Circles and Squares

Insights into Korea's Sudden Rise

“Looking ahead 100 years for Seoul” (JoongAng Daily, September 23, 2014)

JoongAng Daily

“Looking ahead 100 years for Seoul”

September 23, 2014

Emanuel Pastreich




When I came to Korea in 2007, I was deeply impressed by the capability of the Korean local government for institutional innovation. For example, while working as an adviser to the governor of South Chungcheong, I learned about the preparations for the move of the capital from Daejeon to Hongseong.

It is a remarkable policy in Korea that declares that once a city has reached a population of one million, it should be designated a “metropolitan city” and have a status equivalent to a province. Daejeon had reached that status, and so the government decided that it would no longer serve as the capital of South Chungcheong – so the capital had to be moved.

This policy is very scientific and practical, but such innovation is impossible in the United States. Major cities like New York or Los Angeles do not have the representation of a state – although they are far larger than many existing states. Moreover, it has been impossible to establish any new states for more than 50 years. Even the obvious cases for federal statehood, such as Puerto Rico, have dragged on so long that some are thinking about independence out of frustration.

But although I was deeply impressed by how quickly Koreans can effectuate change in government, I have also seen weaknesses in local governance that undercut the appeal of the Korean model. We see increasing shortsightedness in urban planning and a lack of credible institutional history. Government officials often know nothing of the precedents for good governance in their own city and do not have the time to come up with innovative new policies because they are rushing around everyday filling out forms.

I was impressed by the broadly educated and thoughtful government officials that I worked with in South Chungcheong, Daejeon and Seoul. However, despite the expertise of Korean public officials, they are increasingly rotated from department to department in government in terms shorter than one year. Sadly, despite their intellectual ability and commitment, they are unable to acquire any expertise in one field. Needless to say, they do not have time to sit down and read books on topics relevant to their work. Read more of this post

“100년을 내다보고 자치제 계획하라” (중앙일보 2014년 9월 20일)


“100년을 내다보고 자치제 계획하라”

2014년 9월 20일

임마누엘 페스트라이쉬

2007년 한국에 발을 디뎠을 때 지방정부의 제도개혁 능력에 깊은 감명을 받았다. 충남 도지사 보좌관으로 일하는 동안 도청 소재지를 대전에서 홍성으로 이전하는 데 따른 갖가지 준비사항들에 참여하게 됐다. 한국에선 도시 인구가 100만 명에 이르면 시가 광역시로 바뀌기 때문에 도청 소재지를 홍성으로 옮기면서다.

이런 정책은 매우 과학적이고 실용적이지만 이 같은 혁신은 미국에선 거의 불가능하다. 뉴욕이나 LA 같은 대도시의 인구는 다른 주들보다 훨씬 더 많지만 주정부에 걸맞은 지위를 확보하지 못했다. 게다가 그 필요성에도 불구하고 지난 반세기 동안 새로운 주를 만들어내기도 쉽지 않았다. 푸에르토리코 같은 자치령을 주로 승격시키는 문제도 워낙 오래 끌어 이젠 아예 독립시키자는 논의가 대두될 정도다.

그러나 한국인들이 도청 소재지 이전에서 보인 놀랍고 신속한 혁신에도 불구하고 지방정부의 행태에서 드러나는 약점도 무시하기 어렵다. 도시 설계 시 나타나는 근시안적 태도와 확고한 제도적 틀의 결여를 두고 하는 말이다. 정부 관리들은 자신이 사는 도시의 과거 훌륭한 운영 선례를 모를 뿐만 아니라 제아무리 혁신적인 정책도 사전에 충분히 생각할 시간이 부족한 듯하다. 그저 온갖 양식의 서류를 채우기에 급급하다고 해야 할까. Read more of this post

Robert Kennedy’s “Day of Affirmation” Speech


I am not sure why, but I have always been drawn to Robert Kennedy’s “Day of Affirmation” Speech.

Even as I have learned that Robert Kennedy was a bit more complex than he appears in his speeches and in the related mythology,yet  his words still has that potential to move us, to appeal to our better angels. Even though we see no black Africans in seated behind him, still the words speak to us. There is something very real hidden away in the contradictions and imperfections of that moment.

The speech was delivered in June 6th, 1966, at University of Cape Town, South Africa. And the one passage that I have often quoted is as follows. It suggests, as I try to remind myself sometimes, that even for those deeply involved in the political, there must be an ethical calling that underlies all the very practical arguments for what needs to be done.

“We must recognize the full human equality of all of our people before God, before the law, and in the councils of government. We must do this, not because it is economically advantageous, although it is; not because of the laws of God command it, although they do; not because people in other lands wish it so. We must do it for the single and fundamental reason that it is the right thing to do.”

original text

“貝一明博士「跨海求真」讀後感” 葉蓉樺









Read more of this post

Kim Jinmyung’s novel “THAAD”

The Korean novelist  Kim Jinmyung 김진명 has published a novel entitled THAAD in which he describes, as part of a murder mystery, an plot behind this pricey missile defense system the Washington is trying to sell to Seoul that will drag Korea into an unnecessary military confrontation with China.


