Identity politics behind school stabbing?

datePosted on 13:01, March 4th, 2009 by Lew

An article in the Herald gives a clue in favour of what I suspected: that there might be more to the assault by an Avondale College student on teacher David Warren than meets the eye. A few bullet-points below:

  • Warren was a Japanese-language teacher with a brusque and sometimes offensive manner, who allegedly joked about the Republic of Korea. His attacker was new to NZ and likely unfamiliar with our ways had apparently been here for two years and at Avondale College all of 2008.
  • Korean students (and I’ve taught hundreds) are quite strongly inculcated to respect and admire teachers. It’s part of their Confucian socialisation. I simply can’t imagine one attacking a teacher, or even speaking rudely to a teacher they don’t know very well indeed, much less while in a foreign country.
  • Probably the only thing stronger than this is the Korean sense of national pride. If the two things came into conflict, it would have to be a grave insult indeed to result in this sort of response.
  • Koreans have an abiding hatred of the Japanese, founded (among other things) on the crushing occupation they suffered through the first half of the 20th Century and not helped by a) pervasive anti-Japanese propaganda at home and b) continual denial by the Japanese of any imperial wrongdoing (not unlike their attitude to China and elsewhere).
  • If a joke was made in the context of the Japanese language, which Koreans were forced to adopt, learn, and use, even to the point of taking Japanese names (not unlike how Māori was here, though more brutal) about Korea, then I can certainly see it being grave enough.
  • Students are speaking anonymously about the case for fear of expulsion – WTF? Why does the school get to impose this sort of constraint?
  • Avondale College Principal Brent Lewis claims to know nothing of the sort, contradicted by his own staff and pupils. I detect arse-covering.
  • I can’t find any reference to the incident on Korean English-language news sources, but if there emerges a sniff that this may be a matter of national identity, it could turn into a Big Freaking Deal. Especially with Lee Myung-bak here to gladhand and the chance of a Free Trade Agreement being floated. Talk about bad timing. Update: exexpat notes below that Korean-language media have picked it up, with the nationalism line intact.

None of this is to excuse the student’s attack, of course. But it doesn’t look like a random bit o’ violence to me.

Update: The attacker has been named, and a bunch of the details seem to be disputed, see here. I’ve amended the post to remove details which seem to be incorrect.

Disclaimer: Can I be completely explicit for people who are too suspicious to believe or too stupid to read the statement above (which I almost didn’t put in because I thought it was bleeding obvious): I am not trying to blame Warren or defend Chung – I am trying to consider the dynamic in play here. If you attempt to call this into question or engage in any such behaviour yourself, expect to be soundly ridiculed. You might note I’ve tagged this post hate crimes.

L

categoryPosted in Crime, Education, identity

39 Responses to “Identity politics behind school stabbing?”

  1. gingercrush on March 4th, 2009 at 13:21

    Koreans have an abiding hatred of the Japanese, founded (among other things) on the crushing occupation they suffered through the first half of the 20th Century and not helped by a) pervasive anti-Japanese propaganda at home and b) continual denial by the Japanese of any imperial wrongdoing (not unlike their attitude to China and elsewhere).

    Surely this section here Lew is a bit much. For instance there is also shared culture among Japanese and Koreans. One example would be Manga and Manhwa. Also I know from a few courses I’ve done, Japanese and Korean students generally have gotten on well with each other. While, there may indeed by some angst between the two countries. To the extent you espouse here, I for one don’t believe.

    On the whole though, your article certainly illustrates that there is much more to this story than what first appears and hopefully over the next few days this gets found out. I also find it strange, how quick the media is to talk about how secure our schools are etc. When surely, this is a one-off incident. Something that is never common here in New Zealand. And it would be best, if society but in particular the media stood back before making such claims.

  2. Lew on March 4th, 2009 at 13:24

    GC,

    Well, that’s based on three years’ worth of living there and discussing the issue in some depth with people from primary school level to war veterans. The relationship is as neighbours – but like the relationship between the Germans and the Dutch rather than the relationship between New Zealanders and Australians. Except you have to imagine that the Germans had never admitted any wrongdoing for the Second World War.

    L

  3. The ex-expat on March 4th, 2009 at 16:11

    Gingercrush, When I lived in Seoul there was a subway station covered in anti-japanese posters designed by primary school kids. Hating the Japanese is a national passtime over there.

    The Korean press have already picked up on the story:

    http://news.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2009/03/04/2009030400196.html?Dep0=chosunmain&Dep1=news&Dep2=headline4&Dep3=h4_03

    They think that the teacher and or students (sorry my Korean is a bit rusty) may have said something to inflame the students.

