South Korea opens new front in East Asian textbook wars

Historians in the News
tags: South Korea, history wars



A 17-year-old Korean girl tortured to death for opposing Japanese colonial rulers nearly a century ago has become the latest touchstone of the nationalism that is shadowing Asia's economic rise.

Yu Gwansun became known as Korea's Joan of Arc after she lost her parents and was imprisoned during a 1919 uprising against Japan's 1910-1945 colonization. South Korean Education Minister Hwang Woo-yea wants to know why she doesn't appear in half of the nation's newly approved high-school history textbooks. He's considering putting the government in charge of writing history.

Textbooks have become part of the front line in East Asia's propaganda war as recent administration changes in China, Japan and Korea see leaders fomenting nationalism to bolster their hold on power. In South Korea's schools, history books shape the attitude of the next generation not only toward neighboring countries but also of the legacy of former dictator Park Chung-hee, the current president's father.

"In Asia, textbooks are already nationalistic enough," Robert Kelly, a professor of political science and international relations at Pusan National University in South Korea, said by email. "The last thing the region needs is officially sanctioned government histories that neighbors will inevitably call propaganda."

Economic growth has been the catalyst for the increasing war of words in a region where U.S. military dominance is being challenged, said Rana Mitter, a professor of modern Chinese history at Oxford University in England....




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