Monthly Archives: May 2004

Elections in New Caledonia

Head Heeb has been doing a great job keeping up on the recent elections in New Caledonia and French Polynesia. In both cases, the preponderant sentiment seems to be for autonomy, but not full independence. Like Micronesia, perhaps?

On a related note, the Australian National University’s Pandanus Books imprint has published The Kanak Apple Season: Selected Short Fiction of Déwé Gorodé.

Mme Déwé Gorodé, Vice-President of the Government and the leading Kanak writer of New Caledonia, visited Australia to attend and speak at the Sydney Writers Festival (19-25 May 2004)….

This collection is the first English translation of Gorodé’s work, and is part of Pandanus’ efforts to bring Francophone writing to the attention of Australian readers. A remarkable collection reflecting the ethnic complexities of the colonial past of New Caledonia, the author’s approach to language reveals an original voice that compels attention. Drawing on the heritage of blood-lines, family, cultural tradition and colonialism, Gorodé takes her reader on a journey into the Kanak world providing fascinating insight into the culture of New Caledonia, at once both Pacific island and French colonial possession.

Head Heeb also has an interesting post entitled The Pyramids of PNG:

Economist Utpal Bhattacharya of the World Bank has argued that transition economies are particularly vulnerable to Ponzi schemes, pointing to the large-scale frauds that occurred in post-Communist Russia and Romania as well as Albania. Although Papua New Guinea is not a post-Communist country, it is also in transition from subsistence agriculture and fishing to a modern urban economy, and its people are still adapting to new economic conditions. Such circumstances have facilitated Ponzi schemes in the past, particularly where – as in Haiti in 2002 – prominent citizens and political leaders are induced to participate. Although the PNG government has begun to take measures to combat fraud, “in an environment where economic challenge is a daily reality, most expect the promise of a quick and fantastic return will continue to attract many.”

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North Korean Archaeology of Convenience

One of the staples of international academic exchanges with North Korea is an archaeological report on the latest discoveries regarding the tomb of Tangun (also romanized as Dangun), the mythical founder of Korea, born in 2333 B.C. to a he-tiger and a she-bear. Tangun’s birth year is the starting point for the Tangun Era (Tanki = Danki) calendar year sequence and the first Korean kingdom, Old Chosôn (Ko Chosun = Go Joseon). The year 2004 C.E. thus equals 4337 T.E. (On the same scale, the mythical Emperor Jimmu didn’t found Japan until 1673 T.E. [= 660 B.C.E.])

Several archaeological discoveries were reported by the (North) Korean Central News Agency in 1998.

Chongam earthen wall surveyed

Pyongyang, January 30 (KCNA) — Survey of historical relics has been deepened in Korea. Authoritative scholars and experts of archaeology, history and folklore recently made a survey of the earthen wall in Chongam-Dong, Taesong District, Pyongyang. The survey team discovered relics and a wall built in the period of King Tangun’s Korea, the first ancient state of Korea which existed some 5,000 years ago. The wall has two storeys. The lower storey of the wall, built in the Tangun Korea period, is about 10 metres wide at the bottom and 2.5 metres high. The upper storey, built in the Koguryo period, was rebuilt three times. A scimetar, stone spear, broken top-shape vessels and other relics of the neolithic and bronze ages were discovered in the earth of the wall. Found in the western part inside the wall were the coundation of a building, roof tiles, etc. Dating back to the Koguryo period. A mural painting of the Koguryo period was discovered for the first time in Korea. The mural painting is characterized by use of much powdered gold. The survey of the wall helps systematize the history of Tangun Korea and Koguryo in a scientific way and clearly proves that the history and culture of the Korean nation has developed from long ago with Pyongyang as the centre. [emphasis added]

Newly-discovered wall of ancient Korea

Pyongyang, August 10 (KCNA) — The Archaeology Institute of the Academy of Social Sciences of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has recently discovered a wall of Tangun’s Korea (ancient Korea). The newly-discovered wall is the west wall in the middle of the walled city of Pyongyang= It was built on a ridge of Ansan in Pyongchon district with no buildings. The wall was a mixture of earth and stone piled up on rocky layer. It has two parts. In the lower part the wall is 11 metres in bedwidth and 1.5 metres high. In the upper part it is 8 metres in bedwidth and 2.5 metres high. The outside of the wall has a steep slope and the inside an easy one. The building of the lower part of the wall is based on a method of construction widely used in the beginning of ancient times. The method is similar to the methods of construction used in the building of the lower parts of the earthen walls in Jithap-ri and Songhyon-ri. The two earthen walls date back to Tangun’s Korea. The recently-discovered wall proves that from the initial stage of state building the people of ancient Korea concentrated on the defence of the capital of the country. It is of weighty importance in the study of the walled capital of Tangun’s Korea. Relics of ancient Korea were also discovered during the recent unearthing of the wall. [emphasis added]

Rather convenient, eh? And not just for North Korea. There are plenty of archchauvinists among South Korean academics to lend whatever respectability they might add. (Is it fair to assume that ‘academic’ does not necessarily imply ‘scholar’?) Here’s a report about a North-South conference in 2003.