  4. Julie Fairey on March 4th, 2009 at 16:48

    I just wanted to say thanks for writing about this Lew. I think it’s important that when something like this happens we think about the reasons. Without working out why we will never have a hope of stopping violence and crime. To look at why is not to excuse either, and you make that clear.

    Wondered what you would have to say the e-e, feel free to give your thoughts at more length over at our place :-)

  5. ffs on March 4th, 2009 at 18:01

    “None of this is to excuse the student’s attack, of course. But it doesn’t look like a random bit o’ violence to me”

    So why did you spend the entire post trying to do just that ?

    FFS “Mr Warren was stabbed just below his right shoulder while writing on a whiteboard, standing with his back to the class.”

    I don’t give a toss if he had burnt the Korean flag the day before, no-one deserves this while going about their job and the simpering apologism here makes me sick.

  6. Lew on March 4th, 2009 at 18:44

    ffs,

    So why did you spend the entire post trying to do just that ?

    I didn’t. Explaining the motivation behind someone’s action isn’t the same as defending their actions. I think what Chung Tae-won did was wrong, but am nevertheless interested in why he might have done it.

    Julie gets it; why is it so hard for you?

    L

  7. Terry on March 4th, 2009 at 18:46

    Sounds like an example of victim blaming going on.

    Stabbing someone in the back like this seems to me to be a very delibrate act of extreme violence. I guess the crimial profilers amognst us could read a lot into his actions, my guess is that the stabber has some big problems.

  8. andy on March 4th, 2009 at 19:18

    One student, who did not want to be named under threat of expulsion, said an incident had taken place at the school on Monday.

    “Yesterday, some kids in that class said [the teacher] must’ve said a joke about South Korea – and that guy’s from South Korea.”

    “And like, I had a friend who has a mate who was in the teachers class last year, and like he said he was mean and stuff..”

    FFS, the Herald fishing for an angle? If he hates the Japanese (language and teacher) so much why take the subject for possibly the second year??

    Warren was a Japanese-language teacher with a brusque and sometimes offensive manner, who allegedly joked about the Republic of Korea. His attacker was new to NZ and likely unfamiliar with our ways.

    Says who? oh yeah, a mate of a mate who knows someone…

    Threat of expulsion because its all sub judice and dumb shit gets repeated and the teacher is a victim once again. Teachers would never make a joke to a class using a culture as the but of a joke, or they would have a very short career..

    I suspect the kid is a bit nuts and his parents sent him to quiet NZ to hide him from the shame of being a nutter in their culture.

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10559834

    NZ herald = D-

  9. ffs on March 4th, 2009 at 20:01

    “Explaining the motivation behind someone’s action isn’t the same as defending their actions. I think what Chung Tae-won did was wrong, but am nevertheless interested in why he might have done it.”

    “If a joke was made in the context of the Japanese language, which Koreans were forced to adopt, learn, and use, even to the point of taking Japanese names (not unlike how Māori was here, though more brutal) about Korea, then I can certainly see it being grave enough.
    Students are speaking anonymously about the case for fear of expulsion – WTF? Why does the school get to impose this sort of constraint?
    Avondale College Principal Brent Lewis claims to know nothing of the sort, contradicted by his own staff and pupils. I detect arse-covering.”

    If that isn’t apologist drivel blaming the school and teacher I don’t know what is –

  10. Lew on March 4th, 2009 at 20:40

    FFS,

    Then you don’t know what is.

    Again: no joke makes someone deserving of being stabbed. But that doesn’t mean the teacher’s conduct wasn’t a motivating factor. I’m not interested in blaming the teacher – I’m interested in knowing why the attacker chose him – as opposed to someone else, or nobody (as I would expect a normal, reasonable person to do).

    Let me contextualise my comments:

    “If a joke was made […] then I can certainly see it being grave enough.

    Grave enough for someone to respond with violence – not grave enough for them to be justified in responding with violence.

    Students are speaking anonymously about the case for fear of expulsion – WTF? Why does the school get to impose this sort of constraint?
    Avondale College Principal Brent Lewis claims to know nothing of the sort, contradicted by his own staff and pupils. I detect arse-covering.”

    I’m not blaming the school for the event, I’m blaming then for the information deficit around it – meaning the Herald has to rely on unsubstantiated statements from a mate of a mate who knows someone, as andy says.

    L

  11. Pablo on March 4th, 2009 at 21:47

    Let me see if I get this straight: a Pakeha teaching a Japanese class gets stabbed by a South Korean student supposedly for cracking a joke about Koreans in Japanese. Ah, the joys of multiculturalism! (Sorry, I realise this is stirring but the ironies are too many).

    lew: could you ease up on the cussing in the postscript since we preach to people that we will not tolerate vulgarity and in fact have had to moderate commentators for that reason? Otherwise it looks hypocritical, or conversely, we begin the descent….

