Monthly Archives: July 2011

Agricultural goods on the subway

Seoul Metro is involved in a multidimensional project to reinvent what exactly subway means. One of the strongest indications of this project is the decision to set up fresh produce markets in the subway.  I was impressed by the quality vegetables available and the presence of such markets in what would otherwise be a desert makes commuting much more enjoyable. This metro sign identifies various fresh produce markets throughout Seoul Metro.

Emanuel Pastreich

Circles and Squares

Imagining the past in Korea

One of the oddest phenomena in Korea today is the nostalgia for a past that never existed in Korea. We see in advertisements little bits of memorabilia from a distant age in America, but that has no place in Korea today. In this first of these two pictures, we see a few fascinating artifacts that have little to do with anything Koreans might remember from childhood.

The second image is even more startling. I remember from my own childhood such classic VW buses. They are associated closely for Americans with the greening of America in the early 1970s after the terrible political conflicts of the 1960s. But Koreans have no personal memory of these buses, which were not sold in Korea as far as I can ascertain. It seems a special mythology of Korea has been created as cultural variation of the United States and bits of a rather alien origin have been imported into that Korean imagined past.

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Emanuel Pastreich

Circles and Squares

Letter from China to the Nobel Prize Committee asking for the establishment of a Prize for Ecology Studies

 Professor Chen Minghao of Jiaotong University in Shanghai, asked me to translate this letter to the Nobel Prize Committee asking that a Nobel Prize for Ecology be established. At the time, I did not really understand what he was talking about and did the translation just on a whim of sorts, but now, many years later, Chen Minhao’s thought seems most prescient. He passed away last year and I deeply regret I was not able to meet him again and tell him how much I learned from him.

 March, 1994


“Maintaining the Well-being of Humanity is the Spirit of Alfred Nobel’s Legacy”

An open letter to the Nobel Prize Committee

by Minghao Chen

There are only five years left in this century. The aging twentieth century is passing into history while a new century slowly emerges in an aura of possibilities and hopes. Humanity as well has reached a historic turning point in its development; a new path awaits us beyond. We must turn away from our present path of single-mindedly pursuing material and technological progress and choose the way of harmonious coexistence with nature, and economic development closely coordinated with the needs of the environment. Read more of this post

“What exactly is it that Koreans are Good at?”

I had a very intriguing conversation on Korea Business Central with Mike Park the other day in which we tried to answer that always elusive question:

“What exactly is it that Koreans are good at?”

The discussion started from a debate on the accuracy of my comments about Naver. Mike noted that:


Korea is “globally competitive” and powerful with “single” solutions, but when solutions need to address “plural” or “multiple” groups, Korea is extremely weak.  Hence, “globally not competitive” when it comes to packaging-up and marketing new innovative ideas and concepts to different market segments/consumers. Read more of this post

Future Communications Forum (The Miso Forum) Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Emanuel will give a presentation at the Miso Forum (Future Communications Forum) on Wednesday, July 27, 2011, in the afternoon at 4:30  PM. The Miso Forum was founded by a group of concerned businessmen, academics and public servants who wish to explore new potentials for a deeper international dialog focused around Korea. I have been impressed by their dedication to the project.

Emanuel’s talk is entitled” “Future Communications: The Intellectual Korean Wave”

The entire conference is conducted in Korean.

The Miso Forum will be held at the Hanguk gisul Center (한국기술센터) (16th floor) –located next to

exit 5 of Seolleung Station on (Line #2). For more information, call: 02 247-8807.

The Miso Forum 미래소통포럼

Read more of this post

Take Naver Global Today! (ARTICLE)

Take Naver Global Today!


Monday, July 18th, 2011


Korea has a unique search engine known as Naver ( which I frequently employ in my searches to find relevant information about Korea and the world. One need only spend a few minutes using Naver’s convenient maps, informative “café” discussion groups and interactive dictionaries to realize this search engine is unique in the world. The intelligent combination of search features, news features and social networking features in one site is quite powerful. Koreans are extremely picky consumers, but many prefer conducting their searches and socializing through Naver to Google.

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Translation of Murakami Haruki’s Speech at Barcelona in Japan Focus

I watched a video of Murakami Haruki’s Barcelona speech about the Tsunami and Fukushima nuclear accident on the internet about two days after its release. I was struck by this effort by a writer who is best known for his studied distance to engage in the contemporary world in an extremely concrete manner. I felt the speech was so significant that it deserved to be translated into English. I did the translation within a few days and passed it on to John Treat, a professor of Japanese literature at Yale University whom I had the chance to host here in Korea recently. After I discussed the translation a bit with John, I passed it on to my friend Mark Seldon, editor of Japan Focus, suggesting we should publish it in Japan Focus for a wider audience.

Mark recommended that I take the translation down from my website and prepare an authoritative version. I contacted Murakami Haruki’s office, through the introduction of Jay Rubin at Harvard—who is one of Murakami’s primary translators—and discussed the translations and Murakami’s publisher’s policy. This translation is by no means an “authorized edition” but in fact I talked with the office at length and sent the material by email to Murakami Haruki. There are several other versions out there, but I think this one is most accurate.

I spent quite a bit of time with Murakami Haruki back in the summer of 1994 when he was on sabbatical at Harvard for one year. We spent a bit of time together as I describe in my essay “On Murakami Haruki.”

