Man Behind 'Guidebook' Is Trove of Korean History

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Man Behind 'Guidebook' Is Trove of Korean History

Chung Kyung-cho was a student when he first left Korea from Inchon harbor on a U.S. military transport ship. It took him 18 seasick days to cross the Pacific Ocean and dock in San Francisco. Now 80, a well respected author and an advocate of peace who says he has twice rejected Nobel Prize nominations, Mr. Chung made another brief return to Korea to meet representatives of Bumwoosa, the Korean publishers of his new edition of "The Korea Guidebook," which is published by Houghton Mifflin in English.

"Everyone thought I was Chinese," says Mr. Chung, who is an America citizen, recalling his days as a student at Columbia University in New York. Korea was unheard of, partly because Japan never allowed acknowledgement of Korea's existence as a separate country. A Chinese woman asked him out because he was a dashing six-feet tall fellow, he says with a chuckle, and because she assumed he was Chinese. From that moment, he decided he had to write about Korea.

The history of his books is like a time line of formative events in Korea. Mr. Chung's first book was published by Macmillan Publishers in the mid-1950s. The Korean War had just broken out and Korea was thrust into the international spotlight. "Korea Tomorrow" fed the frenzy for information about Korea.

The interest his book aroused in the public, especially from political figures, and the subsequent cease-fire led him to realize that the pen was indeed mightier than the sword. It also conceived his mission to write books for Korean peace.

His next book, "New Korea," came on the heels of student demonstrations against President Syngman Rhee's government in 1961.

"Korea; The Third Republic" was the fruit of a discussion with President Park Chung Hee. President Park wanted Mr. Chung to arrange a photo session with President Richard Nixon to use as propaganda: the picture was supposed to create an image that the United States supported President Park's fourth term. Mr. Chung, who opposed the dictatorship refused and published "Korea, The Third Republic" in the 1970s.

In "Korea; The Third Republic," Mr. Chung says he draws a parallel between the political climates of South Korea and South America: leaders greedy for a fourth term tended to be assassinated in the latter. President Park "ran" for a fourth term. "What happened? Someone assassinated him [President Park]," Mr. Chung says.

Mr. Chung wrote an editorial for the New York Times advocating the unification of Korea and was decried as pro-Communist by many Koreans. There was even a background check done on him to ensure that he was indeed an American citizen and not punishable by Korean law. Soon afterwards, the United States and Korean governments opened up a dialogue about reunification.

"The Korea Guidebook" was published in 1988 to commemorate the Olympics. The newest edition is being published to mark Visit Korea Year 2001 and World Cup 2002.

by Joe Yong-hee

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