Posts Tagged ‘Korea’

Lunar Land-scapegoat

June 22, 2017

Outmoded rituals –like the minor habits of daily domestic life– can be difficult to set aside even once their original purpose has long been lost to modern memory.  Nowhere is this more true than in the Moonrise Kingdom of New Baekje now taking shape upon the ruins remaining from Old Silla.  Amid the tumult and confusion of foreground regime change, longstanding cultural practices keep-on-keepin’-on … at the very margins of visibility.  Case in point, the presidential photo-op:

Way back yonder in the Lee Myung-bak era, Lunghu pointed out that visiting dignitaries at Cheong Wa Dae were sorted by their hosts into a hierarchy of international importance that was signalled by the subtly-coded backdrop before which the traditional handshake photo was staged.  Barbarian emissaries of semi-savage nations (Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia) were received in front of a Chosun-era folding screen depicting lowly foreign messengers performing their kowtow to the Korean emperor.  Diplomats and officials from valuable export markets in Europe and North America posed for their handshake with a glowingly resplendent golden screen behind them.  Close neighbors from China and Japan rated an auspicious Asian landscape painting replete with Sinitic symbolism.  A place for everyone, and everyone in their place.

This pattern from Lee Myung-bak’s Republic of Hyundai didn’t change during Park Geun-hye‘s Republic of Samsung, and thus far it hasn’t changed under Moon Jae-in‘s Republic of Candlepower.  That’s why Beijing-bound Beltway advanceman Richard N. Haass is backlit with a golden aura in the photo above.  Despite what Koreans might think of the monarch whose message he bears, the United States is still a precious ally in an unfriendly neighborhood.  As far as Koreans are concerned, the U.S. alliance is a vital relationship that can –and must– outlast four years of attempted sabotage inspired by Comrade Bear.

Upshift

That said, let’s never forget that national politics is –in every nation– a cutthroat, zero-sum, feast-or-famine struggle for survival.  So it should be absolutely no surprise that the newly-exiled courtiers of Old Silla (under the rebranded label of Liberty Korea Party) are seeking to exploit their well-established backchannel links with American conservatives to discredit the Moon government’s national security policies.  According to these hardened cold-warriors, a left-center/progressive/human activist like Moon Jae-in is someone who will place the freedom-loving Korean nation in jeopardy by being soft on China and squishy on Kim Jong-un.  Since President Moon currently has public approval ratings above 80%, they’ve inevitably chosen to attack his appointees rather than the man himself.  Thus their overt parliamentary maneuvering and covert media campaigns against foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha and national security adviser Moon Chung-in.

In fact, Hannara/GNP/Saenuri/Liberty Korea knows quite well that the new administration has no real wiggle room to dramatically alter inter-Korean relations: Kim Jong-un ain’t playin’.  Instead, what really worries the kleptocrats of Liberty Korea is the inevitable, inexorable impact of a looming government crackdown on chaebol corruption. Coming soon: a long overdue Brazilian-style carwash investigation, transplanted to Gangnam and points South-Southeast.

 

Frisson d’Avril

April 1, 2017

The yin water Rabbit month ended earlier this week (on Monday or Tuesday, depending on your location under the rising new moon), but feng shui misfortunes persist for those whose star-crossed destinies are in clash with the Year of the Fowl.  Case in point: Park Geun-hye, dowager queen of Hell-Joseon.

Four years and three months after being elected, the same Park Geun-hye who vowed to become a “public welfare president” and “a president for unity” was incarcerated on March 31 as a suspect in 13 criminal charges, including bribery. The arrest warrant, which was issued by Seoul Central District Court 21 days after the Constitutional Court removed Park from presidential office, is based on a number of charges against her, including the acceptance of a 43.3 billion won (US$38.6 million) bribe from Samsung.  “Since the main charges have been established and there are concerns about the destruction of evidence, we grant the grounds for detention, its necessity and its significance,” Judge Kang Bu-yeong said.

Prosecutors managed to back up their charge that Park received 43.3 billion won from Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong (in jail under investigative detention) in return for government rulings that helped him inherit management rights over the Samsung Group.  Their evidence included the notebook of Park’s former aide, Senior Secretary for Economic Affairs Ahn Jong-beom (in jail awaiting trial) and several text messages exchanged by Samsung staff who were discussing financial support for Choi Sun-sil’s daughter Jung Yu-ra.

Prosecutors are very likely to file charges against Park before April 17, which marks the beginning of the official election period [stipulated under Korea’s Constitution].  Prosecutors are also likely to speed up their investigation of Samsung and other chaebols, including Lotte and SK, who have come up in the investigation of Choi Sun-sil.

Mene, Mene, Tekel Upharsin

Two years ago, the handwriting on the wall which foretold Park’s downfall was literally there to be seen  –hiding in plain sight in her presidential palace.  But the message was written in the language of images rather than in Hangul or Roman characters.  I blogged about this cryptic portent in January 2015, parsing the symbolic meaning of imagery depicted in a scenic backdrop that formed part of the stage set for Park’s New Year’s message to the Korean people.  In retrospect, given what we now know about Choi Sun-sil’s control over the presentation of Park’s public persona, it’s clear that the iconic symbols crammed into the landscape were almost certainly chosen by Choi herself as a coded message to the business executives she was shaking down:  the president’s treasure bowl is to be filled through the three Blue House aides portrayed as grazing deer.

