Monthly Archives: May 2004

Kaplan’s Armenia

Armenia is the quintessential Near Eastern nation: conquered, territorially mutilated, yet existing in one form or another in the Near Eastern heartland for 2,600 years, mentioned in ancient Persian inscriptions and in the accounts of Herodotus and Strabo. Armenians trace their roots to Hayk, son of Torgom, the great-grandson of Japheth, a son of Noah himself. While their rivals the Medes and Hittites disappeared, the Armenians remained intact as an Indo-European people with their own language, akin to Persian. In the first century B.C., under Tigran the Great, Hayastan (what Armenians call Armenia) stretched from the Caspian Sea in the east to central Turkey in the west, incorporating much of the Caucasus, part of Iran, and all of Syria. In A.D. 301, Armenians became the first people to embrace Christianity as a state religion; today, Orthodox Armenia represents the southeastern edge of Christendom in Eurasia. In 405, the scholar Mesrop Mashtots invented the Armenian alphabet, still in use today….

Armenia soon became engulfed by the Roman and Byzantine empires. But when the Arab caliphate fell into decline in the ninth and tenth centuries, Armenia rose again as a great independent kingdom under the Bagratid dynasty, with its capital at Ani, in present-day Turkey. In the eleventh century, the Seljuk Turk chieftain Alp Arslan overran Ani, Kars, and the other Armenian fortresses, destroying over ten thousand illuminated manuscripts, copied and painted at Armenian monasteries. Independent Armenia survived in the form of baronies but eventually fell under the rule of Turks, Persians, and, later, the Russian czars and commissars. It is the Russian part which forms today’s independent state.

Now squeezed between Turkey to the west, Iran to the south, Azerbaijan to the east, and Georgia to the north–with its lost, far-flung territories lying in all directions–this newly independent former Soviet republic straddles the Caucasus and the Near Eastern desert to the south. Like Israel, Armenia is a small country–its population is only 3.5 million–surrounded on three sides by historical enemies (the Anatolian Turks, the Azeri Turks, and the Georgians), but it boasts a dynamic merchant tradition and a wealthy diaspora. Beirut, Damascus, Aleppo, Jerusalem, Teheran, and Istanbul all have influential Armenian communities. Jews and Armenians also share the legacy of genocide. The Nazis’ World War II slaughter of the Jews was inspired partly by that of the Armenians in World War I. “Who today remembers the extermination of the Armenians?” Hitler remarked in 1939.

… there was a crucial difference between the revolt of the Greeks and the Slavs against the Turks in the Balkans and the Armenian revolt against the Turks in eastern Anatolia. The Balkans lay within the Ottoman empire but outside Turkey itself, so only imperial control was at issue; while in eastern Anatolia, Turkish and Armenian communities fought over the same soil. That is partly why–in the shadow of Mount Ararat–traditional ethnic killing first acquired a comprehensive and bureaucratic dimension.

… I flew to Armenia. My fellow passengers cried and cheered as the plane touched down before dawn in Yerevan. They were Armenians from the diaspora visiting their ethnic homeland, many for the first time. In few countries–Israel being one–have I seen such emotion when a plane lands.

At the airport, there were no bothersome forms to fill out or bribes to pay. Travelers had told me that efficiency and honesty also prevailed at Armenia’s land frontier with Georgia. The cabdriver who took me to Yerevan was well groomed, and charged a reasonable price. The roads throughout much of Armenia, as I would see, were better than in Georgia or Azerbaijan. Nor would I encounter any slovenly militiamen demanding bribes. In these and other ways, Armenia was more of a functioning country than others in the Caucasus. In 1998, it carried out a smooth democratic succession when President Levon Ter-Petrosian was replaced by Robert Kocharian.

But behind the scenes, the election had been less than democratic. Real power rested with the prime minister, Vazgen Sarkisian, who controlled the military and security forces…. Armenia was very much a quasi-military security state with a wafer-thin democratic facade: a multiparty system that masked a one-party dictatorship in which the opposition was intimidated and bribed.

Still, by the standards of the region, Armenia’s political system wasn’t bad…. Armenia is the only state in the Caucasus–and one of the few I had encountered anywhere in my travels–whose cohesiveness I thought could be taken for granted. “We are united,” a local friend told me upon my arrival. “We are ruled by one mafia, not several competing ones.”