Japan Focus

July 18, 2011

Speaking as an Unrealistic Dreamer

Speech by Murakami Haruki on the occasion of receiving the International Catalunya Prize

Translated by Emanuel Pastreich  


I last visited Barcelona two years ago in the spring. An amazing number of readers gathered when I held a book signing. Long lines formed and I still could not finish signing all the books even after one and a half hours. The reason it took so long is that so many of the female readers wanted to kiss me. That was time consuming.

I have held book signings in many cities around the world, but Barcelona was the only place in the world where the female readers asked for kisses. That one example is sufficient evidence of just what a fantastic city Barcelona is. And what good fortune it is that I have another chance to return to this city whose beautiful streets are resplendent with refined culture and a long history.

Murakami Haruki

But, unfortunately, I am not going to talk about kisses today. I must talk about something a bit more serious.

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Professor Doh Jung-il of Humanitas College

I wrote a few notes to introduce the rector of Humanitas College, where I am currently employed. Professor Doh Jung-il is a remarkable figure embodying the drive of the intelllectual to be engaged, and critical, in today’s society.  


Professor Doh Jung-il, Founding Rector

 Humanitas College, Kyung Hee University


Professor Doh Jung-il has emerged as one of the central public intellectuals arguing for the need for a new public sphere that is far broader than the classroom and intellectuals who are not afraid to address honestly the issues of our time. He has devoted his efforts to forming broad coalitions to support engagement in learning and volunteerism.   

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Books: Afghanistan: Lost Civilization: A Tribute the Vanished Buddhas of Bamiyan

I am reading the fascinating book Afghanistan: Lost Civilization: A Tribute the Vanished Buddhas of Bamiyan (아프가니스탄 잃어버린 문명: 진 바미얀 대불을 위 한  헌사) by Ju-hyeong Lee (이주형). This book relates the compelling story of Afghanistan’s struggle to maintain its cultural identify in the face of a constant geopolitical struggles. The book is quite well written and in reflects a rather Korean perspective on Afghanistan’s position as a “roundabout” in a series of routes to power for empires. The descriptions of both daily life and ancient history for Afghanistan are quite moving.


A central theme in the book is the destruction of Buddhist culture by the Taliban, an act with great resonance for Koreans because Korea sees its cultural continuity with the rest of Asia through the prism of the Silk Road. The Silk Road trade route was critical to early pan-Asian Buddhist culture. The destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban government stands out in the narrative. The Buddhas of Bamiyan were two statues carved in the side of cliff in the Bamyan Valley which were designated as idols by the Taliban government and destroyed by dynamite in 2001. The statutes dated back to the sixth century and were universally recognized as the height of Gandara art in central Asia by experts.

Professor Lee teachers Buddhist art at Seoul National University and is an expert on central Asia. His book deserves to be translated into English, but the prospects for such translation are not great. Some bits of Korean contemporary culture are trickling out into the world in English versions, but the scholarly and artistic aspects of Korea today are not given a high priority. Moreover, there are not that many people who can do the work. After all, a translation of Afghanistan: Lost Civilization: A Tribute the Vanished Buddhas of Bamiyan ( would have to be of the highest quality to have any chance of finding a global audience and the number of people who do such work could fit in a small room.


At the same time, I do sense that we are on the cusp of what I have designated as the “Intellectual Korean Wave” (지적 인 한류) in a recent interview with EBS. The Korean wave so far has consisted of pop songs, soap operas, movies and fashion. In essence, the Korean Wave is defined as the hip and dynamic youth (and increasingly older) culture of Korea that has swayed Japan, China, Central and Southeast Asia. But increasingly the world of books, high art and culture are making themselves felt. Although most books for sale in the subway station are not that original, there is much coming out in Korea that deserves to be translated, and translated carefully, into in English, how long it will take to start doing so, I do not know. But such a step is essential for Korea’s development.

Emanuel Pastreich

Circles and Squares

July 17, 2011

“U.S.-Korea Relations in the 21st Century; Challenges and Prospects” (talk)

“U.S.-Korea Relations in the 21st Century; Challenges and Prospects”

October 8, 2006

George Washington University

International Council on Korean Studies (ICKS) & Korean-American Professors Association (KAUFA).

A Fractured and Roiled Identity: the Ideological Challenges for Korea in the 21st Century


Most analysis of the KoreanPeninsulatreats military and security issues, and occasionally economic issues, as the determining factors for the future of that nation. Although I certainly recognize the importance of those vital aspects of human society, I feel that there is amble evidence, that issues of identity and ideology in the Republicof Korea, and the DPRK as well, will be also significant issues. Today’s ideological fragmentation and radically divergent interpretations of history and society may cause considerable instability within Korean society in the years to come.

In making this claim, I am not suggesting thatKoreais necessarily unique in its ideological fragmentation. We can find indications of radically different epistemologies and historical filiations throughoutEast Asia, and across the globe. Globalization, technology, the expansion of trade and the alienation within society caused by rapid modernization has left its traces across the globe. The fluidity we find in the ideological realm today recalls much of the uncertainty in the world in the 1920s and 1930s.

ICKS oct. 2006 PASTREICH ROK Identity