So, because Korean history inevitably repeats itself, I’m not at all surprised that the ROK is once again submerged in a tsunami of scandalous corruption.  Lee Myung-bak‘s Republic of Hyundai was briefly succeeded by Lee Jae-yong‘s Republic of Samsung, and now something else will be hastily cobbled together to masquerade as governance in the southern provinces.  In a waning Yin Fire year, Earth and Metal are signs of Korea’s future.

 

End Of An Error

March 9, 2017

Election scheduled for May 9, 2017.

 

Tigers & You-Freightees

January 31, 2017

Just a few indicators that we’re now into the month of the Tiger during the Year of the Fowl:

Korean tigers return to Baekdu-daegan mountain range

The [South] Korea Forest Service announced that it has transported a pair of male Korean tigers named Duman and Geumgang to the tiger forest at the Baekdu-daegan National Arboretum in Seobyeok, North Gyeongsang Province. The Forest Service has set up a system of barriers around the forest to allow visitors to observe the tigers in safety.

“Mt. Baekdu tigers are a protected species designated as Level 1 endangered wild fauna,” said Park Jong-ho, director of the Forest Service’s forest usage bureau.

 

Bobcat escapes from National Zoo in Washington

A female bobcat, believed to be about 7 years old, was found to be missing Monday morning from its enclosure at the National Zoo when it didn’t show up for breakfast.

“We know that she is absolutely capable of surviving, even thriving, in this area,” said Brandie Smith, the zoo’s associate director of animal care. “If she doesn’t return, she would likely survive on a diet of birds, small rodents, house cats or small dogs that are left alone outside,” Smith added.

 

Man Mauled by Tiger, Killed at Eastern China Resort

A man named Zhang who climbed a fence at Dongqian Lake Resort in Zhejiang province to avoid paying the entry fee was attacked and killed by tigers when he into ventured into their enclosure.  The attack occurred on Saturday [New Year’s Day] at the Tiger Hill enclosure in Ningbo Youngor Zoo.  One tiger was shot dead by local police, and three others nearby were dispersed using firecrackers.

 

Precautionary measures in the Fire Fowl Year

Russia grounds Proton-M rocket for 3½ months

Russia’s workhorse Proton-M rockets will be out of service for three and a half months because of engine problems.  Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said some employees at the Voronezh factory had been involved in faking documentation linked to the rocket and would be “harshly punished.”  The director of the factory resigned last week after Russian officials concluded that the crash of a Progress [space] cargo ship in December was the result of a malfunction by engines built at the plant.

 

Fowl Play

January 24, 2017

Winter Solstice –> subsequent full moon –> subsequent new moon = Lunar New Year.  January 28 2017 marks the beginning of the Year of the Fowl (elsewhere known as the Year of the Rooster or Year of the Chicken).  In the unceasing alternation of yin and yang, the Year of the Yang Fire Monkey will give way to the Year of the Yin Fire Fowl.  Because Yin Fire has feminine characteristics, it is not appropriate to refer to this year’s particular poultry specimen as a rooster … perhaps not even as a capon.  Thus my choice of the gender-neutral term Fowl.

 

jiaxing_fowl_1

I’ve decided not to use the word “Hen” because of the dismissively pejorative sense in which it is often used by a certain category of person.  Furthermore, the word Fowl is more broadly inclusive, permitting us to evoke such related species as quail, pheasants, turkeys, ducks, cormorants, geese, cranes, storks, and swans.  Thus we move our minds and imaginative vision beyond the familiar domestic barnyard into the great outdoors, with its woodlands, prairies, tundra, marshes, streams, ponds and lakes.  Under the vast sweep of the endless sky, flocking fowl of all descriptions fly from place to place in search of forage and their ancestral nesting grounds.  Most will never end their days in a bubbling bath of mushroom wine sauce.

But let’s take it from the top: first the Celestial Stem, then the Earthly Branch.  This year’s stem is Ding [ 丁 ] (meaning “an individual”).  Ding is governed by the yin Fire element and is therefore associated with the South direction.  Yin Fire is the weaker form of fire, manifested in small light sources such as candlelight, starlight, torches, stoves and sparks. The association with fire gives Ding a visual affinity with colors such as red, orange, pink and purple. It is the fourth in the sequence of ten Celestial Stems, and is thus almost halfway through the celestial cycle.  For feng-shui soothsayers it is the yin Fire element that constitutes Ding‘s most influential attribute.  According to your neighborhood Daoist seer, interaction between the year’s Celestial Stem element and its Earthly Branch element is what causes the manifold terrestrial phenomena that we see unfold before our eyes as the year progresses.

Which brings us to this year’s Earthly Branch, You [ 酉 ] (meaning “ripe” or “complete”).  In the animal zodiac it corresponds to the Fowl.  The Fowl is a yin Metal element associated with the West direction.  Yin Metal represents the lesser, weaker form of metal, so it is associated with small metal objects: small knives, scissors, garden implements, farming tools or pins and needles … or items made of soft metals like gold, silver, copper or lead (coins, jewelry, plumbing or bullets, for example).

The Fowl (yin Metal) is also one of four “Peach Blossom” animals in the Chinese zodiac associated with heightened sexuality. The other three are Rabbit (yin Wood), Horse (yang Fire), and Rat (yang Water).  Two yin animals, two yang animals: understand?  You may also have noticed that only four out of the five elements are represented among the “Peach Blossom” animals.  That’s because you gotta have yin-yang balance for the heavenly cycle to continue its eternal rotation.  An Earth element presence among the Peach Blossoms, whether yin (Cow or Sheep) or yang (Dragon or Dog), would be like a third wheel on the bicycle built for two.