But my friend and I were insufficiently skeptical….

SOURCE: Robert D. Kaplan, Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus (Vintage, 2000), pp. 312-315

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Border Clans vs. Alphabet Nation

Azerbaijan had always been a marchland, conquered by Alexander the Great and fought over by Turkey and Persia for centuries. As with Georgia, Russia entered the fray here relatively late, occupying the area briefly in the 1720s and 1730s and then returning in the nineteenth century. The local Azeris, who knew little political unity until the twentieth century, speak a Turkic language much like modem Turkish, but they are Shi’ite, like most Iranians. Most Azeris live not in Azerbaijan but to the south, in northwestern Iran. Until the early twentieth century, the Azeris were considered “Tartars” by their neighbors, and responded to questions about themselves by mentioning their family, their clan, and their religion–but rarely their national group. Georgia has a 2,500-year-old alphabet all its own. Azerbaijan, by contrast, changed its alphabet three times over the course of the twentieth century: from Arabic to Latin in the 1920s; from Latin to Cyrillic in the 1930s; and back to Latin in the 1990s.

The inability of the Azeris to congeal into a defined nation may be why the Armenians could destroy them in the war over Karabakh. The Armenians, with their own language and 1,500-year-old alphabet–and with the memory of brilliant ancient and medieval kingdoms and the Turkish genocide always before them–had a fine sense of who they were. The Armenians, everyone in the Caucasus knew, were never going to give up Karabakh in negotiations. No one gives up what has been captured in battle when the area is occupied overwhelmingly by one’s own ethnic group and the rest of the population has been violently expelled, with barely a murmur from the Great Powers or the global media.

SOURCE: Robert D. Kaplan, Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus (Vintage, 2000), p. 260

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From Trebizond to Trabzon

Robert D. Kaplan’s Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus (Vintage, 2000) is full of wonderful vignettes of places that were once out-of-the-way, and are now taking on new significance. Here’s a glance at a former outpost of Byzantium on the Black Sea.

The bus pulled into Trabzon during a golden sunset: exactly what this city had constituted in world history.

Trabzon is the Turkish-language corruption of the Greek Trebizona, which comes from the Greek word for “table”–trapeza–a reference to the flat promontory on which the city sits. In 1204, Alexius and David Comnenus, scions of the Byzantine Greek royal family, escaped the Crusader conquest and looting of Constantinople and, with the help of an army provided by the Georgian queen Tamara, created a sovereign outpost of Byzantium here in eastern Anatolia. The new city-state of Trebizond got a boost in the mid-thirteenth century when the Mongol invasion of the Near East forced a diversion of trade routes north from Persia to Anatolia. Just as Dubrovnik’s noble families were to play Ottomans off against Habsburgs to preserve the independence of their Adriatic city-state, the nobles and diplomats of Trebizond played Turkomans off against Mongols to survive, keeping this city and its sylvan environs as a cosmopolitan outpost amid the monochrome Turkic nomadism–for the goods that amassed at the docks here were transported to Europe by Genoese boats, bringing Latin civilization to this eastern port. And because the Ottoman Turks under Mehmet the Conqueror did not subjugate Trebizond until 1461, eight years after Constantinople had fallen, history has conferred upon this place the aura of a last bastion of Greek Byzantium. In fact, a substantial Greek and Armenian population survived here through the centuries of Ottoman rule, until Atatürk’s revolution took root; so here, too, modernity meant ethnic cleansing, though of a relatively benign and gradual kind.

My first night in Trabzon I was awakened by the blast of the Moslem call to prayer–louder, I recalled, than a few years earlier, when I had last visited. In the morning I noticed the ubiquity of head scarves. Trabzon had become a bastion of Fazilet, the Islamic Virtue party, whose vitality here was a backlash against the “Natashas”–Russian and Ukrainian prostitutes who had arrived in the 1990s from the nearby former Soviet states, threatening the stability of local family life. Reportedly, it was Turkish housewives–angered by what their husbands were doing at night–who brought Fazilet victory at the polls.

Trabzon represented historical discontinuity. The various artistic monuments of the Byzantine past notwithstanding, what I saw was a drab and dynamic, utilitarian parade of bustling kebab stands, cheap cafeteria-style restaurants, and shops selling crockery, auto parts, vacuum cleaners, kitchen and bathroom tiles, and so on, lining narrow, serpentine streets noisy and polluted with trucks and automobiles. The industrial uniformity wiped out any specific cultural trait or connection to the past….

