movements for promoting knowledge of Lee Sun-sin’s and Dasan’s heritages, the spread of Korean language, and the saenghwal kaesin undong, or life renewal movement (생활 개신 운동; 生活改新运动).

An Jae-hong’s cultural nationalism was strongly criticized by the Korean socialists, who labeled all the activities of cultural nationalists as reformist and fascist movements. An thought that the Korean nation, beset by its complicated and seemingly insurmountable historical conditions, had to strengthen its national unity and inner power through promoting its cultural heritage and spiritual self-improvement, rather than following the precedent of the Bolshevik Revolution.

An Jae-hong wrote that, in order to survive in the current international arena, the Korean nation would need to demonstrate its eagerness to purify itself both by promoting its national culture and by developing extensive exchanges with the most progressive cultures of the modern world. An could thus be understood as promoting nationalism so as to preserve the Korean people from total destruction and, at the same time, to further progressive development.2)Park Chan-seung, Nation and Nationalism [민족민족주의] (Seoul, 2010), 183-192.

Opposing the international spread of communist ideology, promoted by the leftist wing of the Korean national liberation movement, he emphasized the nation’s importance based on the following criteria: unity of blood (국민의 동일 혈통), cultural legacy, common conscience, and unique affinity with one another. Combined with cherishing the best in national culture, An argued that the Korean nation ought to learn from progressive cultures to become an equal partner in international relations. Thus he wanted to point out that the path toward true globalization, or internationalization, opens not through abolishing national differences based on class, but through encouraging national self-purification together with the effective assimilation of progressive experiences with foreign cultures. This is “minsejuui”(a shortened form of minjok segyejuui, that is, 민세주의 and 민족세계주의, respectively), or the concept which comprises the coexistence of an exclusive nationalism with a growing interconnectedness of different cultures in the development of humanity on a global scale.  I do not exclude that Kim Jong-il read An Jae-hong’s works, connecting with the concept of “minsejuui” and utilising it skilfully in the production and articulation of North Korean Juche thought and other composite ideologies. 

The liberation of Korea from Japanese colonialism in August 1945 raised two central questions for the nationalists regarding the furthering of Korea’s development, namely: (1) the future form of governance; and (2) the necessity of preventing any national divisions. Trying to resolve the first issue, many Korean nationalists (i.e., moderate rightists) shared the concept of the three principles of equity, or samgyunjuui (삼균주의)3)Samgyunjuui, or the theory of the three principles of equity, can be provisionally divided into two parts: the first part contains a program of actions for achieving national independence and re-establishing the Korean state, and the second provides the essential principles of governance. These principles are the principles of equal economic rights, equal political rights, and equal rights to education. Though they are the fundamental principles of democracy, and did not add anything new to the existing perceptions of democracy in the West or in Soviet Russia. Their implementation had a critical meaning for the historical development of Korea. According to Jeo Seo-an, the enforcement of the three principles of equality would destroy the long-lasting Confucian tradition with its strict social hierarchy, thus facilitating the development of Korea as a nation-state on the basis of new principles of national unity. Some ideas of samgyunjuui clearly indicate its social-democratic orientation: namely, requiring state ownership of land and the largest industries, and the obligation of the government to cover expenditures of the citizens on education. In general, samgyunjuui was an idealized (statist) program of nation-building which is more reasonably understood as an ideological framework for some actions than a set of practical initiatives. See more in Chun Dokkyu, Power and Intellectuals: the Rationales of Participation of Intellectuals in Politics after the Liberation [권력과 지식인. 해방정국에서 정치적 지식인의 참여논리] (Seoul, 2011), 310-317. immediately after the liberation, thus demonstrating their support of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea.