What does all this mean for 2017?  Well, the Celestial Stem above controls the Earthly Branch below, and thus we have yin Fire above the yin Metal Fowl.  In the Five Elements destructive cycle of relationships, Fire has a controlling/ destructive influence on Metal (fire melts metal).  This is definitely a negative portent for 2017:  the strong of this world will continue to bully and exploit the weak.  It’s scant consolation that the strong will be somewhat weaker this year than in 2016 now that yin Fire has succeeded yang Fire.  That’s because the weak will also be weaker this year: yin Metal Fowl has replaced yang Metal Monkey, a stronger Metal element who was better able to resist yang Fire.

The combination of Fire and Metal in 2017 has prompted some feng shui soothsayers to warn of fire-related disasters initiated by sparks or flame –such as brush fires, lightning strikes, power failures, electrical accidents, explosions or perhaps a towering inferno in a very prominent steel-frame building.  Because Ding yin Fire is associated with the South direction, these possible misfortunes are said to be more likely to occur in southern regions of the globe, southern portions of a nation, or southern areas of a large city.  Houston, do we have a problem?  SDNY?  Perhaps we’ll see.

But wait, there’s more.  The avian presence of a Metal Fowl in the Earthly Branch implies that airborne soft metal (aluminum?) objects are at risk of fire as well.  In this context, rocket and missile launches may not go well.  Some prognosticators go so far as advising travelers to avoid airlines with a red logo (the color of Ding Fire), a bird in their logo (Lufthansa?) or the word “East” in the airline name.  This last proviso seems to rooted in the fact that East is the direction of the Rabbit, who is directly “in clash” with the Fowl this year.  Thus East is “offending the year.”

Jan 25th update: this could really cut down on your travel options, since cursory research indicates that at least 50 air carriers have a bird of some kind in their logo.  Several prominent airlines that don’t use a bird image instead have predominantly red logos:

  • Air Canada (a maple leaf)
  • Avianca
  • Dragonair (a red dragon)
  • Emirates (Arabic script in red)
  • Iberia (a stylized Spanish flag of red & gold)
  • Malaysian Airlines (’nuff said)
  • Quantas (a kangaroo on a red background)
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Swissair (the Swiss flag)
  • Virgin Atlantic

daedong_ck

I’m going to briefly riff off this last point to make a prediction of my own.  In Korean, as in Chinese, the word for East is ‘Dong‘ (pronounced ‘doong’).  Daedong (Great East) Industrial Company, Ltd. is a manufacturer of farm machinery based in Daegu, South Korea.  Their tractors are red (or maybe orange).  Daegu is a political stronghold of Korea’s beleaguered Saenuri party, whose leader is recently-impeached President Park Geun-hye … born in the Year of the Rabbit … in Daegu.  I’m thinking this combination won’t be good for soon-to-be-ex-President Park in 2017, and it won’t be good for Daedong Industrial Company, Ltd either.  The Rabbit month (March) will be when Korea’s Constitutional Court is likely to rule on the validity of Park’s impeachment.

Of course, there’s another Daedong in Korea, too.  It’s the Taedong River in North Korea, which runs right through the capital Pyongyang.  Since I haven’t looked at the Four Pillars feng-shui birth chart of Kim Jong-un, that’s all I’m gonna say.

Economic Portents

The interaction of Fire and Metal can also be expected to have an influence on human economic activity throughout the world.  Since Fire element controls the Metal element, Metal industries like banking, engineering, computers, automobiles and precious metals might be expected to do poorly during 2017.

On the other hand, Fire industries should prosper: electrical power, entertainment, fashion, beauty, film, and broadcasting may do quite well. The influence of the Peach Blossom Fowl should also assist entrepreneurs in sex and pornography businesses, bars, nightclubs and matchmaking/dating services.  The combination of yin Fire sparks and Peach Blossom should make things hot-hot-hot.

Less obviously, the unseen interaction of Water and Fire may provide an opportunity for investors in Water industries.  This is because Water conquers (quenches) Fire, so Water will benefit from its dominant position during a (weak) Fire year.  Water industries are all about flow: transport, communications, water purification/treatment, shipping, and logistics.

Can investing really be this easy?  Perhaps not.  The lunar calendar divides the twelve months of the year among the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac, starting with the tiger in the first month (February, to you Gregorians).  Each of the twelve animals has harmonious relations with some –but not all– of the others.  Animals located 90⁰, 180⁰, and 270⁰ degrees away from each other are in conflict.  The animal directly across the zodiac (180⁰ away) is most severely “in clash” but the two at right angles are also in disfavor.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s the animals that clash with the Earthly Branch that matter most each year.

In the Year of the Fowl, these animals are the Rat (90⁰), Rabbit (180⁰), and Horse (270⁰).  Each of these animals corresponds to a calendar month: March [Rabbit], June [Horse], December [Rat].  The Fowl itself corresponds to September, when it will be in “Self-Penalty.”  These four months supposedly constitute investment “danger zones” when clashes between the Earthly Branch yearly animal and the monthly animals may cause disruption to Fire element price-support optimism.

In my opinion, June doesn’t look too bad, because it’s a yang Fire month with a yang Fire Horse: even if the Fowl and Horse don’t get along, double yang Fire month should support the yin Fire year.  However, December is a completely different story, where you have a yang Water month with a yang Water Rat.  This double yang Water month is quite likely to thoroughly quench the weak and waning yin Fire of 2017.  Investors should probably try to cash out by Halloween in order to avoid a truly frightful holiday season.  The Year of the Double Yang Earth Dog will right around the corner.

