Posts Tagged ‘Moon Jae-in’

Full Snow Moon … (or, Kisaeng Cousins)

February 25, 2018

Once upon a time, dutiful daughter Goldilocks paid a visit to the winter cottage of the Three Bears.  She borrowed Cinderella’s golden carriage and traveled for twelve hours through cloudy skies, across trackless wastes, above stormy seas, until the jagged mountain crests of the Three Bears’ homeland at last appeared, shimmering far below in the pale golden light of dawn.  Her carriage glided softly down to earth … and landed at Incheon International Airport. Welcome to Korea.

Thus ends our fable, and so another one begins: The moonarch of New Baekjae sought to renew his nation’s spirit and the mandate of heaven after abrupt dynastic change.  The former kingdom of Old Silla had proven itself grossly unworthy of the people’s trust and had disintegrated in shameful disgrace.  The courtiers of Old Silla had hoped to distract their subjects with an elaborate festival of winter rites, but their greed and crimes had been too brazen to be ignored.  The angry minguk brandished their moral outrage in the faces of their rulers, and sent them scurrying to seek cover in whatever refuge could be found.  A new leader was acclaimed for his righteousness and the new dynasty installed upon the ruins of the old.  The winter festival proceeded almost exactly as scheduled, further adorned by the addition of ritual specialists from the neighboring northern kingdom of New Goguryeo.

Such was the splendor of these winter rites that emissaries from around the world came to New Baekjae bask in the reflected radiance of the ritual performance.  However, some such emissaries were less welcome than others.  A century-long tradition had established an implicit protocol (widely understood among most nations) which specified the appropriate political status of the visting dignitaries.  Distant lands, poor countries or tributary states could be represented by mid-level functionaries.  In contrast, close allies and near neighbors of the host nation were expected to send officers of the highest rank to attend the ceremonies: if the king himself could not attend, his chief minister should represent him.  New-found frenemies were a special case, and could pose something of a protocol dilemma.

Take, f’rinstance, the usurper tyrant of Beautyland.  Under their respective previous dynasties, Beautyland and Old Silla had been the closest of allies for more than half a century.  New Baekjae hoped to maintain that traditional friendship, but the new king of Beautyland was more interested in amassing tribute “gifts” than in maintaining harmony among nations.  His demands became increasingly crude, insistent and abusive.  He repeatedly tried to goad New Goguryeo into attacking its southern neighbor, while simultaneously professing warm friendship for New Baekjae.  As a further sign of his contempt and arrogance, he sent his young daughter Goldilocks to act as Beautyland’s representative at the winter festival ceremonies, even though she held no official post within the government.  So once upon a time, dutiful daughter Goldilocks paid a visit to the winter cottage of the Three Bears…

Thus ends our second fable.

Backgrounder

On several previous occasions, Waking the Dragon has taken inordinate delight in pointing out the cultural significance of backdrop scenery that invariably adorns the performance of public political ritual in Korea. During the Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye regimes, the traditional Korean screen panels displayed at Cheong Wa Dae were used as a coded reference to mark the social status of foreign visitors being received at Old Silla’s royal palace.  A lavish and ornate gold screen embellished with auspicious symbols denoted a valued friend, while a Jeosun-era scene of kowtowing barbarian emissaries was reserved for lower-status races and classes.  The moonrise kingdom of New Baekjae has continued these practices … with a new twist.

Thus, behind the banquet table at Goldilocks’ state dinner, we can discern a newly-visible panel of that familiar Jeosun screen painting on display. Who are those tiny two-dimensional figures in the background?

They’re kisaeng entertainers, that’s who.  Traditional female singer-dancer-whatever partytime companions … low-status women who perform a function in Korean culture similar to that of geishas in Japan.  They’re renowned for their beauty, manners and feminine talents, but their only job is to serve men.  This is the woman’s role in patriarchal Jeosun society … and in some other places with which you may be familiar.

But what’s the message, and to whom is it directed?  Well, since Koreans know that the barbarians of Beautyland are too ignorant and self-absorbed to understand an implicit rebuke even when it’s staring them in the face, it seems likely that this coded message is intended for another audience –the courtiers of New Goguryeo.  The northern kinfolk need no translation: “Beautyland has sent a kisaeng as its emissary, and we in New Baekjae regard her as of no importance. Whatever she may say will be (politely) ignored.”

Get the picture? Liu Yandong certainly does.

Advertisements

Moon-walkin’

January 1, 2018

While some folks talk their talk, others walk the walk.

President Moon Jae-in on Monday welcomed the new year with a three-hour mountain hike up Bukhan-san, [located north of Seoul], and watched the New Year’s Day sunrise.  Moon made the climb with a group of six young Koreans honored as “righteous persons” for the year 2017 because of their good deeds. Among them was Park Jeong-hyon, who was recognized for saving a woman from sexual assault despite being stabbed in the abdomen by the assailant.

Afterward, the hikers had breakfast with Moon’s chief secretaries at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae.

As I have pointed out on several prior occasions, political events and photo ops in Korea always have a subtext that is silently staged in the background, either with an artificial scenic backdrop or –as in this case– with a powerful natural landscape. Let’s review the messages and the medium.