    Oh–are people aware that there is no security vetting of student visa applicants to determine if they are criminally insane, members of organised crime or linked to terrorist movements? Something has to happen in NZ before security authorities take notice. Does anyone see a problem with this? I do.

  12. Lew on March 4th, 2009 at 22:18

    Pablo,

    lew: could you ease up on the cussing

    Yes, you’re right.

    Let me see if I get this straight: a Pakeha teaching a Japanese class gets stabbed by a South Korean student supposedly for cracking a joke about Koreans in Japanese.

    Wild, isn’t it? This is why I’m infuriated that people take it as reflexive victim-blaming – it’s too complicated for that.

    Oh–are people aware that there is no security vetting of student visa applicants to determine if they are criminally insane, members of organised crime or linked to terrorist movements? Something has to happen in NZ before security authorities take notice. Does anyone see a problem with this? I do.

    Well, although it looks absurd when you put it that way, it actually works out pretty well in practice. I’m not sure the trade-off of a blukier or more-heavily burdened security apparatus is worth the benefit. My instinct is that those resources would be better used at home investigating existing organised crime.

    L

  13. Pablo on March 4th, 2009 at 22:58

    Lew: I was being coy with the security vetting, as I am not so concerned with crazed high schoolers. My concern focuses on the 1000 Pakistanis and 300 Saudi Arabians admitted to NZ universities to study hard sciences in deals signed by the Clark government in 2005/06. Given that both places are hotbeds of jihadi extremism, I would have thought that the SIS, in conjunction with Immigration, would do some security vetting on those particular student visas (since relying exclusively on the local authorities for the vetting is to invite trouble given their levels of corruption and incompetence). The Police might want to liase with Immigration with regards to mainland Chinese or Taiwanese nationals given the expanding links in NZ to Asian crime syndicates. I am less concerned about Brazilian, Chilean or Japanese overstayers The point, less readers think so, is not to scapegoat people because of who they are but to recognise that some countries offer distinct security threats because of what is happening within them, which means any reputable security or intelligence agency would take an interest in whole-scale visa issuance to individuals from such places. Alas, foreign student education is a profitable industry in NZ, so neither the education providers (to include our major universities) or the myriad “education consultants” and government bureaucrats responsible for foreign educational exchanges want to put obstacles to profitability in that sector.

  14. Neil on March 5th, 2009 at 09:14

    Wild, isn’t it? This is why I’m infuriated that people take it as reflexive victim-blaming – it’s too complicated for that.

    It may very well be complicated but you’ve based all this on unsubstantiated allegations.

    It’s quite possible that this young man is just disturbed and/or just a nasty piece of work.

    You may not think that you’re blaming the victim but that’s how it comes across and this is the sort of thing that gives anything to do with identity politics a bad name.

  15. Kerry on March 5th, 2009 at 09:28

    Gee. So there can be justification in planning to stab a teacher and taking a knife to school to do just that?

    FFS. This was an unjustifiable attack

    If ‘hating Japanese’ had anything to do with it, why did the kid take this mans Japanese calss 2 years in a row?

    Sorry but youa re wrong. nothing the teacher could have done justified a kid taking a knife to school to stab him. Especially given the calm and rationality of many 17 year olds.

    Give it a miss. condem the criminal, not he victim.

  16. Julie Fairey on March 5th, 2009 at 09:40

    Perhaps those accusing Lew of victim blaming might like to tell us whether Bruce Emery should have been found guilty of murder or manslaughter, or not guilty entirely?

  17. Anita on March 5th, 2009 at 10:19

    I don’t have time to write a whole post about this, but what I reckon is it goes like this:

    1) A person did an unjustifiable thing.
    2) Everyone went “look that’s one of those bad other people!” because it’s more comfortable to make bad people “other”.
    3) Lew explains _why_ the person did the unjustifiable thing (without saying it was justifiable).
    4) The person’s actions are suddenly much more comprehensible …
    5) … and therefore less “other”
    6) So we start feeling some compassion/comprehension/empathy for the person who did the unjustifable thing because they are, in fact, a human being like us.
    7) We’re distressed by the dissonance of a person-like-us doing a bad-and-unjustifiable thing.
    8) We blame Lew for this dissonance because if he won’t let them be an incomprehensible-other then the only way to resolve our internal dissonance is to reduce the bad-and-unjustifiable thing.