The next day I found what remained of the Armenian monastery of Kaymakli, up a nearly impassable dirt road a few miles from the city center, amid a squatters’ slum loud with children and roosters. A small boy led me into a destroyed building with a makeshift tin roof. The dirt floor, foul with excrement, was cluttered with hay, firewood, scraps of corrugated iron, and a set of barbells, which the boy proudly lifted to his waist. I looked at the stone walls, decorated with a turquoise-and-rosy-pink pageantry of Hell and the Apocalypse amid saints’ portraits, all faded, defaced, and framed by fabulous filigree work, recalling the beauty of this fifteenth-century Armenian church. As the unknowing boy jumped up and down on the corrugated-iron pile, each rumble of the iron reminded me of another human displacement. I thought of the brutal ethnic expulsions that have pockmarked the history of the Near East, of which that of Kosovar Albanians taking place that same spring was merely the latest. The smell of earth, the reek of feces, and the artistic fragments of a past Armenian civilization conjured up for me yet another great crime. A monoethnic Turkish nation blanketing Anatolia with its cartographic imprint had not occurred naturally or peacefully, and was not therefore necessarily permanent.

For geography holds the key not only to the past but the future, too. The Black Sea, with its diverse civilizations, may transform this part of Turkey now that the Soviet Union and its formerly impenetrable borders are gone. The Natashas were only a part of what was happening here. Along Trabzon’s harbor, there was now an endless market for goods from the former Soviet Union: fabrics, silverware, old war medals, cheap jewelry, tea services, and just about everything else, from socks to cell phones, was on sale. This was a working-class bazaar, like the Chinese market I had seen in Budapest. Trabzon was becoming more of a multiethnic Black Sea capital and less of a purely Turkish one. The kingdom of Trebizond could be reborn, I thought, in dreary, working-class hues.



My last day in eastern Turkey was like my last day in eastern Hungary [on the way to Romania]. In both places I was conscious of being near a great fault line, beyond which lay a starkly different world. Few people in eastern Turkey had any idea what was happening next door in Georgia. The large tourist office beside my hotel in Trabzon had no information about Batumi, the Georgian city on the other side of the border–not the names of hotels, the prices, not even the name of the Georgian currency. Batumi and Gürcistan (the Turkish name for Georgia) were terra incognita, and this heightened my sense of adventure.

The New America Foundation, where Kaplan is a senior fellow, has posted on its site a prescient review of this prescient book by Richard Bernstein in The New York Times on 15 December 2000.

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Samoan Civil Wars during the 1800s

When Andy of SiberianLight linked to my earlier post on the battle of Khalkhin-Gol/Nomonhan between Japan and Russia in 1938, he headlined it Wars nobody has ever heard of, Part 1043. Well, a Russian reader objected that every Russian has heard of Khalkhin-Gol, and reminded Americans that few Russians have ever heard of Iwo Jima. Fair enough, so let’s get even more obscure. How about the Samoan Civil War of 1898-99, which drastically reconfigured Samoa?

The Samoan Civil War of 1898-99 is what led to its partitioning into what is now Samoa and American Samoa.

On the death of Samoa’s King Malietoa Laupepa (d. 1898), his long-time rival Mataafa (d. after 1899) returned from exile aboard a German warship and was shortly elected the Samoan king as virtually a German puppet. The US and British consuls strongly opposed him, backing instead the dead king’s son. Fighting erupted between Samoans; in January 1899, the capital city of Apia was thrown into chaos with foes fighting in the streets, looting, and burning buildings. At first Mataafa and his Samoan and German supporters gained the upper hand until US and British warships shelled Apia (March 15, 1899). Anglo-American troops took control of coastal roads, but were unable to defeat the enemy in the interior. All fighting ceased with the arrival of a tripartite (US-British-German) commission on May 13, 1899. Both sides agreed to give up their firearms, for which they were fairly compensated, and the monarchy was abolished. By the tripartite treaty (1899), Germany received the western Samoan islands, of which Savaii and Upolu (the site of Apia) are the most important; the United States obtained the eastern islands (American Samoa, with its capital at Pago Pago on Tutuila); and Britain withdrew from the area for recognition of rights on Tonga and the Solomons.