Second Joint Scientific Symposium on Tangun and Kojoson

Pyongyang, October 3 (KCNA) — The second joint scientific symposium on Tangun and Kojoson (ancient Korea) took place at the People’s Palace of Culture on Oct. 2. Present there were Ryu Mi Yong, chairperson of the Council for the Reunification of Tangun’s Nation, Kim Jong Yong, vice-president of the Academy of Social Sciences, social scientists and university teachers in Pyongyang.

Also on hand were academic figures of the south side including Honorary Chairman Kim Jong Bae and Chairman Yun Nae Hyon of the Tangun Society who came to participate in the joint national function commemorating the Foundation Day of Korea.

Presented to the symposium were achievements made by many historians in the north and the south in the studies of documents and archaeological excavation by deepening researches into Tangun and Kojoson over the past one year. Academic issues were also discussed.

Historians of the north said that the excavation of the tomb of King Tangun was a historic event which confirmed the Korean nation being a homogeneous nation rare to be seen with the same blood, language, culture and history with Tangun as its ancestor. They proved that the area of Pyongyang is the cradle of the culture of Kojoson.

Historians from the south reviewed achievements made by historical circles in the north and the south in the studies of Tangun and Kojoson and said it has been proved through Koguryo mural tombs that the Korean nation is descendants of Tangun.

The speakers stressed the need for the historians of the two parts of the country to deepen joint academic studies of Tangun and Kojoson that had a great influence on the development of national history.

A joint press release of the symposium was adopted.

According to it, the historians of the north and the south shared the same view that the Korean nation is a homogeneous nation with Tangun as its founding ancestor, a resourceful nation that went over to a civilized society in the earliest period in the East to create an excellent national culture and that Kojoson was the first ancient state of the Korean nation and a powerful and independent sovereign state that displayed its grand sight as a civilized state in the East.

They also reached consensus on the need to conduct brisk academic exchange, solidarity and cooperation to glorify the national history spanning five thousand years, preserve the fine national character and keep the commonness of the nation and turn out actively for the solidarity and unity of the intellectuals of the north, the south and abroad and for the great unity of the whole nation and national reunification in accordance with the idea of “By our nation itself”. [emphasis added]

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Bulgarian Wrestlers versus Democrats

I regret having to dump a tub of icewater over our (or at least my) enthusiasm for the “Black Sea Mafia” in Japanese sumo, but a “differently informed” perspective on the origins of these wrestlers needs to be considered. The following passage begins the chapter titled, “Wrestlers versus Democrats,” in Robert D. Kaplan’s book Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus (Vintage, 2000).

Within twenty-four hours of crossing into Bulgaria by train from Romania, I had begun hearing two words over and over again: wrestlers and groupings, with an emphasis on Multigroup, the Orion Group, and the Tron Group. “They run the country,” I was told, or at the least were as palpable a presence in people’s lives as the elected government. In early May 1998, a few weeks after I left Bulgaria, Anna Zarkova, a local journalist who had exposed these groups in her articles for the daily Trud, was doused with sulfuric acid hurled at her face at a bus stop. Zarkova, the mother of two children, lost her left ear and the sight in one eye as a result of the attack. For this reason, I cannot name the private citizens who gave me the following information without endangering their lives.

In the Communist era, Bulgaria had a great Olympic wrestling tradition. When the regime favorites lost their subsidies, many of them went into racketeering–with the help of their friends from the security services–and amassed tremendous wealth during the power vacuum that followed the regime’s collapse. A close friend, a Bulgarian woman in her mid-twenties who specializes in human-rights cases, told me:

“The wrestlers are all big and tough, with cell phones, fancy cars, Versace suits, and young girls on their arms. All their girlfriends look alike: thin, with blond hair and vacuous expressions, and adorned with gold. At a restaurant where a meal cost more than most Bulgarians make in a month, I heard one of these girls repeat over and over to her wrestler boyfriend, ‘This is so cheap. I can’t believe how cheap this is….’ The wrestlers and their girls go to expensive nightclubs with loud music, where go-go dancers sing cheesy lyrics, like ‘I love shopska [peasant’s] salad.’ We all know that our cars will be stolen if they are not ‘insured’ with one of the wrestlers’ insurance companies. Another name for the wrestlers is the moutras–the ‘scary faces.’ We are all repulsed by their behavior, but we have to deal with them. This is a country where people have put their life savings into sugar and flour because of inflation [and where the monthly salary is $140], yet there is a criminal class with stolen Audis and Mercedes.”

