S. Korean gov’t announces plan for publishing state-authored history textbooks

November 3, 2015
Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn speaks during a news conference at the Central Government Complex in Seoul on Nov. 3, 2015 to announce the government plan to reintroduce state-published history textbooks for secondary schools. (Yonhap)

Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn speaks during a news conference at the Central Government Complex in Seoul on Nov. 3, 2015 to announce the government plan to reintroduce state-published history textbooks for secondary schools. (Yonhap)

SEOUL (Yonhap) — The government Tuesday announced the plan for reintroducing state-authored history textbooks for secondary school students, prompting the opposition party to boycott a parliamentary session in protest.

Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and Education Minister Hwang Woo-yea made the announcement on the revision of the publication system for history textbooks for middle and high school students starting in the 2017 school year.

“The government judged that it is impossible in reality to author accurate history textbooks under the current system,” Education Minister Hwang told a press briefing at the government complex building in central Seoul.

History textbooks for secondary schools are currently published by eight private publishing companies pending government approval, while primary schools have a single set of state-authored history textbooks.

Prime Minister Hwang also dismissed lingering concern that the government’s move could result in possible distortion of history textbooks in such issues as the country’s past authoritarian governments.

“Such things cannot happen because our mature society will not tolerate it,” Hwang said, referring to possible historical distortions or embellishments.

The prime minister noted that the government needs to make a textbook based on objective facts and true to constitutional values.

The government published school history textbooks under the authoritarian Park Chung-hee government in 1974. It relinquished the power to private publishers in 2011 under a government monitoring system.

The prime minister said that 99.9 percent of high schools currently use biased textbooks with left-leaning content.

“We cannot educate our precious children with the distorted and biased history textbooks anymore,” Hwang said.

For the past 20 days, the Education Ministry has collected public opinion. The law stipulates that the government must give such notice in advance on policy changes.

“The government will look into public opinion,” the education minister said, adding that the government will operate the procedure of authoring textbooks transparently

Some 20 to 40 historians with expertise in different periods and fields of history will participate in writing the new books under the supervision of the National Institute of Korean History.

The ministry will announce details of the publication and identities of the writers on Wednesday, Hwang said.

The education minister further noted that new state-authored textbooks will delve more into ancient history, but did not mention about contentious modern history.

Former Presidents Rhee Syng-man and Park Chung-hee, the late father of incumbent President Park Geun-hye, have been at the core of controversy for differing evaluations on their flaws and feats.

Most of the current textbooks also view late President Park negatively, calling him a “pro-Japanese dictator,” although conservatives see him a great national leader who “led South Korea’s fast growth from the ashes of the war.”

The premier said some of the current textbooks describe the 1950-53 Korean War as the responsibility of both Koreas.

Conservatives claim the current books introduce the massacres of innocent people conducted by South Korean and U.S. forces, while not specifically dealing with acts committed by the North.

Hwang also once again asserted that the establishment of the South Korean government was in 1948.

Liberals believe that the establishment of the government should be recorded as April 11, 1919, when the Korean government in exile was launched under Japanese colonial rule

“The Republic of Korea (South Korea) was born on August 15, 1948,” Hwang said, adding that the United Nations recognized South Korea’s legitimacy on that day.

He further said that some textbooks only briefly mention North Korea’s deadly torpedoing of the South Korean warship Cheonan in March 2010.

“The shelling of the vessel Cheonan in the Yellow Sea is painful part of our history that left 46 sailors dead,” Hwang said, adding that some are trying to distort that part of recent history.

Following the announcement, the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) boycotted the National Assembly’s sessions and continued outside rallies in protest for the second day in a row.

Lawmakers of the NPAD refused to participate not only the general session slated for the morning but also parliamentary committee meetings.

Chairman Moon also criticized the government’s move, saying it is reminiscent of a dictatorship.