    Not claiming to speak for Lew but… I reckon that he was arguing that it was a bad-and-unjustifiable thing done by a person who, like all of us, does things for reasons that make sense in their own head.

    To come back to my somewhat controversial post about rape; the reality is that people like us commit violent and sexual crimes. These are not the actions of some other species, they’re the actions of someone with a family and friends (who might be you or me). To accept that is not to justify their actions, but to accept that people we love and care for can behave unjustifiably.

  18. Lew on March 5th, 2009 at 10:19

    Kerry,

    FFS. This was an unjustifiable attack […] Sorry but youa re wrong. nothing the teacher could have done justified a kid taking a knife to school to stab him. Especially given the calm and rationality of many 17 year olds.

    Let me quote myself:

    Again: no joke makes someone deserving of being stabbed.

    We agree. The difference is that I’m not accusing you of defending something you’re not.

    Neil,

    It may very well be complicated but you’ve based all this on unsubstantiated allegations.

    Which is all we have. But my observations are firmly couched as speculation and I’m happy to revise them when facts come to light.

    It’s quite possible that this young man is just disturbed and/or just a nasty piece of work.

    It is indeed. But why this teacher as opposed to someone else, or nobody?

    You may not think that you’re blaming the victim but that’s how it comes across and this is the sort of thing that gives anything to do with identity politics a bad name.

    I’m not blaming the victim. I’ve made that crystal clear – the fact that you and others can’t or won’t read it I can take one of two ways: that you’re tactically illiterate, or that you think I’m lying. Which is it?

    I don’t much care whether identity politics has a good, bad or indifferent name – identity is still a relevant consideration in a huge number of circumstances, and as such deserves to be studied and examined.

    L

  19. Kerry on March 5th, 2009 at 10:37

    Well actually Lew doesn’t ‘explain’ anything, but makes up some possible facts that explain his possible scenario.

    What we do know
    1) the young man planned to stab his teacher and took a knife to school to do so -he told his friends this.
    2) the young man stabbed the teacher while he was writing on the whiteboard
    3) stabbing people you are pissed off with, whatever the reason, is a crime in this country

    Any links with Korean student /Japanese class/racist brusque Pakeha teacher/Japaneses hating Koreans(so why take the subject 2 years) are invented.

    This is what we know

  20. Lew on March 5th, 2009 at 10:45

    Anita,

    Not claiming to speak for Lew but… I reckon that he was arguing that it was a bad-and-unjustifiable thing done by a person who, like all of us, does things for reasons that make sense in their own head.

    Yes, this is about right. What I’m interested in is why he thinks he did it – not in whether his actions were legal or right or reasonable, which they manifestly were not.

    Kerry,

    Well actually Lew doesn’t ‘explain’ anything, but makes up some possible facts that explain his possible scenario.

    I didn’t make up any facts. I took some from the linked articles, and I took some from what I know about Korean teenagers. You can choose to call bullshit if you like, at which point I’ll ask for your credentials – especially when my argument has been corroborated by someone else (exexpat) with some knowledge of Korean culture. Just because you don’t personally know a given fact doesn’t mean it isn’t a fact.

    If you have an alternate explanation as to why Chung stabbed Warren (as opposed to someone else or nobody at all), then I’d like to hear it. `Random violence’ seems unlikely because of the background information of the case. The students and teachers at the school quoted in the Herald articles imply this.

    L

  21. Lew on March 5th, 2009 at 10:51

    Actually, checking the issue again: this morning’s story on the issue contains the following:

    Other students supporting Chung in court said he was provoked by racist comments. One said “it wasn’t in his nature to do this”.

    Now, they’re kids protecting their mate, so a grain of salt applies – but this matches other reports.

    L

  22. Julie Fairey on March 5th, 2009 at 10:55

    Anita I totally heart your comment.

  23. Kerry on March 5th, 2009 at 12:12

    Credentials?

    Mine are I’m intelligent, I’m analytical

    I see what is, not what you speculate is.

    I wouldnt be surprised if this young man was mentally unwell, but that is supposition on my part.

  24. Lew on March 5th, 2009 at 12:21

    Kerry,

    The credentials I’m talking about are to do with knowledge of the nationalistic and ideological tendencies of Korean kids, since those are what you’d called into question.

    He’s going for psych assessment, in any case – so we’ll find out whether he’s genuinely crazy or just someone who did one crazy thing.

    L

  25. student_still on March 5th, 2009 at 12:45

    Lew, I agree that these are all legitimate questions/scenarios/details that must be considered in order to cover the incident from all angles. Situations like this are NEVER black and white, I get the impression that you were simply exploring the possibilities, instead of acting on prejudice and the little information offered by the media.