Before Samoa was partitioned and colonized, civil war seems to have been the normal method of chiefly succession. Malietoe Laupepa had secured the throne by civil war.

Desultory tribal warfare had long occurred on Samoa, an archipelago in the south-centr[a]l Pacific, where the United States, Germany, and Britain all signed treaties that gave them commercial and other rights (1878-79). In 1880, the three foreign powers agreed to recognize Malietoe Talavou (d. 1880) as Samoa’s king, whose death later that year brought civil war between contentious groups seeking power. About eight months later, Malietoe Laupepa (d. 1898) secured the throne with the foreign powers’ recognition.

Robert Louis Stevenson happened to be in Samoa during an outbreak of warfare in 1893 and filed a report for the Pall Mall Budget.

The process of gathering a royal army in Samoa is cumbrous and dilatory in the extreme. There is here none of the expedition of the fiery cross and the bale fire; but every step is diplomatic. Each village, with a great expense of eloquence, has to be wiled with promises and spurred by threats; and the greater chieftains make stipulations where they will march. Tamasese, son to the late German puppet and heir of his ambitions, demanded the vice-kingship as the price of his accession, though I am assured that he demanded it in vain. The various provinces returned various and unsatisfactory answers. Atua was off and on A’ana was on and off; Savai’i would not move; Tuamasaga was divided; Tutuila recalcitrant; and for long the king sat almost solitary under the windy palms of Mulinu’u. It seemed indeed as if the war was off, and the whole archipelago unanimous (in the native phrase) to sit still and plant taro.But at last, in the first days of July, Atua began to come in. Boats arrived, thirty and fifty strong a drum and a very ill-played bugle giving time to the oarsmen, the whole crew uttering at intervals a savage howl; and on the decked foresheets of the boat the village champion (the taupou), frantically capering and dancing. Parties were to be seen encamped in palm groves with their rifles stacked. The shops were emptied of red handkerchiefs, the rallying sign or (as a man might say) the uniform of the Royal Army….

War, to the Samoan of mature years, is often an unpleasant necessity. To the young boy it is a heaven of immediate pleasures, as well as an opportunity of ultimate glory. Women march with the troops, even the Taupou-sa or Sacred Maid of the village, accompanies her father in the field to carry cartridges and bring him water to drink; and their bright eyes are ready to ‘rain influence’ and reward valour. To what grim deeds this practice may conduct I shall have to say later on. In the rally of their arms it is at least wholly pretty; and I have one pleasant picture of a war party marching out, the men armed and boastful, their heads bound with the red handkerchief, their faces blacked – and two girls marching in their midst under European parasols….

Every country has its customs, say native apologists, and one of the most decisive customs of Samoa ensures the immunity of women. They go to the front, as our women of yore went to a tournament. Bullets are blind; and they must take their risk of bullets, but of nothing else. They serve out cartridges and water; they jeer the faltering and defend the wounded. Even in this skirmish of Vaitele they distinguished themselves on either side. One dragged her skulking husband from a hole and drove him to the front. Another, seeing her lover fall, snatched up his gun, kept the headhunters at bay, and drew him unmutilated from the field. Such services they have been accustomed to pay for centuries; and often, in the course of centuries, a bullet or a spear must have despatched one of these warlike angels. Often enough too, the head-hunter springing ghoul-like on fallen bodies, must have decapitated a woman for a man. But the case arising, there was an established etiquette. So soon as the error was discovered the head was buried, and the exploit forgotten. There had never yet, in the history of Samoa, occurred an instance in which a man had taken a woman’s head and kept it and laid it at his monarch’s feet.

Such was the strange and horrid spectacle, which must have immediately shaken the heart of Laupepa, and has since covered the face of his party with confusion. It is not quite certain if there were three or only two; a recent attempt to reduce the number to one must be received with caution as an afterthought, the admissions in the beginning were too explicit, the panic of shame and fear had been too sweeping.

Jane Resture’s Samoa summarizes the broader context of European colonization of Samoa and elsewhere in the Pacific, and Alexander Ganse’s site, World History at the KMLA (Korean Minjok Leadership Academy, an elite international prep school in South Korea) offers even broader context.

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The New (Korean) Woman: From Many Lovers to Nun

Andrei Lankov has an article in the 7 January issue of The Korea Times on The Dawn of Modern Korea: The New Woman, in which he profiles the prominent pioneering Korean journalist and writer Kim Won-ju, better known under her Buddhist sobriquet of Kim Il-yop [Iryôp ‘One Leaf’].

