Click into the Hermit Kingdom (89); Postal Service Saddled with Foreign Pressure

Article excerpt

The Ministry of Information and Communication is now widely viewed to be at the forefront of the so-called Information Revolution typified by the Internet and high-speed wireless communications.

The ministry's policies and regulatory moves have affected a wide range of telecommunication and Internet-related industries in recent years, even though it often blunders, as do other ministries.

Only several years earlier, the ministry had a relatively marginal role as the nation's postal service provider, squeezed by other power-wielding government agencies.

Its greater influence now is a curious contrast to the ministry's trouble- laden history which traces back to the Choson period.

The ancient origins of communication and postal service on the Korean Peninsula are very difficult to identify because of the lack of related documents.

What is certain, however, is that ancient Koreans also resorted to a range of basic communication methods such as letters and signal fires for personal and military purposes.

It was in the year 488 that the Silla Kingdom set up postal stations across the nation, marking the first version of a systematic communication network.

Since then, communication systems designed mostly for military purposes had largely remained as such, with little improvement throughout the Choson period.

The formal introduction of a full-fledged postal service based on stamps and an international network came only in the late 19th century when Choson was forced to open its ports to Japan.

In 1876, the reclusive Choson signed the Treaty of Kanghwa with imperial Japan. This treaty document mentions the introduction of a Western postal system but it did not immediately start here.

Korea learned about the ``advanced'' postal service thanks to an official named Kim Hong-jip, who traveled to Japan as part of a mission and observed the Westernized facilities including the postal system in 1880.

The following year, Kim and other officials were sent to Japan as members of a mission in a bid to survey a wide spectrum of Japan's modernized facilities. Considering the remaining documents, the mission paid greater attention to Japan's postal system.

As Choson needed a formal postal service with other countries, the government sent several officials to the United States and Japan to gain the know-how.

One official who had first-hand experience with Western postal systems was Hong Yong-sik, who later spearheaded the postal service project for the Choson court.

On March 27, 1884, King Kojong finally decided to adopt the modern postal system and appointed Hong Yong-sik as the director of the envisioned Postal Administration. …