Friday, August 12, 2011

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 . . .

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At 6:06 AM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

A thought: What does the famous 4-7 Debate in Korea show us about discussion in Confucianistic societies? It was carried on by 2 pairs of Korean scholars. I don't remember the details as to age, but two of them were the most respected Confucian scholars of their age, but in the letters exchanged, the two pairs engaged in a detailed, hairsplitting critique of each other's position.

I remember some sense of respect and deference on the part of the juniors, but the exchange was free...

This also made me think of what I'd hope to do if I could have advanced in Korean at even an average pace. I probably wouldn't have looked into community compacts in Korea and the establishment of hyanggyo in the Choson Dynstay.

My primary interest was in the mechanics of the influence of Neo-Confucianism on Korean society.

Which would have meant having to learn Chinese too, but I failed miserably with Korean....

At 6:16 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'm not familiar with the 4-7 Debate in Korea. Does the "4" refer to the two pairs of scholars? What's the "7"? The days of the week?

You probably know more about Confucianism than I do.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:22 AM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

It's been translated by Michael C. Kalton. Not thrilling reading for most people, but since you like hermeneutics, it might interest you. (I'm boring enough to get into it as well...) It is one of the most important series of texts in Korean philosophy because it involved Toegye and Yulgok.

Kalton also has To Become a Sage on Korean Neo-Confucianism and Toegye. The website has the entire book.

The 4-7 debate was an exchange of letters about the relationship between emotions and actions and which are more important or basic to the inner core of an individual's far as I remember it, and I don't remember much.

The letters are intersting in that the authors focused minute attention on key words from previous letters as well as referring back to much older Chinese Confucian texts.

They pour over individual words to the point most readers would drop into a coma, but again, I found it worth reading (at about 150-200 pages...)

At 8:29 AM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

Locating those web references answered an initial question I was too lazy to find at first:

Toegye was part of the first round of letters with Kobong.

I vaguly remembered there being something about their ages, and the first link shows Kobong was 27 years Toegye's junior. Toegye was also a famous scholar/statesmen in the nation.

As I remember it, I think, Kobong wrote Toegye to ask for clarification on his opinion concerning the Confucian classics (I forget which) - and he at least slightly seemed to chid Toegye for getting it wrong.

Toegye then took the time to explain his position in detail. (Rather thoughtful for an (elder?) statesman.) But he also kept exchanging letters with the much younger scholar as they refined each others position.

That is why your post made me think of it...

At 8:34 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for the further information and the links. I'll take a look.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:40 AM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

The 4 Beginnings by Mencius:

The feeling of commiseration is the beginning of humanity; the feeling of shame and dislike is the beginning of righteousness; the feeling of deference and compliance is the beginning of propriety; and the feeling of right or wrong is the beginning of wisdom.

Here is a page on the 7 emtions from another book on Korean Neo-Confucianism that I read years ago. (Worth reading too, as I remember it.)

At 8:53 AM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

I misremembered.

If you play around with Google Book's preview, you can check out a healthy portion of the book.

The page above should show - Toegye wrote the first letter for a generic reason but happened to get the debate started by saying he'd overheard another scholar mentioning a complaint Kobong had about Toegye's analysis. Toegye then sought to clarify his position.

At 10:24 AM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

Sung Bae Park and Youngchan Ro are listed as contributors to The Four-Seven Debate. I met both some years back: Dr. Park at SUNY Stony Brook, and Dr. Ro at George Mason University. I need to stick this book on my Amazon Wish List. Thanks, Scott A.

At 10:32 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, thanks, Scott. I need to bone up on Confucianism before I give my talk.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:53 AM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

I exchanged emails with Kalton as just a lowly graduate student when writing a term paper on the debate. He was generous with his time - responding in detail and multiple times. It made me wish I had gone to UW instead of UH -the two schools I was considering - (since several of the traditional Korea-related profs were retiring after I arrived as well)...

At 11:00 AM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

Ro's book on Yulgok was one I read and can vaguely and in general remember well enough to recommend.

The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Yulgok

None of these are longish.

At 11:04 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'll need to get familiar with these books and writings by October.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:58 AM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

In the post, you mention your friend's distinction between the philosophy and the social ideology. Here is a book that roughly fits into that:

Social History of the Early Chosun Dynasty

If you look at the chapter titles, it will give you an idea.

I think he was influenced by Max Weber. He focuses on ideology in action - picking a handful of the institutions at the top of the society - like - the education of the crown prince and king - and - the influence of the (young) idealists in the censorate.

It was interesting to read some of the means which dedicated Neo-Confucian scholar/officials used to put pressure on the government - like sit-in strikes.

It is especially interesting to me now, because I live and work close to where they would have been protesting...

I don't know how this fits in with the topic of discussion in the culture, but it does touch on hierachy, and in a way that most non-East Asianers might think:

The king had the ultimate position in the society and in Confucianism. But, Sohn's book shows that, when the Confucianists manning the offices of government were strong enough, the Confucian-structured administrative offices gave them the means to hound the monarchy until some of the kings chose to abdicate the throne to avoid the ideological lectures.

The scholar-officials would harange the king on not only state policy but also private actions - like falcon hunting.

Once the king abdicated, however, he could still hope to run things through his son (the crown prince), because of the importance Confucianism put the father in the father-son relationship.

