The hopeful early days of South Korea : For the country’s 70th birthday, a look at how it came together

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The hopeful early days of South Korea : For the country’s 70th birthday, a look at how it came together


Above: “The Country They Have All Dreamed Of” exhibition at the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History in central Seoul, has been organized to mark the 70th anniversary of the official establishment of the South Korean government. At top left is curator Noh Seon-hee explaining the exhibit, and at left, metal prints in the fourth section show how people began to speak out and promulgate their opinions in a variety of ways. [YONHAP]

Korean history dates back thousands of years but the history of the Republic of Korea only goes back to 1948, with Syngman Rhee as the country’s first president. The country was still in rubble, trying everything it could to stand back on its feet after the Japanese colonial rule (1910-45). The people were also in a state of confusion following the creation of the 38th parallel that divided the Korean peninsula into North and South in 1945, which was followed by the establishment of two different governments with two very different ideologies in 1948.

It has been 70 years since the government of the Republic of Korea was officially established. To mark the event, the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History in central Seoul has organized a special exhibition that will help visitors understand what happened before, during and after the establishment of the government. It also gives insight into the thoughts and perceptions of the citizens who desired an ideal society.

Titled “The Country They Have All Dreamed Of,” the exhibition displays some 200 items related to the establishment of the South Korean government including the introductions made by a number of newspaper companies right after the liberation, along with a textbook titled “Recovering Our Language,” published by the Ministry of Education, as Koreans were forced to speak and learn Japanese during the colonial rule, and other items.

The exhibition delves deep into the establishment of the new government, allowing visitors without a background in Korea’s modern history to learn about how the country was born.

“As you can see in the main poster,” said Noh Seon-hee, the curator of the exhibit, “the focus of this exhibition is not those standing up on the podium but the public in the square.”

As the title of the exhibition attests, the exhibit attempts to show not just how the government was set up 70 years ago, but also the years leading up to that.

It is divided into five parts and in the first “Tumultuous Korean Peninsula” section, visitors can understand how liberation from Japan led many Koreans to let out their long-repressed political energy, and how that turned into a tumultuous moment for South Korea. The second section, “Post-Liberation,” looks into what Koreans did to restore their national identity. The museum already has a permanent exhibition educating visitors about the establishment of the South Korean government, but Noh said that she’s made sure not too many items overlap between the two exhibitions.

“At the permanent exhibition, the focus is more on the conflicts among various ideological and political camps at the time,” she said. “Therefore, we highly recommend visitors to look around both exhibitions to fully comprehend the modern history of Korea.”


The exhibition runs until Dec. 2. The museum opens from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. everyday and until 9 p.m. on Wednesday. Admission is free. For more information, visit or call (02) 3703-9200.
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