Welcome to the World Wide Web Home page of Road to East Asia
Written by students of FC1750.06
at Founders College, York University
Vol.2, no. 2, January-February, 1997
Such an apology does not seem necessary to Dr. Yi in the short story "Kapitan Lee." The physician holds no grudge against the oppressors whom he shamelessly admires and by whose rules he happily lived. The Japanese and the Koreans belong to each other, according to him: "He remembered the Japanese days when the theory of marriage between Japanese and Koreans was an unassailable proof of the oneness of two peoples" (323).
Among other things, Dr. Yi takes pride in his mastery of the Japanese language--the language of the invaders--since Korean was a second language in colonial times. His wife and children learned Japanese with relish and made it their first language as decreed by Japan. Together they were a "Model Japanese-speaking family," as certified. At school, his children studied history from Japan's perspective, which aggrandises its conquests. Schoolchildren were punished for speaking Korean to their peers. Dr. Yi himself is emotionally attached to a 17-jewel gold watch given to him as a prize upon graduation from a Japanese university.
Dr. Yi did what his Japanese rulers ordered the Koreans to do and went beyond the call of duty in this regard to please the colonial rulers. In his medical practice, Dr. Yi only treats those who can afford his fees--the Japanese before liberation and the moneyed class after 1945. In one incident, he turned away a patient in desperate need of medical attention--a political prisoner just released on bail by the Japanese.
The Korean physician might be branded as a traitor who has betrayed his people. But Yi is only an intelligent, self-serving individual, living by his own motto that "Man must know how to take the initiative and to adapt himself to circumstances" (94). He exemplifies Charles Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest.
Many Koreans do not share Dr. Yi's philosophy of life, and they continue to demand full compensation for the atrocities Japan has committed in Korea. While Korean parents teach their children about the injustices during the Japanese occupation, history books have taught the young Japanese hardly any of their predecessors' crimes. Unless Japan stops camouflaging an infamous past, it might repeat its mistakes one day.
Calman, Donald. The Nature and Origins of Japanese Imperialism. New York: Chapman and Hall Inc., 1992.
Cheong, Sung-Hwa. The Politics of Anti-Japanese in Korea London: Greenwood Press, 1991.
Duus, Peter. The Abacus and the Sword. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.
Kim, Kwang Bong. The Korea-Japan Treaty Crisis and the Instability of the Korean Political System. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971.
Kwangyong, Chon. "Kapitan Lee." Flowers of Fire: Twentieth- Century Korean Stories. Ed. Peter H. Lee. University of Hawaii Press, 1986, 319-347.
Illustration by Billy Lo