Jeo Seo-ang (조소앙; 趙素昻, 1887-1958), a member of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea acting in exile since 1919, expounded on samgyunjuui. Appearing in the second half of the 1920s, in an attempt to subdue the ongoing ideological divisiveness within the Korean national liberation movement, Jeo elaborated a nationalistic doctrine which comprised ideas of Western liberal democracy and social democracy. The theory of samgyunjuui remained an ideological platform of the Provisional Government throughout its history (1919–1948). In November, 1941 the Provisional Government adopted a “Program for Establishing the Republic of Korea” (대한민국 공국강령), which declared the principles of samgyunjuui an essential basis of nation-building.4)The Program for Establishment of the Republic of Korea (대한민국 건국강령) is available at http://blog.daum.net/didakfaos. It is important to note that the Constitution of the Republic of Korea in the 1987 revision clearly states the continuity of the South Korean statehood with the legislative activity of the Provisional Government.5)See the preamble of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea (1987) http://www.law.go.kr/lsEfInfoP.do?lsiSeq=61603#0000.

When An Jae-hong put forth his own doctrine of New Nationalism and New Democracy in September 1945, he had also been much affected by Jeo Seo-ang’s idea of three principles of equity. Thus, he demonstrated the theoretical continuity of a Korean nationalistic ideology and its autonomous way of development. As we have seen, samgyunjuui contained the fundamental principles of democracy. An Jae-hong thought that democracy was a model of development worldwide at that time, and was to be applied to Korea while taking national context into account. In answer to the question, “What is New Democracy?” An Jae-hong said:

This is the so-called samgyunjuui. In other words, New Democracy is a harmonious system of governance, in which all people in a state participate in the governmental process6)In the original text An Jae-hong used the term “manminkonghwataejungkongsaeng” (만민공화대중공생; 萬民共和大衆共生) to describe in whole a democratic governance. This term derives from the Confucianism and was often used in An Jae-hong’s text instead of the term “democracy.” “Manminkonghwa” was to stress a harmonious participation of all the members of society without class distinction or discrimination in state governance. based on the principles of samgyunjuui.7)An Jae-hong, The History, Science and New Nationalism [역사와 과학과의 신민족주의] in The Complete Works [민세안재홍선집], Vol. 2, (Seoul, 1983), 235.

In a situation of intensifying political opposition between the rightists and the leftists and increasing US influence on South Korean domestic politics, An attempted to keep a balance between two competing models of nation-building—capitalism and socialism.

Though the American model of nation-building inspired many Korean nationalists on the right before, and especially after, the liberation of Korea, An Jae-hong thought that in a heightened state of international tension it would be too risky to choose just a single strategy of governance. He perceptively noted that a choice in favor of a single model of development could result in Korea’s further dependency on the USSR or the United States. Their fear at the loss of their long-awaited national independence provoked some Korean nationalists, like An, to seek a way out through ideological compromise with leftists’ ideas, which, incidentally, had wide popularity among Korean workers and peasants after the liberation.

An pointed to the equality of economic conditions under socialism as the major advantage of this system. Though one can find An Jae-hong’s statement rather disputable today, he was sure at the time that economic equality was guaranteed better by the socialist system than the capitalist one. Meanwhile, he pointed to political equality as a particular advantage of the “capitalist democracy” (자본주의 민주주의) of the West.8)Kim Jeon, An Jae-hong’s Theory of New Nationalism and the Critics of Communism after the Liberation [해방 안재홍의 신민족주의론과 공산주의 비판], Bulletin of the Society of Korean History [한국사학보] no. 12 (2002): 208-210.

An Jae-hong’s proposal to nationalize former Japanese property as well as the largest industries can be understood as a manifestation of his inclination toward the social-democratic model of development. But most Korean political leaders, from the rightists to the leftists, shared the view that the largest industries must be nationalized. In this sense, An’s position did not put him in contradiction with other rightist nationalists—and, incidentally, it did not tie him politically closer to the leftists. An did not support the idea that Korean communists would confiscate the lands of the large Korean owners over a fixed size without compensation and would distribute them among the peasants for free. Instead, he suggested that the government reimburse the costs of confiscated lands but distribute them among the Korean peasants for free. This kind of solution to the land issue was widely supported by the Korean centrist parties after the liberation.

Meeting of the U.S.-Soviet Joint Commission. From the left: Syngman Rhee, Kim Gu, Terenti Fomitch Stykov, and An Jae-hong.

