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Court backs state order to alter history textbooks

A Seoul court ruled Thursday in favor of the government’s 2013 decision to revise all high school Korean history textbooks.

“(The revision orders) are aimed at correcting or getting rid of expressions that are susceptible to misinterpretation, and to deliver correct information to students via an exact description of historical events,” the Seoul Administrative Court said in its ruling.

In the fall of 2013, the Education Ministry ordered all eight local publishers to revise descriptions that they deemed were inaccurate or ideologically biased. These descriptions mainly concerned North Korea’s political philosophy of “juche,” Pyongyang’s sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan, the former South Korean president Park Chung-hee and the 1950-53 Korean War.

But the authors of seven publishers claimed the government move was an attempt to cover up flaws in a textbook by Kyohak Publishing Co., which they said was subpar in quality and ideologically-biased toward conservatives.

They said the textbook contained favorable descriptions about Japan’s 1910-45 colonization of Korea and the authoritarian government of former president Park, who is the father of President Park Geun-hye.

The authors of six textbooks filed a lawsuit against the ministry, arguing that it had forced a particular historical viewpoint on them.

“Today’s ruling proved that textbooks are not about teaching the correct historical perception to students, but in fact can be revised at any time to ingratiate the government administration,” Han Chul-ho, a history professor at Dongguk University and one of the authors who filed the lawsuit, told local media after Thursday’s ruling.

The controversy surrounding the textbooks had carried over to 2014, when left-leaning civic groups, opposition lawmakers and some parents protested against schools choosing the controversial Kyohak books. Surviving “comfort women” ― victims of Japan’s sexual slavery during World War II ― even sought an injunction to ban the books.

In the aftermath, the debate was rekindled over potentially reinstating a state-authored history textbook system for high schools. The system was established during the elder Park’s administration in the 1970s and has been gradually dismantled since 2002.

By Yoon Min-sik (