Category Archives: Korea

Effects of Japan’s Victory on the Yalu, 1904

From Rising Sun And Tumbling Bear, by R. M. Connaughton (Orion, 2020), Kindle pp. 90-91:

The battle of the Yalu was not only the decisive battle of this war, but was also a battle which ranks as one of the most important in the annals of warfare. The threat posed by Korea had been removed. Russia demonstrated her inability to go on the offensive, and her inability to match the fighting qualities of the Japanese at sea, and now on land. Russia had severely underestimated her enemy. The ‘monkeys’ had seen off her troops in a manner so impressive as to open the previously tied purse strings in London and New York to finance Japan’s further progress in the war. The psychological impact on Russia was immense; this disgrace was the beginning of her downfall, it was the beginning of many beginnings. From this point can be traced the inevitability of the end of the old colonialism, an impetus toward the development of world communism and its own attendant form of colonialism, and the euphoria which swept Japan into other wars, and the ultimate thermonuclear response. ‘The echoes of the battle will reverberate afar,’ wrote the military correspondent of The Times, ‘and distant is the day when the story will weary in the telling, among the races of the unforgiving East.’

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Japanese Army Logistics, 1904

From Rising Sun And Tumbling Bear, by R. M. Connaughton (Orion, 2020), Kindle p. 68:

A rough and rugged country, bad communications, a poor population with a seasonal shortage of supplies, and the limitations imposed by uncompromising weather, only served to exacerbate the problems of waging war. In few wars has the evidence of the relevance of the factors of military administration – simplicity, co-operation, economy of effort, flexibility and foresight – been so appropriately displayed. The Japanese advance northward was spearheaded by the commissary protected by the cavalry and infantry. Pyongyang, 150 miles north of Seoul, was entered first on 21 February by a transport officer who, with a party of twenty men, drove out the Cossacks. Along the route towards that town four further supply posts were established, enabling the cavalry screen of the Twelfth Division to enter Pyongyang on 23 February, followed by the main body arriving between 25 February and the first week of March. The logisticians had made good preparations for the division’s arrival. A palace was requisitioned and became the focal point for the collection of supplies. Blankets and mounds of rice appeared as if by magic. Herds of cattle, observed and noted by the Japanese agents living among the Koreans, were bought, collected and driven towards the depot. Quartermasters beavered away. Outside every village and suburb appeared noticeboards assigning areas and quarters to the still distant advancing troops. Maps, drawings and diagrams showed every local house and road in detail. When the tired troops arrived, their quarters had been prepared for them, fires were lit in the streets, and field kitchens supplied hot food.

While bargaining was going on for the purchase of pigs at a fair rate, coolie convoys would head southward out of the town in the direction of the approaching soldiers. With the exception of gun ammunition, no military package exceeded 75 lbs – the optimum weight for one coolie to carry. Further calculations would extrapolate these loads to so many for a pony, a cart, and so on. Uniformity of size was therefore important, as was the correct labelling of each packet. The coolie army had been instantly recruited and numbered 10,000. They were paid wages well above the market norm and the status of village leaders was recognised by decorating them with stripes of red to show that they held privileged positions in His Imperial Majesty’s Japanese Transport Corps.

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Foreign Observers of Russo-Japanese War

From Rising Sun And Tumbling Bear, by R. M. Connaughton (Orion, 2020), Kindle pp. 70-71:

The intention of foreign nations to learn lessons from the wars of others was demonstrated by the role of the foreign military observer, a role which became institutionalised during the American Civil War 1861–5 and the Franco–Prussian War 1870–71. The alliances which followed-on from these wars and the perceived impact of technological revolution upon modern warfare were responsible for a quantum leap in interest in the monitoring of the events on both sides of the Russo-Japanese War, on land and at sea. There were as many as one hundred foreign military observers from sixteen countries in Manchuria and Korea.

