Textbooks do disservice to March 1 movement

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Textbooks do disservice to March 1 movement

History textbooks in Korea and Japan are still riddled with inaccuracies in their descriptions of Korea’s March 1 Independence Movement 96 years ago, the catalysis of Korea’s fight against Japan’s colonial rule (1910-1945).

Rep. Han Sun-kyo, a lawmaker of the ruling Saenuri Party, told the JoongAng Ilbo on Thursday that he analyzed Korean and Japanese history textbooks he received from the Seoul-based think tank Northeast Asian History Foundation and Korea’s Ministry of Education and found the results troubling.

He said a “considerable number of Japanese history textbooks are distorting the facts or minimizing the significance of the March 1 Independence Movement.”

March 1, 1919, remains a touchstone of Korean nationalism as the day when activists declared Korea’s independence and triggered large-scale peaceful demonstrations against Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945).

One Japanese middle school history textbook published by Jiyusa says the March 1 independence movement in Seoul “initially was planned as a non-violent rally but gradually became a large-scale movement,” and that “the army was mobilized and because of a clash on both sides, there were many casualties.”

Another high school history textbook, published by Tokyo Shoseki, said, “There were females that participated in the independence movement, including students and geisha (gisaeng, Korean traditional female entertainers).” The description was published next to a picture of a Korean female student.

Korea has been alarmed by Japanese right-wingers’ historical revisionism, which glosses over or denies wartime aggressions and trivializes the victims of its colonial rule over Korea.

Another Japanese middle school history textbook shared space on the same page to describe the March movement and Japanese art critic Muneyoshi Yanagi (1889-1961), the founder of the Mingei Japanese folk art movement in the late 1920s to 1930s. Yanagi had great appreciation of Joseon Dynasty Art.

Han said, “It appears that [the textbook] is trying to introduce Joseon-friendly figures with the intent of glossing over Japan’s brutalities.”

But Han added that Korean history textbooks also have inaccuracies, and there are many cases where they “describe the non-violent March 1 movement as violent” or do not mention key events or figures such as Yoo Gwan-soon’s martyrdom.

Sunday was the 96th anniversary of the March 1 movement.

“As we mark the 96th anniversary, the need for accurate history education is more urgent than ever,” Han said.

A high school history textbook released by publisher GoldStar said that protesters “gradually showed violence.”

According to Han’s study, half of the eight Korean high school history textbooks inaccurately described the independence movement as being “violent.” Three other textbooks failed to describe the movement adequately.

He found that only one publisher, Chunjae Education, explained the movement accurately and in detail. “As time passed, the protests grew more intense and military and police fired at people during the demonstrations, leading to deaths,” it said.

The text emphasized, “The demonstrations were highly regarded internationally for holding to the principle of non-violence while trying to express resistance to Japanese imperialism.”

Han also found that only one publisher, Jihak Publishing, described the patriot Yoo in its text. In contrast, four out of seven Japanese contemporary history textbooks included Yoo.

Yoo (1902-1920) was a prominent independence movement activist who was one of the organizers of the March 1 movement. She eventually faced torture at the hands of Japanese officers and died in prison in September 1920.

BY LEE KA-YOUNG, SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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