Friday, November 28, 2008

Priceless Pureblood?

A Genuine Pure-Blood Australian
Despite Mixed Appearance
(Image from Wikipedia)

Over two years ago, on April 24, 2006, I posted a blog entry on "The Very First Half-Korean," in which I noted some of the prejudice encountered here in Korea by my children -- who are half-Korean from their mother's side and various mixed-other-ethnicities-adding-up-to-half from my side.

In that same post, I noted that Koreans generally place great emphasis upon their being a "pure-blooded race" despite the irony of the very first Korean having reputedly been half-divine and half-bear-woman, and I asked, "So . . . what's the big deal about Korean purity of blood, anyway?"

That was, more or less, a rhetorical question, but an anonymous gentleman from Australia bothered himself to answer it:
Korea should remain pure blood, mixed race civilization all perish in the past.

Germans, Japanese and now Koreans; all have one common thing, the pure bred. It's priceless.
I say 'gentleman' from Australia, but I suppose that the one posting the comment could have been a 'lady' from Australia . . . and possibly not a native speaker of English, given the errors. Anyway, I replied:
Anonymous, if "pureblood" Koreans don't want to perish, they'd better start reproducing again. Currently, the birthrate is too low for replacement.
I could have added that such is also true of the 'pureblood' Germans and the 'pureblood' Japanese, who are both currently failing to reproduce at replacement rates and are therefore fated to perish from the earth. Meanwhile, the mixed-blood Americans are reproducing at a rate slightly above replacement.

Anyway, comments are welcome, but let's all be polite.

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At 4:53 AM, Anonymous Jeremy said...

The best antidote for a belief in "purebloodedness" is a course in anthropology. Perhaps this should be a required course in all schools, given the current changes in societies everywhere.

"Purebloodedness", though, is still a theme in American public life, given all the discussions about the significance of the first person of less than "pure blood" having just being elected president.

At 5:06 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jeremy, thanks for the comment.

There may be some of that discussion in the States, but has it been dominated by the concept of "pure blood"? Or more by the concept of "mixed blood"?

I grew up knowing that I was part Cherokee, which I understood as "mixed" but not as "impure."

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:44 AM, Anonymous Charles said...

Pure bloodedness is a myth, and doesn't really make sense if you think about it anyway. Even if you use the terms "Korean," "German," and "Japanese" in the ethnic sense (and not in the sense of nationality), there's no such thing as "pure blood." Somewhere along the way, someone got busy with someone from another tribe, village, etc., and bam! Your blood is tainted forever.

I think (hope) that this is something we will start getting over as a race (the human race, I mean) in the future as more and more people become "mixed." That may be a somewhat naive hope, since racism is still strong in many parts of the world, but I'm hoping anyway.

At 12:33 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I agree, Charles. Purebloodedness is a myth. But some people will resist the evidence . . . for whatever reasons.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:08 PM, Blogger Sperwer said...

I can't speak to jeremy's recommendation of a course in anthropology, but I ccan certainly recommend a course in history or, more precisely, historiography. One doesn't have to look far into the subject of Korean nationalist historiography to discover that the concept of pure-blood in Korea (as in many other cultures) is a "construct" (i.e., a polite word for myth, fantasy, outright fabrication) of the late 19th century and early 20th century; that it was a reactionary response to Korea's unhappy encounter with the West; and that it is exemplary incidence of the imagining of one of the central elements in the kit-bag of imaginings from which Benedict Anderson describes modern "nations" being imagined wholesale.

At 1:21 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Sperwer, for reminding me of Anderson's scholarship.

In addition to anthropology and history, one could also look into some of the genetic analysis that's been done on Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, and other 'nations'. Since these three explicitly mentioned, along with others alluded to, have significant genetic overlap, and therefore relatedness, then the talk of 'purebloodedness' is manifestly absurd.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a believer in the Bible, I accept the concept that since we are all descendents of Adam & Eve, then via the three sons of Noah after the flood. we are all related, of one ancestry, thus one blood line. There is no "master race," or "pure bloodline," in my thinking.
Of course, with my Scotch, Irish, English, Welsh, German, and who knows what else lineage, I am one of the mongrels, I suppose.

