[VIEWPOINT]Mapping the Right Course Requires Work

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[VIEWPOINT]Mapping the Right Course Requires Work

As a young child, one of my favorite and most interesting toys was a globe that my father had bought me on an overseas business trip. It was a great fun for me as a boy to compare the shapes of countries drawn on the sphere with those represented on maps in school textbooks. Also interesting was to check which countries were big and which were small among the "advanced" countries that we, Koreans, envied so much at the time.

To me, Brazil seemed to be the world's most formidable country with the greatest potential to become a superpower: Not only did it have an enormous landmass, but its inhabitants were exceedingly talented at soccer.

Of course, all that amusement required more than anything else that I quickly acquire knowledge of the Roman script, so I could decipher how each constituent of the world was spelled in English and identify it. My father must have bought me a globe written in English intentionally, with this fact in mind. However, I was not old enough to detect his ulterior motive until later.

Spinning the globe one way and then the other, I indulged myself in understanding why it was daytime in Korea when it is night in the United States. I found enormous satisfaction in comprehending why Australian time is much closer to that of Korea, while U.S. time is the opposite to Korea's, After all, to me Australia was as far away as the United States.

One day, I was spinning my spherical toy around, examining it bit by bit, faltering over the tiny print. All of a sudden, an unfamiliar name caught my eye. "The Sea of Japan," it read, and it was placed where East Sea, the English equivalent of the Korean word "Donghae," was supposed to be.

Right away, I began to ask grown-ups why, and got these answers. We Koreans call it Donghae, but the Japanese call it the Sea of Japan. The reason why there was no Donghae on the globe, and why there was a Sea of Japan in its place, was that Japan was richer than Korea, and thus could afford to spend a lot more on international public relations.

Thirty years have passed since then. During that time, Korea has made such great economic strides that it can boast of its industrialization to many other countries with perfect legitimacy. Yes, it once had to go hat in hand to the International Monetary Fund for a bailout due to a temporary shortage of foreign exchange, but it has accomplished a dazzling development from the time when I was playing with the globe. Today's Korea is certainly ahead, politically and economically, of the Japan that existed when I was young or when Tokyo hosted the 1964 Olympics.

Nevertheless, I cannot help feeling gloomy about the paucity of the world's knowledge when it comes to matters other than our economic achievement. Obvious-ly any systematic campaign to correct this on Korea's part is failing. Are there that many more globes that read "East Sea" than read "Sea of Japan"? I cannot prove it, but I am quite sure that there are not.

We do not understand yet how important it is to let foreigners know about our culture and history. It has become clear that the school textbooks of some Southeast Asian nations contain false information about Korea's history.

Influenced by Japan's colonialist view of history, the textbooks depict Korea's history as a part of that of China or Japan.

Our fickle reaction to Japan's whitewashing of its wartime atrocities does not help our image. We may condemn Japan for intentionally distorting Korea's history. But we cannot denounce other countries for having faulty information about it in their textbooks.

That only makes it even more imperative to launch a well-organized, public relations effort for Korea. In the same vein, the status and role of the Korea Foundation should be beefed up. Abolishing the government subsidy for the foundation is the last thing Korea should do.


The writer is a professor of sociology at Yonsei University.

by Lew Seok-choon

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