Editor, Creation and Criticism Quarterly. Professor Emeritus of English Literature, Seoul National University
This is the text of a lecture delivered at the University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon, on February 26, 2004, as one of the Jeremiah Lecture Series. The event was cosponsored by the Center for Critical Theory and Transnational Studies, the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies, and the Office of International Programs, University of Oregon. The author wishes to thank all the sponsors and participants of the event, particularly Professor Arif Dirlik, Director of the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies.
© Paik Nak-chung 2004
I had better begin with a few disclaimers so that you won ‘ t entertain false expectations. By profession I am a student of English Literature, that is to say, neither an East Asianist nor a Koreanist. Moreover I have had the temerity to come here without sufficient research in the literature even in the Korean language.
On the other hand, as a citizen, university teacher, and literary critic, I have been active for some four decades in South Korea ‘ s cultural and political scene, and I like to claim that the journal I edit, Ch ‘ angjak kwa pip ‘ y ? ng (freely translated into English as Creation and Criticism and in Korea usually abbreviated as Changbi),  has been a significant venue of South Korea ‘ s literary and intellectual discourse since its founding in 1966. I shall have more to say on the journal, but let me briefly remark that nowadays the biggest portion of my time is taken up by a project on which I embarked a few years ago. I am serving as Chair of Citizen ‘ s Broadcasting Foundation, a corporation to support and operate a digital satellite television channel largely (though not exclusively) devoted to programs of citizens ‘ own making. Its principle has much in common with the various public access channels in the United States, but the fact that it ‘ s a nation-wide, rather than a community, channel makes the venture quite different and almost unprecedented in application. The channel began broadcasting in September 2002, but it still remains an open question whether it will grow to make a real difference in Korean broadcasting and civic life, or ultimately disappoint the high hopes of the many activists who worked to obtain it and, for me personally, prove a lesson against fatal overreach at a time of life when one could ill afford to waste one ‘ s remaining energy.
But to go back to Creation and Criticism , it is, I am happy to report, much more of a proven success story. Its career has seen many vicissitudes, including forced closure for nearly eight years after Chun Du-hwan ‘ s military coup in 1980, but today it is by far the largest and most influential quarterly in South Korea. For those unfamiliar with it, I may characterize it as a sort of hybrid between the ‘ thick journals ‘ of the nineteenth century Russia and the intellectual quarterlies of contemporary Europe or the United States. Its circulation of some thirteen to fourteen thousand copies would also correspond to that intermediate character. The very existence of such a journal has often aroused envy in many colleagues from Japan or the Western nations that I have met.
From the beginning the journal ‘ s main emphasis was on literature, publishing both imaginative and critical works, but literature open to social and historical concerns and to intellectual endeavors in other fields. This stance soon turned the journal into a rallying point for oppositional writers and intellectuals under Park Chung Hee ‘ s dictatorial rule (1961 to his assassination in 1979, but with particular harshness after he became virtual life-time President in 1972). It also brought upon the journal frequent reprisals, although as yet mainly in the form of suppressions of individual issues (and titles by its publishing arm launched in 1974) and punishment of individual authors like the poet Kim Chi-ha and journalist and professor Lee Youn g-hui. I myself was fired from Seoul National University for demanding a democratic constitution and convicted (though not actually imprisoned) for publishing a book on contemporary China compiled by the above-mentioned Professor Lee.
If one had to identify the one discourse most readily identified with the Changbi journal during the 1970s, it would be ‘national literature’. I will not go into explaining the concept, although it is a somewhat complex notion that does require some explanation. Let me only point out that it is not the same thing as national ist literature. For, while foregrounding the national agenda of reunification and resistance to foreign domination, it conceives this task as requiring more than nationalist energies and perspectives, involving as it does class and many other global and local issues. At any rate, the concept provided a fertile ground for a vigorous and wide-ranging debate during the 1970s and ‘80s, which included questions of democracy, national unification and the empowerment of the people, as well as more narrowly literary topics. Much of this debate was carried out in the quarterly journal and other publications of Changbi.
