Dispute over textbook heating up

By Yoon Min-sik
  • Published : Jan 6, 2014 - 20:32
  • Updated : Jan 7, 2014 - 09:36
Sangsan High School, one of the two remaining high school to have adopted the history textbook by Kyohak Publishing Co., came under fire on Monday from its students, alumni and civic groups who demanded that it withdraw its selection of the controversial book.

Earlier in the day, some 20 graduates of Sangsan High School issued a joint statement denouncing the school for choosing what they called “a textbook that distorts history.” The book had been criticized, mainly by lawmakers from the main opposition Democratic Party as well as historians, of carrying content that allegedly whitewashes Japanese colonialism and the junta dictatorships.

A handful of schools that originally planned to adopt the much-disputed history textbook opted against it over the past week in face of mounting criticism and protests from their students, parents and civic organizations. 

The Education Ministry said late Monday that it was investigating whether the schools which stopped using the Kyohak books were pressured to do so by outside parties. The probe is expected to take two days.

“Sangsan’s discipline allowed us to become truthful humans, and made us realize the duties and actions that must be carried out. For this, we were proud of Sangsan. But now, a distorted history textbook ran a stake through its heart,” the alumni said in the statement.

They held a relay of one-man demonstrations in front of the school, located in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, urging their former teachers to make a “wise decision.” They held out carnations, which in South Korea symbolizes pupils’ gratitude toward teachers.

The graduates’ sentiments were shared by Sangsan students. More than 280 students submitted their signatures to the school in protest of the Kyohak’s textbook. The student council is expected to carry out a school-wide survey on students asking whether or not they were in favor of the new textbook.

Members from some 30 civic groups held a protest and a press conference against Kyohak’s textbook.

The critics of the book said the book has incorrect information on issues including Japan’s colonization of Korea, so-called comfort women and the May 16, 1961, military coup led by then-Major Gen. Park Chung-hee, who eventually became the dictatorial president of the country.

For instance, the textbook claimed that comfort women “followed Japanese troops around” during World War II, although historical records and testimonies showed that they were forced to become sex slaves for Japanese soldiers. Last month, nine surviving former comfort women asked the court to ban the book, saying that it distorted Korea’s liberation while justifying Japan’s brutal colonial rule of Korea.

Kyohak Publishing on Sunday refuted the claims against its book, saying that its textbooks have already been authorized by the Education Ministry and that there is no real problem with the content.

It argued that certain progressive groups have engaged in a “witch hunt,” in a bid to frame the book as being historically inaccurate.

By Yoon Min-sik (