    Personally, this is not a matter of race for me. I couldn’t care less that the kid was Korean. I know of many well-adjusted and respectable international students who don’t stab teachers.

    I have to say, though, I will always give the actions of an adult teacher the benefit of the doubt over the actions of a school student any day. Especially given the scarceness of information that is currently available (although I’m sure my opinions will evolve as more information comes to light).

    I’m sure you’ll all call me on this, as I’m just using another type of identity politics, an ‘otherness’ based on age. But personally, I just don’t feel that many teenagers are qualified to comment on serious adult situations and events, with a reliable level of maturity and wisdom. Sure, these students that spoke out in support of the perpetrator, and offered their insight into what they think/have heard goes down between students and teachers at the school, are entitled to their opinions. But, who knows how reliable what they say actually is, given the tendency for most teenagers, lets face it, to be a little self-absorbed and generally ill-informed, while at the same time often having the arrogance/ignorant to feel they are qualified to offer social comment. It really irks me when the media, especially, ‘use’ students as indisputably reliable sources, and give their opinions more weight than perhaps they should get.

    It is natural for students to have teachers they like, and teachers they ‘hate’. All students at some stage will demonise teachers, make fun of them, give them names, refer to them as ‘gay’ or ‘a bitch’ or a ‘weirdo’ or ‘a creepy perv’. Students do this without understanding the full implications of using these labels, often speaking ill of a teacher simply because they give them too much homework, or dress a certain way! Students also ‘hate’ teachers based on gossip passed on by their friends, or older siblings, and this can tarnish the reputation of teachers repeatedly, over classes, year levels and generations.

    I guess what I’m trying to say, is that the students used by the media for their little sound bites on this issue, might not be all that reliable when they suggest that the teacher may not have been popular, and this may have prompted the attack. I will be supporting the teacher, and will assume that he was a professional, fair, good teacher, unless it is proven otherwise. Even then, I’m sure we will all still agree, that nothing justifies being stabbed in the back while carrying out your job.

  26. Kerry on March 5th, 2009 at 15:30

    student_still Totally well said and I agree with you completely.

  27. Joshua on March 5th, 2009 at 16:26

    The end will justify the mean. But with certain exceptions and degree. First of all, what I am trying to establish here is not an attempt defending the action of this Korean student but rather to ‘un-bias’ the accusing voices that I continously read throughout the comments.

    Based on the facts, there was a stabbing. And that is wrong under any circumstances? What I want to know is not what happened because it is a fact that is already well established. Rather, I want to understand this student as to why he committed the stabbing. Not surprisingly, there is an ubiquitous mentioning of ‘jokes’ referring to his korean racial background. Just looking at it from one perspective and ignoring the ‘race issue’ there is a very little if not non-existing motive(s) for his action. But approaching this case with understanding of race and ethnicity, the jokes that the teacher had periodically made become racial discriminations. And there definitely is a fundamental difference between a joke and a racial discrimination concerning provokation. Thus we can, as Lew says, understand his actions a little better. Otherwise, without this explanation, the student is just one insane individual and what some commentators have said will absolutely be agreeable regarding our government’s lack of attention and selection of our vast immigrant applications.

    I also want to note references that state the contradictory stupidity in korean students hatred of Japan and selection of Japanese language at high school subject. Personally, I too see a contradiction but one that is understandable. My explanation is of a question that poses a similar contradiction and demands for a completely comprehensive answer. ‘Why do we perceive Maori and Pacific Islanders as relaxed and easy going ethnical groups when half of our nation’s prison population is of this same ethnical groups?’ Another explanation is that we, as Pakeha, cannot exactly understand why so many Korean students take Japanese language as a subject at high school when historically, Koreans have had a tendency to feel hatred toward Japanese. Because doing so is arguing that all Koreans, somewhere near 60 million people within the country itself (and lots more counting the emigrants), as unified in ideals and an unindividualistic race who share a single view in this matter. I do not agree, in any degree, on such essentialistic view.

    I do feel, however, much condolences toward Mr Warren for what has happened to him and hope that, upon sources of accurate evidences, appropriate penalties are made upon the student.

  28. kushibo on March 6th, 2009 at 09:15

    Lew, you seem to have taken a very balanced and level-headed look at the situation (though I haven’t gone through your comments section). If you take a look here, am I off about anything?

    My personal experience with New Zealanders, almost all in Korea, has been overwhelmingly positive. The description I’m seeing of a racist David Warren doesn’t fit the image I’ve had, though it does match that of some academics I’ve known elsewhere.

