The Marmot's Hole

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Tag: Korean History

Textbook Wars!

Pity Kyohak Publishing—due to public pressure, only one school in the country (Cheongsong Girls’ High School in Gyeongsangbuk-do, for those keeping score at home) has adopted its controversial history textbook.

Another school in Jeonju, of all places, dropped the book after initially planning to use it.

Needless to say, not everyone’s happy about this. The Ministry of Culture in particular is upset that many schools seem to be abandoning the book due to “outside pressure,” warning that said pressure “hampers the independence of concerned schools.” Conservatives in general have long looked askance at the campaign against Kyohak’s textbook. I suppose in this day and age academic institutions are the last place to look for ideological diversity.

Still, as the Hankyoreh notes, Korea’s not the only country where right-wing textbooks that whitewash history have experience low adoption rates:

“In Japan, the selection rate for the so-called ‘Fusosha textbook’ was just 0.039% when the controversy erupted over its distorted accounts of history,” said Ha Il-sik, a professor of ancient Korean history at Yonsei University. “In other words, this textbook that whitewashed Japan‘s history of colonialism and painted its invasions of other countries in positive terms had a less than 1% selection rate even in Japan.”

As I’ve said earlier, I haven’t read the Kyohak textbook itself. I’ve read what other people have written about the Kyohak textbook, and while I’m inclined to agree there are some problematic parts, I’m also inclined to say I’d probably agree more with its historical viewpoint than that of its most ardent opponents. But that’s just me.

An interesting byproduct of this has been calls in—sit down for this—the Saenuri Party to bring back state-authored history textbooks:

In a bid to prevent controversy from spreading further, leaders of the ruling Saenuri Party said Wednesday that it was time to consider the reintroduction of a state history textbook.

“If (history) textbooks become a cause for public discord and create unnecessary conflict, it is time to seriously discuss a possible return to state textbooks, at least for future generations,” said ruling party floor leader Choi Kyoung-hwan.

Seoul’s education chief Moon Yong-lin essentially agreed to the proposal.

“If a dispute over a certain textbook intensifies, we cannot but think that we may need a state textbook,” he said.

If you believe that one of the functions of public education is to help build a sense of national identity, I suppose you might not find this such a bad idea. Still, as one newscaster noted recently, few developed countries use state-authored textbooks anymore. The fact that the ruling party lawmaker he was talking to cited Russia, Vietnam and—best of all—North Korea as models to follow (to much online derision) probably says a lot.

Park Tae-joon Passes On

Quite a coincidence really, i was just at dinner with some K friends and we started talking about the old days, and because they were of the older generation so I knew that they would know what I was speaking of, I told them of how I used to work for POSCO back in the dramatic year 1987, and met Park Tae-joon several times in various adventures; had not told those stories in years, it just came-up. Then I come home and find out that he died today at 84…. R.I.P.

I consider him one of the great men of Korea’s late-20th-Century industrial development, accomplished something truly amazing, with few peers (include POSTECH in that, too). He got involved in politics in the early 90s, probably never should have; but it doesn’t really tarnish his legacy. I admired him, felt honored to have worked there, still think of him as one of the really good leaders of that era. Don’t think i’m anywhere near alone on that…

If there is a tomb by next spring, I will visit it.

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