The Korea Herald


History museum highlights economic growth

Industry-focused exhibition may draw criticism for playing down pro-democracy movement

By Korea Herald

Published : Dec. 20, 2012 - 19:53

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The National Museum of Korean Contemporary History in central Seoul fixed its opening date for Dec. 26, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism said Thursday.

“This is the first museum highlighting the ‘now’ of the country. We hope the opening will bring the citizens together as one,” said Kim Wang-sik, director of the museum, at a press conference held Thursday. The opening of the museum is taking place some four years after President Lee Myung-bak announced the plan for its establishment. The museum has since been labeled one of Lee’s pet projects.

The museum chronicling the economic growth of the country will pave the way for the younger generation to understand and appreciate what the nation has gone through, museum officials said. 
A man demonstrates the motion-reader system displaying an introduction to Korea’s modern history at the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History in central Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap News) A man demonstrates the motion-reader system displaying an introduction to Korea’s modern history at the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History in central Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap News)

The first three floors of the 6,445-square-meter museum, formerly home to the Culture Ministry, shows the birth of the country, development of the republic, economic growth and future of the country. Around 1,500 items from a total of 40,000 either purchased by the museum or donated will be exhibited.

The first section starts with Joseon (1392-1910) opening its doors to foreign trade in the 1870s. It then moves on to the Japanese annexation and the independence movements, the establishment of the provisional government in China and finally, liberation.

The second part focuses on the Korean War, the lives of the displaced families during the war and recovery from the tragedy. It also mentions the April 19 revolution in 1960.

The third section highlights the national drive for economic prosperity. The Saemaeul Movement for rural development as well as exports of goods and labor forces are explained alongside social changes such as the adoption of mandatory elementary and middle school education for everyone and women’s rights. Global events held in Korea such as the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup are on display while fruits of local high-tech innovation such as mobile phones, Internet technology and others are also proudly displayed.

A special section for former presidents features the portraits of them hung along with a brief introduction of their achievements. A replica of a desk at the presidential office is also installed, inviting visitors to get a brief glimpse into the life of a president.

High-tech installations such as “moving text,” “magic vision” and “motion reader,” as well as an audio room to hear World Cup street cheers and others are expected to give visitors some sense of reality and pride at the same time, the museum officials said.

However, the museum is likely to become a subject of much controversy for downplaying pro-democracy movements and the downsides of rapid industrialization.

Notably, in the 10,734-square-meter exhibition space, only 190 square meters are dedicated to pro-democracy movements, often cited as one of the two exceptional aspects of contemporary Korean history alongside rapid economic growth. Many of the exhibited items in this section are newspaper articles or photographs, and the explanations are insufficient to show that some of the stories are still ongoing.

“It is true that there have been controversies over the exhibited items. But part of the problem was that people who already have a political prejudice about the museum wouldn’t donate valuable documents or information about such events,” Kim admitted.

“We are trying to refrain from political aspects, and we are making efforts to provide a balanced perspective. We will continue to consult with outside experts and civic society and make revisions,” he added.

By Bae Ji-sook (