AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

A textbook from the South Korean New Right

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, November 7, 2009

RECENT ACTIVITY in the Comments section has prompted me to present a summary of a longer article sent to me some months ago by Prof. Shimojo. It is not part of his recent series of short essays, but it is worth reading for the information it presents. Here is my very quick translation.

*****
A Textbook from the South Korean New Right

In March last year, the Textbook Forum of South Korea, consisting primarily of economists, published the Proposed Textbook of South Korean Recent and Modern History. This textbook has attracted attention both inside the country and overseas because its view of recent South Korean history is not based on the theory of Japan’s colonization of Korea as an illegal seizure of territory. Rather, it offers (to a certain extent) a positive evaluation of Japan’s role in the modernization of the country. For that reason, it is viewed in some quarters as a Korean version of the New History Textbook published in Japan. That is why it was subjected to a concentrated attack by the Left.

At just that time, a new conservative government took power in South Korea that emphasized a practical relationship with Japan rather than the issues of the past. The publication of this textbook portends the advent of a new period for the historical problems of Japanese-Korean relations. Therefore, let us consider how best to deal with those historical problems as we refer to this textbook of the New Right.

The creation of the Textbook Forum

The preface of the proposed textbook states that the Textbook Forum was created in 2005. On 16 March that year, Shimane Prefecture passed an ordinance establishing Takeshima Day, which inflamed nationalist passions in South Korea. It was also a period in which historical issues were brought to the forefront. Then-President Roh Moo-hyon made historical problems a matter of national policy and established the Presidential Commission on True History for Peace in Northeast Asia. That resulted in the emergence of a narrow-minded nationalism in South Korea, and the forces of the Left gained strength. This trend was accelerated by a special law passed by the Roh Administration in 2004 that enabled the investigation of collaborators with the Japanese during the colonization period. Thus began a period of research into the past.

At the same time, Shimane Prefecture passed an ordinance declaring Takeshima Day and commemorated the 100th anniversary of the incorporation of the islets into the prefecture. Opposition to these moves erupted in South Korea. The backdrop to this opposition was the South Korean historical view, formed in the 1950s, that Takeshima represented the first territory sacrificed in Japan’s invasion of the Korean Peninsula. However, then Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon (now UN Secretary-General) took the stance that the Takeshima issue was of greater importance than the bilateral Japanese-Korean relationship itself. President Roh also declared that the claim of sovereignty over Dokdo (Takeshima) constituted a “second invasion”. Thus, historical issues became a matter of South Korean foreign policy.

This further inflamed nationalist sentiment in South Korea, for which Prof. Emeritus Han Sung-joo of Korea University paid with his reputation. At that time, Prof. Han had written an article for the April 2005 issue of Seiron titled, “The Stupidity of the Condemnation of the Japan-Friendly Faction, Stemming from Communist and Left-Wing Thought”. In the article, he argued for a reexamination of the merger between Japan and Korea. The university stripped him of his title, and his vilification as a pro-Japanese professor spread to campuses throughout the nation. The previous year, in 2004, Prof. Lee Yeong-hun, a central figure in the Textbook Forum, published The Latter Joseon Period Reexamined from the Perspective of Quantitative Economic History. That prompted a reevaluation of Japan’s colonization and merger. The Textbook Forum was founded in this environment.

A different approach

In South Korea, the new proposed text was viewed as a Korean version of the New History Textbook. Since the textbook problems of 1982, however, Japan’s Neighboring Nation Clause has permitted interference from China and South Korea. In regard to the Tsukuru-kai’s New History Textbook, the self-restraint in the writing of textbooks has limited efforts to championing the cause of the liberal view of history.

The dispute over textbooks in South Korea, however, originated in the South Korean nationalist view of history that arose during the negotiations for the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries, which began in 1952. This is rooted in the intellectual conflict between Left and Right. It was in this context that the Roh Administration employed the issue of historical views as a card in diplomatic relations. In February 2008, the Roh Administration in its final days distributed educational videos both in South Korea and overseas that focused on seven separate issues: the Yasukuni shrine, comfort women, history textbooks, Takeshima, the East Sea, Chinese historical research into its northeastern region, the former Mongolia (which caused an uproar in South Korea), and the border dispute between China and North Korea involving Mt. Changbai. The objective was the Takeshima dispute, however. The aim was to isolate Japan by mobilizing all the historical issues and insisting that the colonization was a Japanese invasion. In 2007, legislatures in the United States, Canada, The Netherlands, and the EU also took up the comfort woman issue after being urged to do so by South Koreans.