At 10:16 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

All those parts make up me, too, Uncle Cran . . . plus French and Cherokee and who knows what all?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:02 AM, Blogger writtenwyrdd said...

I think the argument for "racial purity" is a mistaken fear of change. Honestly, how does the change that mixed culture or mixed race really threaten anyone, really? Here in the US though we have people afraid that the minority (non-caucasian, non-European-descent) will "take control" of the nation. The fear appears to be that we as a country won't be America any longer or something else silly.

Change occurs. Sometimes I think it is the only social constant!

At 5:12 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

WW, you may be correct in your analysis that the rejection of 'mixing' is fear of change.

Fear of change, of course, is understandable. If my life is good, change might alter those good circumstances. If my life is not so good, change might make things worse.

Of course, change might also improve my life, but there's no guarantee.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cran wrote: "I accept the concept that since we are all descendents of Adam & Eve, then via the three sons of Noah after the flood. we are all related, of one ancestry, thus one blood line."

You have your own myths, and Koreans have theirs: that they are descendants of Dangun; they are a pure race. Why is your myth more valid than theirs? Please be tolerant.

At 1:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I for one accept the notion that all myths share the same validity.

So. Yours' "Anonymous" is as valid as Cran's, and mine.

There are those even within the US who vociferously disagree with our apparent agreement that a antionalities' specific myth lacks all validity.

At least on this site, these participants demonstrate tolerance, even the occasional outburst from myself.


At 1:00 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, I don't see that Uncle Cran made any explict comment about Korean belief in Dangun or that he was being intolerant, but more to the point, why would a story of mixing -- which the story of Dangun surely is -- imply that Koreans are a pure race?

From an anthropological perspective, the Dangun myth likely reflects a intermixing of two tribes -- an invading tribe, to which Dangun's father belongs, and a local tribe with the bear as totem animal, to which Dangun's mother belongs.

Even if we remain at the level of the myth itself and not attempt to 'anthropologize' it, the story is still one of mixing -- the divine with the bear-woman.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:03 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK, good to see you here again.

Your link, by the way, seems to have gotten broken.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The story of Dangun has absolutely nothing to do with mixing - you misunderstand / distort the main elements of the story. Just ask any Korean, they will explain it to you (without any kind of 'mixing'!).

At 1:50 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, I have explained to you why the Dangun story is a story about mixing, but you have not explained to me why you disagree.

You have suggested that I ask a Korean. Actually, I have spoken to many Koreans about this issue ever since initially learning of it in 1995, when I first taught in Korea.

One Korean at that time (1995) even told me of the anthropological analysis that I recounted to you -- which confirmed my first thought when I initially heard the story.

But since you have suggested that I inquire again of a Korean, I have just now raised my head from my computer and asked my wife, who agrees that the story is a story of mixing.

The Dangun myth is manifestly a story of mixing -- mixing of the bear-woman and the god. Given this prima facie evidence, the burden is on you to explain why the story is not one about mixing.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, if your wife says so...(!)

I'm not sure you even read the story properly: what you call 'mixing' between the bear-woman and the god (what exactly is this 'god', by the way?!) is called procreation in any dictionary! Based on this myth, Koreans are all descendants of the fruit of this union (Dangun), and thus consider themselves a pure race: Just ask Koreans if they consider themselves to be 'mixed'!!

At 5:14 PM, Anonymous Charles said...

Anonymous: I am currently working on my dissertation in classical Korean literature, specifically oral literature (i.e., myths, folk tales, etc.), and I can tell you it is not just Dr. Hodges' wife who says so. The Korean scholars with whom and under whom I have studied all seem to agree that the Dangun story depicts in terms of myth the introduction of a new people (represented by Dangun) who intermixed with the residents of the area (represented by the bear-woman).