Britain provided the largest proportion of observers for she recognised that, as the ranking power, she had the most to lose in not keeping abreast with the developments and potential of modern warfare. The Royal Navy’s last serious battle had been Trafalgar, 1805, and her army’s last conventional war had been the Crimean War, 1853–6. Colonial conflict, as in the Boer War, 1899–1902, provided Britain with no compelling evidence as to how the next continental war would be fought but what it did do was raise worrying questions concerning the performance of her army. The Imperial Japanese Army had scant regard for the British Army, whereas the Imperial Japanese Navy (and Russia) rated the Royal Navy highly. Even though Captain William Packenham became a personal friend of Admiral Togo, he never felt sufficiently confident to test this friendship by going ashore. Geographical factors provided Britain with further reason to be interested in how the Japanese managed the war. It was the naval strategist Corbett who remarked: ‘What the North Sea and the English Channel are to ourselves, the Sea of Japan and the Straits of Korea are for the island empire of the Far East.’

Russia had good reason to regard as spies the three military observers she accepted from Britain, among whom was Brigadier W. H-H. Waters. Russia was no more relaxed with the Admiralty’s appointee, Captain Eyres, later captured in Manchuria by the Japanese.

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Kimjang in North Korea

From Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite, by Suki Kim (Crown, 2014), Kindle pp. 230-232:

IN THE SECOND WEEK OF NOVEMBER, SACKS AND SACKS OF garlic and cabbages were delivered on a truck at lunchtime, and several classes were called outside to unload them. They brought the garlic into the cafeteria, and for two consecutive days students and faculty spent more than an hour peeling them. That was how I learned that this was the week of kimjang.

In both North and South Korea, in the late fall, most families make enough kimchi to last through the winter. This tradition originated more than a thousand years ago, when vegetables were not readily available year round. When I was a child, the kimjang season was always festive. The women in my neighborhood got busy suddenly, buying the ingredients—cabbage, radishes, chili peppers, scallions, garlic, ginger, marinated baby shrimps, and anchovies. Then they gathered together to wash the cabbages and radishes, salt them, and make barrels and barrels of kimchi. It was a time of laughter, gossip, and good feelings all around. I would hover around my mother, waiting for a bite of freshly made kimchi dripping chili liquid. That piercing taste of crispy cabbage and raw seasoning was etched in my memory as the first sign of winter. The finished kimchi would be stored in earthenware pots and kept outside to ferment slowly. The increasingly pungent-tasting kimchi kept us strong through the snowy nights of the long, hard Korean winter.

I had not thought about kimjang in a long time. When we moved to America, my mother worked seven days a week and made kimchi less and less, so we got by on the store-bought kind. Besides, with most vegetables available fresh year round, there was no reason to make so much kimchi at once, never mind the fact that we had no garden or balcony to put out the pots. Yet, there I was in Pyongyang, peeling garlic for kimjang with hundreds of young North Korean men who rolled up their sleeves and obliged without hesitation, cheerfully sharing their memories of kimjang at their own houses.

One said he always helped his mother by carrying buckets of water up the stairs: “It takes a lot of water to wash one hundred fifty kilos of cabbage.” That suggested there was no fresh water at his house, despite the fact that his family was part of the elite. Another chimed in that his family was small, just he and his parents, so they only needed eighty kilos. Then they asked me how many kilos my government delivered to my house for kimjang. I could not bring myself to tell them that kimjang was a disappearing tradition for the modern generation, and that the city of New York did not distribute a ration of cabbages to each household, so I just said that my mother no longer did kimjang. They seemed confused and asked how my family then obtained kimchi during the winter. I explained that America was big and the weather varied from region to region, and that all kinds of foods were available during the winter because we traded with many other countries. I used their country’s trade with China as an example, which helped them to understand.

I confessed that I too was confused, about their way of doing kimjang. What about peppers and radishes and scallions, since each family, presumably, had its own unique recipe, with slightly different ingredients? A student explained that the rations varied. This year, for example, the harvest had been bad and there was not enough cabbage for families, so some people bought whatever extra was necessary. This was the second time a student had admitted to a lack of anything.

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Reporter Meets Minder in North Korea

From Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite, by Suki Kim (Crown, 2014), Kindle pp. 23-26:

On the Philharmonic trip, Mr. Ri and I had chatted so effortlessly that at times it was confusing to make sense of our relationship, since his job was to report on me, and my job as a magazine correspondent, reporting on the event, was not all that different. It is remarkable how quickly camaraderie develops when tensions are high.

