A Textbook Alternative to the Historical Leftist View

[imText1]The Textbook Forum of the New Right Party has just finished a three-year project culminating with the publication of a textbook called, “Alternative Textbook, South Korean Modern History” (Kiparang publishers). After identifying what it calls a problem of leftist bias in existing South Korean textbooks, the Textbook Forum decided to produce an alternative publication, generating significant attention.

The forum claims the need for an alternative textbook because current textbooks negatively depict South Korea’s 60-year history since liberation from Japanese colonialism. The most significant characteristic of the alternative textbook is that it emphasizes the “legitimacy” of the establishment of the South Korean government in 1948 saying the true meaning of Korea’s Liberation that it bought freedom, human rights, and the market economy, all of which were oppressed under colonial rule.

Furthermore, in contrast with current textbooks, the alternative textbook clearly shifts the responsibility for the division of the Korean nation to the North, saying that the North was first to pursue the establishment of an exclusive government. “In September 1945, after Stalin ordered the establishment of the North Korean military dictatorship, North Korea’s provisional People’s Committee carried out land reform, the substance of which was seizure of private land and its redistribution.”

The textbook neglects the role played by the South in escalating tensions around the 38th parallel which preceded the Korean War, stating “The June 25th War (Korean War) was clearly started with the invasion of the South by Northern forces.”

On the other hand, existing textbooks portray the main responsibility for the division on the U.S. Armed Forces and the South Korean founding powers, including the first President Rhee Syungman.

The alternative textbook states that based on Soviet official documents released after the collapse of USSR, “The Korean War was a war which preserved freedom and human rights after the military invasion to communize South Korea by the North and international Communist powers.” It insists that the War occurred as a result of the decision by Stalin and Mao Zedong after a series of proposals by Kim Il Sung.

The Textbook forum argues that existing textbooks describe South Korean society as being born out of the struggle to realize independence from American colonialism

The Alternative Textbook Forum took a critical stance toward North Korea saying current textbooks do not go far enough. “Current textbooks have described North and South Korea’s modern history of the last 60 years with relatively equal importance. These textbooks lack criticism of the repressive regime and the dire human rights situation.”

Additionally, the Alternative Textbook positively evaluates the founding powers, including former President Rhee to establish a country. While stipulating the May 16th Incident as “a coup d’etat by a portion of the military powers which illegally overthrew the government established through constitutional law,” it assesses the period under the Park Chung Hee dictatorship as the starting point of South Korea’s rapid process of economic development.

While describing the Japanese colonial government as “a violent and repressive regime which denied the political autonomy of Korea,” it held a different perspective from the currently recognized view giving credit to the colonial rulers for initiating industrial development in Korea.

The Textbook Forum stated that, “existing textbooks’ modern history of South Korea have adopted the Korean nation-based history, considering the founding of the Republic of Korea (ROK) as an unfortunate event. They have looked at the 60 years of South Korea’s founding history from a negative perspective and parsimoniously evaluated the phase-by-phase growth and progress in the ROK’s politics, society, economics, and culture.

“They have tried to understand the founding history as the history of the democratization movement of the masses and the nation linked by the April 19th Revolution (1960), the students’ anti-government movement against the Rhee administration, June 3rd (1964), which is the movement against South Korea-Japan Summit to make a diplomatic relations, May 18th (1980), the Kwangju Uprising, and June 10th (1987), the national-wide democratization movement to achieve a direct presidential election system. As a result, the entire process of the founding history has not been embraced.”

With the publication of the Alternative Textbook at hand, there will likely be friction between the Alternative Textbook Forum and related organizations who disagree with its depiction of South Korean contemporary history. The Textbook Forum has expressed that moving forward, it will engage in a process of discussion and adjustment regarding the criticism it receives saying, “We do not believe that our understanding of facts and history is complete.”

The following people contributed to the production of the textbook: Lee Young Hoon, Seoul National University Professor; Kim Jae Ho, Chonnam University Professor; Ju Ik Jong, Naksungdae Economic Research Institute Researcher; Kim Yong Jik, Sungshin Women’s University Professor; Kim Il Young, Sungkyunkwan University Professor; Kim Young Ho, Sungshin Women’s University Professor; Kim Gwang Dong, National Policy Institute Researcher; Kim Seh Jung, Yonsei University Professor; Kim Jong Suk, Hongik University Professor; Jun Sang In, Seoul National University Professor; and Kim Young Hwan, editorial member for “Zeitgeist.”

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