Tag Archives: korea

The Economist explains: Why so many Koreans are called Kim | The Economist

The Economist explains: Why so many Koreans are called Kim | The Economist.

A SOUTH KOREAN saying claims that a stone thrown from the top of Mount Namsan, in the centre of the capital Seoul, is bound to hit a person with the surname Kim or Lee. One in every five South Koreans is a Kim—in a population of just over 50m. And from the current president, Park Geun-hye, to rapper PSY (born Park Jae-sang), almost one in ten is a Park. Taken together, these three surnames account for almost half of those in use in South Korea today. Neighbouring China has around 100 surnames in common usage; Japan may have as many as 280,000 distinct family names. Why is there so little diversity in Korean surnames?

Korea’s long feudal tradition offers part of the answer. As in many other parts of the world, surnames were a rarity until the late Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). They remained the privilege of royals and a few aristocrats (yangban) only. Slaves and outcasts such as butchers, shamans and prostitutes, but also artisans, traders and monks, did not have the luxury of a family name. As the local gentry grew in importance, however, Wang Geon, the founding king of the Goryeo dynasty (918–1392), tried to mollify it by granting surnames as a way to distinguish faithful subjects and government officials. The gwageo, a civil-service examination that became an avenue for social advancement and royal preferment, required all those who sat it to register a surname. Thus elite households adopted one. It became increasingly common for successful merchants too to take on a last name. They could purchase an elite genealogy by physically buying a genealogical book (jokbo)—perhaps that of a bankrupt yangban—and using his surname. By the late 18th century, forgery of such records was rampant. Many families fiddled with theirs: when, for example, a bloodline came to an end, a non-relative could be written into a genealogical book in return for payment. The stranger, in turn, acquired a noble surname.

 

As family names such as Lee and Kim were among those used by royalty in ancient Korea, they were preferred by provincial elites and, later, commoners when plumping for a last name. This small pool of names originated from China, adopted by the Korean court and its nobility in the 7th century in emulation of noble-sounding Chinese surnames. (Many Korean surnames are formed from a single Chinese character.) So, to distinguish one’s lineage from those of others with the same surname, the place of origin of a given clan (bongwan) was often tagged onto the name. Kims have around 300 distinct regional origins, such as the Gyeongju Kim and Gimhae Kim clans (though the origin often goes unidentified except on official documents). The limited pot of names meant that no one was quite sure who was a blood relation; so, in the late Joseon period, the king enforced a ban on marriages between people with identical bongwan (a restriction that was only lifted in 1997). In 1894 the abolition of Korea’s class-based system allowed commoners to adopt a surname too: those on lower social rungs often adopted the name of their master or landlord, or simply took one in common usage. In 1909 a new census-registration law was passed, requiring all Koreans to register a surname.

Today clan origins, once deemed an important marker of a person’s heritage and status, no longer bear the same relevance to Koreans. Yet the number of new Park, Kim and Lee clans is in fact growing: more foreign nationals, including Chinese, Vietnamese and Filipinos, are becoming naturalised Korean citizens, and their most popular picks for a local surname are Kim, Lee, Park and Choi, according to government figures; registering, for example, the Mongol Kim clan, or the Taeguk (of Thailand) Park clan. The popularity of these three names looks set to continue.

Exploring No-Man’s-Land in the 21st Century — War is Boring — Medium

Exploring No-Man’s-Land in the 21st Century — War is Boring — Medium.

Barrier walls in the Palestinian territories in 2004. Lisa Nessan/Flickr photo

Following the end of World War I, Europe’s intellectuals tried to understand and explain what everyone just went through. They also tried to grapple with the reality of industrialized warfare and the no-man’s-lands it created.

Blasted, blown up and raked by machine gun fire. The no-man’s-land was a place that people couldn’t go without risking death.

Some thinkers on the political left saw no-man’s-land as symbolic of the destruction of Europe’s dying, traditional political order. However, intellectuals on the right saw the battlefield as a place where young men could be reborn into the fascist shock troops of Weimar Germany.

The fixed trenches of World War I are long gone. But the no-man’s-land never really went away, according to Noam Leshem, a political geographer at Durham University in England who studies modern no-man’s-lands.

From Cyprus, Western Sahara, the Palestinian territories to the Korean peninsula, no-man’s-lands are now tourist attractions, environmental preserves and places to make money.

Leshem’s work is available at Re-Inhabiting No-Man’s Land, a collection of writing and research on modern dead zones.

[…]

Our concern began with the obvious no-man’s-land of the First World War, but Alasdair reminded me the term was constantly being circulated in reference to very different sites.