But neither East Asia nor Northeast Asia made much of a mark in this debate. Whichever one you chose, it was in those days an area full of dire presences: North Korea as the ‘anti-state organization’ par excellence under the National Security Law (which, by the way, still remains in force, with some mitigations), ‘Red China’, Soviet Union as the commanding post of ‘International Communism’, Vietnam where South Korean troops fought under the Americans and lost, and Japan itself teeming with Communists, left-wingers and clandestine supporters of South Korea’s oppositional movements. Thus, a sense of solidarity with our regional neighbors found expression mainly in terms of ‘the Third World’, which was also an important theme of Changbi’s discourse at this time. 
The brief interval (commonly called the Seoul Spring) between the death of Park Chung Hee and General Chun’s takeover in May 1980 allowed me to return to my university post, but the new military regime promptly suppressed the journal. Only in 1988, that is, as one of the fruits of popular resistance in June 1987, was it able to resume publication. I could unfold a lengthy tale about what went on during those seven and half years, including the temporary closing down of the publishing house itself (between 1985 and ‘86), but that would be straying too far from my topic.
To return to the subject of discourse, then, discussions of national literature led in the late ‘80s and through the ‘90s to an attempt, on one hand, to conceptualize a ‘division system’ of the Korean Peninsula, and on the other, to expand the discursive horizon to modernity itself, postulating ‘the double project of simultaneously adapting to and overcoming modernity’. 
The ‘division system’ remained for some years almost my private discourse, but in recent years the terminology, if not the concept, seems to have gained wide currency. Its purport, at any rate, is to perceive the reality of Korea’s division not so much in terms of two opposing regimes, peoples, or ideologies, as (mainly) of contradiction between the vested interests on both sides (together with forces outside the Peninsula) and ordinary people variously suffering the consequences of this division. In addition to this people-oriented perspective, the concept also introduces a global dimension by seeing the division system not as a discrete structure on its own but as a local manifestation of the reigning world-system. Abolishing Korea’s division through significant popular initiatives would not mean the full overcoming of this larger system, but a decisive step in the long struggle of the Korean people to cope with the modern world-system and a crucial contribution to its final transformation into a better system.
It was in the course of these discursive endeavors that the topic of East Asia and/or Northeast Asia acquired in the 1990s increasing prominence in the pages of the Changbi journal.  In this particular instance, however, the lead was taken by my younger colleagues, especially Choi Won-shik, a scholar of Korean literature as well as a practicing critic, and Baik Young-seo, a professor specializing in modern Chinese history. My particular take would be an attempt to relate the regional dynamics to the task of overcoming the division system, and to utilize them in the more general ‘ double project ‘ regarding modernity.
After this long and somewhat self-centered introduction, I turn at last to an account of East Asia and Northeast Asia in contemporary South Korean discourse. In contrast to my own meager qualifications, both the geographical location of the Korean Peninsula and the geopolitical and cultural situation of South Korea seem eminently to favor the development of such regional discourse. Whether you speak of East Asia or Northeast Asia, and however you define the contour of each, Korea is plump in it and nowhere else.
This is in striking contrast to China, for instance. The expanse of its territory alone, situated in more or less the middle of the Asian Continent and bordering with various South Asian, West Asian, and Central Asian nations as well, would make even East or Eastern Asia, let alone Northeast Asia, an inadequate term of geographical description. In terms of political and cultural concerns, too, it is understandable if many Chinese (including Sun Yatsen in the past and a contemporary intellectual like Wang Hui) prefer the larger framework of Asia to East Asia.
There is much less resistance to ‘ East Asian Civilization ‘ as an historical entity or construct, even though the term ? like ‘ Asia ‘ itself ? was invented in the Western world. But I will come back later to East Asia in this particular sense.
Japan, on the other hand, is indubitably a part of Eastern Asia, and even with its territory stretching to the Ryukyu Islands and into the Pacific, could reasonably classified as a Northeast Asian country. The main impediments to the development of a vigorous East Asian discourse would seem cultural and historical: on one hand, there are the shadows of the erstwhile ‘ Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere ‘ inhibiting many progressive intellectuals;  and, on the other hand, the tradition of ‘ breaking away from Asia and joining Europe ‘ ( datsua ny ?? ) still remains strong, buttressed no doubt by the global reach of Japanese economy but still producing an unseemly craving for a special relationship with the United States and a cavalier disregard for the sensitivities of its Asian neighbors.