I saw the wrestlers frequently in Sofia. A late-model high-performance car would screech to a halt, muscular men in fashionable clothes would emerge with cell phones, wearing enough cologne to be noticeable from fifteen feet away. The boss would occasionally have two beautiful women with him, one on each arm. It was both frightening and pathetic. Their expensive homes, on the slopes of Mount Vitosha, above the haze of pollution that hovers over Sofia, were surrounded by two-story-high brick walls and punctuated with satellite dishes. Nearby sprawled a vast Gypsy settlement of muddy shacks, growling dogs milling about.

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Sumo Giant Upsets Giantkiller

After breaking Mongolian yokozuna Asashoryu’s winning streak early in sumo’s Natsu Basho, the top maegashira Hokutoriki looked good to win the tournament. He was the giantkiller, knocking off the higher-ranked rikishi one after another. He “preserved his one loss” (ippai o mamotta), going into the final day at 13-1. But Asashoryu also managed to preserve his two losses, entering day 15 at 12-2.

Well, wouldn’t you know it: On the final day, Hokutoriki lost to Hakuho, a Mongolian rikishi making his “major league” (Makuuchi) debut. Meanwhile Asashoryu managed to best ozeki Chiyotaikai. The giant and the giantkiller, both tied at 13-2, were forced into a playoff, in which the giant once again prevailed. Asashoryu now has three tournament victories in a row, and seven in all. Hokutoriki and Hakuho, who finished at 12-3, split the well-deserved Fighting Spirit prize.

Georgian rikishi Kokkai, who made his Makuuchi debut last tournament, finished at an impressive 10-5. Of course, I’m rooting for him to do well but, most of all, I want Asashoryu to shatter every record that Takanohana set during the 1990s.

As usual, “That’s News to Me has more details, and even boldly predicts rankings for the Nagoya Basho in July.

UPDATE: The Argus links to an article, Sumo Goes International, which reviews the rise of the Hawaiian and then Mongolian rikishi, then adds this about the up-and-coming Black Sea (rather than Black Ship) sumo recruits:

Georgia, a “martial arts kingdom” that has produced many Olympic medalists in wrestling and judo, is also proving fertile ground for sumo. Georgian wrestler Kokkai (Black Sea) was promoted to the [Makuuchi] division this spring. At the end of 2002, a sumo ring was opened in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, sparking a surge of interest in the sport. Kokkai was also trained by his father, a former wrestler, and was a European junior wrestling champion in the 130-kilogram weight class. Young men training at the Tbilisi center are inspired to become the “second Kokkai.”

Following on the heels of Kokkai is the Russian-born Roho, who in November became the second European and the first Russian sekitori wrestler. Roho, who hails from the Caucasus, located to the north of Georgia, is also a proven talent who won wrestling’s world junior championship at the age of 18. And Kotooshu [Harp-Europe], a 20-year-old Bulgarian who made his sumo debut in November 2002 and stands 202 centimeters tall, is also gunning for the upper ranks as the first wrestler to use his considerable height as a weapon. He, too, had competitive wrestling experience prior to coming to Japan.

BTW, the -HO (long -HOU) ending on several of the names can be translated ‘roc’ (the huge mythical bird): So the Russian Roho is Dew Roc, and the Mongolian Hakuho is White Roc.

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Buruma on the End of Postwar Illusions

Finally, here is the somber epilogue in Ian Buruma’s book Inventing Japan: 1853-1964 (Modern Library Chronicles, 2003).

In front of Shinjuku station, the favored spot in the 1960s of student demos and theatrical “happenings,” I watched people toss peanuts at a crude caricature of Tanaka Kakuei, the disgraced former prime minister [and father of PM Koizumi’s first foreign minister]. “Peanuts” was the term used by middlemen who collected cash from the Lockheed Corporation to be distributed among Japanese politicians, including Tanaka, in exchange for landing an aircraft deal. The main broker was Kodama Yoshio, the wartime racketeer who was in prison with Kishi Nobusuke. When news of this latest scandal broke, a young porno movie actor crashed his light plane into the Lockheed office in Tokyo as an act of protest against capitalist corruption. He wore the uniform of a kamikaze fighter. His last words were “Long live the emperor!” Thus does farce echo the tragedies of history….