So, no offense, but I'm not sure if you are reading the story properly. Unless you want to tell me that some of the leading Korean scholars in this field are all wrong.

While it is possible that some Koreans may perceive the Dangun myth to be evidence of the purity of the Korean people, I would venture to say that perhaps they are not students of anthropology or mythology. Simply being Korean doesn't automatically make you an expert on everything Korean (the same applies for any culture, really). I have had, for example, Koreans tell me that the Korean language is unique because Hangeul is a scientific system (i.e., confusing the language and the writing system). By the same token, despite being American myself, I am by no means an expert on all things American (to the chagrin of many of my Korean friends).

At 5:26 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, Anonymous, you did suggest that I ask a Korean, so I asked my wife.

I assume that you know the story of the god Hwanung's descent from heaven by way of Mt. Baekdu, the transformation of a female bear into the woman Ungnyeo, and the marriage of these two very different beings, resulting in the fruit their union, Dangun.

Most Koreans, of course, do regard themselves as a "pure" race. That's precisely why I point out that the Dangun myth is, ironically, a myth of mixing.

Your point about "procreation" is not entirely clear. Is it somehow supposed to prove "purity"? I can't see how. My wife and I have procreated twice, but our children are mixed.

Listen, I have no desire to argue about this, and I'm willing to agree to disagree.

Thanks for the visit and comments.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:27 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Charles, good to hear from you. You know a lot more about this than I do . . . so carry on.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charles, what Koreans believe is what matters, not what you're writing in your 'dissertation'. I've never met a single Korean who considers himself mixed, go explain that!! The irony, therefore, is that you desperately distort the myth to make it fit your biased persepective!
All Koreans are descendants of that union, according to the myth: therefore they see themselves as all belonging to the same race. So you can't say that Koreans are 'mixed' the way Horace's children are: Horace is not a descendant of Dangun, is he?!
Anyway, have a good day, gotta go.

At 6:01 PM, Blogger John B said...

If I'm following the logic of Anonymous, he was saying that the emphasis is "pro" and "creation" rather than "mixing", that something new and whole is created, rather than simply mashing together different halves.

By the same line of thought, you and your wife have also "pro" and "created". Perhaps centuries from now, you'll be remember by your own creation myth?

At 6:16 PM, Blogger John B said...

If I can continue comment-spamming, I think in the Korea Journal for Spring there was an article that mentioned something along the lines of third-generation descendants of Jurchen mercenaries being considered full Koreans, during the Choson dynasty.

Several of the famous yangban families came from China, as well. There are two yangban clans that have genealogies that stretch back over a thousand years, and I know at least one of them, the Munhwa Ryu, claims descent from a Chinese ancestor.

So, foreign-ness can be diluted within a few generations, or at least it could before.

At 4:58 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

John B, I also have trouble following Anonymous's argument.

The argument seems to be this: Koreans are pureblood because they claim to be pureblood.

I think that all of us on this list know that Koreans claim to be pureblood.

History, anthropology, genetic analysis, and plausibility all tell us otherwise.

Even the Dangun myth -- or so it seems to me -- implicitly acknowledges mixing at the origin of the Korean people, for Dangun himself was mixed.

Multiethnicity and international marriages are big issues these days in Korea (as you know), and many Koreans are becoming more open to mixed children.

In classroom discussions about mixed children, I've often made a point about Dangun having been mixed, and once many of my students understand what I mean, there's a flash of recognition as they have an insight that they've never had before.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:29 PM, Anonymous Charles said...

Anonymous: Apparently you didn't even read my comment. This is not what I am writing in my dissertation, this is what I have heard and read from Korean scholars. In case you are confused on this point, "Korean scholars" here means "scholars who are Korean."