The thirty-six hours in Pyongyang on that trip were a whirlwind. It turned out that that was the whole point. It was a PR event carefully orchestrated by the DPRK regime, with the American orchestra providing the incidental music. There was nothing any of us could write about except what we were allowed to see, which was a concert like any other, a few staged welcome performances, and the usual tourist sites. It was a lesson in control and manipulation. The real audience was not those in the concert hall but the journalists whose role was to deliver a sanitized version of North Korea to the outside world, and what shocked me was how easily seduced they were. Both CNN and the New York Times reported that the performance drew tears from the audience, and soon the major newspapers around the world followed with stories about this successful experiment in cultural diplomacy. Lorin Maazel, then the conductor of the Philharmonic, declared that seventy million Koreans would thank him forever. I witnessed no crying in the audience—all handpicked members of the Party elite—nor did any of the correspondents I spoke to after the performance. The tears I recall from that trip were a different kind.

Although it was my second time visiting North Korea, I burst into tears while saying goodbye to my minder. I was not a journalist on assignment in that moment. Instead I was thinking of my grandmother and my uncle, and my great-aunt and her daughters, and of the millions of Korean lives erased and forgotten. Right there, on the tarmac, before boarding the chartered flight with everyone in our mission, I told Mr. Ri that I was sick of this division, and that I would probably never see him again because the people of his country were not allowed to leave or even have contact with the rest of the world, that his country was so isolated that even I, a fellow Korean, could only visit it as part of the American delegation, shadowing the American orchestra, and that it broke my heart to see how bad things really were there. I said all this standing on that tarmac, my face covered with tears, the floodgates open after thirty-six hours of enforced silence. This, in hindsight, was thoughtless of me. I was about to climb onto that flight and return to the free world, but he was stuck there, and the other minders saw this encounter. But, surprisingly, tears ran down his face too, along with the faces of two other minders nearby. They said nothing, just cried and cried.

My first reaction to seeing Mr. Ri here, three years later, was that of relief. He had not been punished for crying with me at the airport. He was okay! Then I felt afraid. He had met me as a journalist, so what would he make of the fact that I stood before him as a missionary teacher? It was a mystery to me why I had been allowed in. Joan and President Kim knew that I was a writer, although they thought of me as a novelist, which they must not have considered a threat. But they had only to Google me to find out that I had in fact published a fair number of articles and op-eds about North Korea. The most recent piece had been a feature essay on defection, a taboo topic. But President Kim had also been very interested in the Fulbright organization—which had given me a fellowship—and asked me to arrange a meeting between him and the Seoul division’s director, which I did. And I had been referred to him by the powerful Mrs. Gund. Whatever the reason, I had passed their vetting.

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Twelve Wonders of North Korea

From Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite, by Suki Kim (Crown, 2014), Kindle pp. 105-106:

The students proudly said that the apple farm was the eleventh songun (military first) wonder of their country, and that they had helped to build it. They told me that in April and May 2009, college students from throughout Pyongyang had spent every Sunday digging holes for the trees, working in teams. They seemed genuinely fond of their memories of working there, though one student admitted that it had been hard because it was extremely cold that spring. I asked if they had since visited to see—and taste—the fruits of their labor. There was a pause before they told me that they had not seen the farm since the trees had been planted. Yet the farm was less than half an hour’s drive from the school.

