- Hyung Il Pai 裵炯逸 (14 June 1958 – 28 May 2018)
Click for larger view
View full resolution
[End Page 209]
Hyung Il ("Lee") Pai 裵炯逸 and I became friends from the moment we met for the first time at Harvard in September 1981. As beginning graduate students and fellow advisees of the late Kwang-chih Chang 張光直 (1931–2001), we spent a large part of the following three years in each other's company. It was an intense and exhilarating time. Hyung Il had graduated from the prestigious Ewha Girls' High School梨花女子 高等學校and obtained her B.A. in Korean history from Sŏgang University 西江大 學校, an academically rigorous Jesuit-run institution in Seoul. Having lived in Malaysia and Denver for several years in her teens—her father was a medical doctor attached to the Korean communities there—she was comfortable in English, familiar with negotiating cultural differences, and curious about conceptualizing them theoretically through the lens of anthropology. She had little trouble adjusting to American ways. In this respect she was quite different from the other Korean students at Harvard, many of whom were men and (due to military-service requirements) older than her; they were nice people, interesting and fun to be with, but often astonishingly conservative in their attitudes.
Socially as well as academically, Harvard, with its diverse international constellation of highly driven graduate students, was the right place for her. Had she stayed in Korea, then still under a repressive military dictatorship, her outspokenness would likely have gotten her into trouble sooner or later. She sometimes shared stories of student demonstrations during her college days, from which some of her fellow students had emerged crippled for life due to police brutality. I never asked her why she had chosen to switch fields from history to anthropology, though one reason may have been that anthropology at the time was being regarded (all too briefly, as it turned out) as a kind of hegemonic super-discipline that would eventually imprint itself upon the totality of the Humanities and Social Sciences. More pragmatically, I believe, Hyung Il was looking for new, untapped bodies of evidence and more rigorous—or perhaps just different—methods of analysis that would help her develop a broader perspective on early Korea than she had hitherto encountered. In particular, she was obviously seeking to escape from the doctrinaire nationalism that then pervaded Korean academia.
Even though anthropology was completely new to her, she took to it like a fish to water. Together, we broke our teeth on archaeological method and theory under the late Stephen Williams (1926–2017); suffered valiantly through Erik Trinkaus's (b. 1948) osteology class, which was mandatory for archaeology students; and struggled to hold our own in the formidable Gordon R. Willey's (1913–2002) seminar on the Early Classic Maya. No one on the Harvard faculty at the time knew much about Korean archaeology as such, but K. C. Chang was the most supportive advisor imaginable. He gave Hyung Il completely free rein to develop her expertise, insisting only that she master Japanese and Chinese, which she did. Probably, the Harvard anthropologist who came to exert the strongest intellectual influence on Hyung Il was Peter S. Wells (b. 1948), whose sophisticated anthropological modeling of the nature and effects of contacts between late prehistoric Central Europe and the Mediterranean world provided her with an excellent framework for conceptualizing early Korea-China interactions. For her first summer in Graduate School, Harvard's Anthropology Department sent her to the University of Arizona's long-running archaeological field school at Grasshopper Pueblo, where she acquired first-hand acquaintance with the realities of archaeological fieldwork.
Hyung Il's influence on me during those years was considerable. She was almost single-handedly responsible for kindling my fascination with Korea. In the summer of [End Page 210] 1983, she persuaded me to accept an invitation from our older fellow student Choi Mong Lyong 崔夢龍 (b. 1946) from Seoul National University, who was then just finishing his Ph.D. at Harvard, to join his archaeological field project in Korea. I was hooked. I returned to Korea the following summer and even...