Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The An Jung-geun Museum

In central Seoul, there is a small museum dedicated to An Jung-geun, a Korean nationalist who assassinated the Prime Minister of Japan (Ito Hirobumi) in 1909. While he is considered a hero by many in both Koreas, understandably, he is still a controversial figure in Japan. An was arrested and executed by the Japanese authorities, but not before he could finish writing an essay on pan-Asianism.

While I can understand, and even recognize the importance of An’s act of violence in helping end Japanese colonialism in Korea, the way he is now becoming a pop icon in Korea is troubling. Here is a photo from a recent soccer match against Japan where fans displayed a banner of An.

Not terribly subtle on their part. There are also plans to produce a bank note with An Jung-geun’s likeness.

So why has An experienced this recent resurgence in popularity? Something tells me the damaged ego and worthless nationalist narratives taught in school and pushed through all media outlets have a lot to do with it. It certainly doesn’t have anything to do with Japanese imperialism, which has been dead in Korea since WW2.

And heck, now Korean youth have there very own Che-like emblem to brandish about rather than using critical thought.


the suspect said...

it feels different when you really have a national "icon" much like that of che. i echo ur sentiments over their goal of having an icon to look up to. i can understand the intense nationalism but displaying it on a soccer match definitely sends several mixed signals that could lead to misunderstanding.

nice observation in there on the Che aspect.

jams o donnell said...

Interesting Roland. A national icon is one thing but I find that sort of iconography disquieting

Roland Dodds said...

The sad thing is the way some of the more belligerent characters from Korean history are getting this kind of “positive” treatment. I guess the individuals that didn’t kill Japanese, and yet who helped maintain and create democracy in Korea just doesn’t have that charismatic quality to them.

Tony Ahn, Jr. said...

You are obviously not of Korean descent, or you lack an understanding of Asian history. I will attempt to put things in proper perspective. An Jung-Geun's dream is one of peace; of liberating and uniting all of Asia, including the Chinese, Japanese, & Korean nations. The man he "took out" was Ito Hirobumi, a tyrant, responsible for the torture and execution of thousands if not millions of Chinese, Koreans & other Asians. From a Westerner's point of view, his act of patriotism would be the equivalent of a single person assassinating Adolf Hitler or Osama Bin Laden. While many have tried, all have failed. Believe it or not, An Jung-Geun is revered by not only the Koreans, but by the Japanese and Chinese as well. They have a saying about him, translated: "What a million Chinese could not accomplish, one man did."

Roland Dodds said...


I am not of Korean ancestry, not that it matters in the context of this piece. Like I said, I recognize the importance of An’s act, and I would hardly consider it an act of terrorism since it targeted a specific individual who was in charge of the brutal occupation of Korea.

My problems with An are not his acts, but the way his image is being adopted by Korean nationalists currently, and I think I made that pretty clear.

Tony Ahn, Jr. said...

I apologize for my hasty comment. I reread your commentary and I agree - the use of Martyr Ahn's image to incite hostility, troubles me as well.