 

 

No Par King

November 7, 2016

For almost two weeks I have been trying to decide how Waking the Dragon might make a meaningful contribution to the public discourse (such as it is) that has been accompanying South Korea’s M-ir Foundation/ Choi Soon-sil scandal.  Each lurid detail of Park/Saenuri corruption that has slithered into public view has been followed by another aspect of the case that is even more appallingly sordid or pathetic.  The worst stereotypes of Korean oligarchic “democracy” have been revealed to be considerable understatements of the awful truth.  Scant wonder that Koreans in their tens of thousands are marching in the streets to demand Park Geun-hye’s immediate resignation.  What could I possibly add to this picture?

Well, I found something: the classic WTD shadow-world perspective that permits the all-seeing eye to form order out of chaos and make sense out of what at first seems incomprehensible.  And the recurrent plotlines of numerous Joseon-dynasty historical dramas provide an important clue to what’s going on in 21st century Seoul.  In short, what you have here is a good old-fashioned succession crisis –updated for the post-modern age.

Back in the day of divine mandate-of-heaven monarchy, orderly succession to the throne and dynastic continuity was what ensured the survival of the Confucian polity and its people.  Earthly affairs were (supposed to be) closely calibrated to the predictable motions of the celestial sphere, and any abrupt deviation from prescribed ritual behavior had the potential to disrupt the harmony between heaven and earth: famine, earthquake, flooding or epidemic disease might thereupon ensue.  Just as one star after another rises in its turn from the eastern horizon at dusk, so too a crown prince must replace the king when his time has come.

hyomeong

This worldview implied two crucial questions for Joseon yangban aristocrats in the royal secretariat and council of ministers:  (1) when has the time come? … and (2) who is the proper crown prince?  Among the just causes for early dismissal: a Joseon king too sick to govern, too infatuated with his concubines to sire an heir with his appointed queen, or too drunk to preside at court rituals.  Rather than wait around for such a king to die of natural causes, (depending on his deficiencies) he would be forced into abdication and retirement, sent into exile, or outright assassinated.  A suitable prince of the royal house would then be installed as king, and celestial harmony would thus be restored.  So who determined which prince would be most suitable?  The most powerful yangban ministerial faction, of course.

In modern-day Korea the danger to the nation is more intense than usual because stars and planets have figuratively aligned to produce a triple succession crisis:

  • the scheduled conclusion of Park Geun-hye‘s presidency in 2017
  • the 2016 U.S. presidential “succession crisis”
  • the chaebol succession crises

Let’s take these one at a time.  First, the 2017 ROK presidential election.  Until the Choi scandal snowballed into a political avalanche in late October, conventional wisdom held that the governing Saenuri Party would be able to retain the presidency by recruiting as its candidate someone seen by Koreans as “above politics” –UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, whose term expires in December of this year.  Although Ban has no political organization of his own in Korea, earlier this summer several regional Saenuri chieftains signaled willingness to line up behind Ban when the time comes.  Most of these guys are counted among the “anti-Park” wing of the Saenuri Party because they were aligned with former president Lee Myung-bak in the 2007 campaign.  Those who are –or used to be– in the “pro-Park” Saenuri faction were heard to do a lot of grumbling back in July and August when Ban’s name began floating around Chungcheongbuk-do in earnest.  Perhaps they favored a lesser light from Gyongsongnam-do instead.  Whatever.  The key factor here is that Korean patronage-politics-as-usual is about to undergo another round of musical chairs, and trillions of won are at stake.  Members of the ruling party are halfway through a mad scramble to cut each others’ throats and stab each other in the back in order to ensure that they’re not left on the zero side of a zero-sum outcome.  There’s plenty of fodder for scandal in everyday Korean politics, and everyone is trying his best to ensure that someone else ends up in the spotlight.  A lame duck president is ideal for the purpose, because s/he is more newsworthy than a mere mayor or assemblyman, and can therefore monopolize negative media attention.

Second, the good ole USA.  As founder and ultimate guarantor of the South Korean regime for nigh on seventy years, the United States and its policies toward the ROK are crucially important for maintaining economic stability and political continuity in the Land of Morning Calm. So it matters what the U.S. President thinks of Korea and how s/he attends to its security and domestic interests.  The Korean military-industrial complex is very, very nervous about Donald Trump‘s stated intention to withdraw American troops from Korea.  The greater the likelihood of a possible President Trump, the greater the anxiety and panic among South Korean movers and shakers.  Possibilistic thinking can easily outweigh probabilistic analysis when worst-case scenarios intrude on a sleepless night at 3AM.

Third, chaebol succession crises.  As a legacy of Japanese colonial development policies and state capitalism investment programs in the Park Chung-hee era, Korea’s economy today is dominated by massive family-owned multinational conglomerates (i.e., chaebol).  Samsung. Hyundai. Hanwha. LG.  SK. Lotte. Hanjin. Doosan. etc.  Collectively, they account for more than 80% of Korea’s GDP.  Each chaebol is owned, controlled or managed by a single family dynasty, usually that of the group’s founder.  Although some chaebol are publicly traded entities, many employ arcane corporate structures composed of interlocking subsidiaries and holding companies that ensure actual control of business operations remains firmly in the grasp of the founding clan.  Sons, daughters, in-laws, nephews and nieces have been appointed as executives of individual business units, but despite expensive Ivy League educations, many have had difficulty coping with changing conditions in the global economy.  Hanjin Shipping goes bust.  Samsung Electronics’ phones explode.  Kim Jung-un takes Hyundai to the Kaesong cleaners.  And so on.  Worst of all, those complex business structures (initially devised to avoid taxes) now make it difficult for company founders to transfer stock ownership to the next generation without incurring a massive tax burden.  Regulatory corners will have to be cut, government officials will have to avert their eyes and look elsewhere, dissident shareholders (if any) will have to be muzzled.  When the fate of the entire Korean economy is at stake, the rules of the game seem less important than who ends up the winner.

