June 2008 News of the RAS-KB

Report on RAS-KB Publications

by Brother Anthony

RAS-KB has for many years been committed to publishing books on various aspects of Korean life, history and culture. In the past year we have published one new title :

Early Korean Encounters with the United States and Japan, by Dr. Lew, Young-Ick.

The book consists of six essays on late 19th century Korean history. They deal with Korea’s relations with the US and Japan mainly between 1882, when the Jeoson Kingdom signed its first modern treaty with the United States, and 1905 when the same kingdom called the Daehan (Great Han) Empire from 1987, degenerated into a protectorate of Japan.

Dr. Lew, Young-Ick is the Chair Professor of Korean Studies at the Graduate School of International Studies, Yonsei University and a member of the governing council of the Royal Asiatic Society, Korea Branch. He graduated from Seoul National University with a B.A. in political science and received a Ph.D. in History and East Asian Languages from Havard University in 1972. He has served as a president of the Korean Historical Association (1991-1992) and as the founding director of the Institute for Modern Korean Studies, Yonsei University (1997-2001). He has written a number of books and articles on late nineteenth- and early twentieth century Korean history, notably ones on Dr. Syungman Rhee, the first president of the Republic of Korea.

The book published directly before this has proven to be an outstanding success and we have already had to reprint it :

Samuel Hawley. The Imjin War: Japan's Sixteenth-Century Invasion of Korea and Attempt to Conquer China. 

 In May of 1592 Japanese dictator Toyotomi Hideyoshi sent a 158,800-man army aboard a thousand ships from Kyushu to Pusan on Korea's southern tip. Its objective: to conquer Korea, then China, and then the whole of Asia. The resulting seven years of fighting, known in Korea as imjin waeran, the "Imjin invasion," after the year of the water dragon in which it began, involved 300,000 combatants and claimed more than two million lives. It dwarfed any contemporary conflict in Europe, and was one of the most devastating wars to grip East Asia in the past thousand years.

"The Imjin War" is the most comprehensive account ever published in English of this cataclysmic event, so little known in the West. It begins with the political and cultural background of Korea, Japan, and China, discusses the diplomatic breakdown that led to the war, describes every major incident and battle from 1592 to 1598, and introduces a fascinating cast of characters along the way. There is Hideyoshi himself, hosting garden parties while his armies march toward Beijing; Korea's admiral Yi Sun-sin, emerging from a prison cell to take on the Japanese with only thirteen ships of his own; Chinese commander Zhao Chengxun, suffering defeat after promising to "scatter the Japanese to the four winds"; the kisaeng Chu Non-gae, luring a samurai into her arms and then jumping into the Nam River with him locked in her embrace.  One nation fighting to expand, another to survive. Shockwaves extending across China and beyond. "The Imjin War" is an epic tale of grand perspective and intimate detail of an upheaval that shook East Asia more than four centuries ago, and that continues to strain relations today between Korea and Japan.

In addition to the books it has published, the Society holds a very large stock of English-language books about every aspect of Korea, published in Korea and abroad. Many of the titles in stock are now out of print elsewhere. Members of the RAS-KB qualify for a discount on all the books they purchase from the society. Full details of the books published by the RAS-KB or held in stock from elsewhere can be found through the Society's webpage at http://www.raskb.com/

The RAS-KB Library

The RAS-KB was founded in 1900 and from the start has published an annual journal, Transactions. In addition, it has accumulated a considerable reference library, parts of which survived the Korean war thanks to the care lavished by individual members. Some of the books even seem to have been taken to the United States for a while. Among the nearly 1500 books currently housed in our library are a few early editions of great rarity and of considerable scholarly interest. Because of the lack of space in our office, the library has been on deposit at the Social Science Archive for several years past. This is not an ideal solution since the institute in question is not really equipped for the conservation of old and rare books. In addition, it no longer opens to the public on Saturdays. Alternative solutions are currently being considered.

The Library has never been the object of much particular care, the books have accumulated rather haphazardly mainly thanks to donations by members. A sign of the relative lack of  interest is the fact that so far no online catalogue of the library's holdings  is available through the RAS-KB home page. This will soon be remedied.

The RAS-KB is always more than happy to receive donations of books for its library. It is anticipated that in the coming time, once the location of the library has been settled, a concentrated effort will be made to improve its holdings and digitalize those rare books that are too fragile to be consulted safely. The help of interested members will then be actively sought.