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Conservatives update leftist history classic

Feb 08,2006
A new history book by a conservative group of scholars was published yesterday, under the title “New Understanding of Post-Liberation History,” in a challenge to the left-leaning classic of the same title, minus “New,” published in 1979. The 1979 publication carried much significance with progressives and left-leaners in society, with its leftist stance on the country’s history after Japanese colonial rule.
The “New” book, a compilation of academic papers, came out after more than a year’s efforts by 28 scholars both in and outside Korea. Rhee Young-hoon, a Seoul National University professor of history and a member of the recently launched New Right group, is one of the initiators of the book. Mr. Rhee in his paper defined the 1979 book as the “background behind the birth of 1980s’ leftist activists and communists.” Mr. Rhee explained that, after reading the 1979 book, leftist activists came to plot a people’s democratic revolution, in alliance with North Korea, against the South Korean government. According to Mr. Rhee, the 1979 book defined South Korea’s first president, Syngman Rhee and his administration as “anti-revolutionary” forces, while considering the North Korean regime of its late leader Kim Il Sung as a base for democracy. Mr. Rhee also criticized Professor Kang Man-gil, currently the Chairman of the Presidential Committee for the Inspection of Collaborations for Japanese Imperialism, for his “nationalistic approach.”
Another featured author, Professor Park Ji-hyang of Seoul National University, wrote in the 2006 book’s foreword, “In early autumn last year, President Roh Moo-hyun commented on the 1979 publication that his blood was flowing backward after reading it. After reading that comment, we have reached a conclusion that we, as history scholars, must not leave such historical understanding at that. If we did nothing about it, it would be a dereliction of our duties.” Professor Park, also a member of the New Right Network with Professor Rhee, said the book was not a “conservative understanding of history.” “What we pursued in the book is not rightist but a balanced view of history,” Professor Park said.
Meanwhile, progressive and left-leaning scholars remained cautious about the new publication yesterday. A professor who was one of the co-authors of the 1979 book said, “I have to review the book first, then try to seek proper ways to deal with it.”
When approached for comment, another professor noted in the liberal camp, Seo Joong-seok, also said he had not yet read the book.


by Oh Byung-sang, Bae Young-dae


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