Wednesday, July 17, 2013

An Acid Aside On East Asian Culture Clashes

I sometimes take part in personal or email conversations where very knowledgeable participants write, "The Korean view is that..." or "The consensus view in China on Japanese attitudes is..."

I find the categorizations irritating. Not, as the usual critical view would have it, because the use of these broad national descriptions masks heterogeneity within the respective societies, with minority views running counter to the main narrative being ignored. That societies are heterogeneous I can live with, for in every society there is a power structure determining which views are important and which ones are important to persons looking for a place to apply French critical theory. In between winners, would-be-winners and perennial losers, one can talk about nation states and attitudes to associate with them.

No, what I find annoying is the whole concept of national identities in East Asia. There is not a single place in the region where anyone can start to say anything definite about national identity without blundering into a word, thought, turn of phrase, religious conception or symbol system borrowed from another country in East Asia. Japanese cannot think about being Japanese without using a language made up of Chinese ideograms expressing concepts received from Korea. No Chinese can write about anything more modern than a waterwheel without falling into universe of technical terms taken from Japanese. As for Korea, aside from hangul (a brilliant innovation) and kimchi, what the heck is there that is not a variation on some Chinese or Japanese theme?

[Lovers of things Korean, feel free to castigate me. I am being unnecessarily provocative out of the purest of intentions. Furthermore, given what my surname means in Korean, what else could be expected?]

It is all right for elites and their apologists to argue over this being that and whose is what, with culture becoming just one more item to be fenced in and exploited (Link). But academics, reporters and everyone else not in power should sit the fight out, keeping an eye on their self-proclaimed betters and their nationalist poses.

A watchful, wary eye, not a sympathetic one.

Every nationality in the region is a concatenation of elements consciously or unconsciously borrowed from other nations in the region...meaning that every nationalism in the region is an inadequately treated fit of delusions.

1 comment:

Derek Blais said...

As for kimchi, there seems to be a lot of evidence that the fermentation of vegetables existed in northern China, Mongolia, and Russia before it did in Korea. Also, the introduction of chili peppers got to Korea through Japan (from South America, to Southwestern Europe to Japan to Korea).