  29. kushibo on March 6th, 2009 at 09:17

    Oh, I forgot to mention. Your three-part approach about the reasons for lingering anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea is spot on.

  30. sunha on March 6th, 2009 at 16:30

    Lew has ordered that this comment be made public. All hail the Lew.

    Speaking as a born Korean / NZ citizen;

    Koreans are very interesting in the sense that they have a strong sense of national pride, which is complicated by (a) the Japanese occupation, war crimes during that occupation, subsequent denial of those war crimes, and the complex brought on by Japan’s economic successes; (b) the perception that Korea’s achievements are underappreciated in the Western world (which remains true to a degree, but I suspect that’s not just Korea), and (c) the ironic fact that they themselves are quite very racist, e.g. towards the Chinese. I think “inferiority complex” summarises it best. Maybe a bit harsh.

    I feel that the blogger focuses too much on the historical aspect, though – for younger generations (a) doesn’t really prey on the mind that much anymore. It’s one of those cases where the memory of Japanese occupation is more real in image and representation than it is really in the people’s minds. I think a more significant factor is the inferiority complex / race in general – kid comes to NZ, and finds that the ~10 years of frenzied English studies he undertook in Korea doesn’t amount to much; he encounters some racist students (which are a part of every NZ high school… and other countries), and then the Japanese teacher pushes him over the edge with an ill-advised joke.

    Basically I’m saying that ‘Japan’ within the Korean mindset is a complex thing, and something which would not have acted in such an overbearing and blunt manner in order to influence this crime. (Barring the possibility that this kid is an exception and really feels the issue keenly – there are, after all, kids who have lost their grandparents to Japanese war crimes.)

    Unfortunately, the only plausible outcomes to this event are; (a) students develop negative stereotypes of Asians; (b) people become more afraid to joke about this stuff, which just makes the whole racial / cultural difference more opaque and thus more problematic.

    Another thing that might happen is the media taking the ‘psychological problem’ angle on the whole issue: i.e. the media presumes that no matter what the auxiliary variables (such as those I have listed above), Chung *must* have been irrational to act in the way he has, and thus there must be some psychological disorder, trauma, or flaw that explains this irrationality. i.e. Cho Sung-Hee, though in his case it did seem to be true.

  31. Lew on March 6th, 2009 at 16:54

    Context: sunha is a colleague whose opinion I asked – he didn’t know it was me, hence `the blogger’. I suggested he respond because, frankly, he contextualises the matter much more betterly than I did. Thanks mate :)

    kushibo,

    Thank you for those links, too – I see the Marmot’s Hole is still going like mad. Thanks in particular for revealing the alleged joke, said to Chung after he fell asleep in class:

    the teacher said something lame like “if you don’t stay awake the North Koreans will come and kill you”

    … not really a joke people will get the offensiveness of without an understanding of the rift between the Koreas and the virulence of the propaganda war fought over their identity.

    My personal experience with New Zealanders, almost all in Korea, has been overwhelmingly positive. The description I’m seeing of a racist David Warren doesn’t fit the image I’ve had, though it does match that of some academics I’ve known elsewhere.

    The NZers you’ll meet in Korea are nowhere near representative of the population at large. They typically fit the expat-teacher model: young, white, confident, single, middle-class, well-educated, open-minded, idealistic, stability-averse, keen on immersive experiences, and with a strong stomach for drink. Most New Zealanders only have three or four of those characteristics, including the last :)

    L

  32. kushibo on March 6th, 2009 at 21:47

    Lew wrote:

    … not really a joke people will get the offensiveness of without an understanding of the rift between the Koreas and the virulence of the propaganda war fought over their identity.

    True. I also suspect that this comment was the proverbial “icing on the cake.” He apparently had known the teacher for sometime. That’s why I related the story of my Taiwanese friends and the Taiwan-bashing professor: no one comment was really bad in and of itself, but the relentless barrage of digs was so annoying it got people to drop out of his classes. I suppose some Taiwanese student might get violent in just the right circumstances.

    (But ultimately, that kind of thing — including Chung’s actions — are not justifiable no matter how bad the verbal abuse.

    The NZers you’ll meet in Korea are nowhere near representative of the population at large. They typically fit the expat-teacher model: young, white, confident, single, middle-class, well-educated, open-minded, idealistic, stability-averse, keen on immersive experiences, and with a strong stomach for drink. Most New Zealanders only have three or four of those characteristics, including the last :)

    You know, you may be right. I’m thinking of two New Zealanders in particular. One was a very mild-mannered girl from my job with whom I sort of dated for a while. The other was the roommate of an American girl I dated. Both were easy-going people who tried to make an effort to experience life in Korea beyond drinking and were keen at trying to figure out why this thing or that thing happened instead of bitching and moaning about it like a lot of expats do.

