ROK Drop

Avatar of GI KoreaBy on March 25th, 2008 at 9:00 pm

Korean History Textbook Controversy Returns

Another Korean textbook controversy is happening again:

A conservative high school history textbook is igniting a fresh round of ideological conflicts as it acknowledges Japanese colonial rule’s (1910-1945) contribution to the modernization of Korea.

The New Rights’ Textforum’s textbook focusing on “modernization” and pragmatism rather than ideology or “ethics” has put a twist on historical events. Historians and civic groups are denouncing the new textbook, calling it a “distortion” of history.

The most controversial parts are its evaluation of Japanese colonial rule and several military juntas. It says, “it was the period where Koreans had the time and chance to get the ability to establish a modern state.” [Bae Ji-sook - Korea Times]

The Japanese did bring modernarity to Korea, but I don’t see how that was giving anyone in Korea a chance to establish their own modern state when they were under colonial rule?  However, here is a statement I can definitely agree with:

The economics expert said, “these days, textbooks are written by leftists. But we wanted to paint a bigger picture of history,” adding that colonials rule should not be judged in black and white.

The colonial rule was definitely not a black and white issue and was much more complex then people make it out to be.  The fairest and most balanced analysis of the colonial period I have read is Hildi Kang’s Under the Black Umbrella which I highly recommend to everyone to read. 

Here is what the new textbooks say about former South Korean strongman Park Chung-hee:

Former President Park Chung-hee was also brought to the fore again.

Park walked a thin line between dictator ? taking hundreds of people’s lives and destroying the country’s democratic process ? versus a great leader who paved the road for Korea to become a strong economy.

Though admitting his advance into politics with the use of the military in 1961 was an illegal coup, the book says Park’s regime gave Korea the chance to strengthen its national defense, and development in the chemicals industry. However, it does not mention Park’s dark side? suppressing protests, which led to hundreds of people’s deaths.

Park Chung-hee did many good things for the nation but they shouldn’t be used as a excuse not to mention the indisputable bad things he has done.  The whitewashing of history by the Korean right makes them no better then the Korean leftists who were doing the same thing under former president Roh Moo-hyun. 

Is it any wonder why Korean students fail national history tests?

  • Surabol
    7:40 am on March 26th, 2008 1

    Park “modernized” the country by driving out the agrarian culture that was still prevalent in the parts of the country. And I believe he sent South Korean soliders to Vietnam in exchange for monetary compenation apparently. He was a US lackey in some way, yet he’s generally revered as an anti communist hero who delivered the country from its backward days.

    My dad (and others believe this apparently) recalls that Park showed up one of the American presidents (Carter?) by storming out of a private meeting. I haven’t been able to verify this event.

  • James Turnbull
    4:52 pm on March 25th, 2008 2

    I'm still in the middle of reading, but while I am, the link to the Korea Times article goes to wrong article. Here's a link to the correct one:

    (Feel free to delete this after you fix the link!)

  • James Turnbull
    5:03 pm on March 25th, 2008 3

    Sorry, in hindisight my link appears to be an editorial about it and not the article you meant. Here's a link to the article:

  • James Turnbull
    5:27 pm on March 25th, 2008 4

    This doesn't very happen very often with things said in the Korean English-language media, but I think that care needs to be taken with EXACTLY what was said:

    "it was the period where Koreans had the time and chance to get the ability to establish a modern state."

    That is NOT the same as saying – to paraphrase your comment – that Koreans were "given a chance to establish their own modern state when under colonial rule." The Japanese certainly DID set up a modern state in colonial Korea, and while it wasn't "Korean" then the structures and bureactatic practices and culture of that state were pretty much all that remained in post-Korean War Korea. Hence the new ROK state was pretty similar to that of 10 years earlier, and often with the same personnel.

    Personally I'm tired of Koreans dismissing modernization under the Japanese because of the destroying of infastructure. "Developmental State" theorists acknowledge that, and most Japanese-built infastructure was in the North anyway. But state structures remained and were important, and it was THESE are what distinguished South Korea from, say, Nigeria and the Phillipines, with similar levels of GDP in 1953. Korea was not a tabula rasa, its future history determined merely by economic indicators.

    I don't know why Korean textbooks can't acknowledge this AND the brutality and mercenary, Japan-centered nature of colonialism, and the dark side of Korea's military regimes AND their developmental and national-security benefits…and then let readers make their minds up for themselves. Like you say, it was not a black-and-white issue, and the fact that it can't be presented as such in Korean school textbooks just goes to show how the issues they raise reflect deep and ongoing divisions still in South Korea today.

  • Sonagi
    1:52 am on March 26th, 2008 5

    This story first appeared in the Korean press a couple of days ago. Missing from the English version is an excerpt on the Gwangju Uprising, which noted that rising anti-Americanism in the 80s was rooted in the belief that the US bore responsibility for the military crackdown. The actual word "responsibility" was used.

    The revised textbook also asserted the liberation was achieved not in 1945 but in 1948 with the establishment of the Republic of Korea, which brought guarantees of universal human rights and freedom. Judging by this passage, the textbook overcorrecting leftism and veering far to the right.

  • GI Korea
    4:17 am on March 26th, 2008 6

    It definitely appears that the Korean far right is doing the same thing the leftists were doing under Roh.

    James thanks to the link for the editorial. I took the wording to mean that Japan was helping Korea to establish their own modern state when it was Japan establishing its own modern state in Korea for its own reasons.

    Surabol I wouldn't classify Park Chung-hee as a US "lackey". I would consider him a US "client" because he definitely did many things independent of what the US wanted him to do. He was a smart, pragmatic, and authoritarian ruler that had more influence in the creation of the ROK then other Korean leader. However, his authoritarian actions should not be overlooked because of the positive things for the nation he achieved.

    Sonagi thanks for adding more clarification of what is in this textbook. This book may even be worse then what the Korean left under Roh published.

  • Surabol
    5:38 am on March 26th, 2008 7

    I meant to say some Koreans now might consider Park a US Lackey.

  • Tom
    2:07 pm on March 26th, 2008 8

    So, by logic, what China is doing in Tibet.. China should stay there and keep modernizing the uncivilized Tibetans, move all the Chinese into Tibet and help the Tibetans. Tibetans should thank China.

  • James Turnbull
    2:23 pm on March 26th, 2008 9

    No Tom, nobody is saying that. It is undeniable that Japan's rule in Korea was cruel and repressive, and that China's is in Tibet today. It's also true that neither country was exactly given a choice over whether they wanted to be colonized either, and both countries would of course have preferred to modernize by themselves. And nothing justifies events in Tibet in recent weeks.

    But the point is that Korea didn't have a state before Japanese colonialsim, but it did after, even though the colonial state was set up entirely for Japan and not Korea's benefit. Denying that serves no useful purpose.

  • James Turnbull
    2:27 pm on March 26th, 2008 10

    Finished that comment too early. I meant to add that that accidental positive side-effect still didn't justify Japanese colonialism, and the possibility of it happening in Tibet doesn't justify the Chinese colonization and absorbtion of Tibet either.

  • Auri frazier
    2:52 pm on December 19th, 2009 11

    Looking to buy S. Korean math textbook, any grade.


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