First, Moon is acknowledging his political base –Korean youth– by publicly recognizing and rewarding their “righteous” civic behavior.  Moon is implicitly paying tribute to those tens (hundreds?) of thousands whose Yin Fire candlelight lit the way for his landslide election.  The fact that all six of his fellow hikers were male is either an effort to avoid sexist innuendo or a practical concession to the masculine feng shui energies of the current double-Yang-Water Rat month.

Second, President Moon is showcasing his personal physical vigor and active spirit. What other national leaders in the northeast Asian region are getting out of bed at 4AM in mid-winter for a three-hour mountain hike?  Kim Jong-eun? Not hardly.  Shinzo Abe? No chance.  Xi Jin-ping? Probably not.  Donald Trump? Not even for an early tee time.  Vladimir Putin? Sure, he could do it, but only for a covert operation.  Moon’s morning hike is a declaration that he’s healthy, he’s strong, and he’s going to work long hours to accomplish righteous deeds.

Third, the Bukhan-san Moonwalk evokes the awe-inspiring terrain and sweeping vistas that Koreans can expect to experience at the PyeongChang Olympics, just two months away.  Spectator attendance is likely to be a problem: bone-chilling cold and high travel costs will deter many Europeans and North Americans, as will lingering anxieties about potential flareup of geopolitical tensions in the region.  But all those doubts and inconveniences can be set aside when you’re gazing across a beautiful landscape from atop a majestic mountain peak.  At least that’s the hope of the PyeongChang Olympic organizing committee.

need lots more snow…

 

OK, that’s the more-or-less obvious political meaning to be inferred from President Moon’s New Year’s Day excursion. But what about the sub-subtext, the historical/cultural allusions that a cultivated Korean sensibility might be able to discern in this public performance? Here are some aspects to consider:

  • Location: Bukhan-san is a national park of 80 square km situated on the northern fringes of Seoul. Its name means “big north mountain.” It is also called Samgak-san, which means “three-peak mountain.”  In starting off his New Year by getting up early to climb the big mountain in the north, President Moon is yet once again asserting his intention to seek amity with the DPRK despite the fact that it’s uphill all the way.  Perhaps we can think of the three Kims as the three peaks of Samgak-san.
  • Amity is one thing, preparedness is another.  The mountain is also the site of Bukhansanseong fortress, built with a wall about 8.5 km long specifically to stop foreign invasion.  It is one of the representative mountain fortresses of the Joseon Era.  Who was invading Joseon back in the day?  Jurchen tribesmen from the north … or the Chinese.
  • Contemplate this: Sangunsa Temple (built by the monk Won-Hyo), Seungasa Temple on east Bibong Peak, Munsusa Temple halfway up Musubong Peak, and numerous other temples are scattered throughout the mountain area.

One day, King Taejo visited the great monk Muhakdaesa. The King wanted to amuse himself, so he proposed that they freely exchange jokes without concern for social status. “You look like a pig!” said Taejo to the monk.
Muhakdaesa replied, “And you, sir, look like Buddha to me.”
King Taejo was confused, “We agreed to forget our politeness and make fun of each other.  If you say I look like Buddha, how could that be funny?” asked the King.
Muhakdaesa replied, “Pigs can only see other pigs and Buddha can only see Buddha.”
Hearing this, Taejo realized his character was still immature and come to admire Muhakdaesa even more.

  • Taoism precedes Buddhism: The Year of Yin Fire Fowl is almost over, its flickering flame being inexorably quenched by the double-Yang-Water Rat (Dec/Jan) and yin-water/yin-earth Ox (Jan/Feb) months.  In forty-five days or so, the approaching double-Yang-Earth Dog Year will be here.  Double-Yang-Earth (strong earth supporting strong earth) is not merely soil heaped upon soil like a cropland furrow: it is solid rock piled high –a mighty mountain.  Moon Jae-in is already climbing that big north mountain, in company with six righteous citizens.  Does he know that the #5 Yellow Misfortune Star will reside in the North during the Year of the Dog?  I think he does, hence the six righteous citizens in his entourage.  There’s nothing like righteousness to ward off misfortune.

Later in the day, Moon made phone calls to public officials, including quarantine officials combating the outbreak of bird flu, PyeongChang Olympic organizers … and American soldiers stationed in South Korea and thanked them for their dedication to service.

On Tuesday, he is scheduled to invite people from every social sector, including business leaders, to his office to exchange New Year’s greetings.

Compare and contrast.

 

Hedged Funding

July 7, 2017

Wait, is that an actual hedge or a virtual (Photoshopped) hedge in the background of this photo? Perhaps only Yonhap’s photo editor knows for sure.  It doesn’t really matter: the underlying message is the same either way.

 

Large-scale and green: we should expect forthcoming news of YUGE clean-energy investment deals between Siemens and KEPCO.  Moon has promised to reduce Korea’s reliance on nuclear power plants by adding cleaner electricity generation capacity.  Wind, tide and solar are obvious candidates to augment hydroelectric and thermal power stations.  Furthermore, significant job creation would be necessary to build and operate new energy infrastructure. This project is gonna get green-lighted (using dis term in da trad Hollywood vernacular, not in da bogus interwebs ish).

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.