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[Editorial] On Opening the Next Half Century


The Quarterly Changbi 171, Spring 2016



The Quarterly Changbi (“Changbi”) commemorates its fiftieth anniversary this year. Given how rare it is for a literary and social commentary magazine to remain true to its mission for half a century—under oppressive regimes during most of this period—anywhere in the world, this is no doubt an occasion worthy of self-congratulation. However, we at the editorial board of Changbi do not feel we can enjoy unadulterated happiness on this occasion, given that our present reality is no less grave than it was when Changbi began this now-epic journey 50 years ago. We would like to take this opportunity to retrace a little our five-decade-long journey and to express our renewed resolution as we enter the next half-century of critical and creative thinking and practice, while at the same time sharing with our readers our key editorial decisions for this new era.

In retrospect, the hardships since our founding in 1965 might have been expected, given our mission to provide deprived postwar Korean society with “a foothold for ever-renewed creation and resistance (“Toward New Creation and Criticism,” Changbi 1:1)”—to advance democracy and reunification as well as to build an independent national literature. Hardships have pursued us throughout our efforts to carry out this important mission. Our magazine has been banned and abolished, the publisher’s registration revoked, and our editorial staff and writers arrested and imprisoned.

Nevertheless, these hardships have also built their own path, on which Korean writers and intellectuals felt proud of and rewarded by their actions and achievements. Changbi has been able to provide not only a place for dedicated, critical intellectuals—writers, artists, scholars, and activists—to disseminate their works during hard times, but also a public forum in which our society’s crucial issues have been discussed and debated vigorously. Certainly, Changbi has arrived at its current status on the foundation of an innovative spirit and the soundness and wisdom of public opinion generated during such discussions. Of course, we are not the only agents who have made Changbi what it is today. Our celebration today would not have been possible without the arduous efforts of our past editorial staff, including our inaugural editor-in-chief Paik Nak-chung, and by the lively and engaged Korean reading public, who have achieved the progress of our society amidst poverty and oppression.

By publishing socially conscious, critical articles and carefully selected creative works addressing the pertinent issues of our times, Changbi has become one of the most crucial birthing rooms for Korean national literature and a producer of independent discourse in our society. Yet this process has never been a smooth one. For, unlike in the mainstream Korean academic world, which has been preoccupied largely with rapidly and indiscriminatingly introducing the newest trends in Western thought and literature, we at Changbi have tried hard to assess and introduce such ideas discerningly and from the perspective of the marginalized peoples of the world, and, in particular, the Korean people of a divided country. Evidence of our efforts can be found in the debates that have been carried on in the past issues. Our pursuits are also embodied in what people often refer to as “Changbi” discourses, on topics such as realism, national literature, the “division system,” our dual task of incorporating and surpassing modernity, East Asia, the 1987 system, and transformational centrism.

In June 2016, when a controversy erupted regarding plagiarism by an author whose works have been published considerably in Changbi, we had to face a quite different kind of difficulty from those we encountered in the past, in this process of providing “the foothold for ever-renewed creation and resistance.” We regret our hasty and flawed initial response to this controversy; but at the same time we take pride in the fact that we then conscientiously investigated the truth and safeguarded the result in a principled manner. We believe that our honest response was the best way to protect Korean literature and not to betray the trust of our readers, who we understand must have been deeply disturbed by this incident. At the same time, we decided to conscientiously re-examine our editorial practices and produced “Reflections on the Plagiarism Controversy and Literary Power Discourse” (Changbi, Winter 2015). Today, we pledge to work harder to support Korean literature, by continuing to guard against the danger of our own approach toward writers and readers becoming authoritarian, a method that would hamper communication and solidarity with them.

As we face the next 50 years, our founding editor-in-chief, who steadfastly led Changbi through its trials and tribulations for the past five decades, leaves the helm. At this time, the new editorial board also would like to strengthen Changbi’s focus on literature. We would like to revitalize our communication with writers and readers by offering more space for works of both creative writing and literary criticism. At the same time, we want to reinforce the spirit of literature—not in the sense of aestheticism or ideology, but of a literary stance open to the life and future of people who share the same time and space. Therefore, we aim to embrace the humanities as a form of comprehensive scholarship that includes the social and natural sciences as well. Changbi intends to continue our work in leading collaborative efforts among the fields of literature, humanities, and social and natural sciences, toward the goal of raising the important issues and tackling the essential tasks in our society.

