Embracing our historyThe National Museum of Korean Contemporary History opened Wednesday in Seoul. In the past, Korea opened memorial museums with simpler themes, including the Independence Hall of Korea, the War Memorial of Korea and the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement Memorial. Or the memorials were to remember some presidents such as the former presidents Park Chung Hee, Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung.
The newly opened National Museum of Korean Contemporary History has a great significance because it is a museum featuring Korea’s history since the independence movement from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule. It provides comprehensive and balanced views on the country’s foundation, national defense, industrialization and democratization.
Among the exhibited items are the handwritten documents of the late national independence fighter Ahn Jung-geun, March 1 Declaration of Independence, the Constitution bill, a university student’s diary recording the April 19 Revolution, major documents from the Park Chung Hee administration’s five-year economic development plan, a diary and passport of a Korean miner dispatched to Germany in the 1960s, and a Pony, Korea’s first exported car.
During this year’s presidential election, we saw unprecedented debate surrounding our history. The left fiercely criticized the development-driven dictatorship of Park Chung Hee. Those on the right defended Park’s economic development and attacked the chaos under the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations.
Although Park Geun-hye won the election, it does not mean that her side was vastly superior. Her victory was based on only 51.6 percent of the votes while her liberal rival scored 48 percent, and the tension over historical views still remains high.
Regardless of the outcome, the presidential election left an important lesson: history is a flow with a rush. During her campaign, Park paid respects to all of Korea’s late leaders, including Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, but Moon Jae-in decided to leave out the graves of Syngman Rhee and Park Chung Hee. From the perspective of historical succession and national unity, Moon was cornered throughout the campaign. It signifies that the hearts of Koreans have grown wider to embrace their history. In his speech to mark the opening of the museum, President Lee Myung-bak stressed that we must learn from the old to create the new. The modern history of Korea is a testimony of success and development. The presidential election and the opening of the museum should serve as an opportunity to increase positive awareness of Korea’s contemporary history.