So anything from other geopolitical areas like the demilitarized zones between the Koreas, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, or even urban geopolitical no-man’s-lands like the one that divided Jerusalem until 1967.

But even beyond the geopolitical vocabulary, what we saw was that no-man’s land entered our lingo to refer to anything from gangland in the heart of North American cities to tax havens in the Caribbean.

When we started looking into this, one of our key goals was to try and understand the history of the term, and to our surprise the term is much older than 1915, i.e. the Battle of the Somme. It dates back to the 14th century and to London during the months preceding the plague, when the bishop of London buys a lot of land outside the city to prepare a mass grave ahead of the bubonic plague.

We found that relationship between a space and death to be kind of one of the key characteristics of no-man’s-land throughout its history. And what we’re trying to do today is two things, is first is continue to understand the history of the term beyond its sort of Anglo-Saxon origins, but also ask what do no-man’s-lands in the 21st century mean?

RB: We often think no-man’s-land as a sort of desolate environment. But in the Cyprus buffer zone there’s actually a lot of stuff going on there.

NL: Absolutely. Cyprus is a great example. As you know, there’s a lot of economic activity. There’s a lot of farming going on in the designated U.N. buffer zone, but you also get newly constructed industrial zones that are rezoned by the U.N. for civilian use.

So what you get are sub-civilian spaces within the militarized space of the buffer zone designated for economic activity.

In addition you get a lot of smuggling—of drugs, people across the no-man’s-land. And I would add to that: tourism. The buffer zone in Cyprus has become one of the key tourist attractions on the island. Beaches, good food and you get some buffer zone watchers.

So absolutely this is a very significant space economically and a space that is constantly inhabited, governed, monitored and practiced.

There are things happening in it that makes it a significant space rather than just this empty no-go zone.

RB: There’s also environmental features to these spaces. The demilitarized zone in the Koreas is a famous wildlife sanctuary.

NL: Here’s a funny anecdote from when we were in Cyprus a few weeks. One of our interviewees told us that Cypriots just absolutely love hunting, and although most of the wildlife on the island is completely extinct, he said if you want to find snakes, go to the buffer zone. If you want to find wildlife, go to the buffer zone.

That’s the only place where animals have survived because hunting is not allowed there.

As you pointed out, the demilitarized zone between the Koreas is a very important Asian wildlife sanctuary. Chernobyl is famous for the resuscitation of natural habitats as a result of the withdrawal of human activity. The herds of wild horses that roam Chernobyl these days have become almost as famous as reactor number four.

However, there’s again an interesting history because in 19th century notebooks of expeditions in North America, we find repeated references to the no-man’s-land as a space between two warring tribes where wildlife game finds refuge.

So already that association between sanctuary and no-man’s-land is made long before we designated the demilitarized zone in the Koreas as a sanctuary or the inadvertent creation of a wildlife sanctuary in Chernobyl.

There’s a fantastic film on the community of bunnies that found refuge in Berlin between the two sides of the wall. So in the no-man’s-land in Berlin, there was a huge community of bunnies.

It’s really important issue. It sheds light on the interests that preserve these spaces. I think that’s not just about preserving these spaces for the future, but the sense that the spaces are still a part of human concern.

RB: You had a recent post on your blog about [German war veteran and writer] Ernst Juenger. What were you trying to do there?

NL: Juenger was one of the most important thinkers that repeatedly returns in his writing and thinking to the no-man’s-land. The no-man-land’s for Juenger—contrary to the traditional definition of it as this desolate no-go zone—is a very productive space.

The no-man’s-land is a space from which a new man emerges, a man that has fused with machine and with earth to create this new—almost cyborg—creature that has bettered himself to such an extent that he is a new kind of being.

Not only is this happening on an individual level, but also on a social level. He talks about there being a “community of the trenches.”

But it’s important to remember that Juenger was part of a very specific intellectual group traditionally positioned on the right in Weimar Germany that celebrated the no-man’s-land, that romanticized it. On the other side, still in Weimar Germany, we see people like Walter Benjamin.

Benjamin was exempt from military service in the First World War, but he constantly returns to the no-man’s-land as a space where a philosophical crisis happens. Benjamin repeatedly asks, what’s the meaning of this space of destruction?

[…]

In the Second World War, that is transplanted from the trenches to the enclosed space of the gas chamber, or remotely through aerial bombardment. And what we have here is a change in status and no-man’s-land is no longer applied to concrete spaces of warfare and death.

The U.N. buffer zone in Cyprus in December 2012. Athena Lao/Flickr photo