To ease the sudden awkwardness, I asked about the other wonders. They seemed relieved and volunteered information eagerly. When General Kim Jong-il took over after Eternal Great Leader Kim Il-sung’s death in 1994, they told me, there had been only eight wonders, but now they had twelve. The first one was the Sunrise at Baekdu-san (Mount Baekdu), where Kim Jong-il was born. The second was the winter pines at Dabak Military Base, where Kim Jong-il had first thought of the songun policy. The third was the azaleas at Chulryong hill near a frontline base, where Kim Jong-il often visited. The fourth was the night view of Jangja mountain, where Kim Jong-il had taken refuge during the Korean War as a child. The fifth was the echo of the Oolim Falls, which Kim Jong-il said was the sound of a powerful and prosperous nation. The sixth was the horizon of Handrebul field, the site of Kim Jong-il’s 1998 land reform. The seventh was the potato flowers from the field of Daehongdan, where Kim Il-sung had fought the Japanese imperialists and Kim Jong-il upheld his revolutionary spirit by starting the country’s biggest potato farm. The eighth was the view of the village of Bumanli, which Kim Jong-il had praised as a socialist ideal that shone bright during the Arduous March. The ninth was the beans at the army depot, which Kim Jong-il once said made him happy that his soldiers were well fed. The tenth was the rice harvest in the town of Migok, so plentiful that Kim Jong-il had declared it to be a shining example of socialist farming. The eleventh was the apple farm, and the twelfth was the Ryongjung fish farm of southern Hwanghae province whose sturgeons swarmed toward the sea, just as the satellites of the DPRK, under Kim Jong-il, flew toward the sky. The students uniformly remarked that the increase from eight to twelve wonders under the Great General’s guidance meant that their country was powerful and prosperous and would continue to be so.

It was at moments like these that I could not help but think that they—my beloved students—were insane. Either they were so terrified that they felt compelled to lie and boast of the greatness of their Leader, or they sincerely believed everything they were telling me. I could not decide which was worse.

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Early Japanese Interest in South Seas

From Nanshin: Japanese settlers in Papua and New Guinea, 1890–1949, by Hiromitsu Iwamoto (Journal of Pacific History, 1999), pp. 15-16:

Until the late 19th century the Japanese government had no policies for the South Seas. The government was preoccupied with domestic affairs, while Germany, the United States, Australia, France, Spain, Netherlands, and Britain were involved in the acquisition and exchange of tropical islands. The Japanese government’s primary concern was to centralise governance in order to build a strong empire which could not be colonised. External affairs were secondary concerns in which the government was mainly preoccupied with the removal of unequal treaties imposed by Western nations and the promotion of national prestige. Although Japan’s expansionism was shown in the 1870s in Saigō Takamori‘s claim to invade Korea, Ōkubo Toshimichi‘s decision to send a military expedition to Taiwan and the government’s declaration that the Ryūkyū Islands and Sakhalin were parts of Japan, the expansion was limited to the adjacent region. The government’s involvement in South Seas affairs was marginal and largely confined to matters of national prestige and the rights of citizens abroad.

Japan’s first involvement in the South Seas was an embarrassing episode involving emigrants to Guam. In 1868 about 40 Japanese emigrated as contract labourers to work on a plantation where a Spanish employer treated them harshly. The Japanese were treated no differently from locals and the employer did not pay their promised wages in full. Their complaint to a Spanish administrator was ignored. In 1871, after some had died due to harsh work conditions, three managed to return to Japan to report their plight. The government was astonished and the matter was discussed, but it is unknown whether it took any action to save these migrants or protested to the Spanish administration. In 1868, 153 contract labourers in Hawaii suffered a similar fate. These incidents embarrassed the Japanese government which was acutely sensitive about its national dignity but probably the government, which was just managing to survive by pacifying rebels, chose not to protest in order to avoid conflicts that it could not handle confidently. The government could only ban emigration by enforcing tight regulations to avoid further national disgrace.

However, the issue of sovereignty over the Ogasawara (also known as Bonin) Islands provided an opportunity to stimulate Japanese interest in the South Seas. Although the Tokugawa government hardly resisted when Commodore Perry demanded the opening of Japan and proclaimed US possession of the Ogasawara Islands in 1853, some vocal Meiji officials in 1875 ’emphasised the urgency of return of the islands that could connect Japanese interests to the South Seas’. The report of the Foreign Ministry to the Prime Minister explained that ‘the islands were a strategic point in the Pacific sea route, which was extremely important in Japan’s advancement in the South Sea’. Then negotiations began and the US compromised. The issue signalled the beginning of the government’s awareness of its interests in the South Seas. It was also significant in that the government promoted national dignity by recovering territory.

As the incidents in Guam and Hawaii showed, the government was aware of its weak internal position and tried not to provoke other Western nations in the South Seas until the 1880s.

