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[Editorial] On Publishing the 150th Issue of Changbi

Issue 150, Winter 2010


At last, the 150th issue of the Quarterly Changbi! We believe many of our readers will already know how it happens that we are publishing this 150th issue only after celebrating our 44th anniversary, rather than earlier[1. Translators Note: The Quarterly Changbi was forced to discontinue publication by the military junta in July 1980 until February 1988 on the heels of the June Uprising in 1987.] . In any case, we would like to celebrate this occasion by reflecting on our work up until now and by renewing our mission for the future.

Changbi’s work and achievement so far have been appreciated both domestically and internationally; but we have also heard about the need for our self-renewal. Besides, the present seems to be a time when, unlike the previous “participatory” government, the regression in democracy and the crisis of a divided Korean peninsula interconnected with it are intensifying instability in an East Asian order.

In early 2006, in an editorial honoring the 40th anniversary of Changbi, we promised to renew ourselves, by bolstering our activism. We thought it necessary for “progressive forces to renew themselves and to pursue both official and unofficial activities.” Further, we acknowledged that we had “in a way already become a part of the mainstream,” and we promised “to take the lead, so that more people can join the work of dedicating themselves to the demands of our time, while at the same time breaking free from our habitual routines.” Today, we are keenly aware that the highly unstable current situation demands a recovery and renewal of activism even more strongly than at that time.

To bolster our activism, it is essential that we listen to and examine concerns and criticisms directed toward Changbi. Firstly, there is a concern about how effective a print magazine like Changbi, with its comprehensive and well-rounded perspective, can be in the current climate, in which younger generations prefer more narrowly defined media that appeal to individual tastes, and a climate in which new media like blogs and Twitter have emerged. At the same time, there has been criticism that Changbi now enjoys too much influence, and thus has become a mainstream cultural power.

Regarding the former concern, we are making efforts to reach the internet generation by actively managing an online Changbi and publishing a weekly online column, “Weekly Changbi” (weekly.Changbi.com). At the same time, we are trying to secure readers who prefer to read a print edition of Changbi, even while they enjoy new media. We believe that, whether through new or traditional media, people long for an intellectual pivot that can offer them a comprehensive and critical perspective in a variety of areas, including literature, arts, science and technology, together with an in-depth understanding of the concrete realities of the Korean peninsula. We believe we can satisfy this desire through the format of a quarterly magazine, if we do our work correctly.

Therefore, although we definitely accept the criticism that Changbi became a sort of power in our society, seeing it as a caution against the possibility of our own laziness or corruption, we do not consider Changbi’s influence resulting from our achievements to be negative. Indeed, we would like to continue efforts to increase our influence as much as possible. And, in fact, aren’t we still far from the mainstream, as shown by the fact that the mainstream media often marginalize us for our positions opposing theirs?

Indeed, in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the June Uprising in 1987, a progressive newspaper commented that Changbi was “the only critical intellectual medium that succeeded in the market” by “forming and maintaining a ‘critical intellectual cluster’ of scholars and literary and other writers,” even while we went through repeated suspensions and discontinuations, as well as the prohibition of sales (Kyunghyang sinmun newspaper, April 30, 2007).

Also, an editor of a critical intellectual Asian magazine based in Taiwan expressed this expectation: “Changbi is no longer only the asset of the Korean people, but of all Asia in this age of globalization” (Chen Kuan-Hsing, Changbi, Spring 2006). We would like to think these internal and external responses to Changbi are the result of our efforts to maintain the stance of “innovation that respects the old.” It is also the result of our effort to see the big picture, while remaining fully engaged with everyday reality in all its details. Indeed, regarding cynical attitudes toward meta-discourses, Changbi has pointed out that by ignoring meta-discourses we could unawares become captives of them. At the same time, we reject theoretical arguments that neglect responses to the concrete state of affairs and the attempt to solve specific tasks by identifying core issues. This stance has been connected to our effort to think about the long term and mid and short-term tasks simultaneously, while connecting them with consistent practices.

The theoretical foundation of our work is Changbi’s understanding of our times. We think that the Korean peninsula is looking ahead to an era of reunification, one of a very unusual nature, at this juncture of the closing the first decade of the 2000s. As we enter the era of a Korean-style reunification, one that’s gradual and phased, we believe it has been our mission, from the inauguration of this magazine as the “foundation of creation and resistance,” to renew our will to carry out a comprehensive transformation of our society that is suitable for this character of our times.

