Rewriting Korean History

Rewriting Korean History


Secondary schools in Korea currently select their material from 8 different independent history textbook publishers. From February 2017, all secondary schools will only use history textbooks produced and provided by the state. The South Korean education ministry stated that the government issued textbooks will remove “historical errors” and “ideological bias” for the greater good of the country.

All of these books will be banned and be replaced with a single textbook in 2017.

All of these books will be banned and be replaced with a single textbook in 2017.

This is not the first time that the ruling party has been trying to control textbooks. In 2013, the government approved a history textbook which carefully edited Japanese occupation and past president Park Chung-hee to appear less incriminating, and displayed a conservative slant on Korean history. Then in 2014, the government revised 8 history textbooks, claiming that they contained errors. Now they have succeeded in regulating all history textbooks for 2017.

There has been protest against this decision, because people fear that the government will manipulate the minds of students with distorted history. Education is a huge part of life since one is in the system from the age of 5 to 21 (on average). It plays an even bigger part in Korea, as students are consumed with academies and tests in order to compete for jobs. Information is inhaled with such ferocity, that it unconsciously shapes beliefs and thoughts. Could it be that the government is changing books deliberately to influence the new generation of voters and citizens?

Left: Public demonstrations satirize Park Geun Hye. Right: Protesters wear blindfolds which are branded with 'State Textbooks', symbolising how citizens are being blinded by the government.

Left: Public demonstrations satirize Park Geun Hye. Right: Protesters wear blindfolds which are branded with ‘State Textbooks’, symbolising how citizens are being blinded by the government.

Lee Joon Sik, a researcher at the Center For Historical Truth and Justice thinks so. He states that, “The president is trying to extend ruling-party control and recover her father’s lost honour. To do that, she needs to control the students”. Many people believe that the history textbooks are being altered for an obvious purpose. The current South Korean President Park Geun Hye is the daughter of past dictator Park Chung Hee. His dictatorship is a seared into Korean history, and many believe that his daughter is planning to rewrite him into a better light.

Many teachers, students, academics and politicians are unsettled by these changes. 50,000 people have signed petitions against it, and the number is rising every day. Protests, both peaceful and unruly, have been taking place all over the country, aswell as countless online websites and blogs which voice opposition.

Studentsprotested by holding a mock funeral for 'the death of South Korea's history education', by wearing funeral attire and holding signs of mourning.

Studentsprotested by holding a mock funeral for ‘the death of South Korea’s history education’, by wearing funeral attire and holding signs of mourning.

Censorship of history is a slippery slope, but Korea is not the first country to experience it. Britain, America and Japan had controversies regarding biased and skilfully edited history books, which defend certain views and attack opposition.

Although the official manuscript has not been released, people fear that the state’s power is dangerously close to breaching human rights. Even though the internet is available to find the truth, this new law paints a bleak and dystopian picture of Korea’s education. The great George Orwell in his literary masterpiece Nineteen Eighty-Four wrote “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past”. Could this be one step closer towards an omnipresent government?

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