South Korea orders history textbooks to be rewritten in ideological war

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 November, 2013, 6:05am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 November, 2013, 6:05am


South Korea's Education Ministry has ordered revisions to high school history textbooks in part of a long-running ideological battle over the narrative of modern Korean nationhood.

The ministry said the publishers of seven government-approved textbooks had been ordered to revise 41 instances of "obscure and unbalanced" descriptions of history.

Failure to do so would result in publication of the books being suspended, the ministry said.

The 41 corrections demanded by the ministry involved writings on subjects ranging from civilian killings during the 1950 to 1953 Korean war, to territorial disputes with Japan, and North Korean human rights abuses.

"The most important factors for determining the subjects of modification were if there are any factual errors and elements that could negatively affect students' perspective of the right historical events," Deputy Education Minister Na Seung-Il said.

The directive follows a row triggered in August by protests from liberal opposition lawmakers over a textbook which they accused of showing a pronounced right-wing bias. Ruling conservative MPs countered by challenging a perceived left-wing bias in other textbooks.

The turbulent, traumatic history of the Korean peninsula in the 20th century is something of an academic minefield.

Of particular sensitivity are the 1910 to 1945 period of Japanese occupation, the split into North and South, post-Korean war military rule, the pro- democracy movement of the 1980s and 1990s, and pretty much anything to do with North Korea.

The left and right in South Korea still battle over the portrayal and legacy of all these subjects, which remain a critical part of the national consciousness.

High school textbooks have become a proxy battlefield for these ideological forces.