These three succession crises converge in the Choi Soon-sil scandal.  Chaebol executives have been shoveling money into Choi’s eager hands since Park took office (and probably beforehand as well).  But times are tough and soon it will be time for change: next year there will be a new president in the Blue House and a new set of bagmen with their hands out.  Now’s the time for chaebol to begin negotiations with Park’s successor, whoever that may be.  Whoever they choose.

Finally, I promised you a shadow-world perspective and it’s time to deliver.  The turning point in the Choi Soon-sil scandal …

occurred on October 24, when a [reporter from] cable TV network JTBC discovered a Galaxy Tab belonging to Choi Soon-sil in a [Seoul] office that she abandoned. The tablet was the Pandora’s Box –it had Park’s presidential speeches with Choi’s markups, presidential briefs for cabinet meetings, appointment information for presidential aides, chat messages with presidential aides, the president’s vacation schedule, draft designs for commemorative stamps featuring the president, and much, much more.  The tablet was simply left behind in Choi’s office with no encryption, and the files were available for anyone to open.  And just in case Choi Soon-sil denied ownership of the tablet, its image gallery contained her selfie.

Although Ask A Korean! characterized this unencrypted Samsung tablet as a blunder “worthy of ‘World’s Dumbest Criminals'”, I’m gonna offer a different hypothesis accounting for its convenient presence in Choi’s abandoned office.  Consider the possibility that it was planted there by the Korean NIS.

First, what’s the possibility that NIS was totally, blissfully unaware of Choi’s activities?  Zero, absolutely zero.  As a completely politicized intelligence agency, NIS and its operatives would have pulled out all the stops to monitor absolutely everything that Choi was doing, as a matter of national and presidential security.  Which means that all of Choi’s computers, cellphones, automobiles and residences in Korea were totally pwned by NIS surveillance. 100%.  Anything less would be dereliction of duty.

Second, what “proof” do we have that Choi actually owned the jackpot Galaxy Tab?  Almost zero: that selfie photo could have been scraped from any of Choi’s devices and loaded onto the tablet by anybody with access.  And so could all those documents. See above.

Third, I’d be interested to learn why JTBC went to that particular office in the first place: dogged investigative reporting or a tip from someone suggesting that it might be worth a look?  No need to ask how they got inside — a few thousand won to the caretaker would do the trick.

Last, what about the motive?  We can be pretty sure about NIS capability, but what about intent?  Why would NIS nudge President Park under the bus after working so hard to elect her in 2013?  I’m just guessing here, but perhaps it’s because they’ve finally learned that she’s not the man her father was.  And that these desperately dangerous times call for someone who’s actually a leader, rather than a mere symbol (and now a caricature) of authoritarian rule.

 

reserved

 

Burning Questions

February 6, 2016

Wouldn’t you say that Sakurajima is just about as far to the west-southwest as it’s possible to travel in the Home Islands of Japan?  It sure looks that way to me.

Kyushu_

So from a feng-shui perspective, it appears that Tai Sui has stirred in his celestial throne just as the Year of the Monkey is about to “officially” commence.  Should we interpret this as an indication that Shinzo Abe, the Diet and the Bank of Japan are pursuing policies that are in conflict with the mandate of heaven?  Probably just a coincidence…

Sakurajima_21060205

Just to be safe, though, Koreans should probably steer clear of Mokpo for the next few weeks.  Park Geun-hye and Kim Jong-un are both playing with Fire these days.

 

Cure For Hiccups

August 24, 2015

Joint military exercises.  Mine accident.  Accusation … and subsequent denial of ‘slanderous concoctions.’ Leaflet balloons and loudspeaker propaganda. Incoming artillery.  Counterfire.  Bellicose rhetoric. Buildup of forces on both sides of the border. Calls for restraint by anxious allies. Protracted high-level dialog at the traditional village location.

Panmunjom-arama

It’s another sweltering August in Korea, and very few people in the Western Hemisphere seem to actually care.

What does it all mean?  How did we get to the brink of peninsular war this time?  Is there a link to China’s devalued yuan?  Did Kim Jong-un lose most of his People’s Democratic Plunder in the Shanghai stock market?

Perhaps not.  In my view, Korea’s August 4 DMZ mine blast (and subsequent saber-rattling) may have been indirectly triggered by the purge of DPRK Army chief Hyon Yong Chol earlier this year.  The hypothesis: North Korean special operations troops loyal to Hyon planted mines in the DMZ in an attempt to destabilize the Kim clique by provoking a military crisis with the ‘Park Geun-hye puppet gang’ (South Korea).

The reasoning:  In North Korea, it’s definitely not safe to directly protest the removal of a superior in the patriarchal hierarchy. But one can’t be readily criticized for striking the imperialist stooges in the Silla Kingdom –after all, that’s exactly what the Great Leader commands on just about any given day.  So, from this perspective, a tactically successful military provocation that is strategically inconvenient for Kim Jong-un might constitute the 21st century equivalent of a grassroots petition to the imperial court for redress of an injustice.  A cry for help, as it were.