Changbi would also like to strengthen our ties with the grassroots. This means not only listening to the stories of marginalized peoples, but also reflecting on our society as a whole from their perspectives, while deepening our pursuit of the restoration of activism and Changbi-style writing, in which theory and practice are blended, and thereby fulfilling the dual goals we set during our 40-year anniversary celebration 10 years ago. To pursue this task effectively, we will separate the “Platform and Field” corner into two categories: “Platform” and “Field,” paying attention to each one independently. In addition, we begin two special series this year: one examining the status of minorities in Korea and looking at Korean society from their perspective, and the other dissecting conservative and reactionary forces in our society, the forces that work aggressively to protect the establishment.

The Korean people are now facing crises on three systemic fronts: the 1987 system, the division system, and the capitalist world system. The 1987 system, which people’s power established to enable Korean democracy, is now in crisis, at risk of deteriorating into even an worse system than it is currently, instead of progressing toward a more democratic and advanced system. Also, the recent deterioration in inter-Korean relationship threatens both sides, with the possibility of either a shared disaster or separate systemic deteriorations. Meanwhile, the global capitalist system also threatens the fate of humanity and the earth itself. Because such crises are complex, extraordinary skills and wisdom are needed to overcome them. Contributing to this journey of surmounting our current crises is the main task of Changbi during the next half-century. Drawing on the experience and strength we have acquired during the past 50 years, Changbi will strive to be a center of practice-oriented collective intellect, a place where the wisdom of dedicated activists is gathered and where a “stronghold of renewed creation and resistance” is established for creating fundamental change to build a more democratic and just society in Korea. Only when we courageously and sincerely tackle this difficult task can we repay the grace of the many individuals who have contributed to the creation of Changbi, as well as to all the people who have guided us on this difficult journey.


"Special Project in commemoration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of Changbi _ What Readers Expect from Changbi" contains six interviews between the editorial board of The Quarterly Changbi and three activists, a poet, a scholar, and an editor, home and abroad, representing their reflections and evaluations of the journal for the past 50 years. In spite of their different ways of connection with Changbi and the diverse fields they pay much attention to in the journal, they come to agree that the vital role of "the center of creation and resistance" of Changbi, our self-described stance since the publication of the first issue in 1968, remains still valid, and recently, it is requested all the more desperately. All the compassionate advice and suggestions for the future editorial direction from those who have participated so actively in their respective fields will be taken into consideration for the starting point of our quantum leap for the next half century. We would like to thank each participant who granted an interview.

This special issue includes five essays under the theme of "The Great Change; Where Should We Begin?", and each essay writer tries to find a clue to the great change and the practical tasks by exploring the fundamental nature of the regressive and superimposed crises of our age in the context of Korean politics and society as well as literature. Han Ki-wook emphasizes that both creative writing and the revelation of truth could be made possible only by taking the open road of literature, and then addresses the problem of revolutionary subjects to set our out of joint world right. Also, his argument on the recent literary discussions leading to that of "atopos" of literature suggests that the recent Korean literature, just as some poems by Paik Moo-san and short stories by Kim Keum-hee demonstrate, gives penetrating insights into the mechanisms of the capitalist system, proving itself to be the living spot of literary "atopos".

Lee Nam Ju diagnoses that the critical situation the Korean society faces recently is mainly caused by the inability of the democratic-reformative forces to cope with the relentless counter-attack of the reactionary-conservative forces to fortify the division system on the Korean Peninsula. In order to fight against the "creeping coup d'état" by the reactionary forces trying to destroy the democratic governance, the opposition parties and the civil society alike should establish the project of "the great change", including overcoming the 1987 System, and carry out their respective duties in the upcoming general election. Paik Young-kyung argues that the minority movements and discourses, which have been developed since 1987, are now under attack from the recent anti-democratic regression of the nation, and points out that the tendency to circumscribe them within the level of the protection of human rights is to blame. Thus, by investigating such questions as "who are the citizens in our society", and what restricts the application of the 'human rights' in reality, she comes to the conclusion that the human/civil rights of minorities are no other than the critical task tied with the great change of Korean society at large.

Hwang Kyoo-kwan revisits the diverse facets of "Minjoong Poetry" (people's poetry) which seems declining these days, compared with the flourishing '80s. After reviewing some noticeable poems recently published by Im Sung-yong, Song Kyung-dong, Park So-ran, Kim Hae-ja, and Paik Moo-san, and furthering the argument on "the poetry and the politics", he reaches the conclusion that the essence of "Minjoong poetry" hinges mainly upon how the poets surmount all the limits of political propaganda and the stale description of traditional 'realism', and how freely they could express the potentiality of the common people, with unfettered vigor of original language. Hwang Jung-a develops her argument of Elisabeth Costello, a novel by J. M. Coetzee, by taking it as an exemplum of literary works to carry out the ethical and intellectual task. Focusing on the border between the animal and the human depicted in the novel, she suggests that the perspective of human beings of animals, which could be called anthropocentric, quite exactly corresponds to the way human beings perceive themselves, and thus it is here in the drastic change of animal-human relationship that we can find a plausible way toward a new civilization. From now on, for a broad perspective, we are going to add a pair of critical essays on the works of world literature.