You are trying to tie together two things that really don't belong together. I will agree with you that a lot of Koreans consider themselves pure. Whether or not that is true is not the issue--it's a fact that a lot of Korean do think this. But there are also Koreans who feel that the idea of "pure blood" is, as Sperwer put it, a "construct."

As far as the Dangun myth goes, though, it is clear to any scholar of mythology that the story is about the joining together of two groups. Are these two groups of different ethnicities? Maybe, maybe not. I think the point, though, is this: where do you draw the line? Where does one ethnicity end and another begin? Wouldn't following the idea of "pure bloodedness" to its logical conclusion leave us with inbreeding?

I'm not denying that some Koreans believe they are pure blooded. I will deny, however, that all Koreans think this way. And I will deny that the Dangun myth is somehow a story of pure bloodedness.

But maybe I should follow Dr. Hodges' lead and agree to disagree, unless you actually intend on reading my comments before replying to them.

At 2:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Horace and Charles, you obviously have a personal agenda for denying a simple truth that 99% of Koreans believe in, whether you like it or not.

There's a single bloodline (Dangun's lineage) that all Koreans belong to and identify with: they don't see themselves as 'mixed', just like a japanese or an indian doesn't define himself as 'mixed'! No, Koreans view themselves as blood brothers and sisters (=one race), and even call each other using those terms ('oppa', 'unni'...) in everyday life!

At 2:20 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Charles, I've learned where my limits lie in a discussion, i.e., precisely where the law of diminishing returns begins to take effect. Beyond that point comes frustration.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:26 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, I prefer to be called "Jeffery."

I don't see any point in continuing the discussion. You haven't responded to the issues raised by others, and you are beginning to get personal in your remarks.

If you do post more comments, keep them polite and to the point. That's my rule, and it holds for everyone.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:29 PM, Blogger John B said...

To nitpick Charles's comment:

"Wouldn't following the idea of "pure bloodedness" to its logical conclusion leave us with inbreeding?"

Inbreeding is breeding in an isolated genetic community too small and too homogeneous to sustain itself, due to harmful genes. A population of several million people interbreeding is not at risk of inbreeding. So, you can have a 'pure' race that is not 'inbred'. Your point on ethnicity was otherwise valid, though.

Inbreeding is a problem in any creation myth that comes from one pair of individuals, ie Dangun, Adam and Eve, etc. The logical counter-argument is that the original individuals were genetically perfect, and harmful genes were a result of later mutation, or the harmful genes were dormant until they were activated and expressed by later factors. But I don't think anyone takes things that literally.

At 6:40 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

John B, that's a valid point -- though I think that Charles probably was thinking of the necessary inbreeding of Dangun's early offspring . . . if we take the myth literally. I don't think that most Koreans take it quite so literally, but I admit that I've never queried them about that.

Now that I think about the question, I have to wonder who Dangun married. Did he have a sister? Or did patriarchal assumptions presuppose that any female whom Dangun would take as wife would automatically become Korean?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:18 PM, Anonymous Charles said...

John B: Yeah, basically what Dr. Hodges said. My point is that, the only way to get truly pure blood is to never mate outside your group, and when the group is very small, this is inbreeding.

As for our discussion with Anonymous, I think it's time to give up. It's not even a matter of failing to address my points, it's a matter of deliberately avoiding every point I make. Besides, I don't like having discussions with people who won't even tell me their name. So I'm done. I'm not even going to bother replying to Anonymous' last comment.

At 1:02 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Charles, I think that your reluctance to reply is perfectly understandable. We're all here because we want to be, not because we have to be.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:50 PM, Blogger Al-Ozarka said...

Personally, I think anon has an attitude towards belief in the supernatural.

He's again' it!

At 10:01 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Could be, Daddio, though even the Dangun story has some supernatural features . . . but I'm not sure what Anonymous really wanted.

And frankly, I don't really care anymore. Law of diminishing returns, you know...

Jeffery Hodges

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