A very good read, although it becomes a bit predictable towards the end.
Via this story children learn not only about Korean culture but also about the...moreA very good read, although it becomes a bit predictable towards the end.
Via this story children learn not only about Korean culture but also about the making of Celadon Pottery, a type of cracked green translucent glaze famous in Asia; its an art which Koreans brought to its height, but the Mongol invasions of Korea in the 13th century caused their techniques to be lost to time. (Modern potters try to recreate it but aren't quite able to.)
The story centers around a street orphan, taken in as a baby by a cripple who lives under a bridge. At about the age of 12, he accidentally drops some pottery he had been admiring made by an elderly master potter, who agrees to let him work for him for 9 days to pay off the price. Once the days are over the boy begs to be taken on as the old man's helper, and through his eyes we learn about the process of making the pottery (including collecting the wood for the kilns, cutting the clay from the river banks, washing the clay to purify it, etc).
The story is best up until the 80% mark, the obligatory conflict the young protagonist must overcome. You could see it coming a mile away and it is the title that gives it away. From that point on its pretty obvious what's going to happen next. The ending however, although also predictable, brought tears to my eyes.
The book ends with the historical appendix that is now almost mandatory for any Young adult historical novel; it explains the historical data upon which the book is based, mostly about the pottery, but unfortunately does not include the author's bibliography for her research, nor a suggested readings list. It does include an interview of the author.(less)
A collection of journal articles addressing the cultural impediments to CSR in Asian, specifically how China's recent poverty has resulted in a get ri...moreA collection of journal articles addressing the cultural impediments to CSR in Asian, specifically how China's recent poverty has resulted in a get rich quick mentality with no concern to long term implications (social, environmental, etc) which they are only now beginning to question but do not yet have the infrastructure in place to combat -- not unlike the US during the Robber Baron era; one on Japan which is quite interesting; the other articles though area less useful though, essentially making the point that when your talking about companies in developing countries that are often dependent upon first world contract for their survival, the real onus really aught to be on the first world. Their profit margins are so slim that most can't afford to win the contract without cutting corners in ways the oppress their workers, damage the environment, etc. Their profit margins are often only 1% while first world corporations will earn a 25% profit-- as such they should take 1% of that 25% and put it towards improving conditions for the folks who produce their low cost items--- but they don't.(less)
Quite readable, although a bit rushed and broad brushed, so that I found myself having to backup and re-read chapters a few times in order to wrap my...moreQuite readable, although a bit rushed and broad brushed, so that I found myself having to backup and re-read chapters a few times in order to wrap my brain around it (I'm not good at just remembering facts, I need to be able to identify underlying patters or currents to see how those facts fit a story or pattern -- which made this lack of detail a bit frustrating for me).
The author starts out saying he assumes you have no background in Korean history, but then because of the broad strokes I got the feeling that he was expecting me to fill in the missing details with my own previous knowledge. I think he's sort of FORCED into doing this because a lot of what is historically true runs smack into what Koreans believe is true, and by the norms of Korean culture talking about it directly is therefore impolite -- and these things should not be talked about. I should note I"m basing this on what my college age Korean students tell me, and from talking to them I've learned most of what they know about their own history is from historical movies, TV dramas, etc... which is, just as in the states, a bit distorted; very few of them have ever taken a class on Korean history or cracked open a history book. Fewer still watch the news or read newspapers, so their sense of their own history is predominately from entertainment shows. This puts the author (who is Korean) between a rock and hard place... what is acceptable to the emotionally sensitive Korean brain that has only ever heard things that are flattering to the Korean viewer's sense of self (nationalistic belief), and what is in fact historically true.
I do not come to this book with a blank slate. I've already (before reading this book) from my various students (I teach at the University level) Korean, Chinese, etc., picked up bits of history and had numerous chances to visit a bunch of historical sites both in Seoul and around the peninsula. I had also already developed a distinct sense of a massive disconnect between Korean history as Koreans describe it to me and what I heard about their history from the Chinese, Japanese, etc. Also, if you have since I already have a preexisting knowledge of Chinese and Japanese history (I studied both in college), the more I listened to Koreans talking about their own history the more the pieces just didn't seem to fit.
Therefore, having now lived in Korea for a year and a half -- and having developed a bit of my own prejudices about the stories I was being 'taught' by my hosts, I figured it was time to actually read up on Korean history from what seemed to be authoritative sources.
