창작과 비평

[Editorial] The World in Transition and a New Stage for Changbi

Issue 71, Spring 1991


It is doubtful there was ever a time in human history when a “period of transition” did not occur. Still, as we publish the 25th anniversary issue of Changbi, we feel the meaning of this phrase “period of transition” even more acutely. As this 25th anniversary issue could not also be called the usual 100th consecutive issue, reflecting the harsh reality we have had to endure, it is even more moving for us to celebrate this occasion. In fact, in 1986, when we should have celebrated our 20th anniversary, we not only had neither the magazine nor the publishing company, but were also anticipating a serious struggle against the military 5th republic regime. Conditions both inside and outside of our publishing company were quite different then.

Although the 5th republic collapsed, due to the 1987 June Uprising, and the Cold War system has crumbled since 1989, the power of the old system is no doubt still formidable. Above all, the war between the US and Iraq, this “Gulf War,” which has been drawing the world’s attention, is a good example of the old system persisting. While Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait was unjust, what should we call the action of a superpower that has been raining bombs onto a Third World country, a bombing more than 10 times the total strength of the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan, and doing so in the name of righting an injustice? And that superpower also does not seem to allow any objections to its own actions in Palestine, Panama, or Granada. It was the US president himself who publicly professed that this latest invasion was not about liberating Kuwait, but about the creation of a new US-led international order. In other words, it was a declaration that the US would not hesitate to commit massacres and massive destruction, mobilizing cutting-edge weaponry, in order to maintain and consolidate its hegemony in the post-Cold War world.

Troublingly, most Korean media—as if forgetting that we ourselves are members of this “Third World” and people of color—are busy delivering propaganda about the US military gains and the performance of their advanced weaponry, by publicizing cutting-edge electronic images, color photos, and other illustrations. Also, taking advantage of this opportunity, the 5th and 6th republic forces are marshalling their power in order to reverse the general course of democratization: the former president returns from an exile he inflicted upon himself to avoid charges, and our government sends troops to Iraq, arrests progressive activists, and supports the firing of labor movement activists. They are even trying to take advantage for their own political gains of the many symptoms of a society-wide ethical crisis that originated from their own 5th an 6th republics.

Nonetheless, we feel that Korean society has changed enormously and irrevocably from our 20th anniversary—and not just because we are excited about 25th anniversary celebration. Gradually, people have begun to point out similarities between the Gulf War, Korean War, and Vietnam War, comparisons that should be discussed further. Still, there are some differences among these conflicts that are not trivial. For example, although the Korean War was carried out under the flag of UN forces, after a clear resolution at the United Nations, the war against Iraq is being carried out under the dubious claim of “multinational forces,” after the US’s unilateral interpretation of the UN Security Council’s ambiguous resolution. Besides, the hegemonic status of the US has clearly changed greatly: it now collects war funds from Arab royalty, Japan and Germany, the two main losers of World War II, and even South Korea, while the US fought the Vietnam War by buying foreign soldiers. Although the US became the only superpower due to the weakening of the Soviet Union, it is clearly not a simple blessing for them. As the cause of an anti-communist “holy war” has dissolved, the US has become franker about its actions of wielding the weapons of the wealthy and powerful. Thus, they can no longer dream of taking on a war like the years-long Vietnam War or Korean War, but are reduced to applying unreasonable methods for a “lightning” war. As their destructive power is enormous and overwhelming, they can probably win this war; but in the long run, the bitter cup of the weakening of the US and a growing anti-US and independence trend among Arab people awaits them.

Likewise, no matter what some people claim about our country, we believe that a “return to the 5th republic” will not happen. This is not because the agents of the 6th republic are that different from those of the 5th republic, however—but because the world around them has changed and Korean people in general they have to face are no longer the same. And, in fact, reactionary forces themselves are not so ignorant as to not understand this new reality. Thus, we should not be bound by rhetoric saying that the 6th republic is “essentially the same” as the 5th republic. Rather, we should distinguish in what aspects they are the same and in what they are different and changeable, and handle them accordingly.

In commemoration of our 25th anniversary, we held a retreat-with-symposium, with the purpose of examining what practices we should hold onto and what we should radically change. For the first feature in this issue, we recorded, transcribed, and edited our discussions during that symposium. Kang Man-gil and Paik Nak-chung presented the first topic, “Past and Present of Theories of Korean Minjok and Transformation Movements,” and the second topic, “Tasks of the 1990s Minjok Literature,” respectfully. They ignited an enthusiastic discussion, from 2 to 11 PM, continuing with only two breaks, one for dinner and the other between the two sessions. Despite this lengthy discussion, we felt that we could discuss it more, and some of us indeed continued the conversation into the wee hours. We hope that the passion of that day will be able to reach our readers, even through the printed word, and hope they glean some new insights from them.