We understand the comprehensive crisis of governance, since the inauguration of the Lee Myung-bak administration, including a serious deterioration in inter-Korean relationships, as terminal symptoms of the 1987 system. The democratization process that began with the June Uprising in 1987 was not based on the full elimination of the old regime, but rather on a compromise with it. As the positive dynamic in it is being gradually drained, our society has reached a negative impasse, and its terminal symptoms are worsening even more these days. Now Korea stands at a crossroads between the catastrophe of conforming to the regression in democracy, even worse than in the current 1987 system, and the accelerated overcoming of the current division system, by successfully establishing democratic governance in which greatly increased number of citizens participate.

In this grave historical phase, we at Changbi want to take stock of our major achievements in the past four decades, and to plan our tasks going forward with a view to future issues.

First, we will make a sustained effort to reinforce the “Weekly Changbi,” which we launched in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Quarterly Changbi, as it is a work in which we can experiment with the realistic aptness of discourses honed in the quarterly, by applying them to everyday lives. By dealing with both domestic and international issues in various fields, including major domestic issues, such as the ROK-US FTA, candlelight rallies, Four Major Rivers Restoration Project, and ROKS Cheonan Sinking Incident, this instrument has already secured a new group of readers, and we have felt its wide-ranging impact. Some of the columns have been published within the series Reading Korean Society in Two A4 Pages, and we’ve been encouraged to find readers’ enthusiastic responses to them.

At the same time, we’d like to renew our promise to offer Changbi discourses and exemplary writing as a concrete way to renew our magazine through bolstered activism. We are proud to say that we have considerably fulfilled our promise so far, by both fiercely responding to current affairs and combining these responses with mid and long-term perspectives, through various discourses, from analyses of the governance in crisis and criticisms of neo-liberalism, to the presentation of alternative development strategies for the Korean peninsula. We would also like to pursue, even more fruitfully, the project of publishing the Changbi Discourse Series, which we launched last year.

For new discourses and writing to become a general trend, we need a new paradigm of knowledge. From this perspective, we have established the Changbi Social Humanities Writing Award, in celebration of the 150th issue of the Quarterly Changbi and in order to contribute to the development of the social humanities. By “social humanities” we mean an integrated scholarship that also includes the natural sciences, beyond the framework of individual disciplines. As an idea based on our years of experience in Changbi combining literary imagination, field practice experience, and an understanding of humanities and social sciences, we hope this award encourages scholarship and writing that go beyond narrowly defined disciplines. When this attempt goes hand in hand with reform efforts, within and outside universities, we believe the contours of a reorganization of the existing scholarly system can emerge.

The role of literature in the workings of social humanities does not need emphasis. Based on our understanding that “literary works are the fullest expression of the kind of dialectical knowledge required by both truly humanlike life and our times,” Changbi firmly believes that including various humanities and social sciences in this literary magazine is “part of the process in which the dialectical nature of literature is practiced,” and we have fully committed to this practice, as we stated in “On Restoring the Quarterly Changbi” in Changbi Spring 1988. That is why we have tried not only to redouble our effort to publish outstanding creative literature, but also to moderate important discussions on the interactions between literature and our times, the political nature of literature and realism, the relationship between experimental literature and the demands of the public, and communication between Korean literature and the rest of the world. Although there have been some doubts about Changbi’s presence in literary discourses in our society, since the minjok literature discourse, we believe that more readers will recognize that such doubts are far from the reality.

At the same time, we launched a literary blog, “Changmun” (http://blog.Changbi.com/lit), early this year in order to offer more space to authors who would like to serialize their works, and to more quickly communicate with our readers about excellent literature. We hope our readers will often visit this site, which is being established as a substantial blog, although on a small scale, with various corners, in addition to serialized novels and essays.


This issue’s feature, “For the Sake of Korean Literature in the 2010s,” represents our effort to evaluate the achievements of Korean literature during the past decade and to anticipate its direction in the next ten years. While understanding the past 20 years, since the June Uprising in 1987 as well as the time since the 1970s, as “our time,” Paik Nak-chung focuses on the major achievements in poetry, fiction, and criticism in the past decade and tries to gauge the vitality and poverty of Korean literature through a balanced point of view. His expectation is that Korean literature in the 2010s will settle as a regional base of world literature as well as East Asian regional literature despite its current “poverty,” an outlook he presents through a careful examination of some examples of contemporary Korean literature in a global perspective, which we hope will be shared by our readers.