    But the other New Zealanders I have known, both male and female, were along these lines. One was a former priest who made a strong effort to assimilate (he was in Korea for the long haul).

    Really, it has been quite a surprise to me when I started hearing a few stories of blatant racism directed at Koreans (and Japanese) who had lived for a while in NZ. But these stories were just a few dark smudges in an overwhelmingly positive experience.

    This is by no means just a NZ phenomenon. I grew up in California where most people are “PC” but there are some people who just can’t hold their bigotry in. Just the other day, I had blogged this about query to the local paper in Orange County where the guy basically reveals he doesn’t think Koreans and Vietnamese are “Americans.” Sadly, that’s not an uncommon view; the only way this guy is different is that he publicly expressed this view in a newspaper.

  33. kushibo on March 6th, 2009 at 21:55

    Sunha wrote:

    Basically I’m saying that ‘Japan’ within the Korean mindset is a complex thing, and something which would not have acted in such an overbearing and blunt manner in order to influence this crime. (Barring the possibility that this kid is an exception and really feels the issue keenly – there are, after all, kids who have lost their grandparents to Japanese war crimes.)

    If Chung voluntarily took Japanese, then I doubt he is one of those exceptions. If he was forced to take it, then whatever major or minor resentments he might have had could have become worse as he stewed about them in a classroom where he was being regularly berated by a teacher.

    All in all, I think your description of common Korean attitudes toward Japan is accurate. There are, of course, lots of people who love to study Japanese, visit Japan, follow Japanese media, etc. There’s a love/hate relationship, not just with the country as a whole, but even within many individuals.

    Unfortunately, the only plausible outcomes to this event are; (a) students develop negative stereotypes of Asians; (b) people become more afraid to joke about this stuff, which just makes the whole racial / cultural difference more opaque and thus more problematic.

    I think you’re right about (b), but some of the Korean-language reports from students at the school (if we are to believe they really are who they say the are) say that this wasn’t just a joke or two but regular hounding. Gentle ribbing this was not. And he’s a kid, not an adult who would know how to maturely let annoying jokes slide.

  34. Pablo on March 7th, 2009 at 01:33

    Lew: I have taken a couple of days to ponder this and am not sure that “identity politics” were a factor. I think you may have misapplied the phrase. Nationalism might have been a factor, perceived racism might have been a factor, cultural dissonance might have been a factor, loss of face and dishonour may have been a factor and/or temporary insanity could have been a factor, but I do not think that the politics of identity, with all of the complexities that entails, entered into the murderous equation. For one thing, it implies political intent in the commission of the act, which has yet to be determined. Should that be the case, then I stand corrected, but until then I think that Chung’s motivation could be something other than a matter of political identity.

  35. Lew on March 8th, 2009 at 13:06

    Pablo, I don’t think I have. In the context of the alleged joke which tipped him off the deep end, it seems to me that Chung wasn’t so much personally insulted as that he was insulted on behalf of Koreans in general; responding not because he personally was the subject of ridicule or attack, but because his identity as a Korean – by extension of all Koreans – was.

    I can’t be sure, of course – certain information isn’t really available – but this seems to me the only reasonable explanation for the question `why this teacher in particular?’ It also seems very unlikely we’ll ever really find out. Chung will plead guilty and eventually be deported; the trial will be short and will include little or nothing to do with motive. I would be amazed if we ever hear his perspective; he’ll just go over as another angst-ridden alienated Asian.

    L

  36. Dave Franklin stabbed by angry Korean student whose country he mocked…

    This blog from New Zealand seems to take an informed and level-headed approach to the story. I haven’t read Lew’s comments section, but his three-part approach about the reasons for lingering anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea is spot on:…

  37. Peter Lee on March 16th, 2009 at 14:23

    I read with much interest about what you had to say about the “teacher stabbing” incident. I would just like to say that I agree with you, on every single point Lew you made about the incident.

    As a “born in Korea” NZ citizen, it saddened me to read articles about the incident focusing entirely on “what he did was wrong”, “international student who may have adjustment problems carries out his plot to stab the teacher!!”

    There is no question in my mind that what he did was wrong. It is not justifiable under ANY circumstances. I think any human being, with a brain knows that. That’s just too obvious.

    So people might say, “Every single person agrees that it was wrong, he broke the law, he must be rightfully punished under NZ law, end of story. Why go on and on and on about the WHY?”