In South Korea, too, as I indicated above, there have been strong constraints on the development of any meaningful discourse on Asia. The Cold War ideology that imposed the binary scheme of ‘ Free World vs. the Communists ‘ was reinforced by Park Chung Hee ‘ s assiduous attempt to emulate the ‘ Japanese model ‘ . More recently, democratic reforms and pressures of post-Cold War globalization have created a new terrain, but the essentially Eurocentric and capital-oriented ideology remains potent. The problem now is not suppression or suspicion of Asian discourse as such, but the use of even such discourse in the cause of capitalist globalization, thus promoting datsua ny ?? on a pan-East Asian scale.
High hopes that once hung on ‘ Confucian capitalism ‘ or on ‘ Asian values ‘ as ingredients of a more humane capitalism suffered a heavy blow during the Asian financial crisis of 1997: a fuller embracing of neo-liberalism seems to have become unavoidable unless one intends radically to challenge capitalist globalization. But there is every possibility that neo-liberal capitalism itself may combine with selective Asian or East Asian values. The thing may even take shape under the rubric of ‘ socialism with Chinese characteristics ‘ !
It is not necessarily a problem that only selective values are mobilized: one need only to be aware of the selectiveness and of how, for instance, Buddhist, Daoist, and other values tend to become erased when the focus is on Confucianism. Nor does it constitute a serious objection that ‘ East Asia ‘ is not coterminous with Eastern Asia as a cartographical entity, provided one is lucid about which ‘ East Asia ‘ one has in mind, particularly about whether one refers to a certain historical civilization or to a portion of Asia in the present world. For as far as the contemporary world is concerned, I believe there is only one civilization, the capitalist ? even though ‘ capitalist civilization ‘ sounds more and more like an oxymoron, as the globally unfolding logic of endless accumulation threatens to destroy all civilized values and even the very possibility of human survival. The essential point then is how to face and overcome these dangers: how to utilize a given regional framework, or set of frameworks, in the global endeavor to create an alternative world, and what particular civilizational legacies to resort to for that purpose.
Perhaps it speaks for the strength of democratic and other social movements in South Korea that the discourse of Confucian capitalism never gained much currency beyond a narrow sector of the academia. President Kim Dae Jung himself was an outspoken critic of Lee Kuan Yew on ‘ Asian values ‘ vs. universal human rights, and even though in the wake of the IMF bailout numerous neo-liberal policies have been adopted both by him and his successor, there probably is more active resistance to neo-liberalism in South Korea than in any of the neighboring countries.
‘ East Asia ‘ in the discourse of my colleagues also reflects this oppositional stance. When Choi Won-shik speaks of searching for an ‘ East Asian perspective ‘ in one of the feature essays mentioned above,  his aim is to find an alternative conception of the world and of human living to counter the globally dominant one, and he looks to the civilizational legacies of East Asia for support in this endeavor. One finds therefore no problem with the fact that East Asia in this context leaves out a good deal of Eastern Asia: not only the South Seas but Russia and much of Southeast Asia as well.
It is a different matter, however, when he goes on to discuss ‘ East Asian solidarity ‘ . If he envisions a solidarity of intellectuals sharing an ‘ East Asian perspective ‘ , it need not be confined to the area formerly belonging to the East Asian Civilization. If, on the other hand, it concerns a framework of regional cooperation based on shared political and economic, as well as cultural, interests, the area needs to be more specifically delimited in terms of current realities, and if most of Southeast Asia is to be excluded, another appellation must be chosen.
As with personal identity, one ‘ s regional identity need not be singular. On the contrary, it is both inevitable and generally desirable that one should belong simultaneously to Asia, Asia-Pacific, Eastern Asia, East Asia and Northeast Asia ? and to different formulations of these as well. With this caveat, I will now move on to Northeast Asia.
For Koreans ‘ Northeast Asia ‘ has the particular attraction of placing Korea at or near its center and potentially giving them a pivotal role. The point is highlighted by the current crisis over North Korea ‘ s nuclear capabilities. For obvious reasons ‘ East Asia ‘ as a cultural or geographical space becomes much less relevant here than ‘ Northeast Asia ‘ , though the situation naturally has global and East Asian ramifications.
