Another action packed several days have kept me from blogging. Bad for Nunal, but good in every other way.

I was very pleased to be invited to a discussion at Ewha Women's University about a new book comparing the the US and Korean Constitutions. The gathering largely involved the former students of Professor Lee, founder of American history and American Studies in Korea, as I wrote about last week. All of these students went on to get their PhDs in the US and are now professors at various schools in Korea. There were some other historians and Americanists there as well. The afternoon had a very lively exchange that lasted for a few hours, building from two formal critiques of the book to a wide-ranging discussion pounctuated with both disagreements and laughter.

The only thing was that virtually the entire exchange was in Korean, so I understand none of it. Or, almost none of it. The professors (all of whom speak perfect English, as I found in talking to them) would punctuate full paragraphs of rapid Korean with phrases like "Federalist Papers" or "James Madison." It was actually very relaxing to sit and listen to the exchange, kind of a zen meditation annotated with American historical terms. I felt serene at the end.

There was one question that I did understand (since it was in English) Professor Lee asked: how do you think Koreans should translate the term "Justice" in the US Constitution? As "justice" or, as the Japanese translate it, "rule of law." I think the latter, since the rule of law is the core while justice is fluid and changes over time. Others disagreed. Any thoughts?

At dinner, speaking with Professor Ji-Hyung Cho, the author of the book, about the two Constitutional systems, I realized that it is quite terrible that I haven't read the Korean Constitution and actually didn't know anything about it. I am resolved to reverse that idea. Somebody who touts the regular reading of the US Constitutiona (and requires it in my classes) really should be better aware of the system whereever I am living. I did take some time on the Constitutional Court of Korea's webpage, at Professor Cho's suggestion, and their is some really interesting material there relating, for instance, to the impeachment of Impeachment of the President Roh Moo-hyun. The Court is so young in Korea, and democracy itself so relatively new, that there is a verve in these discussions that perhaps is lacking in the legal systems of some, er, more mature democracies.

Fortunately the meeting was followed by a fine Korean dinner of sam gyeop sal, which is essentially fried three-tier fat. It is, as you would imagine, pretty tasty and a lavish spread. Everybody there is so friendly and interesting to talk to that I am very looking forward to the next time we are all getting together, which is at the American Studies Association of Korea's annual conference next weekend. I will be delivering a paper with the somewhat pompous title of “The Fiction of Law and the Structure of Empire: Extraterritoriality and American Imperial Governance in the Twentieth Century.” I think the paper is good, despite the title perhaps, and I am interested to hear what people have to say. The whole conference looks like it will be interesting, and fun.


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