In terms of brute financial power, however, Tanaka’s legacy was a fantastic success. In the 1980s, Tokyo yuppies ate gold leaf. With a prime piece of Japanese real estate, you could have bought yourself a small country [Hawai‘i, for instance]….

Yet there was a sense among many Japanese of something missing in their rich and increasingly ugly country. It was not for nothing that the leaders of Aum Shinrikyo, the quasi-Buddhist cult, which tried to commit mass murder in 1995 by spreading sarin gas in the Tokyo subways, were men and women of the highest education. Many of them were scientists or trained for the technocratic bureaucracy. They were the heirs of the Ikeda deal, and in the absence of political responsibility for the here and now, they filled their heads with murderous spiritual utopianism. The group aimed for a huge conflagration, a spectacular destruction of what they saw as a meaningless society. A wonderful new world would rise from the ashes of postwar affluence….

Two years after the Gulf War, the LDP, racked by more corruption scandals and the defection of some powerful politicians, lost an election. For a short while, it looked as though the LDP System might come to an end….

It turned out to be another false dawn. The electoral changes did not go far enough to make a difference….

Yet something did change, not through political will, but through economic circumstances: The great bonanza ended in a massive stock market crash. Real estate prices tumbled, banks went under, and the Japanese bubble quickly seemed as fantastic in retrospect as tulip mania in seventeenth-century Amsterdam. Japanese triumphalists and Western alarmists were stunned into uncharacteristic silence. This did not bring down the LDP System, to be sure, but it more or less killed people’s trust in it. The bureaucratic elite lost much of its prestige. From trusted and safe guarantors of stability and growth, they came to be seen as arrogant blunderers out of touch with reality. The LDP still rules, but faute de mieux, and no longer alone. It has to share its power with other parties, such as the Komeito, linked to a right-wing Buddhist organization. And for the first time since the 1950s, even the highly educated salarymen in the senior ranks of large corporations can no longer be sure of a lifetime job. You see them in libraries, coffee shops, and railway stations, men in neat blue suits reading newspapers, pretending to work, but in fact cast adrift in a society that is slowly unraveling. The economic crash has not made many Japanese destitute, not yet. Fifty years of high-speed growth created huge reserves of wealth. But the Ikeda deal is over….

I am writing in Tokyo, in the early spring of 2002. And I think of the number of times in the last few weeks when Japanese told me, in all seriousness, that they wished the black ships would come round once again, to unblock the political system. Only foreign pressure, they say, can cut the knots that tether this insular society to the old ways that no longer function. I can see what they mean, but I look forward, nonetheless, to the day when Japanese free themselves and can finally bid the black ships farewell, because they no longer need them.

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The Role of "Manchukuo Candidates" in the Postwar Period

Many of the principal architects of Japanese and Korean economic development after World War II got their start in Manchukuo. Among them were:

  • Japanese Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke, who served as industrial czar in Manchuria
  • Japanese Prime Minister Tanaka Kakuei, who served in the Morioka Cavalry in Manchuria, and his later nemesis Fukuda Takeo, who eventually toppled Tanaka from power. Tanaka’s outspoken daughter Makiko served as current Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi’s first foreign minister.
  • Japanese Lt. Okamoto Minoru (Park Chung-hee), the father of the South Korean chaebôl (= Jp. zaibatsu)
  • North Korea’s “Great Leader” Kim Il-sung, who got his start as a guerrilla leader in Manchuria
  • North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Chong-il, who was born in Khabarovsk after his father was chased out of Manchuria

Columbia historian Charles K. Armstrong addresses the role of Manchuria in North Korean mythology in a fascinating article entitled “Centering the Periphery: Manchurian Exile(s) and the North Korean State,” in Korean Studies 19: 1-16:

Kim Il Sung and other Manchurian guerrilla veterans who came to dominate North Korean politics after 1945 were profoundly influenced by the experience of their anti-Japanese struggle in exile. This influence has shaped the ideology, historiography, and domestic and external policies of the DPRK to the present. At the same time, this exile experience has been given a mythical status in North Korean history, centered on the personality and activities of Kim Il Sung, but reflective of earlier attempts to draw Manchuria into the mainstream of Korean history. The “mythification” of Manchuria has grown steadily over time, and since the early 1970s Kim Jong Il has been closely associated with his father’s Manchurian guerrilla struggle, in particular with the image of Mt. Paektu.

