[THIS WEEK IN HISTORY]Time changes people’s fortunes and attitudesMarch 9, 1979
In the 1970s, an institution called the Christian Academy did more than just teach the Bible. Established in 1972 by a group of “intellectuals” and democracy activists, the academy pursued the education of people of the so-called lower classes to narrow the gap in the established social hierarchy. The programs varied both in their target audiences and in content, and soon attracted a large number of students who discussed labor activism’s role in democracy.
In the eyes of the military regime of then President Park Chung Hee, however, the academy was disturbing and therefore dangerous. To counteract it, a series of incidents happened to the democracy activists.
Around 10 a.m. on this date, Han Myung-sook, whose husband was then serving time in prison for leading a democracy movement, received an unwelcome visit by a man identifying himself only as “Detective Kim.” Without proper explanation, the man took Ms. Han to a police station and, before she knew it, she was put in prison, where she served a two and a half year sentence.
Following Ms. Han, other leading members of the academy were arrested and jailed. The regime later announced that the academy was a de facto underground, illegal communist institution benefiting the enemy ― North Korea. It was a time when outright lies served the all-powerful military regime with consummate ease. In what was later dubbed the “Christian Academy Incident,” a number of activists were put into jail in this fashion.
Today, however, many of the academy members are very active in society, including politics. Ms. Han, for one, served as the minister of gender equality.
March 11, 1954
The novel “Madame Freedom” was never free of controversy. Written by Jeong Bi-seok, the novel was about a professor’s wife having an affair. From the 21st century viewpoint the story wouldn’t raise many eyebrows, but in Korea’s 1950s literary scene the topic was considered almost blasphemous. After Mr. Jeong (1911-1991) started to serialize the novel in a newspaper from Jan. 1 to Aug. 6, 1954, a heated debate took place starting on this date.
The protagonist of the novel, Oh Seon-yeong, is an average, virtuous housewife of the time, who is submissive and always stays at home looking after her husband. When she happens to meet a group of friends, the angelic wife goes astray, doing forbidden things like going to a dance club. There, she falls in love with a young man, who happens to be a student of her husband. Once this happens, she becomes a completely different person, who doesn’t care about anything other than love. The fateful love affair shakes up her once-stable life a great deal. However, after a series of trysts, she “comes back to her senses” and “asks for forgiveness” from her husband, though he happens to be two-timing as well.
The novelist pointed out the winds of change in a society suffering from the turbulence of the Korean War (1950-1953), following liberation from Japanese colonial rule in 1945. Today’s bibliographies define the novel as a satirical review of a maladjusted society in flux, confused with the arrival of things Western, rather than just a simple love story. Critics, however, detested the book, as well as a film based on the novel, directed by Han Hyung-mo, which came out soon after, causing another round of controversy.
They said the novel would lead to the “decaying of public morals of housewives.” One of the leading critics, Hwang San-deok, a professor himself, complained about the description of a professor’s wife in such a “bad” way.
This was countered by people asking just what was a suitable profession for the husband character in the novel. The novel also had supporters, who said, “Things have changed a lot with the passage of time,” “A professor’s wife is also human” and “Old-fashioned, pre-modern ideas should be history now.”
by Chun Su-jin