History textbooks get new terms

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History textbooks get new terms

South Korea’s government said Thursday it will change the definition of its national and political system from a “free democracy” to simply “democracy” in its new guidance for secondary school history textbooks.

In its revised guidance for history textbooks to be used by middle and high school students from 2020, the Ministry of Education also changed 1948 from being the founding year of the Republic of Korea to being the founding year of the government of the Republic of Korea.

So far, domestic history textbooks have used both “free democracy” and “democracy” as terms defining the identity of the nation’s political system.

“In most history textbooks and educational curriculums, the expression ‘democracy’ alone has been used. ‘Liberal democracy’ has a narrow meaning, as it means only parts of various elements implied by ‘democracy,’ such as freedom, equality, human rights and welfare,” a ministry official said.

Conservatives have contended that the removal of “free” from “free democracy” could lead to mistaken interpretations, such as “social democracy” or “people’s democracy,” whereas liberals have insisted that “democracy” is a more neutral term.

Regarding the changed definition of the modern nation’s founding, the ministry explained that clarifying August 15, 1948, as the day of the foundation of South Korea’s government is meant to respect the legitimacy of the provisional Korean government set up during Japan’s colonial rule in 1919 and the history of Korea’s independence movements.

In a related and controversial move, the revised textbook guidance will say nothing about South Korea being “the only legitimate government on the Korean Peninsula.”

The current textbook guidance states it is noted that the government of the Republic of Korea is the sole legitimate government of the Korean Peninsula authorized by the UN.

But the revised guidance simply compares the systemic characteristics of the respective governments in South and North Korea, without calling the South’s government the “sole legitimate” administration.

The ministry said the revised guidance could be subject to changes at an educational curriculum screening committee meeting slated for next month after its administrative notice period from June 22 to July 12.

“The government will collect and reflect as many public opinions as possible before finalizing the new textbook guidance in late July,” a ministry official said.

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