But what sort of a cry for help?  And to whom is this plea directed?  Perhaps not to Kim Jong-un. It’s just remotely possible that some segments of the North Korean military are actually begging to be invaded by their brother warriors in the south, asking to be liberated from the insatiably bloodthirsty, parasitic Kim dynasty.  They must truly be desperate:  things could get ugly when the collaborationist Saenuri gang discovers how little remains to be stolen north of the 38th Parallel.

For now, Koguryo warriors will have to bear the unbearable and ‘eat bitterness’: Park Geun-hye has proven willing to settle for an expression of ‘regret’ rather than an outright apology, so there will be no war tomorrow.  Maybe next time.  It’s a scenario that bears watching: North Korea’s military deliberately starts a war that it intends to lose, in order to ensure regime change that it believes can be accomplished no other way.

 

Dawn’s Early Light

January 18, 2015

Back at the turn of the (solar) year, Lunghu provided his customary analysis of Kim Jong-un‘s New Year’s message and its attendant media coverage.  To offer a bit of graphical balance in the composition of that post, he included an image from ROK President Park Geun-hye‘s attempt at a preemptive media strike: her own New Year’s message, televised in (South) Korea on New Year’s Eve.  No analysis of her text seemed fruitful, and no commentary seemed necessary. Generally speaking, Western media didn’t even bother to report her remarks.

In the past, during the Lee Myung-bak dynasty, Lunghu found it more useful to examine the subtext than the text, the hidden message displayed or enacted during South Korean media events, often to be found hidden-in-plain-sight in the background scenery.  This practice is one that he has (regrettably) neglected during the Park II regime.  Well, it’s time to remedy that oversight with a brief and belated discourse on President Park’s stage set backdrop.

PGH_20150101

Reading from right to left in traditional Chinese style, we see a trio of spotted deer cavorting beneath a tall pine tree in a forest glade next to a plunging mountain cataract. A bit further to the left –above Park’s left shoulder and beneath her left ear– we can spot a cluster of large round pinkish-tinged fruits, probably peaches.  To her right (our left), at approximately the level of her right tricep, we can see half of a turtle swimming in the swiftly-flowing stream fed by the waterfall.  Finally, at the left-most side of the frame, we see the flag of South Korea draped on its flagstaff.

What can we infer from these symbols?

  • Pine: Emblem of longevity and resistance to the elements –the pine is evergreen and long-lived.  The pine is often depicted in Chinese art with other symbols of longevity such as the peach and deer.
  • Deer: Pronounced “lu” in Chinese, it is a homophone with a character meaning “wealth” and “official promotion.” When depicted with court officials, the deer signifies a wish for fame, recognition and a long, successful career.
  • Waterfall: Water symbolizes wealth, and the waterfall represents profits pouring in.  A lake or plunge pool next to the waterfall has the very auspicious name of “treasure bowl.”  Trees painted on the right-hand side of the waterfall are for keeping off misfortune.
  • Peach: Associated with Shoulao, the God of Longevity, the peach is a symbol of long life.  Even better, it can confer immortality: peaches grown in the orchard of the Queen Mother of the West (Xiwangmu 西王母) instantly give the peach-eater permanent, godlike immortality and mystic powers. The wood of the peach tree is said to ward off evil.
  • Tortoise: Another symbol of longevity … and more. The tortoise also represents the cosmic order: its shell symbolizes the heavens, its body the earth, and its undershell represents the underworld. The Black Tortoise (玄武 – xuán wǔ) is the “Mysterious Warrior” guardian spirit of the north and represents the winter season.
  • Water, Mountains and Rocks:  This combination suggests peace and harmony in the country presided over by the emperor.

Adding It All Up

Longevity, longevity, longevity, longevity.  Four symbolic assertions (pine, deer, peaches, tortoise) that Park Geun-hye intends to be around for quite a while.  Probably not as long as her father (let’s hope!), but she’s announcing her intention to continue “a long, successful career.”  She may also be attempting to subliminally identify herself with Xiwangmu.

Money finds money.  Two symbolic assertions (deer, waterfall) of wealth and prosperity.  On the surface, this is a boast of South Korea’s prosperity.  But the anonymous artist who painted this backdrop may also be making a deeper statement.  In Seoul, money has traditionally had a way of pouring into the Presidential office from all sides. Its flow tends to intensify in the final years of a President’s administration, as s/he prepares for “retirement.”  Since it’s always impossible to completely fill the President’s “treasure bowl,” eventually one or two close aides must be sacrificed on the altar of public opinion when the corruption becomes too obvious.  Perhaps there are three deer in the Park Blue House who need to ward off misfortune with trees to the right of the waterfall.

Alles ist in ordnung.  Two symbolic assertions (tortoise, water/mountain/rocks) of order and harmony within the kingdom.  This claim isn’t entirely plausible, because Korean order is being enforced in an increasingly authoritarian manner and Korean “harmony” is largely a facade.  But in a Confucian society it’s a claim that rulers have to make so that they can justify their mandate for governance.

 

But Wait –There’s More!

In addition to all that Sinocultural symbolic allusion in the landscape backdrop, there’s also the symbolism of the South Korean flag –the Taegukgi. It has a rather interesting history as a national emblem that has evolved from a royal banner bestowed upon Korea’s Joseon Dynasty by the Qing Emperor of China. Long story short, the current ROK flag features four of the eight I-Ching trigrams (gua) arranged around a red/blue Taegeuk “yin-yang” symbol.