The crisis on the Korean Peninsula, now being addressed by the second round of ‘ six-party talks ‘ in Beijing, has also managed a more adequate inclusion of the major players of the region. North Korea, an indubitable Northeast Asian entity but all too apt to be forgotten in many an East Asian and Northeast Asian discourse, assumes a highly visible presence. We are reminded, too, that Russia, occupant of a huge landmass and holder of a large political, economic stake in Northeastern Asia (as well as Northern and Central Asia), is also frequently excluded in certain discourses of East Asia. Of the nations in the region, only Mongolia is absent at the talks, while a power from outside, the United States, joins them as one of the parties. This, however, not only follows a familiar pattern encountered almost everywhere in the world, but given the long-term stationing of U.S. ground troops and other instances of America ‘ s physical presence in the region, could be understood as a reasonable expansion of the concept of ‘ a Northeast Asian power ‘ .
If the term East Asia seemed unduly confining to China (not to speak of Russia), Northeast Asia would naturally prove even more so. But where matters of military and national security are in question, states inevitably become decisive factors, and the People ‘ s Republic of China as such, and to a lesser extent the Russian Federation, must be counted as a Northeast Asian party. This, of course, should not prevent China from assuming other regional identities, nor from intervening in this region in a less holistic manner when the agenda is of a different nature.
In any case it seems evident that resolution of the crisis on the Korean Peninsula is a prerequisite to a fuller regional cooperation whether of East Asia or Northeast Asia. I do not have the expertise, and probably no expert possesses the clairvoyance, to predict the eventual outcome of the negotiations. But if the six-party talks can continue even if producing no dramatic results, they may lay the foundation for a more lasting arrangement for regional security and cooperation. The relevant model here will not be NATO, although some have emphasized the importance of that military alliance as a precondition for the evolution of Europe ‘ s regional framework. In Northeast Asia there is no outside camp for the six parties to ally against, (as there was for NATO in the past,) and a formal multilateral military setup is in any case out of the question for them, while an alliance of five against one, whether desirable or not, is equally unrealistic.
To insist on a NATO-like structure of collective security would therefore amount to counseling despair. If Europe provides a helpful precedent, I think we should look instead to the European Conference for Security and Cooperation, or the ‘ Helsinki accords ‘ , of 1975, a non-binding ‘ declaration ‘ by political leaders but opening the way for wider participation of civil society. Even such a gentleman ‘ s agreement is impossible in the present state of U.S.-North Korea confrontation, and apart from that immediate difficulty, one could foresee an arduous process of negotiations before some provisions on human and social rights may be agreed to. Let us only hope that the six-party talks may serve as both an effective means of removing the immediate danger and a starting point for more far-reaching multilateral accords.
This particular version of Northeast Asia discourse is closely related to another version that has gained prominence in South Korea, especially under President Roh Mu-hyun. One of the slogans of the new administration is to make South Korea ‘ the economic hub of Northeast Asia ‘ . The Korean word chungsim is often translated as ‘ center ‘ , and thus evoked more ridicule than anger among our neighbors, who would have had to see China and Japan turned into ‘ peripheries ‘ to South Korea ‘ s ‘ center ‘ . Seoul hastened to publicize the correct translation and also to remove the word ‘ country ‘ from the original ‘ hub country ‘ ( chungsimguk ). The adjustments do make the goal somewhat less fanciful, for with its strategic location and various resources and potentials South Korea could develop into some kind of a hub, most plausibly in logistics and transportation, in the rapidly growing and increasingly interdependent economy of the Northeast Asian region.