Specifically, the novel describes the THAAD (Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense) missile system as a mechanism created by a United States to trigger a military conflict with China as a means of releasing itself from the debts to China that it can no long pay back.    I have only glanced at the book in the bookstore, but I am quite curious as to its contents.



“Stop commercializing women” (JoongAng Daily September 1, 2014)

“Stop commercializing women”

Joongang Daily

September 1, 2014



The presentation of females in the Korean media has taken a turn for the worse over the last five years that deeply worries many women. Advertising in magazines, on billboards, on posters in the subway and on television increasingly feature women in suggestive poses that would have been considered soft pornography 20 years ago. It seems that there is no limit to the use of the physical appearance of women, and occasionally of men, to cloud the thinking of consumers, appeal to the most basic aspects of their psychology and reduce the natural attractiveness of people into a raw and instinctive drive for instant gratification and thoughtless consumption.

The result of this drive to reduce women to products has a terrible impact on women, especially young girls. They are overwhelmed by hidden messages from the media to which they are exposed that suggest that physical attraction is the most critical issue. Young girls assume these messages to be authoritative, thinking that a commercialized sexuality is a necessary condition for self-expression and social acceptance. Increasingly, interviewing for jobs is more about physical appearance than actual ability and the impact of education about this shift is extremely negative. Read more of this post

“斷想:網路時代的大學教育” (中华读书报 2001年 2月 21日 )




貝一明/文 蔣洪生/譯

編者按:執教於美國伊利諾伊大學(University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)東亞係的貝一明(Emanuel Pastreich)博士對網路時代的大學教育有一整套極富前瞻性和可行性的設想。他認為:未來的國際一流大學必定是在網路教育方面高度發達的大學;對中國大學而言,網路教育機會大於挑戰,中國大學通過網路教育可躋身於國際一流大學,中國教育界不應喪失這一千載難逢的良機;網路教育會給中國的學者及學生創造與與世界一流大學密切交流的機會。下面刊發的是貝一明博士對網路時代的電腦與教育關係的一些基本看法。

貝一明先生畢業於耶魯大學中文系、哈佛大學東亞係(博士),曾留學中國,對中國有著深厚的感情。他最大的願望之一就是希望中國能更快、更深地融入國際化的潮流,並在這一潮流中不失自己的民族自信心,與世界其他國家平等合作。”我不怕中國強。我只希望富強起來的中國對於全世界、全人類擔負起和平和發展的重大責任,並為此作出偉大的貢獻。”這是貝一明先生常說的一句話。 Read more of this post

“中国通俗小说之影响于日朝” (中华读书报, 2001年7月18日)


 2001年 7月 18日



贝一明 (Emanuel Pastreich)




为什么本国语成为今天朝鲜和日本用来写学术文章所采用的惟一语言形式,而在二十世纪之前,本国语写作基本上是附属于文言文或者作为文言文的分支呢? 回答这个难以回答的问题时,我们发现当今世界仍然处在一个叫做“单一民族的独立国家”的分裂野兽的阴影之下,它要求语言、习俗和种族与国家的地理边界一致。这样就不可避免地导致了一种看法,认为用本国语写作是最自然的,而用一种古典语言写作是被强迫的,做作的。

我们忘记了为什么过去那么多人选择用拉丁文、希腊语、波斯语、阿拉伯语和汉语的书面语来表达自我,尽管这些语言的发源地不论从地理位置上还是从时代上都很遥远。 Read more of this post

Cryptic glyph near my home

I have become fascinated by this cryptic glyph that is spray-painted on a wall near my home.


Not sure exactly what it means, but it seems to have some profound meaning.



Looking again at the President Wilson’s 14 Points

Focusing on President Wilson’s 14 Points

Emanuel Pastreich

August 30, 2014

The Asia Institute


In light of the obscure negotiations concerning trade agreements and the lack of transparency in the diplomatic and security interactions of the United States with other nations, I would like to draw attention to the “Fourteen Points” issued by President Woodrow Wilson on January 8, 1918. At the time, the United States had entered the First World War, dragged into a blood bath between colonial powers which had little, or no, moral import. Although there are many who have criticized Woodrow Wilson for starting the United States on the path to foreign intervention and engaging in an ambiguous war, it is also true that by setting the United States up as the only country that had any explicit goals in the conflict, and making those goals something beyond narrow national interest (read “interests of the ruling class”) Wilson gave the United States a moral authority in international affairs that would last for a century and would be the reason that many were willing to forgive America’s mistakes in the interest of a greater global order.

That authority has been squandered away by the United States, and I mean the educated and privileged Americans who should have known better than to let this shift happen. And now we are seeing the dark consequences: a tendency around the world to assume that the United States has only pursued the most selfish goals both domestically and internationally from its very inception. That collapse of legitimacy can be seen in the profound doubts about the United States in Middle East as it can be seen in the response to the militarization of the military in Ferguson, Missouri.

I do not want to claim that President Wilson was a hero. He was quite simply a politician.  I believe that the ideals he held up remain critical to us. The United States can benefit a bit from going back to his writings.

Read more of this post


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 87 other followers