The four chosen trigrams are:

  • Geon (in the upper left, 3 parallel solid lines) symbolizing heaven
  • Ri (in the upper right) symbolizing fire
  • Gam (in the lower left) symbolizing water
  • Gon (in the lower right, 3 parallel broken lines) symbolizing earth

Flag_of_South_Korea.svg

Worth noting:

  • Geon is solid Yang
  • Gon is solid Yin
  • Ri is Yin-within-Yang
  • Gam is Yang-within-Yin

As displayed upon its staff (rather than when rippling in the breeze), the Taegukgi reveals only two of its four trigrams: Geon and Gon (Qian and Kun in Chinese).  Geon shows above the Taegeuk, and Gon below.  In a superficial reading of the symbolism, this arrangement places heaven above and earth below –just as one would expect in the natural order of things.  Or so you’d think.

However.  In Taoism and the I-Ching, things are not always what they seem.  Perhaps they’re almost never what they merely seem.  When Qian and Kun (Geon and Gon) are arranged one above the other in an I-Ching hexagram, the results aren’t exactly positive.  In fact, Qian / Kun = Pi; Hexagram 12 of the I-Ching, symbolizing obstruction or blockage.  Pi is denoted with the modern Chinese character foǔ  –meaning “not!”  The Pi hexagram describes a state of affairs in which Heaven (above) recedes up and away from the earth (below), blocking the cosmic interaction that permits dynamic development of the true Tao. “The Tao of the inferior man prevails and the Tao of the superior man wanes.”  The negative Yin energy of the earth dominates, Yang energy retreats.  The inferior man will not preserve justice and truth.

So this is not at all an auspicious symbol to display on New Year’s Eve, and not at all an encouraging portent for inter-Korean relations in the coming year.  It’s possible that Saenuri Party members are so thoroughly Christianized that the ancient I-Ching symbolism of the Taeguk trigrams isn’t fully understood or appreciated, and they’re unaware of the hidden message being proclaimed every time they stand beside the flagstaff.  The good news is that the Tao is all about constant, inevitable change. Obstruction will run its course and give way, the superior man will ascend to his proper place, and the Pi hexagram will be transformed into another configuration of Yang and Yin energy. Eventually. Inexorably.

Flag_of_the_king_of_Joseon.svg

 

Sqrt of 225

January 3, 2015

Every New Year’s Day in Pyongyang, the Kim clan patriarch delivers a state-of-the-realm speech that explicitly declares his initial Intent for the coming year. Every  year, the imperialist bourgeois propaganda organs of global capitalism (the so-called media) report on the North Korea New Year message –its an otherwise slow news day.  And every year –in this decade, at least– Lunghu provides a superficial, slapdash analysis of the way that mainstream media on three continents presents the North Korean message. The core of Lunghu’s analytical methodology can be summed up with an acronym that describes the five elements into which each news story can be decomposed … and their relative proportions evaluated. Are these five analytical components analogous to the five natural elements derived from Taoist philosophy that are used in feng shui?  Time will tell.

Lunghu uses the acronym SCRAM to describe the analytical dimensions he deploys:

[S] Summary (usually, the story’s lead paragraph)
[C] Context (“backstory”)
[R] Reaction (from official sources)
[A] Analysis (by “experts”)
[M] Message

As in prior years, major wire services are the main source of the news stories subjected to Lunghu’s analysis:

Agence France Presse
Associated Press
Bloomberg
Reuters
Yonhap

For each news article, the following data-presentation structure will be employed:

  • a proportional breakdown of paragraphs in the article devoted to: the DPRK message itself; context/background; official reaction, and explanatory analysis.
  • the sequential semantic structure of the article, using the relevant character code to designate paragraph type.
  • the name(s) of any analyst(s) quoted, and their organizational affiliation(s).
  • a proportional breakdown of paragraphs in the article devoted to each of three principal themes: inter-Korean relations; militarist posturing/tensions, and the DPRK economy.
  • noteworthy verbiage and polemic contained in the article (if any).

KJU_20150101

Agence France Presse: North Korean Leader Proposes Talks with South

23 total paragraphs

46% context/background [C]
4% official reaction [R]
14% explanatory analysis [A]
36% quoting/paraphrasing the DPRK message [M]

the semantic structure:

S-C-E-A-
E-E-E-C-
C-C-R-E-E-
C-C-C-C-C-
A-A-E-C-E-C

thematic distribution:

46% inter-Korean relations
23% militarist tensions
9% DPRK economy
18% human rights
4% Sony hacking

Analyst(s) quoted: Yoo Ho-yeol, professor at Korea University

Key verbiage:

“communist supremo”
“pariah state”
“isolated nation”
“mysterious Internet outage”
“chronic food shortages”
“malnourished population”
“dismal human rights record”

 

Associated Press:  North Korean Leader Open to Summit with South

14 total paragraphs

38% context/background [C]
15% official reaction [R]
12% explanatory analysis [A]
35% quoting/paraphrasing the DPRK message [M]

the semantic structure:

S-C-C-E-C-
R-A-C-R-
E/C-E-E-E-C/A

thematic distribution:

58% inter-Korean relations
19% militarist tensions
4% DPRK economy
11% Sony hacking
8% Confucian mourning ritual

Analyst(s) quoted: Cheong Seong-chang, researcher at the Sejong Institute

Key verbiage:

“Washington must abandon its ‘hostile policy’ and ‘reckless invasion plots’ against the North.”

