CULTURE A new kind of scholar
breaks ground in Korea By Subadra
An American expat has found an odd
niche in Seoul as a commentator on Korean culture,
history and policy not for foreigners, but for
Koreans. His name is Emanuel Pastreich, and he
writes books in Korean and lectures to government
and business leaders about how Korea can make full
use of its remarkable assets from organic farming
to traditional houses.
employed as a professor at Kyung Hee University
and is the founder of The Asia Institute, a think
tank based in Seoul. In his best-selling book,
Scholars of the World Speak out about
Korea, he interviewed leading intellectuals
like Francis Fukuyama, Larry Wilkerson and Noam
Chomsky, asking for their insights into the
specific challenges facing Korea, from social
welfare and trade to dealing with North Korea and
competition in education. Pastreich conducted the
interviews in his capacity as
director of the Asia
Institute, which is dedicated to unconventional
approaches to contemporary problems from culture
and international relations to technology,
education and climate change.
tanks abound inside the Washington beltway, or in
posh neighborhoods of Seoul or Tokyo, they tend to
spout the same old story about the next six-party
nuclear talks, or make predictions about the
"secretive hermit kingdom" of North Korea. You
would be hard-pressed to name one that focuses on
the real issues of environment, of technology, and
of the cultural and social factors that underlie
rapid changes observed today.
Institute has written papers on how the
exponential advancement of technology will impact
human society - including one arguing that 50% of
the military budgets of Asian nations should be
dedicated to fighting climate change - and
advocated for an eco-currency that will directly
tie the amount of currency available to the state
of the globe. Such pragmatic and maverick
pronouncements are a breath of fresh air in a
world of policy.
Pastreich did not start
out as a policy wonk. He trained in Asian
literature and has a BA in Chinese literature at
Yale University, an MA in comparative culture at
the University of Tokyo, and a PhD in East Asian
languages and civilizations at Harvard University,
he taught Japanese classics at University of
Illinois for many years. The team at The Asia
Institute is dedicated to present a vision of a
new peaceful and integrated Asia which is visibly
an emerging super power in today's era.
all began when Dr Pastreich was working at the
Korean Embassy in Washington as the advisor to the
Korean ambassador. He was asked by the embassy to
be the director of a think tank called KORUS House
they had created. He conducted a series of
seminars related to Korea as part of that program.
Once this assignment was over, he started teaching
at Woosong University and immediately set out to
form a think tank on his own.
"I have been
in Japan for six years through my diplomatic
career and as a researcher I know how important it
is first to live in a foreign country for a long
time and then to learn the language and culture
and then adapt to it. So we have a person who not
only can communicate and understand an Eastern
language and culture, but also has native
experience of the Western world. It is a unique
combination", he reiterates. "Comprehensive view,
interdisciplinary effort, technology and economy,
we try to combine all these in the seminars at The
Asia Institute; it is not an easy task, but worth
trying" he adds.
To the degree that The
Asia Institute has been a voice in the wilderness,
it has not had the same degree of media coverage
as big players like Brookings Institution or the
Heritage Foundation. But as Victor Hugo once said,
"All the forces in the world are not as powerful
as an idea whose time has come."
something in the particular approach that The Asia
Institute takes, focusing on the intersection of
culture and technology, the environment and
international relations that suggests a new path
for analysis, for looking at policy and diplomacy,
security and economics, that has a certain appeal.
And the Asia Institute has focused on engaging
young people as part of its mission.
Markku Heiskanen, the Finland - East Asia
program director of The Asia Institute (political
scientist and former senior diplomat) feels that
the unique factor in the Asia Institute is the
unusual skill set Pastreich brings to the table.
Highly proficient in Chinese, Japanese and Korean
languages, Pastreich is actively engaged
The Asia Institute offers
a neutral platform wherein leaders from various
fields come together for meaningful discussions
that bring out valuable solutions. And this
quality is critical when it comes to discussing
issues that may be sensitive between China, Japan
and Korea. Here is a space that is not Korean,
American, Chinese or Japanese.
Institute brought in the renowned Harvard English
professor Marc Shell to talk about the
relationship between money and literature.
Professor Shell spoke about the ideological and
cultural elements before a group of experts that
included representatives of the Bank of Korea. By
bringing a humanistic perspective to contemporary
economic issues, Pastreich has opened up new
vistas on contemporary affairs at a time most
think tanks are increasingly uniform.
According to Stephan Mot, author and
prolific writer associated with the Asia
Institute, what makes it stand apart is that it is
flexible and encompasses a large range of issues.
The challenge is to keep to the focus, since it
has a holistic approach and incorporates an array
of topics, but this, he feels is good, as it is
closer to the real world.
who works at The Asia Institute explains its
philosophy: "We are doing something unprecedented
here in that we do not just conduct research and
draft advocacy policies in broad areas of public
concern like technological, economic, and social
integration, but that we involve young people in
these very topics in our meetings. We take
seriously youth input and I think this is an
innovative concept among think tanks the world
over. The institute does not simply view younger
participants as those who need to 'learn' from the
experts. Instead, our philosophy is that the
experts can come and learn something from the very
generation shaping society's public concerns."
The Asia Institute's key asset is the pool
of talents of experts who come together to have
solution-oriented debates that can help make the
world a better place.
Subadra Arvind is a consultant for international cooperation currently working in Germany.
(Copyright 2012 Asia
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