    What is the purpose? People might have different views about the purpose but here’s my take on the issue

    Unless a person has a psychiatric condition, there usually is a motive, reason, or a trigger behind people’s actions. The resulting action may be rational or irrational. For example, father of a person is about to die, and the son does not have any money for the treatment. Rational action would be to ask for help to friends and family. Irrational resultant behaviour would be to break into the bank, and steal money.

    And although many crimes will still occur no matter what, taking an interest in the WHY will help prevent FUTURE crimes.

    As a doctor, I see this principle being proven over and over again. In the era without cholesterol lowering tablets and blood pressure pills, and heart vessel intervention procedures, literally thousands and thousands people died because of heart attacks.

    Worldwide professors laughed at the medical student when he presented the association of the bug H.pylori and ulcers. He was ridiculed. He persevered, and now it’s a PROVEN fact that H.pylori bugs are associated with ulcers. People could have left it at that, hey people get ulcers, we don’t know why. Let’s just keep treating them.

    Until people started taking enormous interest and spent energy finding out WHY heart attacks occur. In the process of doing so, nowadays not only heart attacks are managed effectively and lives are saved, heart attacks are PREVENTED.

    Shouldn’t prevention be the goal in the justice department? Sure, it won’t prevent all crimes but hey it will prevent many. Why did the korean student stab his teacher in the back?

    Maybe he has a psychiatric condition, but maybe not. What are we going to say if the psych report comes back as “sane”? Then are we going to say, look this kid is just a bit “nuts” but not enough to put a diagnosis on him? What kind of rational reasoning is that?

    As members of the public, what would be our role in reducing further such incidents? To just say, because the behaviour of yours was unjustifiable, therefore you are a nutter, now a criminal, therefore you deserve to be treated like one,

    Or,

    What you did was wrong, and for that you must accept the consequences of breaking the law, disrespecting the teacher and seriously injuring him. But we also know that you were not born a criminal and we want to identify issues that triggered and formed your motives. If there are any. What’s the harm in asking?

    A normal human being, who doesn’t have a pscyh condition to alter his conscience, will have regrets, and wish to change one’s behaviour.

    Punishment has a big role in discouraging further such behaviour to commit crimes but so does understanding, support, and helping him form better self image during this critical adolescence year.

    Seriously, which approach, heads toward a community that does not tolerate crimes but is yet willing to identify causative issues and move towards prevention?

    In the medical field, it is easy to just come to a diagnosis and give the treatment, especially when it’s busy. For example, someone comes in with chest infection, let’s give antibiotics you will get better. But hey if he has an underyling tumour he will come BACK. We are ALWAYS, required to think why? Why has this person come in with chest infection. What “triggered” it? Does he have a tumour predisposing to it? Is he a drunk who keeps vomiting contents into his lungs? And in asking why, there lies hope of primary prevention, and prevention of recurrence.

    Without this attitude, we will continue punishing crime as it happens and never move towards prevention. Do you seriously think there is harm in this? Do you seriously think this will further promote his behaviour? I don’t.

    I am not willing to comment on whether the teacher was a racist or not, whether his irrational behaviour was triggered by a racist comment or not. Because I don’t know. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t in his class. I don’t know the teacher.

    What I am willing to comment on, is that I am so thankful and grateful that there is someone willing say, hey there might be more to this incident then “Korean international student stabs teacher you go get punished” incident.

    Sorry about such a long post…

  38. Nil EInne on April 2nd, 2009 at 01:29

    I think Anita hit the nail on the head about why people are so unable to accept it’s possible to ask why something happened without saying it was justified.

    You get this shit all the time of course. Dare suggest that the good ole’ US of A has done stupid things which have needlessly increased support for (but not justified) terrorism against them or look in to the motives of terrorists as anything more then ‘they’re evil’ and you’re automatically branded an extremist or even a terrorist yourself. Dare to say that there may be genetic, cultural and social-economic factors which make a person much more likely to commit a crime and perhaps we should try to do something about it and you’re labelled a PC-liberal who just makes excuses for criminals.

    Reminds me also of how reluctant people are to accept Hitler may have been a vegetarian and he may have been one because he felt it was cruel to animals to eat them.

    Sadly some people just want to see the world in pure black and white, they can’t accept any semblance of grey, let alone colour…

    In any case, congratulations Lew, this case seemed odd to me and your thoughtful analysis has given me some idea what could be behind it.

  39. hjb on April 3rd, 2009 at 10:56

    There are issues on this incident.

    Some of teachers including a teacher at Avondale College has spoken out why and what triggered the incident.

    http://nz.messages.yahoo.com/nz-news/nz-top-stories/57072/

Leave a Reply

Name: (required)
Email: (required) (will not be published)
Website:
Comment: