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Book Reviews219 Diplomacy of Asymmetry: Korean-American Relations to 1910. By John Chay. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990. Pp. x, 239. Notes, bibliography, index. Unless their authors are of the caliber of a William Langer or a Fred Harvey Harrington, professional diplomatic histories of Korea tend to be reduced to yawn-inducing recitations of declarations, conferences, cables, memoranda, treaties, and the like. Few writers manage to put events in an enlightening domestic, regional, and global context, dig out the motives of the major actors, depict the nature and power of the trends in motion, capture the dramatic meaning of quiet stirrings or invisible activity, and present it all in lucid and vivid prose. Writing about Korean diplomatic history is clearly a tough job, but every now and then somebody has to "do" it. John Chay is the latest scholar to venture into this arena, and while he is no Langer or Harrington, he has been quite successful in avoiding the dull approach of merely reporting events. In fact, he offers a well-crafted, interesting, and fluid story. Many existing works on Korean-American relations examine specific episodes and personalities, but Chay's brief survey of the first fifty years of this interaction is a rare overall view. I must note with regret, however, that despite its title Chay's book is not a judicious account of the evolution of this relationship from Korean and American perspectives. Rather, it is largely an examination of how American policy on Korea was formed and how it affected the peninsula. Chay's focus and sources are overwhelmingly American, and the Korean angle is at best marginal to his presentation. The author begins with the obvious statement that Korean-American relations were "peculiar" because they were "asymmetrical." One's instinct is to retort, first, that of course the disparate size and power of the two nations made them inevitably so and, second, that nearly all bilateral international relations tend to be peculiar and asymmetrical. This being the case, why beat the dead horse endlessly? One is pleased lo discover soon, therefore, that Chay's objective is to explore something moie instructive: he wants to look at the various dimensions of the asymmetry and their combined effect on the course of Korean-American relations. Chay lays out a clear conceptual scheme for his project. He 220Journal of Korean Studies outlines the main structural and circumstantial factors that constituted the foundation of United States-Korean asymmetry. Chief among them were trade and investment, missionary activities, physical distance, strategic or security considerations, cultural proclivities, mutual images, and the personal values and styles of the principal foreign-policy makers in America. Briefly stated, trade with and investment in Korea remained, despite some growth, of tangential value to America but were of some consequence to Korea. Chay enlists persuasive statistical and illustrative evidence on this subject. The U.S. missionary interest in evangelical, education, medical, and publication activities in Korea grew slowly yet steadily after 1884, but to the Korean government it was all an insubstantial concern at first. American security interest in faraway Korea was. again, scarcely worth serious attention, except when it impinged on U.S. ties with China, Russia, and Japan. The Korean government, on the other hand, saw the distant land of America as a "strong" and "wealthy" yet "good natured" and "nonimperialist" nation, whose friendship could be of vital importance in the perilous sea of late nineteenth-century imperialism. Culturally, the United States, a product of "Greco-Roman" and "Judeo-Christian" world views, was a highly "materialistic," industrial, and "rationalistic" society. Korea, by contrast a Confucian-agrarian society, tended to take a more "moralistic" and "humanistic" view of life. At the same time, Korea was attracted to the advanced technology of America. This disproportion — and perhaps distortion — extended further into public images. Using the theories of Kenneth Boulding, Gabriel Almond, and James Rosenau, Chay discusses the influence of the attentive, as opposer! to the mass, public of America on U.S. foreign policy. Despite its small share — perhaps no more than 25 percent — of the population, the attentive public was a noteworthy force. Prominent newspapers and magazines, such as the New York Times, Outlook...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-1665
Print ISSN
0731-1613
Pages
pp. 219-223
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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