She was born in 1896 in what is now North Korea. In spite of her later Buddhist career, she came from a Christian family–like almost all Korean women who received a modern education in the early 1900s. Kim Il-yop studied at a local missionary school and then continued her education at Ewha College–the predecessor of the present-day Ewha Womans University, and a place where a girl could receive the best education available in Korea.

Her parents had a happy marriage, but for years they were plagued by the absence of male heirs. In old Korea this was seen as a disaster. Only when Kim was 14 year old did her mother gave birth to a son. Tragically her mother died the following day, and her infant brother soon after. The death of beloved wife and a much-expected son inflicted a heavy blow on Kim’s father, and he also died soon afterwards.

All these tragedies made Kim sceptical about Christianity. She began to wonder whether Buddhism, with its conception of life as tragedy and suffering, was not closer to the ultimate truth. However, Kim was too young and ambitious to entertain these doubts for long.

After her graduation from Ewha, Kim moved to Japan to continue her education. Her stay in Japan was marked by a stormy love affair with a young Japanese, Oda Seijo. The lovers were going to marry, but both families strongly opposed the match. Neither Koreans nor Japanese looked favorably on mixed marriages (indeed, such unions were surprisingly few). Nonetheless, Kim had a child by Oda. Her son grew up apart and had little interaction with his mother. Eventually he became a famous painter and in his old age retired to a Buddhist monastery–like his mother few decades earlier.

In March 1920, Kim (by that time married) founded the first Korean women’s magazine. It had the telling title of Sinyoja–The New Woman. The year of 1920 was the year when modern Korean journalism was born. The mass uprising of 1919 made the Japanese authorities change their policy in the colony, they allowed the Koreans much more political and cultural freedom. One of the results was the boom in the number of periodicals.

The New Woman was not only the first Korean periodical for a female audience–even if this was revolutionary enough. It was also the first periodical to be edited and published almost exclusively by women. Kim was assisted by a number of early Korean feminists, collectively known as ‘new women.’ Her collaborators included the painter Na Hye-sok and the educator Pak In-dok. Mrs. Billings, an American missionary then residing in Seoul, handled the general management….

The New Woman gave voice to the rising group of Korean women who had a modern education and who did not want to abide by the age-old rules of life. They were rebelling against old conventions, and Kim was one of the most vocal members of this small but prominent group. She wrote a number of articles, poems, and novels in which she advocated women’s freedoms such as access to education and equality before the law. However, her forte was the freedom of love. Kim treated the topic with greater radicalism than most other ‘new women.’ The majority understood ‘free love’ as the right to choose one’s husband, while Kim’s understanding of the concept was much closer to the ideas of the 1960s’ sexual revolution.

Kim lived up to her declarations. The late 1920s were marked by a string of affairs with a number of her famous contemporaries. Among others, the list of Kim’s lovers included Yi Kwang-su, the founding father of modern Korean literature.

Even her interest in Buddhism was greatly stimulated by a love affair–this time with a devoted Buddhist. In the early 1930s, Kim was ordained as a nun and spent most of her long life (she died in 1971) behind the walls of a Buddhist temple.

For more (in English) on Kim Wônju, see Yung-Hee Kim, “A Critique on Traditional Korean Family Institutions: Kim Wônju’s ‘Death of a Girl’,” Korean Studies 23 (1999):24-42

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The ‘Modern’ Japanese (and Korean) Taisho Woman

Arts & Letters Daily links to an article in the The Chronicle of 21 May 2004 on The ‘Modern’ Japanese Woman during the Taisho era (1912-26) that asks, among other things:

How could one be both Japanese and modern, if modernity is defined as Western? Were modernity and Japaneseness antithetical? Or could individuals and society synthesize some new middle ground? If so, how?

Suppose we transpose this question to Korea, a Japanese colony at that time.

How could one be both Korean and modern, if modernity is defined as Japanese? Were modernity and Koreanness antithetical? Or could individuals and society synthesize some new middle ground? If so, how?

In fact, very few did achieve any middle ground. A small number of talented upper-class female artists achieved some degree of, well, notoriety, only to endure tragic denouements. Choe Chong-Dae profiles one on the poorly edited website of The Korea Times on 16 April 2004 under the headline A Pioneering Woman – Yun Sim-dok.

