restricted access 4. How to Think about the Park Chung Hee Era
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I found the invitation to provide a chapter in this volume too great an honor to resist, but I have many times since then regretted not having resisted it. Not only do I lack the expertise for reassessing the Park era, but I have not done—and have to this day shamefully failed to do—even an educated layman ’s readings on the subject. My title, “How to Think about the Park Chung Hee Era,” reflects my painful sense of this predicament. I make no pretensions to tell you what to think of the era. I propose only to raise a few points regarding how we ought to go about the job. So please have patience with my very unscholarly performance, by taking it largely as a free-ranging essay by a literary man. The “Park era” is not the same thing as Park Chung Hee himself, but feelings about the man inevitably play a large role in any assessment of the era. As is well known, feelings in South Korea today are quite divided, and, indeed, passionately so. Many of the people who went through that era dominated by that man still remain alive and active. They include both those who on the one hand either took an active part in his rule, or otherwise benefited from it and came to possess strongly vested interests, and on the other hand, the victims of that rule who suffered torture, imprisonment, enforced poverty or other deprivations of their rights, and the families and close friends of those so persecuted or even sent to their death. Neither side would be the best qualified source for a dispassionate account. However, while any reassessment after twenty-five years should be as dispassionate as possible, I would like to stress, as an initial point of “how to think about the Park era,” that no scholarly account would be adequate 4 How to Think about the Park Chung Hee Era Nak-chung Paik Nak-chung Paik 86 unless the scholar paid attention to these living voices, particularly those of the victims, for their voices were for a long time actively suppressed and, even when audible at last, would not easily translate into the “objective data” scholars prefer to deal with. Yet a serene disregard of their suffering as “collateral damage” in any march to modernization would not only be infuriating to those who had suffered, but would, in all probability, negatively affect the quality of the scholarly work in question. Mine is hardly an instance of more savage persecution, but I will begin by telling you a little about it. I do so not to claim any intimate knowledge, much less to advertise such vicissitudes that I went through, but to let you know from what vantage point and out of what experience I am speaking. For I could make the second point, or suggestion, regarding “how to think”: that each person should try to be as clear-eyed and candid as possible about his or her “subject position.” Park’s May 16, 1961, coup d’état took place when I was twenty-three, and I was forty-one at the time of his assassination. I had the first of many personal encounters with the regime’s repressive apparatus when I was briefly detained for interrogation by the KCIA in 1965 for criticizing the government’s jailing of the novelist Nam Chŏnghyŏn for writing an anti-American story. Such detentions, or “voluntary accompaniments” (imŭi tonghaeng) as they were officially called, grew more frequent after Park’s second coup d’état, the event that virtually made him a lifetime president. In 1974, I was expelled from my university post by the Ministry of Education for signing a petition for a democratic constitution, and managed to return only during “the Seoul Spring” (1980) following Park’s assassination twenty-five years ago. During 1977–8 I was tried and convicted for publishing a “pro-communist book,” a collection of reports on China written by Western and Japanese scholars and journalists compiled by my distinguished fellow dissident, Yi Yŏnghŭi. The publishing house Ch’angbi and its quarterly journal , Ch’angjak kwa pipy’ŏng (roughly translated as Creation and Criticism), went through other tribulations, including many suppressions and confiscations of published material, and the imprisonment of important contributors like Professor Yi and the poet, Kim Chiha. Neither the journal nor the publishing house, however, was shut down during the Park era: these shutdowns occurred under General...