Upso !

I love the sound of Korean declaratives. Especially the ones on negatives.

ah-ni-o : No

mol-lah : I don’t know

tway-so : No need; Forget it

But my favourite is the short and plaintive cry “upso!”, especially when delivered with shrugged shoulders, empty upturned palms and a pathetic innocent look.

up-so : Nothing; don’t have

So, in this spirit and in view of the recent, rather embarrassing traffic to these rural parts,

Nothing much to see here. Move along…

But the title above and its related thoughts, have actually been lying around in a dusty draft folder in my head for a little while. And the previous post on turn-of-the-19th-to-20th-century writers and images of a meeting of races and civilizations on dusty-brown lands, may have also prodded on this present posting.

Rather than the empty innocence which the words ‘up-so’ themselves point to, my first acquaintance with this short guileless phrase, was within the writings of a writer whose intentions wasn’t quite so mellow.

From Jack London’s 1904 syndicated newspaper article and essay, “The Yellow Peril”, written as a war correspondent as he travelled from Japan, through Korea, into China.

Full text of the essay “The Yellow Peril”:

Some highlights of the essay are quoted below:

The Yellow Peril

No more marked contrast appears in passing from our Western land to the paper houses and cherry blossoms of Japan than appears in passing from Korea to China. To achieve a correct appreciation of the Chinese the traveller should first sojourn amongst the Koreans for several months, and then, one fine day, cross over the Yalu into Manchuria. It would be of exceptional advantage to the correctness of appreciation did he cross over the Yalu on the heels of a hostile and alien army.

War is to-day the final arbiter in the affairs of men, and it is as yet the final test of the worthwhile-ness of peoples. Tested thus, the Korean fails. He lacks the nerve to remain when a strange army crosses his land. The few goods and chattels he may have managed to accumulate he puts on his back, along with his doors and windows, and away he heads for his mountain fastnesses. Later he may return, sans goods, chattels, doors, and windows, impelled by insatiable curiosity for a “look see.” But it is curiosity merely — a timid, deerlike curiosity. He is prepared to bound away on his long legs at the first hint of danger or trouble.

Northern Korea was a desolate land when the Japanese passed through. Villages and towns were deserted. The fields lay untouched. There was no ploughing nor sowing, no green things growing. Little or nothing was to be purchased. One carried one’s own food with him, and food for horses and servants was the anxious problem that waited at the day’s end. In many a lonely village not an ounce nor a grain of anything could be brought, and yet there might be standing around scores of white-garmented, stalwart Koreans, smoking yard-long pipes and chattering, chattering — ceaselessly chattering. Love, money, or force could not procure from them a horseshoe or a horseshoe nail.

“Upso,” was their invariable reply. “Upso,” cursed word, which means “Have not got.”


The Korean is the perfect type of inefficiency — of utter worthlessness. The Chinese is the perfect type of industry. For sheer work no worker in the world can compare with him. Work is the breath of his nostrils. It is his solution of existence. It is to him what wandering and fighting in far lands and spiritual adventure have been to other peoples. Liberty to him epitomizes itself in access to the means of toil. To till the soil and labor interminably with rude implements and utensils is all he asks of life and of the powers that be. Work is what he desires above all things, and he will work at anything for anybody.


The late disturbance in the Far East marked the clashing of the dreams, for the Slav, too, is dreaming greatly. Granting that the Japanese can hurl back the Slav and that the two great branches of the Anglo- Saxon race do not despoil him of his spoils, the Japanese dream takes on substantiality. Japan’s population is no larger because her people have continually pressed against the means of subsistence. But given poor, empty Korea for a breeding colony and Manchuria for a granary, and at once the Japanese begins to increase by leaps and bounds.

Even so, he would not of himself constitute a Brown Peril. He has not the time in which to grow and realize the dream. He is only forty-five millions, and so fast does the economic exploitation of the planet hurry on the planet’s partition amongst the Western peoples that, before he could attain the stature requisite to menace, he would see the Western giants in possession of the very stuff of his dream.