In the course of the recent history of Korea, many prominent pioneering women duly played significant roles in raising the national consciousness and in advocating women’s rights and freedoms. Women such as Na Hye-sok, a social pioneer, painter and writer (1896-1948), Kim Myong-son, a modern writer, famous for her literary work “Girl With Suspicion” (1896-1951) and Kim Won-ju, a Buddhist nun and great novelist of modern literature (Pen name: Ilyop [or Iryop]; 1896-1971) surfaced in the early 1900s when modern-style schools began to produce educated women.

Back in the ear1y 1920s, at the dawn for modern Korean music and art, Yun Sim-dok (1897-1926) appeared, “out of nowhere”; she was the first woman soprano singer in Korea, and was also an erudite writer, composer and stage actress. Showing the nation what Western vocal music was all about, she captured the hearts of people all across the country. Her outstanding social and academic achievements, dramatic performances and attractive singing voice, fascinated audiences, giving them a unique taste of Korean music that they had never before experienced. As a result, she was loved as the most promising, attractive, and stylish female intellectual in Korea. However, unfortunately, she became a victim of social ostracism and hatred, due to an extra-marital affair with a married man.

Born in Pyongyang in 1897, Yun studied at the Pyongyang Girls’ Middle & High Schools. After graduation from Kyon[g]song Women’s Teaching College in Seoul in 1914, she worked as a primary school teacher in the town of Wonju. Demonstrating great intelligence and unique musical talent from early youth, Yun’s ambition was really devoting herself to becoming a renowned Korean musician. She therefore entered the Music Department of … Tokyo [Imperial] University in 1918 by passing the (Japanese) Homeland Governmental Scholarship Examination, with excellent marks. During her university days in Tokyo, she enjoyed the freedom to read an abundance of Western romantic literature and art and the company of the handsome (male) college students. She was strongly attracted to Kim Wu-jin, who was majoring in English literature and drama at Tokyo’s [W]aseda University, and came from a wealthy and renowned lineage of prominent citizens in Mokpo. Despite the fact Kim was married and had a wife and children at home, in Mokpo, she was fascinated by his personality and his literary acumen. They soon fell in love with each other. After graduating from … Tokyo University, in 1922, Yun worked as a teaching assistant there. Yun asserted the need for Korean women’s self-awakening, for their liberation from men, and for their acquisition of a proper social status….

Sharing overwhelming sorrows and affection, Yun suggested to Kim that they return to Korea. They boarded a passenger ship, sailing from Shimonoseki to nearby Pusan. Watching the vast and silent sea from the deck of the ship on the voyage, she expressed profound emotion by singing “Hymn to Death,” highly reflecting a keen sensitivity, while comparing her loneliness to the ship sailing on the seas. The lyrics of Yun’s song appealed to Kim’s inclinations to cast off the burdens of wealth, love and honor. The sentimental and emotional atmosphere captivated them and induced them to seek in death an ideal “dream world,” transcending reality.

They were impelled to commit suicide, jumping from the deck of the ship into the sea, on the voyage home (it was August 1926). The lovers’ suicide shocked not only Korea but also Japan. The suicide was not a romantic death but a lonely battle cry that could not free its protagonists from pessimism nor the slow pace of societal reform. It was seen as a bold challenge to conventional Confucian society and as a sign of the importance of the need for women to establish a real female identity and of the need for reforms of the social circles in Korea at that time, which of course disapproved of Yun’s liberal love affair.

“Modern” Korean women at the time risked opprobrium not just for being loose women or brazen hussies, but also for rejecting Korean values in favor of Japanese ones, being therefore collaborators with the colonial regime.

For more on Taisho Japan, see Ian Buruma on Ero Guro Nansensu.

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Of Mice and Rats

Can you tell a mouse from a baby rat? After reading these tips, I correctly identified 12 out of 12. (And I didn’t have to count the nipples!) Can you tell the relatively civilized Black Rat (Rattus rattus) of the Pacific Islands from the marauding imperialist Norwegian Rat (Rattus norvegicus), which has conquered most of Eurasia and North America? Do you know how to launder your pet rat? It’s all at ratbehavior.org.

via Language Hat, who linked to the authoritative Rat-English, English-Rat Dictionary.

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