Yet a full year after Roh Mu-hyun ‘ s inauguration the idea of ‘ the economic hub of Northeast Asia ‘ seems to have lost much of its luster. For one thing, the continuing tension on the Korean Peninsula has not only limited the inter-Korean exchange on the Peninsula but put a damper on many a scheme of regional development, including the connecting of Korean rail-lines to Trans-Siberian and Trans-China Railways and construction of a pipeline for Russian natural gas through North Korea. Also, the inability of the Government sufficiently to carry out the necessary domestic reforms to qualify South Korea for any kind of logistical hub, not to speak of making its metropolitan sector a financial hub, of Northeast Asia. These problems might be solved over time, especially in the event of a diplomatic breakthrough between the United States and North Korea. But the whole notion of ‘ the economic hub of Northeast Asia ‘ seems to call for reexamination and for considerable refinement or revision.
Although the Seoul government has taken out the word ‘ country ‘ from chungsimguk , the thinking seems to proceed very much in terms of nations and states. Indeed, there doesn ‘ t seem to be sufficient awareness even in non-government circles that, unlike in Europe, regional economic or cultural cooperation in this part of the world (whether East Asia or Northeast Asia) cannot have nation-states as its basic components. Aside from historic legacies of mutual distrust, the sheer fact of China ? the fact that it is not a ‘ country ‘ or ‘ nation ‘ in the same sense that Korea or Japan is ? makes any international agreement for regional cooperation difficult to bring about and of limited application. Of course, state-level arrangements are necessary in providing minimum protection and support for the flow of people and goods, but regional cooperation will have to be conceived primarily in terms of relevant regions or localities within the nation-states involved, although in the case of a smaller national unit like Korea we may see a more total involvement.
In this connection I would like to introduce the notion of ‘ the Yellow Sea Urban Community ‘ , of which the architect and urban designer Kim Seok-Chul has written in the pages of the Changbi journal.  He contends that in order to give substance to regional cooperation and community in Northeast Asia, we should focus on the Yellow Sea Basin – stretching the term a little to include the Southeast of Korea and the Osaka-Kobe and Setonaikai regions of Japan – as the site where already highly concentrated economic activity is taking place and where we are likely to see a further rapid growth in both production and exchange. It will be an urban and largely maritime community in the sense that the rim of the Yellow Sea will be interspersed with mega-cities, industrial clusters and ‘ urban unions ‘ , which depend heavily (unlike in Europe) on sea routes for intraregional exchange, and promising to restore the Yellow Sea as the center of commerce and culture that it was before the Ming Dynasty closed the ports.
This is not the place to go into the specifics of Kim ‘ s conception, but one of its theoretic merits lies in its emphasis on the actual movement of people, goods, and ideas rather than on the formal combination of states, assigning the latter a subsidiary (though still crucial) role. It also suggests a new approach to delimiting a region. For the ‘ borders ‘ of the Yellow Sea Community will be shifting and permeable as actual developments on the ground (and on water) unfold themselves, much like the borders of a ‘ civilization ‘ . It is certainly a significant step toward loosening the grip of what the world-systems analysis calls ‘ the inter-state system ‘ , and in a direction opposite to the U.S. neo-cons ‘ attempt to replace that system with a unilateralist imperium.
Whether the Community will represent a similar loosening of global capital ‘ s grip is another matter. Kim ‘ s vision naturally presupposes a large influx of capital into the region, but he is also aware that because of the huge concentration of population in the region and the lateness of the hour in the environmental clock of the earth, development of Yellow Sea Community along the hitherto familiar line of economic growth will spell disaster to the entire world. It is no accident that the immediate occasion for his exposition was the controversy regarding Saemangum, a huge reclamation project started by the South Korean Government some thirteen years ago to build a 20-mile long dike at the mouth of a bay on the Southwestern coast, with the aim of turning more than forty thousand hectares of sea and tidal flat into dry land and fresh-water lakes. The environmental disaster it promises (with scanty prospects of realizing the intended economic benefits) have provoked wide protests at home and abroad, but with the dikes nearly completed, supporters of the project also have remained adamant.
