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South Korea’s Ministry of Education announced on October 12 that the history textbooks used by high schools and junior high schools are to be changed to government-issued textbooks in 2017. At the same time, the government will ban textbooks written by private publishers.

The news has aroused controversy in the society. Opposing parties, students and scholars have criticized the government for distorting the history of South Korea, accusing the government for being against the democracy. More than 60 thousand professors disapprove the government’s actions, along with dozens of university students, labor unions and religious and social movement organizations. Many citizens and student groups have taken to the streets and were driven away by the police.

Liberty Times reports, South Korean Vice Prime Minister and Education Minister, Hwang Woo-yea says that in order to allow future generations to establish “the correct concept of the nation and its history," the government will issue textbooks based on the spirit of the Constitution and objective truths.

Hwang emphasizes that the government-issued textbooks can correct the wrong descriptions of historical truths and eliminate controversy aroused by the prejudice rooted in the current history textbooks.

UDN reports, South Korea has adopted textbooks issued by private publishers and validated by the country since 2011. Except for elementary schools, there are eight publishers issuing self-edited textbooks for junior high schools and high schools to freely choose one out of the eight versions.

Student groups say that one single version of history textbooks is trying to standardize the minds of students. They say the government-issued textbooks give power to the government to interfere with historical interpretation and teaching.

Liberty Times reports that the 128 parliament members of the largest opposition party, New Politics Alliance for Democracy’s (NPAD), have proposed to remove the Minister of Education, criticizing the government for ignoring the truth that the majority of the society disapproves the policy.

Moon Jae-in, leader of NPAD, says that adopting government-issued textbooks is to glorify the pro-Japanese ideology and to be in favor with the regime by viewing the dictatorship as the South Korean-style democracy. However, since the ruling Saenuri Party takes more than half of the seats in the parliament, the chance for the proposal to pass is slim.

Liberty Times reports, on October 13, South Korean President Park Geun-hye stressed the importance of a correct historical education, saying that it should not be subject to political or ideological conflicts. This is the first time Park has publicly expressed her position regarding the controversial history textbook issue.

Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像

Photo Credit: Reuters

Throughout the years, there has been a fierce debate on how to narrate the modern history of South Korea, including the Japanese colonization period in the early 20th century and the military despotism period led by Park Geun-hye’s father, Park Chung-hee.

The Seoul-based Center for Historical Truth and Justice’s main researcher Park Han-yong says that Park Chung-hee launched a military coup in the past and now his daughter is launching a coup on history education.

Translated by Vic Chiang
Edited by Olivia Yang