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Rise and Fall of Chinese Silk Trade

From Yangtze: Nature, History, and the River, by Lyman P. Van Slyke (Stanford Alumni Assn., 1988), pp. 97-100:

Not long after the time of Christ, the straitlaced Roman philosopher-orator Seneca voiced a frequently heard denunciation: “I see silken clothes, if one can call them clothes at all, that in no degree afford protection either to the body or the modesty of the wearer, and clad in which no woman could honestly swear she is not naked.” If salt was China’s premier domestic product, silk was China’s first international trade commodity. This remarkable textile gave its name not only to the route (the Silk Road) across which it was traded to the Near East and the Mediterranean but also to the Latin name for China (Seres or Serica). Silk was an ideal product for long-distance trade: high in value but low in bulk and weight, and not subject to deterioration in transit.

Before the time of Christ, high quality silk fabrics had made their way westward in sufficient quantities to motivate some of Alexander the Great’s campaigns and then, as we have seen, to become the subject of denunciation in Rome for their extravagance and for their sheerness. Large amounts of silk fabric were periodically exported to the rough nomadic peoples living north of China, as part of the price paid for peace along the Great Wall. From China, the technique spread to Korea in the fourth century and thence to Japan. India probably learned the technology at about the same time. Finally, around A.D. 550, Bombyx mori eggs were smuggled into the Byzantine Empire in hollow canes carried by certain Indian monks who had lived for a long time in the Central Asian oasis city-states on the Silk Road. But the mere possession of eggs did not assure the successful development of sericulture.

Silk has always been an elite product, amounting to less than 1 percent of cotton and 3 percent of wool production in the twentieth century. In world trade, it reached its peak in about 1920, when its major use was for women’s silk hosiery—perhaps the only mass use of silk in its history. Thereafter, artificial fibres—rayon, nylon, orlon, etc.—were developed and replaced silk in many of its previous uses. Although silk technology was developed in China, by the mid-1930s Japan was the dominant Asian and world producer, partly because of aggressive adoption of the best production methods, especially quality control, and partly because Chinese production was seriously disrupted by unrest, revolution, and Japanese invasion.

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China’s Constant Internal Migrations

From Yangtze: Nature, History, and the River, by Lyman P. Van Slyke (Stanford Alumni Assn., 1988), p. 53:

China generates paradox. The Chinese are renowned for their attachment to place, their deep identification with native soil. And yet whenever one looks at Chinese history one finds people everywhere on the move. Migration is part of this movement, the permanent transfer of people from one region to another, sometimes pushed out of their original homeland by overpopulation, poverty, disaster, or war, and sometimes attracted to new lands by real or presumed opportunities for betterment of their lives.

But migrants were not the only travelers across the Chinese landscape. Merchants big and small set forth on business trips; Buddhist monks and devout layfolk made pilgrimages or sought centers of learning; scholars aspiring to prestigious careers in the imperial civil service headed for provincial capitals or Peking to take the most fiendishly demanding examinations ever devised. Officials took up their posts across the far-flung realm, and some were exiled for real or alleged offenses to the most remote and dangerous corners of the empire; corvee labor gangs were sent to work on canals or defensive walls; boatmen and transport coolies moved the goods of the empire; one might even spot a rare travel buff exploring his world out of curiosity or scholarly interest. There were foreign traders, Japanese and Korean monks who had come to learn from Chinese Buddhist masters, ambassadors and their retinues, entertainers, bandits, fugitives. In wartime, armies were on the march. Rebel hordes, angry and desperate peasants headed by ambitious or megalomaniac leaders with their own dynastic dreams, followed the same routes as migrants, merchants, a11d scht1lars. In the mid-1960s, during the Cultural Revolution, urban youth went on an orgy of hitherto prohibited travel, sanctioned by Mao Tse-tung’s revolutionary dictum to “exchange revolutionary experience”; later, beginning in 1969, some fourteen million of these urban youth were sent whether they wanted to go or not to the countryside to “learn from the peasants.”

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Yanbian, the Third Korea

From The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China, by David Eimer (Bloomsbury, 2014), Kindle pp. 253-256:

Yanji was still the same tightly packed mass of greying apartment and office blocks, divided by the Buerhatong River, I had encountered on previous visits. But if Yanji looks like a typically undistinguished third-tier Chinese city, it feels very different from one. The first hint of its dual nature is the fact that the street signs are in same-sized Chinese and Korean characters. They are symbolic of the way Yanji’s 400,000 people are divided almost equally between Han and ethnic Korean, and how they coexist in a far more amenable atmosphere than is normal for Chinese and minorities in the borderlands.