Meeting of the U.S.-Soviet Joint Commission. From the left: Syngman Rhee, Kim Gu, Terenti Fomitch Stykov, and An Jae-hong.

What’s New about An Jae-hong’s concept of “New Nationalism?” | An Jae-hong’s concept of a New Nationalism arose as a response to the widely spreading ideas of Korean leftists on the internalization of class struggle and the creation of a new global society without national borders. An was strongly convinced that a theory of class struggle could not be applied to the analysis of the socioeconomic conditions of Korea after liberation. He wrote in The New Nationalism and New Democracy that, under Japanese colonialism, the entire Korean nation was a subject of disgrace and exploitation. Moreover, the entire nation was of a lower class, and at the moment of liberation it constituted an underclass. The historical task of post-liberation Korea was to establish a united nation-state using the concerted effort of the whole lower class, and to achieve complete national liberation and independence.9)An Jae-hong, The New Nationalism and New Democracy [신민족주의와 신민족주의] in The Complete Works, vol. 2, 49.

Although the social structure of Korean society after liberation was very fragmented and had all the trappings of economic inequality, An Jae-hong believed that stressing class differences under the political and international conditions at the time would inevitably destroy the Korean nation’s unity, which it needed to preserve for further establishment of the nation-state. In attempting to protect the entity of the Korean nation, An Jae-hong found it politically important to encourage Korean nationalism based on the unity of blood and cultural heritage. He thought that a nation cannot be divided or stratified by applying a class principle, or any other principle of division. Assuming that nation undergoes changes in the process of historical development, especially under the influence of the most progressive cultures, An Jae-hong argued that it remains immutable in its essential characteristics—indivisibility and irreducibility.

An Jae-hong’s views on the nature of Korean nationalism after the liberation are connected to his ideas propounded in the 1930s—that is, to minsejuui (민세주의). The question that arises, then, is what exactly was new in his perception of nationalism. First, he pointed out that Korean nationalism must differ from German and Japanese nationalisms, both of which were very aggressive, self-righteous, and based on ethnic and racial exclusiveness. Both German and Japanese nationalisms failed in their efforts to conquer the world and subdue other nations.10)Ibid., 22-28. Contrary to this type of nationalism, Ahn argued that Korean nationalism must uphold universal values of mankind while at the same time preserving national self-esteem. Second, earlier manifestations of Korean nationalism were based on the exclusive rights of the rich, powerful (clan/ancestry), and intellectually influential. Wealth (부; 富), intellect (지; 智), and power (권; 權) of a privileged class were fundamental principles of governance, which were perceived to be the cause of either economic or political inequality in the society.11)An Jae-hong, The History, Science and New Nationalism [역사와 과학과의 신민족주의] in The Complete Works, 241-242.

An Jae-hong argued that the New Nationalism ought to be based on the equality of human rights, which were conceptually reflected in the theory of three principles of equity. It has become clear that New Nationalism and New Democracy are dialectically connected concepts of An’s nationalistic doctrine: a rise of New Nationalism entails New Democracy, and vice versa.

An-Jae-hong_tombstone

Ahn Jae-hong’s tombstone in the Cemetery of Korean Patriots who Escaped from South to North Korea (재북인사들의묘), immortalizing the “teacher” (선생) as a “patriot” (애국지사). | Image: Natalia Kim

Conclusion | An Jae-hong’s political views allowed him to build a relatively successful career under the American Military Government (AMG). Occupying the post of Civil Administrator in the AMG, An Jae-hong had managed to sustain close ties with both American military authorities and the extreme rightists, who rapidly gained clout in domestic politics after the liberation. Unlike many Korean nationalists among the moderate rightists, An Jae-hong supported separate elections to the National Assembly on May 10, 1948, and pursued his political career in the Republic of Korea.

