Craftworks Beer with Yang Seung-Tae
One of my long-time Korean friends is Yang Seung-Tae, professor of political science at Ewha Womans University and currently also serving as a dean there. We met 19 years ago in Tübingen, Germany while I was doing doctoral research as an exchange student at Eberhard Karls University. I had already been there three years in 1992 when Seung-Tae arrived for a sabbatical year on a research fellowship and was staying in the same university housing complex as I was. We met by chance in the laundry room when I noticed an Asian man trying to figure out how to use the complex German washing machine. I went over and explained the German directions. I soon realized that he was Korean, because I had been together with Sun-Ae for a couple of months already and had begun to recognize Korean characteristics, not that I could have articulated what those were at that point. I soon introduced him to Sun-Ae, and we became friends.
Seung-Tae and I had a lot of good discussions over the course of a year, sometimes about Confucianism, a central philosophical interest of his, and sometimes about theology, one of my interests. When he left for Korea a year later, he told me to look him up in Korea sometime, and I did in 1995, after Sun-Ae and I were married and living in Daegu. We made a trip to Seoul, where we visited him and his family. We were then gone from Korea for over three years as I pursued my scholarly interests in Australia and Israel, only returning in late 1999, just in time for the millenium parties, and I began my real life in Korea as a gypsy scholar, teaching at various universities over the years.
During many of my long years in Korea -- about a decade, actually -- I had no contact with Seung-Tae. My wife and I had misplaced his home address in our many moves, so I attempted to make contact by email but couldn't get through because so many Korean email providers automatically treat foreign email as spam. My emails were returned to me without Seung-Tae ever knowing about them. Because I was very busy with academic things and raising two small children, I let the years slip by, but when I finally ended up at the same university as Seung-Tae, I resolved to re-establish contact and renew our friendship.
We've since shared a lot of drinks and hours of discussions. As you see above, he enjoys a good beer. I knew that from our time in Germany, so I introduced him to the Craftworks. We met there again on Wednesday, when this photo was taken -- thanks to the helpful waitress (a great, friendly staff there!). Seung-Tae is drinking the best ale brewed in Korea, a Jirisan Moon Bear IPA, and I'm drinking a Halla Mountain Golden Ale, another fine ale brewed here in Korea. If you click on the photograph, you might be able to make out these ale names on the glasses.
Several beers later, Seung-Tae and I had spent a lot of time discussing Confucianism, in which he is an expert, because I am going to be dealing with the question of Confucianism's influence on East Asia, specifically, its putative responsibility for the lack of a culture of discussion in Korea, Japan, and China. That's what I'll be talking about in my presentation for the 2011 Global Forum [on] Civilization and Peace this fall. Seung-Tae made a useful distinction between Confucianism as a philosophy and Confucianism as an ideology. The latter, he suggests, distorted Confucianism in the interest of social order, and such a use of Confucianism discourages a culture of discussion. That noted, Seung-Tae acknowledged that the Confucian concept of true discussion presupposes intellectual equals. This doesn't necessarily imply that unequals can't discuss issues, but it does mean that the relation in the discussion will be unequal, as though between teacher and student.
The question of Confucianism's responsibility for the lack of a culture of discussion therefore remains unanswered for me, since the model teacher-student relationship in East Asia is traditionally a very hierarchical one in which the teacher speaks and the student listens. Knowledge is conceived as a tradition handed down, not as something to be discovered. It's both, of course, and the Confucian model of instruction has a point -- there is a tradition, a body of knowledge in every subject, that must be imparted. Sometimes, one just needs to sit and listen. In my view of the pedagogical process, however, a student should not listen passively, but actively, conceiving of questions to pose when the listening time is past.
But I didn't have the chance to ask about this point, for Seung-Tae had to be somewhere after 8:00 p.m., so that discussion will have to wait for another Craftworks' 'Starkbierzeit', which in my order of things can come in any season . . .