One of the nice things about this book, from my perspective as someone who studied history a lot (I can teach US history no problem, and can do justice to an overview course on European or Asian history), is that the author makes a point of trying to show where the historical record often does NOT jive with how Korean nationalism has chosen to revise its past to meet current political needs. He discusses where Koreans tend to view certain historical results as inevitable (think preordained) when they were far from it, and shows where they judge their past unfairly with current ideas about political nationalism (which any historian will tell is you is an idea very much of the modern age). He also in his discussion of the Japanese occupation says a lot of things that to my ears rings as far more likely to be true than the narrative I'm used to hearing from Koreans, but which I'm sure will greatly offend most them (in that as previously stated they do NOT jive with the nationalistic narrative). To put it bluntly, according to the author, becoming part of the Japanese empire was viewed by about half or more of the population as the lessor of inevitable two evils, as the other option was to have western/white overlords (Keep in mind that this was the period of the rapid colonization of all of Asia by Europeans... which the exception of Japan which had just exhibited its military prowess by beating the Russians). While the author does not mince words when it comes to the atrocities that began with and then accelerated during WWII, his descriptions of life in the Japanese dominated peninsula BEFORE the war started may cause Koreans to become 'reactive' at best.
Also he diminishes the importance of many Korean heroes of that period as having been essentially NOT influential to any ultimate outcomes, but argues that their deeds were "amplified' after the war as Koreans desperately tried to construct a war-time stance they could be proud of. (Not unlike what one sees in how the French tell their history of WWII.) And that in fact, these figure heads were brought in from outside of Korea and as such were representatives of the Allied forces that had 'liberated' Korea, rather than of the Koreans themselves. (North Korea ends up under Russian communist hegemonic influence, the South to the Americans.) This in turn resulted in a period of intense politics as Korean went from Japanese domination to domination but US and Russian forces who had even less understanding of Korean culture than the Japanese had had, and that ultimately resulted in the Korean war.
The author does ultimately make a good argument for how this period of relying on, and or trusting in, the Japanese to protect them -- only to find themselves betrayed, which was then followed by a different sort of western colonization, resulted in the strong nationalistic tendencies (and tendency to blame everyone but themselves of any and everything wrong in Korea, or its history)that is evident among Koreans today.
Going back a bit, Koreans (here in Korea) tend to reject the strong historical and cultural ties that exist between themselves and Japan historically, preferring to see Japan simply as aggressors.
This book on the other hand discusses how one of Korea's three kingdoms had very strong ties with Japan and hints that the Japanese royal family may have originated in Korea and at the very least were deeply influenced by the Paekach kingdom. Keeping that in mind, the choice of many Korean intellectual and power elites to turn to Japan, as a preferable overlord to the western powers during the colonial period, is far more understandable. The Author goes on to suggest that this in turn may not have been (in retrospect) the worst choice when the post WWII results are considered in their totality -- and of course if you choose to simply forget the atrocities of the war. He (BRIEFLY) points out that a lot of the companies that are Korea's pride and joy today got their start during the Japanese period, and profited greatly from those collaborative connections during the post war period when the Japanese economy was at its strongest. From the modern nationalistic Korean perspective, however, the 1/2 that had supported the Japanese are now being viewed as traitors who betrayed Korea and/or Japanese-collaborators by the 1/2 who never had agreed with inviting in any colonial power -- and they choose to not think about any benefits to modern Korea's economy accrued as a direct result of that period.
In the author's mind however this does not forgive the Japanese behaviors during the war which went from one of allowing a high level of cultural freedom in Korea, even allowing them to develop and codify the Korean alphabet, and language as an outlet for the tensions of colonization ... to then doing a full about face in 1940 and forcing Korean school child to speak Japanese, attend Japanese shrines, bow to the emperor, etc... and for the populace to be forced into giving up their ancestral Korean names in favor or Japanese ones, etc.. nor does he in any way forgive the forced labor, comfort women, etc.
That said, its a good guess on my part that most (less enlightened) Koreans who would read this history would be SO offended by some of what he had to say about the war that none of this last part would matter to them. Its my guess that a lot of Koreans would probably hate this book.
Likewise, while modern Koreans like to claim almost every part of their own culture as being Korean in origin. This book/author makes a pretty good argument for showing how Koreans -- back before any notion of a modern Korean state existed (before the modern notion of nationalism) -- happily adopted everything it could from China, and integrated those ideas into what is now 'Korean culture.' And how that even back then, Korean leaders would point to various thing that were obviously imported and declare them to be uniquely Korean. Again, I doubt most of the Koreans I work with on daily basis, would appreciate this author's (who is a Korean American himself, let's not forget) interpretation of their history; however, based on every academic review I've read, this is considered an authoritative telling of it.