There is no sense that the city is segregated, as Lhasa and Urumqi are rigidly divided between Han and Tibetan or Uighur neighbourhoods. Stand at a bus stop in Yanji and you will hear Korean in one ear and Mandarin in the other until they seem to blend into one bizarre new tongue. And the longer you stay in Yanji, the more South Korean it feels. Restaurants offering Korean delicacies like dog meat outnumber Chinese eateries. The city has its own TV channels in Korean, along with newspapers and magazines offering the latest updates on celebrity scandals in Seoul.

Security is unobtrusive here too. There are plenty of soldiers in the surrounding Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, the official Chinese name for the region, mounting guard along the nearby border with the DPRK. But in Yanji itself the main hint that the military is around are the jets from a nearby air-force base that scream over the city at regular intervals, coming in so low that the red stars on their fuselages are clearly visible.

Yanbian, Yanji apart, is one of the least densely populated regions of China outside the high plateau of Tibet and the deserts of Xinjiang. Around 2.2 million people live in an area of Jilin Province about half the size of South Korea, which has a population of fifty million. After the packed cities and countryside of eastern and southern China, where every inch of land is utilised, the empty landscape is both a shock and a relief. Forty per cent of the residents of the prefecture are ethnic Korean, the rest Han, with the remaining million-plus Chinese Koreans mostly spread throughout the rest of Jilin, or in neighbouring Liaoning Province.

Ethnic Koreans are known in China as Chaoxianzu [朝鲜族] which translates as ‘North Korean race’ [more literally ‘Chosŏn tribe’ or ‘morning calm tribe’], Chaoxian being the Chinese name for the DPRK [because the DPRK uses the same name]. It is a way of distinguishing them from South Koreans, but also an accurate description of their origins because nearly all Chinese Koreans come from areas that are now part of North Korea. [In current Japanese usage, North Korea is called Kita-Chōsen (北朝鮮 = North Chosŏn) and South Korea Kankoku (韓国 = Hanguk), but the use of “Chōsenjin” to refer to Korean people has a long history of derogatory usage and, at least to my ears, the Sino-Japanese reading of 朝鲜族, Chōsenzoku ‘Chōsen tribe’, sounds even worse.]

By [1945], there were 1.7 million Koreans living in Dongbei. With Japan occupying Korea, almost all supported or fought for the CCP in its battles against the Japanese and the nationalist armies, including Kim Il-sung who would later wildly exaggerate his success as a guerrilla leader, despite having spent much of the Second World War living safely in the Russian Far East. Even after the defeat of Japan in 1945, most Koreans in China chose to stay on, with only half a million returning to their homeland.

As Korea was plunged into the war that formalised the division of the peninsula into two separate countries, another Korea was being created. Beijing didn’t forget the sacrifices of the Koreans in Dongbei during the Sino-Japanese War and the Chinese Civil War. They were given land and, in 1952, became one of the first ethnic groups to be granted their own official region. Now Yanbian is a third Korea, only one inside China. With its people hailing from North Korea but bound culturally to South Korea, it presages what a reunified Korea might be like.

China’s Koreans enjoy advantages denied to other minorities, which only reinforces the sense that Yanbian is more like a mini-state than just another autonomous area. The most notable of these is the right to education in their own language at school as well as college. Unlike in Xinjiang, where the government has closed down Uighur-only schools, or Xishuangbanna and Tibet, where the only way to study Dai or Tibetan is to become a monk, the Yanbian government actually funds schools that teach in Korean.

Nor are the Koreans as obviously subordinate to the Han as most other ethnic groups, being well represented among local officials. Apart from during the Cultural Revolution, when the Chaoxianzu suffered along with all the minorities, the Han have always maintained a mutually respectful relationship with the Koreans. On the surface at least, the Han approach in Yanbian seemed to me to be a model which if followed elsewhere would certainly reduce, while not eliminating, tensions between the Chinese and the most restive minorities.

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