Asia Institute Seminar:





Hope Elizabeth May & Emanuel Pastreich


This seminar held on November 23, 2016, traces the ties between Korea and the struggle for world peace and suggests that Korea has in its past the potential to be a leader in the current effort to “wage peace” in the face of increased tensions around the world.




(From Asia Today)

The Asia Institute held a seminar on “History, Memory and Peace in Northeast Asia”on November 23 with Professor Hope Elizabeth May, Professor of Philosophy at Central Michigan University. Professor May discussed the 19th century international Peace through Law Movement (which predated the UN and the League of Nations) and to which the Korean Independence Movement repeatedly appealed. The event drew reporters, diplomats, academics and young students interested in new approaches to peace in East Asia.

The relationship of the United Nations to Korea is normally assumed to begin with the Korean war, but this seminar showed the link between Korean independence and the campaign for world peace and international arbitration which took off in the late nineteenth century, culminated in the Hague Conferences, and produced the United Nations.

Professor May described how the drive for Korean independence was linked to the advocacy for world peace by the Korean delegation sent by Emperor Kojong to the Second International Peace Conference in 1907. This mission, led by the American Homer Hulbert and the Korean loyalist Yi Jun, made a rational argument for the Korean independence as part of a larger embrace of peace.

Professor May discussed how members of international civil society sympathized with the Koreans and gave them a voice at the meeting.

A peaceful approach to the resolution of conflict was at the heart of 1919 Korean independence movement whose  Korean Declaration of Independence advocated the avoidance of anger and resentment:

“We have no wish to find special fault with Japan’s lack of fairness or her contempt of our civilization and the principles on which her state rests.”
Professor May placed current efforts for peace in the context of “Peace History,” a “red thread” that ties together today’s movements to previous efforts over the last hundred years. She suggested that we must embrace this “positive history” if we want to move beyond the remarkably disturbing descriptions of Korea’s history that focus on massacres and “atrocity history.”
May argued that this history contains reservoirs of inspiration and “moral energy” that can link us to the community of individuals, past, present and future, who strive for a more harmonious world.

She closed with a quote by Soviet dissident Natan Sharanksy, which helps us to understand how ‘positive history’is a treasure trove of moral resources:

Souls interact across time and space. The decisions people make in a difficult hour, the principles they either abide by or abandon in moments of truth, have consequences not just for their own lives, but well beyond.

Pastreich noted that the history of peace in East Asia could bring new potentials to future discussions about Asia’s future precisely because our vision has become so very limited by a debate in think tanks that offers the choice between military containment and economic integration that is posited on exploiting North Korea’s natural resources and cheap labor.

He suggested that this positive history of peace in Korea suggests that it is possible to present a different model for Korea that draws on the spiritual depth and moral energy of the Korean Independence Movement, and not on a consumer-based economic development model.

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