Reading Sohn's book, you get the impression a whole lot of talking/arguing was going on all the time, but not too much discussion.

For example, both the king and crown prince were supposed to have mandatory learning sessions with Confucian scholars, but it was not a discussion. It turned into a tool by which the bureaucracy sought to control the monarchy through application of idealistic Confucian notions taken from the classics. (Which does seem to fit what your friend said about the unequal nature of the teaching situation in a Confucian society.)

Perhaps because Korean Confucianism stuck to the classic texts more than even the Chinese. (They sent protests to China over the Wang Yang-Min reformation.)

Also, the scholar-officials dealing with the king would have likely been ones who had scored high on the difficult Civil Serive Exam while the king and crown prince got their gigs by birth.

At 12:10 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Actually, I made the point "about the unequal nature of the teaching situation in a Confucian society." I don't know that Seung-Tae would entirely agree with me, so I thought that I should clarify this.

Thanks for the extra information.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:10 PM, Anonymous Sperwer said...

Prof. Yang's distinction between Confucian philosophy and ideology is a valid one, and potentially useful - although as you've already sussed out perhaps not that useful for Confucian apologists. Anyway, you may want look at Martina Deuchler's "The Confucian Transformation of Korea" too; it speaks directly to the effort to propagate and deploy Confucianism as an instrument of state-driven social control.

At 1:20 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Sperwer. By the way, did you receive a copy of my paper? I have a more recent, more concise version.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:34 PM, Anonymous Sperwer said...

I did, and have just read it; but please send the latest and greatest.

At 1:41 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

The Rise of Neo-Confucianism in Korea - is a collection of essays for a shorter, topical read. It covers things like the suppression of Buddhism and others.

At 1:45 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Okay, it'll reach you soon.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:46 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I see that I have a lot of skimming to do . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:34 PM, Anonymous Sperwer said...

I think that if you stick to Deuchler as roadmap you'll get all you need in the time available

At 6:03 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Okay, I'll try to access it.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:01 AM, OpenID kuiwon said...

You should mention that under Confucianism, East Asia saw the longest era of peace. I believe the Qing dynasty was only at war less than 5 years of its almost 2000 year history.

At 5:21 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Only five years of warfare? I don't know much Chinese history, but weren't there all to 'barbarian' incursions from Central Asia that had to be fought off?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:30 AM, OpenID kuiwon said...

I found my source:

That one claims 1 year out of 195.

I don't think that counts all the internal rebellions. I remember it being a really low number of years though that they actually fought a war.

At 12:55 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You can use the linking function and just click here.

I'll look into this, but five years sounds awfully undercounted.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:32 PM, Anonymous Sperwer said...

The Qing Dynasty lasted only 268 years and was plagued by a succession of bloody revolts and rebellions, of which perhaps one of the worst was the Taiping Rebellion, and by an equally violent succession of wars of conquest of various groups who are were and are now considered ethnic minorities in a "china" that by their lights did and does not include their homelands.

At 9:48 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Sperwer. I've not yet had time to check into that.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some quick thoughts...

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.

I guess you are focusing on the transfer of already existing knowledge? In future research, it may also be interesting to have a look at the influence of Confucianism on discussion in the context of creating new knowledge. As for the latter, the roles seem to be opposite: the student is reporting answers to comments previously made by the teacher/professor and the teacher/professor is listening and giving new orders (with the emphasis on orders, given the hierarchical nature of the student-teacher/professor relationship).

Two other factors that also seem to limit the effectiveness of discussion in the context of new knowledge creation in Korea (based on personal experience):

1) it seems to be very difficult for students to report negative results (this may for instance result in selection and confirmation bias);

2) the "quickly, quickly" attitude seems to limit discussion as discussion slows things down (this typically results in sloppy execution and shallow treatment of a particular research question).

The combination of (1) and (2) also seems to make it difficult to treat the creation of new knowledge as an interative process in Korea.

At 10:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my previous post, I should have written "interative" as "iterative"...

At 4:20 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, I was speaking of received knowledge, but your point about discovery of knowledge is well-taken and also a concern of mine.

You have expressed very well the problems that Koreans have with discussing the discovery of new knowledge, reporting negative results and slowing down to think carefully.

I wonder if these contributed to Dr. Hwang Woo-suk's power over his students and success in getting them to 'find' the results that he wanted. Open discussion would have revealed the problems early on. But Hwang was fundamentally dishonest, so he wouldn't have favored discussion anyway, I suppose.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:21 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I figured that you meant "interactive."

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we share the common goal of trying to understand some of the thought processes going on in Korea...

The Hwang-woo Suk story is an interesting one, as well as the story of Dr. Laughlin. As for a better understanding of the Hwang-woo Suk debacle, I can highly recommend reading "South Korean policy failure and the Hwang debacle" (if you haven't already done so). As for the story of Dr. Laughlin, I can highly recommend reading "Looking for a Hero" (again, if you haven't already done so). In my opinion, both stories should be mandatory reading for foreign graduate students and researchers collaborating with Korean researchers.

In hindsight, the use of both iterative and interactive seems to be fine :)!

At 6:21 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for the links. I'll check them out. All of this is grist for the mill. I'll be presenting a paper for a special forum here in Korea in early October, and I'll be advocating the importance of a culture of discourse. These things might help.

Jeffery Hodges

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