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We need Samsung-, LG-endowed professors

Publication Date : 19-09-2012

 

When people reach a comfortable standard of living, they often turn to cultural activities such as watching movies, attending concerts and visiting art exhibitions to enrich their lives. When big corporations make a fortune, they donate money to libraries and museums as a goodwill gesture of returning their profits to society.

Sometimes, they establish a cultural foundation through which they can promote cultural exchange. (The Daesan Foundation, for one, comes to mind). And when movie directors and producers become rich and famous from a commercial movie, they often create an artistic movie based on highbrow literary work to mitigate their sense of guilt.

During the height of Japan’s economic boom, Japanese corporations were especially good at donating money to cultural and academic institutions. When I was at Columbia University in 1982, for instance, there was a “Sony professor” teaching Japanese history.

I heard that the female professor was hired by Columbia with the large sum donated by Sony. Naturally, she was not only very friendly to the Japanese students at the university, encouraging them in every possible way, but also effectively played an important role in promoting Japanese culture in American academia. In addition, the Sony professor often defended Japan whenever issues related to Japan stirred American society.

Thirty years have passed since then, and Samsung and LG have now become as huge and prominent as Sony used to be. To the best of my knowledge, however, there are no Samsung- or LG-endowed professorships at American universities. It is regrettable that our business corporations are not interested in cultural or academic investment, because an American professor carrying the title of Samsung or LG could be a huge advertisement not only for the company, but also for Korea herself.

Currently, the two gigantic corporations are spending considerable amounts of money on advertisements to improve their image. With the amount spent on ads, they could achieve the same end by establishing a Samsung or LG professorship at foreign universities.

Contrary to big business corporations, other Korean foundations have endeavored to promote Korean literature and culture for the past decades. For example, the Si-sa related ICF (International Cultural Exchange Foundation) created the Min Young-bin Professorship of Korean literature at the University of British Columbia several years ago.

The Korea Foundation donated a large sum of money to Harvard to implement a Korea Foundation Professorship of Korean literature. In addition to Harvard, two other prestigious universities ― Columbia and UC Berkeley ― also received generous funds from the Korea Foundation to promote Korean studies in the United States. Neither Samsung nor LG, however, have extensively or seriously donated a large sum of money to American universities to create a Korean studies professorship. It is embarrassing that such internationally well-known, gigantic corporations as Samsung or LG have not yet done what Sony did 30 years ago.

After the success and popularity of Sony and Panasonic, Japan immediately spread Japanese literature and culture all around the world. And big Japanese corporations contributed to disseminating Japanese culture by donating funds to a great number of foreign universities. It is only natural, therefore, that we expect our corporations to do the same for our country. Samsung has become a massive, successful global corporation and so has LG. And it’s about time they contributed to promoting Korean culture around the world.

It would also be great if Samsung or LG were willing to co-organise or co-sponsor literary events overseas with Korean cultural and educational institutes. It would be mutually beneficial in many ways. Yet the two corporations seem to be reluctant to be a part of literary or cultural events held overseas. Koreans intensely want to see a Korean writer receive the Nobel Prize for literature. Strangely, however, our prosperous corporations are reluctant to participate in events that might ultimately help bring the Nobel Prize to South Korea.

In addition, other major Korean corporations such as Hyundai, Lotte, SK, KT, CJ and Doosan should heed the words above. They all can significantly contribute to promoting Korean literature and culture overseas by donating funds to foreign universities and institutions to implement Korean studies programs or to create a professorship of Korean literature, culture or history. Our big corporations are surely capable of doing so, if only they would realise the importance of such projects. It is about time that we boosted Korea’s cultural visibility and prominence, instead of being stuck in a chasm between China and Japan.

We have successfully achieved spectacular economic development and democratisation. And we are now enjoying the enormous popularity of the “Korean Wave” all over the world; never before have foreigners had such interest in Korea and Korean culture. Currently, approximately 30 professors are teaching Korean literature in North America. Among them, only two are appointed based on the funds from Korean institutions ― one a government institution, and the other a private foundation. We want to see Samsung- and LG-endowed professors of Korean studies soon.

Kim Seong-kon is a professor of English at Seoul National University and president of the Literature Translation Institute of Korea. ― Ed.

 

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