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Buruma on Kishi Nobusuke and the 1955/LDP System

Ian Buruma’s chapter entitled “1955 and All That” in his book Inventing Japan: 1853-1964 (Modern Library Chronicles, 2003) begins thus:

On Christmas Eve 1948, a thin middle-aged man in a shabby khaki uniform and a peaked cap was released from Sugamo prison. His soft lips formed a toothy smile as he boarded an American jeep. Kishi Nobusuke had just spent three years in Sugamo jail as a class A war crimes suspect. He had been General Tojo’s minister of commerce and industry when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Before that he had been the industrial czar of Manchukuo. He was in fact the nearest Japanese equivalent to Albert Speer. His wartime responsibilities ranged from munitions to slave labor. If the war had been fought by soldiers, their conquests had been administered by people like him.

Many a postwar friendship was kindled or strengthened in Sugamo. Kishi’s cellmate was Sasakawa Ryoichi, the leader of a small fascist party in the 1930s and a notorious racketeer in occupied China. He expanded his fortune after the war in various more or less opaque ways, which included a huge gambling enterprise. Wartime connections and a great deal of shady money made him a formidable backroom operator in postwar conservative politics. Sasakawa was released the same day as Kishi. Less than ten years later, Kishi would be prime minister of Japan.

In 1948, however, Yoshida Shigeru was still in charge. Though both moved in the same high-flown circles, Kishi and Yoshida did not like each other. Yoshida, born in Tosa [now Kochi Prefecture in Shikoku], the son of a People’s Rights Movement activist, was a genuine conservative compared to Kishi, a Choshu man [now Yamaguchi Prefecture in western Honshu], proud of his provincial samurai ancestry and a typical exponent of the more zealous Japanese Right. Kishi had more silky charm than the gruff Yoshida, who is still remembered in Japan for having called a socialist MP a “damned fool” in parliament. But from the time he entered Tokyo Imperial University to the end of his long career, Kishi’s instincts were always on the opposite side of liberalism. As a young man, he admired Kita Ikki, the national socialist agitator behind the 1936 military rebellion. In the constitutional debates between Minobe and his rightist enemies, Kishi took the ultranationalist view. In Manchukuo, he was close to General Tojo and the Kwantung army. In 1939, he was in favor of strengthening the ties with Nazi Germany. In the struggles between businessmen and the military, he took the latter side. And in Sugamo prison, he still believed Japan had fought “a just war.”

Even though Kishi became a defender of democracy after the war, his politics were in some ways remarkably consistent. Before and during the war, he described himself as a national socialist: authoritarian, nationalistic, and socialist in the sense of seeing a planned economy as the right way to strengthen the nation and spread its wealth. He was never a believer in laissez-faire, or liberal Anglo-Saxon-style capitalism. In 1953, Kishi spoke out against policies of “the ‘let-alone’ type.” What was needed, instead, was centralized industrial planning that “should be carefully worked out–like the Russian five-year plans.” Just before making this statement, he had been on a trip to West Germany, where he had had a pleasant encounter with his old colleague, the former Nazi economics minister Hjalmar Schacht. Kishi’s economic ideas were and would remain very close to the mainstream of Japanese thinking….

For a moment, in 1955, it looked as though the Socialist Party might have a chance. The right and left wings made peace and merged into one Japan Socialist Party (JSP). But this galvanized the Liberals and Democrats, who, after a spate of mutual calumny and backstabbing, formed the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The architect of the merger was Kishi, and big business was the force that drove it…. This new alignment of parties became known as the “1955 System.” …

The LDP … quickly made the 1955 System into the LDP System. With the help of big business, Washington, senior bureaucrats, and an electoral system that favored the conservative rural areas, the LDP built up a formidable political machine. It was founded on money: money from construction companies, crime syndicates, industrial corporations, CIA slush funds, and trading companies, sluiced through a network of pork barrels, managed by party factions whose members could expect tenure in the Diet as long as the money kept flowing to their constituents. The factions were formed around powerful bosses, who were rotated as party leaders and prime ministers, so that everyone had a chance to feed at the trough. To operate smoothly, the LDP System relied on fixers behind the scenes, which is where old racketeers such as Sasakawa Ryoichi and Kodama Yoshio came in. Every new LDP prime minister vowed to abolish the factions. None of them did. The socialists did not get another chance to govern for forty years, and even then they did not last long.

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