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Korean destiny, Chinese fate

For good or ill, the fates of China and the Korea Peninsula remain intertwined in intricate ways.
Well, congratulations. You made it through all six weeks of the course. And as a reward, you get to leave my office on the campus of Yonsei and come back here to where we began to Gwanghwamun Plaza in the heart of downtown Seoul, South Korea. It’s a very 21st century city and scene, but in fact, we’re still encircled by history.
As you may remember from the first week, behind you is that statute of Admiral Yi Sun-Shin, who you now know all about, as well as King Sejong, one of the early Joseon Dynasty rulers, who is most famous for inventing the Korean script even though, for hundreds of years after that into the 20th century, Koreans continued to communicate using borrowed Chinese characters. Behind me is Gyeongbokgung Palace, the capital of the Joseon monarchs, which when you walk in and explore sometimes feels like a miniature version of the Forbidden City in Beijing built, of course by Joseon’s elder brother, the Ming Dynasty. Behind the Joseon Palace is the so-called Blue House, as the current presidential office of South Korean leaders is known.
In fact, President Park Geun-hye might be in there right now together with her advisors ruminating over the great strategic question that South Korea faces, which is how to maintain the close security alliance with the United States even as Korea’s economic future seems to rest mostly with China. And if you pass the Blue House and climb over those hills, eventually, you’ll stumble upon the DMZ and the 38th Parallel, the open wound of Korean division that festers like a sore, as the poet Langston Hughes wrote in his poem “A Dream Deferred,” which had nothing to do with Korea, but coincidentally, was wrote during the Korean War. There’s a lot of talk about dreams right now in Asia.
Xi Jinping talks constantly about the Chinese dream, which has a lot of different meanings for individual Chinese people, and for Xi as a whole means the national rejuvenation of China as a wealthy and powerful country. In Korea, too, both the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the South Korean leader Park Geun-hye talk in dreamlike terms about the Korean dream of reunification, although 70 years now since the division back in 1945, we don’t really seem to be any closer to that point. That’s the question, in many ways, that I’ll leave you with can the Chinese dream and the Korean dreams be realised simultaneously in our lifetimes? It’s a question, unfortunately, that history can’t answer, and only time will tel.
Thank you for making it this far, and maybe I’ll see you again on the streets of Seoul.
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Lips and Teeth: Korea and China in Modern Times

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