Fieldwork North of the 38th Parallel
NAKANO Yasushi

In the autumn of 2005 I returned to the small fishing village of D on the northern part of the east coast of the Republic of Korea, where I have been doing long-term fieldwork since 2003. I was just in time to attend the regular meeting of the Youth Association, for the first time in a year. Other than the one new member, all the faces were familiar to me and I was relieved. New topics included the whale that had been caught in the fishing nets several days previously, and which had been sold at a great profit by one of the members, who had then been pressed to make a donation to the Association. There was also another small change: on the wall of the meeting room there was a framed photo displayed, depicting the Youth Association at a demonstration. I had taken that photo. It had always stood on my desk; now it was hanging on the wall and I felt a little embarrassed. After the meeting, when we were drinking together, the talk came around to the photo and I was told jokingly that since I was an honorary member of the Association it was my duty to attend every meeting as far I was able.

From around the middle of the 1970s, the fish caught by the fishermen of D began to be sold for sashimi, and by the 1990s, large numbers of people began going there from urban regions. With the growth of tourism, the Korean Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries and the local government were urging D to adopt a comprehensive harbor development plan. However, because there had been very little explanation from the government side, there were growing protests from within the village. Fortunately or unfortunately, this opposition movement reached a peak while I was in the village doing my fieldwork. The Youth Association played a part in this movement, and besides appearing in a debate about the development proposal (broadcast live on television), its members demonstrated at the ground-breaking ceremony. Since I attended Youth Association meetings, I was as a matter of course drawn into the situation. This is prone to happen when doing fieldwork, and I was asked to photograph what happened.

However, the general assembly of the village shut the door on outsiders. At that time there was an information war going on between those who supported the development and those who opposed it. For example, if the government spoke of the legality and suitability of the development, the village authorities criticized the procedures as being insufficient.Newspapers and the Internet were used to express their point of view. As well, environmental protection groups from outside had also lent their support to the growing opposition movement. These groups, which had been established in the early 1990s, had grown into a federation and had begun to operate on a wide scale. D's opposition to the development plan was carried out jointly with these groups. At that time, I thought that this was a symbolic reflection of the nature of modern Korean society.

The actions of the general assembly of the village might be understood as exclusivity based on the strong unity which existed in the village. However actual attendance showed me that matters were not quite so simple. Not everyone in the village joined in the opposition movement, and the groups and individuals which supported it were motivated by a variety of opinions and views. At one time the fishermen expressed partial agreement to the plan, and there were times both sides of the conflict threw abuse at each other. Of course I with my camera recording proceedings fell within the gaze of the villagers. One woman asked me unhappily why I was chasing after things that were shameful or disreputable, and others warned me that I was also being recorded on film. Later a member of the Youth Association revealed to me that a police detective had come around to ask about my identity. I have actually no idea how his suspicions were allayed. It was from that time that I was given the title of "Honorary Member" of the Association.

The problems related to the development plan in D village share many points of similarity with other environmental movements in Korea, in that local people and environmental groups have voiced dissent with a unilateral policy forwarded by the government. As I have previously pointed out, these movements can be considered to be a modern expression of the contradictions arising from Korean national development after the 1960s and rapid economic growth. It is interesting that under strong pressure from the political authority of the government, the social character of the village became
particularly evident. Of course, there is a danger in describing this simply from the viewpoint of a confrontation between a village and the outside, regarding the village as homogenous and disregarding the diversity within it (see Umi o utta hitobito [The Men Who Sold the Sea], ed. Han Gyongu et al, trans. Yamashita Makoto, Nihon shitchi nettowaku, 2001, especially Chapter Four). Regarding the subtle conditions surrounding government and economic interests, I feel that a more dynamic point of view, which objectifies the mutual behavior of people swayed subtly by the tensions if a particular situation, is more productive. This follows the work of the Manchester School (see V. W. Turner, Schism and Continuity in an African Society, Manchester U.P , 1957). I have also come to feel that intra-village diversity is clearly a product of historical development (see Donald Macleod, "Power and Resource Allocation in a Caribbean Coastal Community", in Confronting Environments, ed. James G. Carrier, AltaMira Press, 2004).

However, the work of Japanese anthropologists who have studied Korean communities through fieldwork has been criticized as not always taking differences in historical period sufficiently into consideration, and not placing their research within the wider Korean context, though their reports have been well-written using social anthropology methodology to present the ethnographical present (see Moon Ok-Pyo, review of Henbo suru Kankoku shakai, 1970-80 nendai no jinruigaku chosa no genba kara [Changing Korean Society, from Anthropological Fieldwork in the 1970s and 1980s], by Shima Mutsuhiko and Asakura Toshio, in Minpaku ts?shin 83 [1999]). In terms of folklore studies, there is much critical study of the work done during the colonial period, before ethnography, and ethnographic research itself by Japanese is becoming a topic for discussion (see my "Posutokoroniaru jidai no Kankoku minzokugaku no kenkyu doko" [Trends in Ethnographical Studies in Post-Colonial Korea] in Nihon minzokugaku 244 [2005]). In fact, my current fieldwork can also be criticized as being too concerned with pursuing the present, as I will point out below.

