Conservative group's textbook raises hackles

Posted on : 2006-12-01 13:39 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST

Scholars, other New Right groups criticize 'old-style' conservative interpretation of history

The Textbook Forum, a group affiliated with the New Right in South Korean society, has raised controversy with its plan to publish a new history textbook for high school students. Some history scholars have said the book is based on the logic of Japanese rightists.

The Textbook Forum held a symposium on its new book at Seoul National University on November 30, but the symposium was halted because members of civic organizations staged a protest at the symposium, occupying the speaker's platform.

While delivering the keynote speech, Ahn Byong-jik, emeritus professor of Seoul National University and a chief director of the New Right Foundation, said regarding the basic direction of textbook reform, "All of the six history books [currently in use by] high school students were written around the history of movements, such as the independence movement and the pro-democracy movement. We should rewrite modern history beyond the 'history of movements.' ''

According to the final version of the new textbook, the May 16 Military Coup, through which then army general Park Chung-hee took power, "Was a crucial incident which gave birth to a new administrative power that led Korea's industrialization, which was the most important national task at the time. The military regime successfully led the nation's economic development with a strong driving force.'' In contrast, one currently used history book clearly states the incident as a "political coup d'etat,'' in a negative context, and in relation to the Park Chung-hee regime's economic development of Korea, the book says that "he strived for economic development to secure justification of his regime.''

The Textbook Forum's book says the "Yusin'' system, set up by Park Chung-hee in 1972 in the hopes of maintaining his power, was necessary for the strengthening of the government's administrative force. In contrast, one textbook currently in place says that "the Yusin system existed above the Constitution, and it was a dictatorial system advocating a 'Korean-style' democracy," which means that the system operated on the notion that Korea's historical context would not allow it to support a "Western-style" democracy of full political freedom.

The new book played down the April 19 Revolution, which overthrew the dictatorial government of Syngman Rhee in 1960, calling it a "student movement.'' The book says that by using the April 19 Revolution, "student movements emerged as unrestrained power and leftists began to control student activists.'' About the May 18 pro-democracy movement against the military regime of Chun Doo-hwan, the new book says that it was caused by the anger of citizens in Gwangju due to being isolated from power, and that due to it, "anti-U.S. radicalism spread in South Korean society.'' However, the new book is positive about Chun Doo-hwan, saying that he "succeeded in developing the nation,'' refusing to make any judgment on his harsh dictatorial regime.

In response, Professor Han Hong-gu of Sungkonghoe University said, "The currently used textbooks were written based on 20 years of research by modern history scholars. Non-scholars following a conservative track are distorting history according to their ideology. The Textbook Forum applies the Japanese rightists' historical view to its understanding of modern Korean history. The forum's book is a Korean version of the Fusosha books,'' Han noted, referring to the controversial Japanese history texts that glorify Japan's role as colonizer during the imperial period.

Professor Yun Hae-dong of Sungkyunkwan University said "the writers of the new text seemed overwhelmed with the industrialization driven by Park Chunghee and viewed the mordern history in the perspective of the far right. Their view's scheme is tantamount to that of the Japanese desire to expansion."

As the wave of controversy spread following the symposium, some New Right groups including the Liberty Union released a statement against the new textbook, saying that "the Textbook Forum's book does not express the majority opinion of the New Right. A few among the New Right released their opinions as if they represent all New Right groups, without sufficient discussion amongst one another. The facts must be recorded correctly: The May 16 was a coup d'etat, the events of April 19 constituted a revolution, and the Yusin system ruined democracy," they added.

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