In the midst of Korean War, he had escaped (officially, he was abducted) to North Korea and never came back to the South. Though there is little available information regarding his life in North Korea, it is known that he died in 1965 and was buried as a patriot—one who struggled for the reunification of the Korean nation.12)An Jae-hong was buried in the Cemetery of Korean Patriots who Escaped from South to North Korea (재북인사들의묘), while Kim Gyu-sik and Jeo Seo-ang were buried in another cemetery, the Cemetery of the Outstanding Korean patriots (애국열사릉).

Reflecting on contemporary South Korea, I consider An Jae-hong’s views on the nature of Korean nationalism to be relevant for present time and to the current tasks of South Korea’s national development. Although unity of blood and Korean ancestry have been gradually re-evaluated as so-called irreducible attributes of the Korean nation, due to the process of globalization, it remains a pressing task to preserve Korean nationalism in order to prevent falling into deep dependence on external powers. For An Jae-hong, true nationalism implies both national self-respect (cherishing cultural heritage and national independence) and recognizing a growing interconnectedness of all nations in order to thereby foster their mutual prosperity and well-being.

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1. Michael E. Robinson, Cultural Nationalism in Colonial Korea, 1920-1925 (Seattle, WA; London: University of Washington Press, 2014), 11.
2. Park Chan-seung, Nation and Nationalism [민족민족주의] (Seoul, 2010), 183-192.
3. Samgyunjuui, or the theory of the three principles of equity, can be provisionally divided into two parts: the first part contains a program of actions for achieving national independence and re-establishing the Korean state, and the second provides the essential principles of governance. These principles are the principles of equal economic rights, equal political rights, and equal rights to education. Though they are the fundamental principles of democracy, and did not add anything new to the existing perceptions of democracy in the West or in Soviet Russia. Their implementation had a critical meaning for the historical development of Korea. According to Jeo Seo-an, the enforcement of the three principles of equality would destroy the long-lasting Confucian tradition with its strict social hierarchy, thus facilitating the development of Korea as a nation-state on the basis of new principles of national unity. Some ideas of samgyunjuui clearly indicate its social-democratic orientation: namely, requiring state ownership of land and the largest industries, and the obligation of the government to cover expenditures of the citizens on education. In general, samgyunjuui was an idealized (statist) program of nation-building which is more reasonably understood as an ideological framework for some actions than a set of practical initiatives. See more in Chun Dokkyu, Power and Intellectuals: the Rationales of Participation of Intellectuals in Politics after the Liberation [권력과 지식인. 해방정국에서 정치적 지식인의 참여논리] (Seoul, 2011), 310-317.
4. The Program for Establishment of the Republic of Korea (대한민국 건국강령) is available at http://blog.daum.net/didakfaos.
5. See the preamble of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea (1987) http://www.law.go.kr/lsEfInfoP.do?lsiSeq=61603#0000.
6. In the original text An Jae-hong used the term “manminkonghwataejungkongsaeng” (만민공화대중공생; 萬民共和大衆共生) to describe in whole a democratic governance. This term derives from the Confucianism and was often used in An Jae-hong’s text instead of the term “democracy.” “Manminkonghwa” was to stress a harmonious participation of all the members of society without class distinction or discrimination in state governance.
7. An Jae-hong, The History, Science and New Nationalism [역사와 과학과의 신민족주의] in The Complete Works [민세안재홍선집], Vol. 2, (Seoul, 1983), 235.
8. Kim Jeon, An Jae-hong’s Theory of New Nationalism and the Critics of Communism after the Liberation [해방 안재홍의 신민족주의론과 공산주의 비판], Bulletin of the Society of Korean History [한국사학보] no. 12 (2002): 208-210.
9. An Jae-hong, The New Nationalism and New Democracy [신민족주의와 신민족주의] in The Complete Works, vol. 2, 49.
10. Ibid., 22-28.
11. An Jae-hong, The History, Science and New Nationalism [역사와 과학과의 신민족주의] in The Complete Works, 241-242.
12. An Jae-hong was buried in the Cemetery of Korean Patriots who Escaped from South to North Korea (재북인사들의묘), while Kim Gyu-sik and Jeo Seo-ang were buried in another cemetery, the Cemetery of the Outstanding Korean patriots (애국열사릉).

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