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Posted by on Jan 22, 2011

Old Seoul in color (1938): rare video footage

I would like to submit this as Evidence #1000 that YouTube is the greatest treasure trove of gobbledygook the world has ever known. Despite the slightly melodramatic soundtrack, this is by far the earliest video I have seen taken of the city I called home for quite some time. Immediately I want to cast this video onto the current city, a walking augmented reality tour through past and present.

Seoul in 1938 was many things, many of which they are no longer.

  • They were in the later, most repressive, stages of Japanese colonialism (only to be fully shed at the end of World War II in 1945).
  • Most people spoke Japanese as well as Korean.
  • They were mostly agrarian (Korea as a whole-not any longer).
  • The population of Seoul was well under a million (currently >10 million).
  • Attire is very old Joseon

By 1938, Seoul and all of Korea was well within the mobilization stages of the Japanese military buildup (invasions of China in full swing) and Korea was the foodstore for that effort. By 1945, all was lost for Japan and Korea was no longer Japanese.

American and the Soviet Union staked their claims, lines were drawn, and the country was split. The Korean War beginning in 1950 wiped away the last few remnants of the old ways of things, the Korean way. It certainly destroyed the vast majority of these buildings you see in this video.

History is the the study of events in place and in time. In this modern world, where ephemera is the standard rather than the exception, we often forget that it is possible to maintain a stable thing. That slowness of purpose, a precision of purpose, is often a good attribute.

I don’t think Korea was better off then; quite the opposite. South Korea is in more control of its own destiny than at any time in the past. It is just remarkable to see a place like Seoul destroyed and reconstructed, built and leveled time and time again. And yet there it is. A shift in importance over time, but a relative stability in space. A deliberate plodding into an uncertain future.

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