D is a fishing village of around 400 households situated north of the 38th parallel on the eastern coast of Gangwando province. At the end of the Second World War, the 38th parallel became the boundary between the Soviet and American occupation zones of the Korean peninsula. After the Korean War, a new border was established which cut across the 38th parallel at an angle from southwest to northeast through the Demilitarized Zone. (In Korea, the 38th parallel refers to the demilitarized zone in a broad sense; here I am using it in the sense of a line of latitude.) As a result, of the ROK eight provinces, only one, Gangwondo, has been divided between North and South Korea. Around the time this province was returned from military to civilian rule (1954), people fleeing from North Korea came to live here (in the area between Goseong and Yangyang counties). These are the "people who crossed to the south", more commonly known as "northerners". Many of these North Koreans settled in Abai Village in Sokcho at this time. "Abai" means "father" in the North Korean dialect. Thus a special feature of the north-eastern coast of the ROK is this mixture of North and South.

I was not in D for more than a year at any one time, but during the time there I lived with G (whom I will transcribe below as Hyonnim, "elder brother") and his mother ("Harumoni"). Harumoni is eighty years old. Hyonnim is 58, but is disabled and cannot walk easily. Thus S, a close friend of Harumoni's now dead husband, was a frequent visitor. He was of large build, and always walked with his waist bent and his hands clasped behind his back. He was the chairman of the village Old People's Association. He was also one of the people who would watch silently over me when I ran after the demonstrations. During my present stay too he visited me and told me a number of deeply interesting stories. As he drank, he would speak about a wide range of things, regaling me with village gossip, telling me about Hyonnim's father, and speaking of " Reds" (using the dialect word common at the time of the Korean War).

After I had seen him home in the evening, I would sit in the garden looking down over the port, talking with Hyonnim and reflecting on the past. S had mentioned that Hyonnim's father had been one of the leaders in the cleansing of the village of " Reds", but that from personal connections he had turned a blind eye towards one of them, and refused to kill him. S was over eighty, and he spoke Korean very fast as far as I was concerned, and I had difficulty in grasping the subtle details. Speaking to Hyonnim later, I realized that the man spared belonged to a family I knew, and I was speechless. Doing research and collecting information north of the 38th parallel certainly has its difficulties. Because this did not go beyond my initial surmise, however, the special characteristics of D in both space and time were being, without my realizing it, absorbed into the background of my consciousness. I had suddenly caught a glimpse of living history, about which I had heard nothing during my previous long-term stay.

During the period of Japanese colonization, Japanese comprised around ten percent of the village population. The fishermen's cooperative was established under the influence of Communist ideas, and it operated in solidarity with neighboring farmers' movements. It was a village said to have many "Reds" and after liberation, many northerners fled here. It was regarded as being one of the poorest fishing villages. By contrast, the present village, which opposes development, is looked on as being prosperous. There is a certain amount of equivocation about how the present can be reconciled to the past, in other words, how we should understand the relationship between the colonial and Korean War periods and today, and, more broadly, how we should understand Korea' modern period (Matsumoto Takenori, "Chosen ni okeru shokuminchiteki jidai' ni kansuru kinnen no kenkyu doko" [Recent Research Trends Regarding the 'Colonial Period' in Korea], Ajia keizai XLIII-9, 2002).

Yun Tekurim has published an ethnographical study of a village in Yesan county, Chungcheongnamdo province, known as the "Moscow of Yesan", which gave rise to wave after wave of "Reds". She inquires into the nature of historical interpretation in the space that is the village, seeking "a politics of memory whose construction differs according to the social standing of the various villagers," rather than "the collective memory of villagers". She concludes that the war over Communism in the village was fought over the reverse of ideology, that is "it was a war between the villagers struggling for individual, emotional and political leadership." (Journey of an Anthropologist into the Past, Seeking the History of a Village of Reds (in Korean), Seoul, 2003). This was a methodology that took into consideration the social standing of the villagers and employed oral sources, and it held good for the past as well as the present. In a situation where virtually no anthropologists or ethnographers have attempted to deal with the Korean War, this attempt to write reflectively about a phase of history, including the colonial period, from a personal perspective has not only added historical depth to the ethnographic present but can be seen as an example of the practice of " anthropology at home", a study of native society by the native (see A. Jackson ed. Anthropology at Home, Tavistock Publications, 1987).