Also, to commemorate the 50th anniversary, we've made a greater effort to present fruitful literary works to the readers. Beginning with 24 poems in the Spring issue, new poems by 100 poets representing Korean poetry will be printed in succession for the year. The poems are going to be arranged in the order of the poets' debut to highlight the diverse and grandiose history of Korean poetry. And in the corner of short stories, we proudly introduce Hwang Seok-young's new short story, who has for long concentrated on writing novels. In his "Buddhist Monk, Mangak", the novelist represents the internal wounds inflicted on Korean people during the Korean War and the Gwangju Uprising. Furthermore, he explores the possibility of overcoming the history with an unadorned but touching style. In addition, three short stories by young writers, Lee Ki-ho, Jo Hae-jin, and Choi Jung-hwa present the inner pictures of the world enriched by their own experimental and unique languages. And to the readers' great pleasure, Gong Sun-ok, who made her debut in Changbi with the novella, Embers (1991), presents a much more experimental work in this commemorative issue. For the year, we have a plan to feature some remarkable and promising short stories and novellas in the corner of fiction.

This year, Literary Focus will be hosted by Kim So-yeun, the poet, and Baik Ji Yeon, the literary critic. For the current issue, Kim Jung-hwan, the poet-novelist-critic, is invited as the first special guest, and the three have a fruitful discussion on six collections of poetry and short stories for the season. In Focus on Authors, Jeon Sung-tae, the novelist, has an in-depth interview with Keum Hee, the Chinese-Korean novelist, who is known for her award-winning collection of short stories, My Home Not Found in the World. His interest centers on her literary work itself rather than her unusual life and career as well as the subject matters she deals with.

Dialogue, a serial project for the year, is intended to probe what the 'conservative forces' of the Korean society are really like. And this is the first one, in which Kang In-chul, a distinguished researcher of Korean religious culture, and Park No-ja, who has written a lot on the religious issues, discuss the problem of 'conservatism' of religion in Korea, this time focusing on Protestant churches. We hope the discussion could let our readers become more aware of the problems of the reactionary ideology some religious groups hold. For this year, On the Scene is going to cover serially the perspectives of the minorities on Korean society. The article by Kim Do-hyun, the first entry of the series, reveals the mechanism of the discrimination of the disabled in the modern society, which is operated on the principle of rationalism and labor-force. It is insisted that the struggle for the political rights of the disabled is no other than the experiment for a new solidarity based on equality and freedom.

Book Reviews has been arranged with great care. We would like to express our gratitude and appreciation to each contributor who must have put forth a lot of effort into their reviews.

The 14th Daesan College Literary Award, the big opportunity for collegians to start their literary career, has been announced. With hearty congratulations, we hope the award-winners will grow into masters to flourish Korean literature in the future.

As of the 50th anniversary of the journal, some major changes will occur at the editorial board; Paik Nak-chung, the editor, Kim Yoon-soo, the publisher, and Baik Youngseo, the editor-in-chief will retire from their current positions, and Kang Il-woo, the incumbent CEO of Changbi Publishers, will take the position of the publisher-cum-editor, Han Ki-wook, the editor-in-chief, Lee Nam Ju, the vice editor-in-chief, respectively. This change is intended to strengthen a renewed system in which the newly-appointed publisher-cum-editor takes charge of the legal responsibility and financial support regarding the publication of the journal, while the editorial rights are totally attributed to the editorial board and the editor-in-chief. Our editorial board is expanded by the addition of two younger scholars: Kim Taewoo, the historian, and Han Young-in, the literary critic, making up for the retiring members, Choi Won-sik, Ko Se-hyun, and Lee Jang-wook. In addition, Paik Nak-chung, the inaugural editor, moves to the emeritus editor, and Kim Yoon-su, Baik Young Seo, Yum Mu-woong, Lee Si-young, Lim Hyung-tack, and Choi Won-sik to the advisory board. We extend our deep gratitude to all the members at the former editorial board for their unwavering devotion, and, as always, we expect affectionate correction as well as constant support from our honorable readers.


Han Ki-wook