 

Bloomberg: Kim Jong Un Open to ‘Highest-Level’ Talks With South Korea

16 total paragraphs

73% context/background [C]
7% official reaction [R]
13% explanatory analysis [A]
7% quoting/paraphrasing the DPRK message [M]

the semantic structure:

S-E-C-R-A-C-
C-C-C-
C-A-
C-C-C-C-C

thematic distribution:

40% inter-Korean relations
33% militarist tensions
0% DPRK economy
27% personality cult

Analyst(s) quoted: Ahn Chan Il, World Institute for North Korea Studies
Bruce Bennett, Rand Corporation

Key verbiage:

“saber rattling”
“The United Nations human-rights committee vote in November [against North Korea] amounts to a ‘despicable ruckus,’ Kim said.”

 

ReutersNorth Korea Leader Kim Jong Un Says Open to Summit with South

12 total paragraphs

45% context/background [C]
10% official reaction [R]
0% explanatory analysis [A]
45% quoting/paraphrasing the DPRK message [M]

the semantic structure:

S-E-C-E-
C-C-R-
C-E-E-E-C

thematic distribution:

37% inter-Korean relations
27% militarist tensions
9% DPRK economy
27% Kim’s media style

Analyst(s) quoted: none

Key verbiage:

” ‘Annual large-scale (U.S.-South Korean) war exercises are a source of heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula and increase the threat of nuclear war,’ Kim said.”

 

Yonhap: N. Korean Leader’s Speech Arouses Cautious Optimism

21 total paragraphs

40% context/background [C]
0% official reaction [R]
30% explanatory analysis [A]
30% quoting/paraphrasing the DPRK message [M]
(35% mention Park Geun-hye)

the semantic structure:

S-E-E-A-
C-C-A-A-
C-A-C-
E-A-C-
E-E-C-C-C-E-A

thematic distribution:

68% inter-Korean relations
12% militarist tensions
10% DPRK economy
10% Park Geun-hye government

Analyst(s) quoted: Chang Yong-seok, researcher at Seoul National University
Yoo Ho-yeol, a professor at Korea University
Yang Moo-jin, professor at the University of North Korean Studies

Key verbiage:

“Kim spent unusual amounts of time stressing the significance of improved Seoul-Pyongyang relations. Kim [mentioned the topic] last year as well, but he spent more time and was more specific in addressing the issue this year.”

Bonus: The analysis of Professor Yang Moo-jin indicates that perhaps he has noted the interplay of hidden feng shui elements in the coming year’s ba zi chart: “Chances are high that the two sides will break the deadlock by showing a flexible attitude.

PGH_20150101

 

Takeaways“:

Although Lake Superior University has banned usage of this glib corpspeak catchphrase in 2015, Lunghu does not consider himself bound by the cultural imperialist edicts of mere backwater academics. Especially when he uses the bourgeoisie’s own opaque terminology –with heavy irony– as an implicit criticism of its obfuscating purpose and nature.

DPRK_semantic_analysis_2015

With that in mind, here’s Lunghu’s bullet point synopsis of this year’s DPRK media coverage:

  • Agence France Presse appears to have made the mistake of hiring Rupert Murdoch’s cashiered Fleet Street hack writers for its English-language operation. Without cellphone hacking to fall back on, these guys rely heavily on Cold War cliches (“communist supremo“) and pejorative stereotypes (“pariah state” & “isolated nation“) to perpetuate their Propaganda Model of journalism.  This doesn’t advance the interests of France  –in Asia or elsewhere. Also, AFP’s DG should remember that the human rights issue applies in Palestine as well as on the Korean peninsula.
  • Three out of five media outlets mentioned the relevance of this year’s 70th anniversary: Bloomberg characterized it as “the end of World War II,” while Yonhap and Associated Press more specifically  identified it as “Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule.”  The partition of Korea between US and Russian spheres of influence began in 1945, and these two neo-colonial powers are still pulling many of the strings that imprison their unwilling puppets. Comrade Bear has invited both Kim and Park to visit Moscow in May. He may hope to broker a dramatic deal intended to burnish Russia’s tarnished international credentials. Lunghu predicts that a gas pipeline may be involved.
  • Associated Press closed its story with a tiny nugget of anonymous analytical insight that most people will ignore: “[Kim’s speech is his] first after the end of the traditional three-year mourning period after the death of his father in 2011. Some analysts believe that with the mourning period over, Kim will pursue policies that more closely reflect his own personal priorities.”  Let’s hope that Kim has read the memoirs of Zhang Xueliang, Hero of History.
  • Reuters and Yonhap noted Kim’s mention of reopening the Mount Kumgang tourist resort. Lunghu still believes that the path to dialog with Kim Jung-un will be achieved through mutual engagement on environmental issues.  But that will only become possible once the United States has held the mirror of human rights in front of its own face … and that of its principal strategic liability.  Admitting that “mistakes were made” and trying to change the subject ain’t anywhere near enough –either at home or abroad. The hypocrisy is glaringly obvious.

DPRK_thematic_analysis_2015

So, it doesn’t seem likely that the Year of the Goat will offer much in the way of US-DPRK rapprochement. But from a Korean perspective, there are still centuries upon centuries to come, ready to unspool ahead of the next generation and all the successive ones after that.  That’s far, far beyond the limited short-term horizon imposed by the mystic order’s two-year electoral cycle.  All the Kims, Parks, Lees and Chois in Korea can wait.  They’ll have to.

Comrade Lin Biao  used to recommend the following approach to dealing with class enemies: “Beat them, then comfort them. Comfort them, then beat them. Then, beat while comforting.”  Looks as though Comrade Wolf is trying the same method … but without much comforting.  Remains to be seen who will end up being beaten … in Afghanistan and elsewhere.