The second feature in this issue is meant to express our gratitude to our readers with abundant content: “Selected New Poems by 33 Poets.” It is our way of celebrating this occasion festively, as well as compensating for our past inability to address the recent plethora of excellent poems (due to limited space in the magazine). From our frequent contributors, like Ko Un, to new ones, like Hwang Tong-gyu, as well as new poets from both Seoul and other regions, we have tried to present as diverse a body of work as possible. Although there were some poets who were invited but could not contribute for personal reasons, like Park Nohae and Baek Mu-san, and there could also be poets we did not include due to oversight, we thank all the poets who gave us this feast of poems, and promise our readers that we will try to continue offering them diverse and outstanding poetry.

With fiction, it was impossible to present a feature of similar scope. Instead, we have simultaneously published a book of short stories, Friendship of a Half Century, which collects new works by 21 fiction writers, from established authors like Kim Hak-cheol, Lee Ho-cheol, and Lee Mun-ku to up-and-coming new ones like Kim Yeong-hyeon, Kim Han-su, and Kim Ha-ki. We regret that we cannot distribute this book to our readers as a bonus, but we prepared it with the same hearts and might as the quarterly, as if creating another gift for our loyal readers; we feel that the book represents an achievement equivalent to our efforts. Consequently, we did not include short stories in the current issue, but hope that the second installment of Yun Jeong-Mo’s novella Field will fulfill some of the need for fiction.

In “Literary Criticism,” both Doh Jung-il’s criticism of postmodernism and Ha Jeong-il’s discussion of the socialist realism movement during the Japanese colonial period are substantial contributions, which are directly related to this issue’s feature discussions and this magazine’s abiding interests. It is also engaging to have two letters from our readers that are connected with last and this issues’ literary discussions and that offer valuable critiques and complementary arguments. In addition, we believe the book review, “Poetry of Self-Exploration and Poetry with Songs,” by poet Shin Kyung,-rim who refrained from contributing his poems to this issue in order to continue his role as a regular reviewer, is a valuable critique that only he could compose. Sin Seung-yeop’s review of a short-story collection, A Perfect Encounter, and a documentary fiction Fatherland also present significant critiques, resulting in a discussion naturally connected with the discussion on the second topic of this issue’s anniversary symposium. Meanwhile, the rest of this issue’s review section is not far from literature. Mun Min-yeong and Seok Ji-myeong, respectively, review Lee So-sun’s oral history, Mother’s Road, and novelist Kim Seong-dong’s books on Buddhism. They are also fruits of our efforts to offer diverse, albeit focused, book reviews.

Although we could not directly touch upon the recent changes in the socialist bloc and progress with Perestroika, we share a keen interest in them with people around the world. Of course, sharing an interest does not mean sharing an understanding. Along with our ignorance about workings of the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries, the ignorance of their intellectuals and peoples about capitalist societies only increases the confusion. Accordingly, it is meaningful for us to listen to words of Boris Kagarlitsky, a long-time internal critic of the Soviet system. Together with a severe criticism of a reality in which confusion has been confounded since Perestroika, he acutely criticizes the absurdity of the so-called internal radical forces and their great expectations for the reintroduction of capitalism, simply because it is the opposite of the existing socialism. Certainly, his view is just one of many perspectives and we should not blindly accept it. We are simply grateful that he offers an alternative view for us to seriously consider and study. In the same vein, Sonn Ho-chul’s “Perestroika’s View of the Third World: A Critical Study” also warrants our appreciation. Together with him, we point out the theoretical confusion that appears to be a simple reaction to dogmatic views on capitalism and the Third World revolution, even while appreciating the sincere criticism against those dogmatic ideologies in this time of Gorbachev. We hope that this article stimulates more active discussion about this matter.

Due to the lack of space, we will not here elaborate on the series of discussions on class in the current issue and will resume it in the next issue. However, we believe that our readers will welcome Yu Hong-jun’s comments on current cultural events, Yoon Suk-in’s comments on current events dealing with high-level, inter-Korean talks, and Hyun Ki-young’s address as the Manhae Prize for Literature recipient.


Although we are mentioning it in reverse order, the “On the 25th Anniversary of the Quarterly Changbi” in the beginning of this issue includes 12 reflective contributions. Besides some congratulatory remarks, they include more than words of blessing, as we requested of their authors. They offer opportunities not only for our readers to think more specifically about the Changbi’s history and future, but also for us to reflect seriously on our work. And they are good discussion material for our self-renewal. In other words, we will not stop at just feeling good about our work because of these words of encouragement, offered by many elders, including Kim Jeong-han, who sent dictated remarks from his sick bed, but we want to accept and prioritize the suggestions by them and numerous other readers, so we can prepare for another leap in the next 25 years. “A Letter from the US” by Baik Young Seo, one of our editorial board members, is such a suggestion and a part of ongoing internal discussions about our future. The fruits of our renewed organization will become more visible after the events celebrating our 25th anniversary are over, through the contents of future Changbi issues and the publication of other books by Changbi Publishers.

While the retreat we organized to celebrate our 25th anniversary was a sort of internal training session, we are planning a small celebratory event, open to public, on the evening of February 20, immediately after the publication of this issue and the book of selected short stories. Soon afterward, we will also have literary lecture events in Gwangju, Daegu, and Busan, as we note in this issue (page 148). We look forward to an enthusiastic response, particularly from our regional readers, and, finally, we plan to create opportunities to meet our readers in other regions as well.