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  • Tosan Ahn Ch'ang-Ho: A Profile of a Prophetic Patriot
  • Jacqueline Pak (bio)
Tosan Ahn Ch'ang-Ho: A Profile of a Prophetic Patriot, by Hyung-chan Kim. Los Angeles: Academia Koreana, 1996. 361 pp. $35.00 cloth.

A chief architect of the Korean independence movement, An Ch'angho (1878– 1938) has long been an elusive figure in modern Korean history. Remaining an enigma, the leading intellectuals, writers, and scholars of Korea and the West actually could not figure him out. In a sense, his genius—and his adoption of a moderate reformist stance to camouflage yet advance his ultimate revolutionary agenda to wage an independence war to reclaim his country—which eluded the Japanese police for decades also eluded them. A mostly self-educated man of principled moral dignity and labyrinthine strategic mind, An led a formidable international network of exile and underground activities, evading Japanese suppression from the 1900s to 1930s. Committed to the patriotic cause of freedom of his people and country, he did not fully reveal his revolutionary aims or intentions even to those who were close to him. With multilayered and multidimensional strategic vision and planning, he eschewed neither violent tactics nor progressive socialist ideologies to champion his life-long goal of national freedom. Most of all, An Ch'angho was a pioneering constitutional democrat with a passion for writing constitutions. During his lifetime, he created a series of self-governing associations and secret societies for he believed that a democratic self-government was the very means and the end of the anticolo-nial revolution.

Inevitably, the earlier interpretations of An Ch'angho reflected and embodied [End Page 147] the painful legacy of colonialism, the Korean War, division, and successive military dictatorships. Caught at the nexus of modern Korean history and historiography, An Ch'angho was misinterpreted or misjudged as a "gradualist-pacifist" by Yi Kwangsu, Chu Yohan, Chong-sik Lee, and Arthur Gardner from the 1940s to the 1970s;1 as a "cultural nationalist" by Michael Robinson in the 1980s;2 and as a "self-reconstruction nationalist" by Kenneth Wells in the 1990s.3 As disciple-biographers, Yi Kwangsu and Chu Yohan presented An as a "gradualist-pacifist" and set the tone for subsequent interpretations. If their works were marked by inconsistencies and paradoxes, Yi and Chu's collaborations further clouded and complicated understanding of An and the Korean nationalist movement.

With twists and turns in the interpretations, the "cultural nationalist" critique by Robinson, for example, provocatively charged that An Ch'angho was an unrevolutionary nationalist whose cultural, rather than political and military, measures toward recovering independence were actually "a tacit acceptance of the colonial rule" or "passive collaborationism." Yet, Robinson failed to evaluate the activities of the Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai led by An Ch'angho and the reality of domestic-exile linkage among revolutionary nationalists and communists, including the war of independence, in the 1920s. Exploring the ethico-spiritual dimension of Protestant Christian nationalism, Wells redefined "cultural nationalism" as "self-reconstruction nationalism." But he also did not distinguish the nationalist philosophy and endeavors of Yun Ch'iho and Yi Kwangsu from those of An Ch'angho. Likewise, Wells also misconstrued An Ch'angho as a "gradualist-pacifist." While he focused on the tension of Christian universalism versus nationalistic particularism to explain Yun's collaboration, this could not necessarily apply to An Ch'angho, whose nationalist program and worldview sharply diverged from the culturalists. An not only actively sought political and military means to achieve independence but also never collaborated with the Japanese.

Signifying the essential role of An Ch'angho's leadership in the anti-colonial struggle and the inquiry of nationalism in modern Korean history, the "An Ch'angho controversy" emerged as part of the ideologized polemics of the Kwangju-scarred decade of the 1980s. Born of such a milieu, however, the post-Kwangju historiography concerning An Ch'angho was driven by the political and ideological agenda of the time. In the following decades, the controversy continued to raise uncomfortably thorny, if complex and difficult, issues in colonial-nationalist history. The enduring debates on An Ch'angho paralleled the political and intellectual change from polemicized revisionism to...


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