Kim ‘ s intervention was intended to break the impasse by proposing a scheme that both sides could accept, (though, predictably, neither side has promptly come forward to accept it): by utilizing the already built dikes and the inadvertently created lagoon-like inner sea (comparable in size to the Laguna of Venice), he would build an aquapolis that, joining in an ‘ urban union ‘ with other cities of the Honam Plain, will become one of the hub ports and markets of the Yellow Sea Community as well as a site of tourism and ecological education. If successful, the scheme would meet a good deal (though certainly not all) of the environmentalists ‘ demands while satisfying the aspirations of the local population for economic development. Its plausibility derives from the expanding economic activities around the Yellow Sea and the consequent demand of the regional economy for a maritime urban center of Saemangum ‘ s size and strategic location. But the greatest significance in the long run may be that its success would entail a different, more eco-friendly paradigm of development, and a new pattern of combining small or medium-sized cities with adjacent agricultural and fishing countryside.
I offer these cursory remarks only as an example of the ongoing development and diversification in South Korea ‘ s discourse of Northeast Asia. I personally feel a strong interest in the Yellow Sea Community, for I believe the growing weight of this particular area as potentially the largest global center of economic activity is a foregone conclusion (short of a nuclear war originating in the Korean Peninsula): the real issue is whether we shall see the renewed domination of the Yellow Sea by China in alliance with global capital, or a genuine community with more or less equal participation by various national, local and individual groups.
But this particular regional combination, I repeat, need not and should not exclude other regional frameworks that might serve the real interests of humanity and the regional population. □
 Some information in English is available at the website of Changbi Publishers, Inc., www.changbi.com/english ; see also at the same site Kim Yeong-hui, “Doing a Literary Journal in a Divided Country,” a presentation at the 2000 Inter-Asia Cultural Studies Conference on ‘Transitional Era, Transformative Work’, Fukuoka, Japan, December 1, 2000 ( http://www.changbi.com/english/related/related12_1.asp ).
 The term itself has become much less fashionable since the disappearance of the ‘ Second World ‘ , but the ‘ Third World perspective ‘ that Changbi espoused has retained its relevance even in the discourse of the new century. For the ‘ Third World ‘ , as I observed in an essay published in the Autumn 1979 issue of Creation and Criticism , was “ not so much a word to divide the world into three, as one whose true significance lies in the aim to see the world as a single whole, but to see it thus not from the point of view of the rich and powerful of the First or the Second World but from that of ordinary people. ” ( “ Chesam segye wa minjung munhak [The Third World and people ' s literature] ” )
 A brief explication of these notions are found in my “Coloniality in Korea and a South Korean project for Overcoming Modernity,” interventions Vol. 2 No. 1, 2000 (London); available also as ‘Related Material’ at www.changbi.com/english . On the notion of a ‘non-nationalist national literature’, see also Paik Nak-chung, “Nations and Literatures in the Age of Globalization,” in Fredric Jameson and Masao Miyoshi, eds., The Cultures of Globalization (Duke University Press 1998).
 The first concentrated effort was the feature ‘ East Asia in the World: Searching for New Solidarities ‘ in the Spring 1993 issue, which included a translation with the author ‘ s new postscript of Arif Dirlik ‘ s “ The Asia-Pacific Idea: Reality and Representation in the Invention of a Regional Structure ” (first published in Journal of World History , Vol. 3 No. 1, Spring 1990).
 ‘ Northeast Asia ‘ obviously would be less of a problem in this regard. At any rate, the Japanese historian and intellectual Haruki Wada was one of the first in the region to propose a ‘ Common House of Northeast Asia ‘ , discussing it in the pages of the Changbi quarterly as early as the Spring 1995 issue and recently presenting his ideas in book form (Wada Haruki, Tohoku azia no kodo no ie [The Common House of Northeast Asia], Tokyo: Heibunsha, 2003).
 Choe Wonsik [Choi Won-shik], “ T ‘ alnaengj? n sidae wa tong ‘ asiaj ?k sigak ? i mosaek [The post-Cold War era and the search for an East Asian perspective] ” , Ch ‘ angjak kwa pip ‘ y ? ng 79, Spring 1993.
 Kim S ?kch’?l, “Saemang?m, honam py?ngya, hwanghae tosi kongdongche [Saemangum, the Honam Plains, the Yellow Sea Urban Community],” Ch’angjak kwa pip’y?ng 121, Autumn 2003. See also his earlier “Saemang?m ?i miraer?l y?n?n saeroun sigak [A new perspective that opens the future of Saemangum],” Ch’angjak kwa pip’y?ng 118, Winter 2002.