Research by King's History professor leads to new book and seminar on migrants in Korea
February 9, 2021
Congratulations to Dr. Adam Bohnet, Associate Professor of History, whose book, Turning toward Edification: Foreigners in Chosŏn Korea, was published by Hawaii University Press in December 2020.
The book discusses migrants (mostly Chinese, Jurchens, and Japanese) in Korea under the Chosŏn Dynasty (1392-1910), focusing on those who settled between the 1592-1598 Imjin War and the 1637 defeat of Chosŏn by the Manchu Qing empire.
Dr. Bohnet’s decision to write the book came “partly by chance” after he became fascinated by reading biographies of Ming migrants in the Kyujanggak archive in Seoul. He was also studying the Manchu language (a Chinese ethnic minority language) and wanted to make use of Manchu sources.
“The wonderful figure Kang Sejak (Kang Shijue), a seventeenth-century refugee in what is now northeastern North Korea, came to my attention, and really, demanded that I write about them,” says Dr. Bohnet.
Initially, those biographies did not make sense to Dr. Bohnet. “They seemed like they were obviously fictional and unbelievable accounts,” he says. Upon this revelation, his research revealed the process of creating the fictionalized accounts and the relationship between the accounts and the actual lives of the Ming migrants and their descendants. Tracing the development of the accounts also lead to Bohnet seeing how the generally marginal refugees related to the state.
As Bohnet continued to research he come across new information, but he also found other scholars and begun to work on the subject as well. “This pushed me to hurry up and get my book finished - as the longer I waited, the harder it would become to respond to all the new scholarship,” says Dr. Bohnet.
On February 12, 2021, Dr. Bohnet has been invited by the University of London’s Centre of Korean Studies, to lead a virtual seminar, "Where there is hair, there will be lice: Managing the Descendants of Ming Migrants in Late Chosŏn Korea." He will discuss the challenges for the Choson monarchy in managing descendants of Chinese migrants in the eighteenth century.
“The problem was, the Choson monarchy was depicting itself as the one true heir of the fallen Ming empire, and was using the presence of descendants of Ming Chinese migrants as evidence - but the descendants of Ming migrants tended not to fit the stereotype of morally upright and Confucian Ming loyalist. Lice were appearing, as it were, in the hair of the Choson monarchy's Ming Loyalist project. I should note, ‘Where there is Hair, there will be Lice,’ is an actual quotation,” says Dr. Bohnet.
The seminar comes at a time in South Korea, people are becoming more interested in identifying the multicultural past of Korea as South Korea is steadily accepting more immigrants and more linked with the broader world.
People of diverse family backgrounds in Canada as well may have historical connections to Korea. Bohnet believes there will be those who wonder how they can fit their own lived experiences into the broader stream of Korean history or are simply interested in Korean history or history in general.
“It is hard to know what use people might make of my book, but I hope that readers will find their uses for my book and for my presentation,” says Dr. Bohnet.
The seminar was held via Zoom and can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ds4-Sr-uVG8.
There will be two similar events in the future, each involving a different aspect of the book: one via Pennsylvania State University in March and one via George Washington University in May.
Dr. Bohnet will be working on two major translations: a late-nineteenth century collection of biographies and an early seventeenth century encyclopedic work. He also has several ideas for future projects but has not settled on just one yet.
At King’s, Dr. Bohnet will be teaching My introduction to East Asian History (History 1601) and Peppers, Pirates and Priests (History 2650), a discussion of trade and cultural exchange both within East Asian and connecting East Asia to the broader world, between 1200 and 1800.