The conversation with S that evening extended to Hyonnim's family history. Hyonnim's father was good-natured and somewhat credulous, and this was one reason for the discord that existed between him and his younger brother (that is, the main and cadet branches of the family). Perhaps because he was a little drunk, Hyonnim, sitting beside me in the garden, told me he would teach me a Korean proverb: "The wealth of the main house does not extend to the branch families". This he had me repeat over and over again, correcting my pronunciation (which is, as a matter of fact, bad). This picture of Hyonnim stimulated by the talk of his dead father reminded me of something that I had forgotten, and the memory returned fresh to my mind.

It was polling day for an election. I had promised to take Hyonnim to vote. That morning we set out, with Hyonnim in his wheelchair. Calling in at the homes of acquaintances on the way, he eventually cast his vote at the local primary school. Ordinarily that would have been the end of my responsibility. However he said that he wanted to go in a different direction from the village and do some shopping. The place we arrived at was the graveyard where his father and grandparents were buried. Using his walking stick, he climbed laboriously up the slope to the graveyard and made an offering of the shochu he had just bought, sprinkling it over the grass-covered grave. Next he went to his maternal grandparents' grave and, drinking the remaining shochu, spoke about his dead father, his tobacco-loving grandmother, and the removal of the graves which had been swept away in a flood. By the time we returned to the village, there were lights on dotting the sea where the fishing boats were working. He had me stop again on a small rise overlooking the sea. He clearly did not want to go back home, just as he was clearly quite drunk. He began talking about his son, who had returned from Seoul that year. By the time he grew calmer and we returned home, it was already past eight o'clock, and his relatives were just about to set out to look for us.

I realized later that there had been a portent for this behavior. The day before the election, he had told me he had dreamed of his youngest brother, who had died in an accident ten years previously. According to Hyonnim, his father would always appear to him in a dream before the anniversary of his death and play with him. It was the eldest son who had this dream, never the other three younger brothers. When he appeared in a dream unrelated to the memorial service, it was up to the eldest son to interpret the dream to find out what the deceased wanted. The dead always appeared as a pathetic
figure and the person who had the dream could see everything, from head to toe. When Hyonnim's father appeared at a time other than before the memorial service he was bare-footed. Hyonnim said that though they thought they had burned the father's shoes during the cremation, they had not been completely consumed.

Harumoni, who had heard about the dream the day before the election, berated Hyonnim severely. This remains very clear in my memory. Though he was dead, the younger brother remained a part of the family, and because he had died before he was married, his spirit was asking to be wed to a spiritual spouse. "Why?" I asked myself. The evening after the election, as I was writing up my report of that long day, I suddenly heard the angry voices of Harumoni and Hyonnim. I turned back the leaves of my field notes, and came across Hyonnim's declaration of the previous day. In his dream, his brother had asked whether he had wanted a drink from the bottle he had brought. I had not understood it at the time, but I had been instrumental, with all the goodwill in the world, in Hyonnim's breaking his half-year moratorium on drinking liquor.

Hyonnim is the eldest son of the main branch of the family, but because of his disability he could not go to the graveyard and perform memorial rites adequately. As a result, this duty had been taken over by his father's younger brother, and the lineage chart had disappeared from his house. It is symbolic that Hyonnim should have used the opportunity of his rare trip outside to visit the graves. His strong consciousness of being the eldest son of the main family had been confirmed for him anew.

This set of dreams, portents, spirits and ancestors is very interesting from an anthropological point of view. However, to further research on the basis of special field characteristics they must be considered in terms of the distinctive attributes of space and time as links in the event, over and above describing them functionally and structurally. Together with demonstrations, "Reds", and "Northerners", how should we understand Hyonnim's actions and thoughts in relation to the living historical context in which he (they) live. Also, as a foreigner, to what extent is it possible to describe them in terms of the hopes and fears of a living individual? (For deficiencies in ethnography written by Japanese, see Suenari Michio, "Higashi Ajia kenkyu" [East Asian Studies], Tohogaku 100 [2000]).

According to S, one of the reasons for Hyonnim's letting go of the memorial rites was the inability of his father and uncle to get on. Hyonnim had been upset at the time, but luckily he regained his composure by teaching me the Korean proverb that evening. As a result of the port development, the factory has been built, and quiet has returned. Compared with the time people were camped out in the village hall, they now spend their days at work. Members of the Youth Association are no exception; after the meeting that night they returned home early. Having been away from the field for a space, I ws able to think about things quietly. I realized that what had occurred was a temporary phase, which should be placed within the broader history of the place. My study of Korea as a Japanese has only just begun.

(DECEMBER. 21. 2005)


NAKANO Yasushi
Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Tsukuba