Japan, however, views the comfort woman issue as a single issue, and so was unable to respond from a broader perspective. When the problem with history textbooks arose, the Neighboring Nation Clause was adopted. When the issue with comfort women arose, the simplistic response was the Kono Statement. The South Koreans thus extracted commitments from Japan. Both the Koizumi and Abe administrations encouraged the joint study of Japanese-Korean history, but the result could be seen in advance as long as there was a problem with historical views in South Korea.

In this regard, the Textbook Forum’s publication of the Proposed Textbook of South Korean Recent and Modern History represented a different approach—one that did not follow the South Korean historical perspective that viewed history as an invasion by the Japanese.

The Textbook Forum

The Textbook Forum has criticized conventional education in history for its nationalistic view based on a single perspective. The basis for its position is statistics and other data. Prof. Emeritus Park Son-su of the Academy of Korean Studies stated, “The description in the textbook showed that Japan contributed to the improvement and modernization of the Korean colony’s economy, society, and culture.” He was also critical, however, saying “The Japanese colonial government was the worst government, with none other like it in the world.” This is just historical viewpoint speaking, however, and is not historical fact.

In the 1970s, President Park Chug Hee’s Semaul Movement put South Korean agriculture on an independent footing and promoted economic development. President Park used the Japanese colonial administration as his point of reference for this movement. Past textbooks denied those successes, however, because the Park Administration was a military dictatorship, and he was considered friendly toward Japan.

That Park Geun Hye, a presidential candidate of the Grand National Party, is his oldest daughter was another factor in the political use of history. South Korea’s historical disputes are extremely political.

Park Geun Hye praised the Proposed Textbook of South Korean Recent and Modern History, saying, “It highlights the problems with current textbooks.” The South Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry has presented to the Ministry of Education a proposal to revise the current textbooks. Thus, through the recognition of diverse values, the waves of democratization are beginning to break over South Korean history textbooks.

*****
Afterwords: Long-time readers know I am loathe to use the expression Right Wing or any of its permutations because its meaning became degraded beyond any practical use years ago. I asked Prof. Shimojo about the use of the term New Right, and he answered that the term is used in South Korea itself. Therefore, I used it here.

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3 Responses to “A textbook from the South Korean New Right”

  1. kushibo said

    There are a number of questionable items in this, not that they necessarily undermine the entire point of the article.

    Then-President Roh Moo-hyon made historical problems a matter of national policy and established the Presidential Commission on True History for Peace in Northeast Asia. That resulted in the emergence of a narrow-minded nationalism in South Korea, and the forces of the Left gained strength.

    They didn’t gain strength; their support went into the toilet. The question was whether the plummeting approval ratings were because of this impractical “diplomatic war” or despite it; or how much the decision to declare “diplomatic war” was to salvage Roh’s beleaguered administration, and how little it helped.

    President Park used the Japanese colonial administration as his point of reference for this movement. Past textbooks denied those successes, however, because the Park Administration was a military dictatorship, and he was considered friendly toward Japan.

    I don’t know what this author is getting on about. The successes of the Park Administration are well-known, as is his Japanese connection (the film “President’s Last Bang” even pokes fun at this). The controversy over Park is not his Japanese connection, but whether adulation is owed to someone who saved Korea economically and engineered its rise but who ruled with an iron fist. And that leads to the next one…

    This trend was accelerated by a special law passed by the Roh Administration in 2004 that enabled the investigation of collaborators with the Japanese during the colonization period. Thus began a period of research into the past.

    I think this description is misleading because of the narrow focus it presents. The laws in fact were focusing on those who benefited unethically (financially in particular) from what are commonly seen in South Korea as illegitimate regimes. This would include not only the Japanese colonial administration and their collaborators, but also those in the military regimes that followed.

    At any rate, the author, or anyone focusing on this, would do well to understand the dynamics behind the left-wing players in this issue (or most other issues), because it goes a long way toward informing the response from “progressives” and the power they wield to silence moderate voices in Korea that would seek a more future-minded approach despite disagreement, à la Kim Daejung and Keizō Obuchi.

  2. Pragmatic said

    I’m hearing a lot of news that the current Lee Myungbak government might collapse within a year. Of course, the New Right movement isn’t welcomed by the majority of South Korean citizens mostly because of the unbalanced power issues and inconvenient economy policies (esp. the four river issue) proposed by the National Assembly. When it comes to South Korea, it’s almost always about nationalism. But hey, South Koreans in general have a dual attitude about nationalism: they praise it and they despise it simultaneously. Just focusing on nationalism in South Korea is totally wrong; more serious issues are not even about nationalism in reality.

  3. bender said

    Long-time readers know I am loathe to use the expression Right Wing or any of its permutations because its meaning became degraded beyond any practical use years ago.

    This is a good point, as Bill probably knows, being branded a “right wing” or “nationalist” in Japan is pretty much a death sentence for public relations, much like how the accusation of being “racist” is in the U.S.

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