Kim Su-i gauges the prospects for Korean poetry in the 2010s through an unusual metaphor of “boxes with the sound of their own making.” While critically examining the poetic projects underway by youthful poets “charged with a strong sense of identity about themselves, the world, and the re-creation of poetry,” she presents conditions for the renewal of Korean poetry.

Lee Kyung-jae examines the ethics and politics of the novel in the 2000s, through the key phrase “encounter with the outside.” From the perspective of the demand of our time for encounters with the outside, the Other, Lee meticulously analyzes and compares the works of Kim Hoon, Kim Yeon-su, and Park Min-gyu through the ethical reflections and political responsibilities represented in them.

Although we had planned to include an article that analyzes literature of the past decade from the perspective of “feminism and modernity,” we regret that we could not publish it due to circumstances of the author. However, together with the article that won the 2010 New Figures in Literature, six concise and keenly critical articles included in the “Literary Focus” corner complement the above feature articles.

In creative writing, short stories by six new fiction writers and poems by 12 poets at various points of their careers stand out as special projects commemorating the occasion of the 150th issue. Also, Gong Sun-ok’s novel finishes its serialization with a moving conclusion in this issue. The third installment of Kim Ae-ran’s novel also contributes to the abundance of creative writing.

In the area of rigorous argument, as important as literature in Changbi, a candid dialogue among leaders in their respective fields—two politicians, a civic activist, and a scholar—about the upcoming year 2012 is a project that should draw our readers’ attention. Through this dialogue our readers can foresee what an important time it could be in a grand scheme for restructuring Korean society. As we have been able to reconfirm that the Korean people desire the renovation of and solidarity between progressive and reformist forces, the two could share the victory, if they build trust in coalition politics during the current time before the all-important general election in 2012. In this case, each force’s victory will also be larger than if they tried to win the election without collaborating.

We also publish an article vibrantly informing us about experiences in the regional scene and thus supporting the general argument about coalition politics in the dialogue. Continuing the example of Incheon in the last issue, Im Geun-jae’s article evaluating the experiment at the Gyeongsangnam-do Provincial Governance Council informs us about a precious asset in our preparation for 2012, together with multilayered experiences in 26 other metropolitan and primary local governments. Changbi will continue to pay attention to these developments.

Despite the government’s final report last October (or because of it) the “ROKS Cheonan” is becoming a domestic keyword, asking about commonsense and rationality in South Korea, as well as a watershed for geopolitical change in Northeast Asia. Hwang Jun-ho’s brief but insightful comments provide a cogent structure for this event.

The grand finale of our yearlong series “Revisiting a Century of Korean History” is contributed by Korean-Japanese historian Cho Gyeong-dal. Asking about the present significance of the 1910 violent annexation of Korea, Cho contrasts the Joseon-period Confucian culture, which focused on edification, with the Japanese modern state, based on the Japanese Confucian culture focused on discipline. He then argues that the political culture of Joseon, which was defeated a century ago by colonialism, should be rediscovered for the future of Korea and East Asia.

Also, Cho Kwang-Hee’s essay, which finishes its yearlong contribution in this issue, as well as seven book reviews, offer carefully prepared and worthwhile reading.

This year’s New Figures in Literature selection committee chose Choi Minseok as the winner in the category of fiction, Kim Jae-geun in poetry, and Yun In-ro in literary criticism. The 4th Changbi Prize in the novel was awarded to Hwang Si-un, after difficult deliberations. Together with our readers, we also congratulate Park Cheol, winner of this year’s Baeksok Prize for Literature. Finally, in celebration of the publication of this 150th issue, we present, together with this thick volume, a bonus book that comprises tables of contents and indexes of all 150 Changbi issues, as a token of our appreciation to our readers.

“In the 100th Issue of Changbi,” a poem that poet Shin Kyung-rim wrote in honor of that issue, declares: “We can see our tomorrow in the 100th issue of Changbi.” We sincerely hope that we will deserve to the same song with this 150th issue and will continue to do so in our 200th issue—and beyond.