The menace to the Western world lies, not in the little brown man, but in the four hundred millions of yellow men should the little brown man undertake their management. The Chinese is not dead to new ideas; he is an efficient worker; makes a good soldier, and is wealthy in the essential materials of a machine age. Under a capable management he will go far. The Japanese is prepared and fit to undertake this management. Not only has he proved himself an apt imitator of Western material progress, a sturdy worker, and a capable organizer, but he is far more fit to manage the Chinese than are we. The baffling enigma of the Chinese character is no baffling enigma to him. He understands as we could never school ourselves nor hope to understand. Their mental processes are largely the same. He thinks with the same thought-symbols as does the Chinese, and he thinks in the same peculiar grooves. He goes on where we are balked by the obstacles of incomprehension. He takes the turning which we cannot perceive, twists around the obstacle, and, presto! is out of sight in the ramifications of the Chinese mind where we cannot follow.

The Chinese has been called the type of permanence, and well he has merited it, dozing as he has through the ages. And as truly was the Japanese the type of permanence up to a generation ago, when he suddenly awoke and startled the world with a rejuvenescence the like of which the world had never seen before. The ideas of the West were the leaven which quickened the Japanese; and the ideas of the West, transmitted by the Japanese mind into ideas Japanese, may well make the leaven powerful enough to quicken the Chinese.

We have had Africa for the Africander, and at no distant day we shall hear “Asia for the Asiatic!” Four hundred million indefatigable workers (deft, intelligent, and unafraid to die), aroused and rejuvenescent, managed and guided by forty-five million additional human beings who are splendid fighting animals, scientific and modern, constitute that menace to the Western world which has been well named the “Yellow Peril.” The possibility of race adventure has not passed away. We are in the midst of our own. The Slav is just girding himself up to begin. Why may not the yellow and the brown start out on an adventure as tremendous as our own and more strikingly unique?


Back of our own great race adventure, back of our robberies by sea and land, our lusts and violences and all the evil things we have done, there is a certain integrity, a sternness of conscience, a melancholy responsibility of life, a sympathy and comradeship and warm human feel, which is ours, indubitably ours, and which we cannot teach to the Oriental as we would teach logarithms or the trajectory of projectiles. That we have groped for the way of right conduct and agonized over the soul betokens our spiritual endowment. Though we have strayed often and far from righteousness, the voices of the seers have always been raised, and we have harked back to the bidding of conscience. The colossal fact of our history is that we have made the religion of Jesus Christ our religion. No matter how dark in error and deed, ours has been a history of spiritual struggle and endeavor. We are preeminently a religious race, which is another way of saying that we are a right-seeking race.

“What do you think of the Japanese?” was asked an American woman after she had lived some time in Japan. “It seems to me that they have no soul,” was her answer.


No great race adventure can go far nor endure long which has no deeper foundation than material success, no higher prompting than conquest for conquest’s sake and mere race glorification. To go far and to endure, it must have behind it an ethical impulse, a sincerely conceived righteousness. But it must be taken into consideration that the above postulate is itself a product of Western race-egotism, urged by our belief in our own righteousness and fostered by a faith in ourselves which may be as erroneous as are most fond race fancies. So be it. The world is whirling faster to-day than ever before. It has gained impetus. Affairs rush to conclusion. The Far East is the point of contact of the adventuring Western people as well as of the Asiatic. We shall not have to wait for our children’s time nor our children’s children. We shall ourselves see and largely determine the adventure of the Yellow and the Brown.

–Jack London,
June, 1904.


Indeed, Mr. Jack London. So be it.


2 thoughts on “Upso !

  1. Glad you posted that….I haven’t read London in 30 years.
    Incidentally, I have some London essays that he wrote about his adventures surfing in Hawaii. I’ll have to dig them out and re-read them. Best, Jeff

  2. Hi Jeff,

    I’m not sure, but my feelings towards Jack London and his writings may be somewhat different from yours…

    My post above may not have conveyed that adequately.
    Here is a reference to another of London’s writings which should make it quite clear just how I feel about him.
    (I actually disdained to post this reference earlier, because I thought this piece of writing is too distasteful, both for the story’s subjects as well as for the writer himself.)

    Full text of the story “The Unparalleled Invasion”:

    Wiki description of the story:

    I was thinking that the above quoted essay, “The Yellow Peril”, while milder than “The Unparalleled Invasion”, is already rather offensive reading, and would suffice in painting just the kind of character Jack London was.

    There are many words to describe someone like London. But we don’t have to use them here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s