Self-introduction: Vladimir (Pak Noja)

I am working with Oslo University (Norway) currently teaching a strange combination of undergraduate and postgraduate courses, which include East Asian religions and philosophies on one extreme (?) and something called “East Asia: Capital and Labour”, and mostly dealing with the relationship between corporate capital and unions in South Korea and Japan, and the rising current of labour militancy in China, on the other. I used to teach Korean language as well, having proudly produced around 6 graduates in 5 years. I have thought before that the University of Oslo must be the only place in the world where three teachers (me and two colleagues working part-time) teaching two students a language no business around might demand, would be tolerated and left in peace. Well, it was a naive illusion – Oslo University is following the same “party line” as elsewhere, and the teaching of Korean is going to be terminated next year, at least for the time being.

My academic trajectory (?) is odd enough to doubt its seriousness. I began with Kaya studies, when I was MA student and then PhD candidate – for those sane enough not to jump into the abyss of the ancient history, I can just explain that Kaya proto-states (they stood somewhere between a well-developed chiefdom and an early state) controlled a large part of the Naktong River valley and the southern coast of what is KyOngsang Province now, until being eaten up by Silla in 562 ( I wrote a PhD thesis on this, mostly using Nihon shoki (720) as my source material. I guess that is the only monograph written on Kaya in Russian – and it is likely to maintain its monopoly (?) for the time being, given the sad situation in the Russian academia. Then, I started to dabble in Korean Buddhism – after having been greatly surprised at sight of a reserve corps military uniform at one temple I frequented, and having understood how much practice might differ from theory. The last “side jump” was my love (or rather hate?) affair with Korea’s (and, by extension, China’s and Japan’s) Social Darwinism, which began around 5 years ago, and still fails to end. I am still struggling to understand in which ways and to which degree Social Darwinist consciousness contributed to the making of Korea’s nationalism in the 1880s-1900s, and what was the logic behind the Social Darwinist conversion (?) of many intellectuals who might have espoused different dreams as well – reformist Confucians, Christian converts, and some younger Buddhists.


  1. It is great to have you with us Vladimir! Your prolific scholarship, in multiple languages, and your role as a public intellectual are inspiring to say the least. I read an article you wrote on Social Darwinism in the International Journal of Korean History ( Our modern Korea PhD orals preparation list here at Harvard includes the Allen article in that same issue, and I would love to hear your thoughts on that article (and Allen’s discussion of the tension between anarchism, nationalism, and Social Darwinism in Sin Ch’aeho) at some point, or what progress there has been since in looking at Social Darwinism in Korean thought.

    I’m also quite fascinated by the whole strain of East Asian responses to, embraces of, and attempts to generate alterantives to Social Darwinist, or related organic national progressivist narratives.

  2. Recently the search for the Social Darwinist roots of the Korean state-centered nationalism
    (kukkajuUi- Japanese kokkashugi) seems to become a sort of popular topic among the Korean
    historians. There was a lengthy article on this by Pak Ch’ansUng (박찬승), which, by the way,
    made also an extensive use of Sin Ch’aeho writings. Then, we have a nice little book by my good
    friend Ko Misuk (고미숙) on “Korean modernity, sexuality and pathology” – also with a treasure grove of
    citations from various Enlightenment sources, Sin Ch’aeho included. Aside from this, there are
    around 8-10 recent articles on Sin Ch’aeho thought, which include also (often quite critical)
    analysis of its Social Darwinist component. If anybody is seriously interested, I can put here
    a list of these articles, with some of my comments on them.
    For me, Sin Ch’aeho is interesting, among other things, for one very special feature of his 1900s
    thought – unlike his elder colleagues Pak Unsik and Chang ChiyOn, Sin was never fascinated by
    the Japanese racialist pan-Asianism – all these ideas on the “war between the whites and the yellows”
    to which even earlier 1910s Liang Qichao (at least, until 1903-1904) seemed to be very loyal.
    In fact, Sin Ch’aeho was almost the only influential polemist of the 1900s, who explicitely
    contrasted the delusionary “preservation of the race” and more real “preservation of the state”.
    Taking into the consideration that Sin still was a racialist thinker (that is, race-based taxonomy
    was a “scientific fact” for him, together with the block of the received wisdom on the “racial
    qualities”), such rejection of the racist Pan-Asianism may be explained, probably, by the
    influence of his old SOnggyun’gwan teacher, Sudang Yi Namgyu – vitriolically anti-Japanese Confucian
    patriot, suspicious of all the Japanese ideological wares.

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