Orthodoxy, or more revisionism? (History news round up II)

Time for part two of my history news round up. Another big history-related story toward the end of last year concerned a proposed new rightwing history textbook designed for use in Korean high schools. Now it was the turn of ‘leftist’ politicians (scare quotes denote my extreme scepticism about calling Uri Party politicians in any way leftwing) to be upset by distortions of history, ideological bias and so on. Actually things kicked off properly when a press conference held at the end of November by a New Right-affiliated textbook group called Textbook Forum was invaded by progressive civic groups and a punch up ensued.

It seems that the new textbook is rather pro-Park Chung-hee and as historian An Pyongjik claims, attempts to get away from history teaching as the ‘history of movements’ (the independence movement, the democracy movement etc). Its critics particularly took issue with its treatment of the April 1960 Students’ Revolution which overthrew President Syngman Rhee, since it bascially denies that it was a revolution at all, but rather a ‘student movement’ controlled by leftists. Han Hong-gu of Sungkonghoe University (bastion of all things progressive) commented that the textbook was no different from those currently being promoted by the Japanese far right.

As usual, the Hankyoreh cartoonist had a good take on this:
Hani textbook cartoon
(Hankyoreh Geurimpan, 4 December 2006)
On the left, a former Japanese collaborator and a (presumably dead) Park Chung-hee are addressing a member of the New Right who is carrying a copy of the textbook, saying:
“What the hell are you doing revealing our true intentions so carelessly?”
On the table behind them sit books which praise the dictatorial Yusin system of Park and attempt to justify the actions of Japanese collaborators.

But then almost as soon as it looked like it might get interesting, the storm blew over and the erstwhile opponents met and agreed to cooperate, after the Textbook Forum people had agreed to use the word ‘revolution’ to describe the April 19, 1960 movement. Amazing what a difference a word can make.

Anyway, something is definitely afoot here and no doubt the Korean right really is trying to take a leaf out of the textbooks of the Japanese right. It also strikes me that this attempt to rebrand a conservative view of history as ‘new’ (part of the whole ‘New Right’ rebranding project) is rather disingenuous – there is nothing new or daring about claiming that what Park Chung-hee did was wonderful or in the best interests of the nation (even if it was a bit painful) this is just the old propaganda warmed over for a new generation of school students. That doesn’t mean, on the other hand, that current Korean school history textbooks are above criticism or revision.


  1. The working definition of new right (or neocon) I use is a person who arrives at a conservative conclusion after working his or her way trough a progressive (American English: liberal) viewpoint.

    The most prominent ‘neocon’ in Korea that comes to mind is Kim Moon-soo, the current Governor of Gyeoongi province. Most of these “new right” guys don’t seem to qualify.

  2. I’d never associated the 뉴 라이트 with the Neocons before to be honest. I actually think they are quite different phenomena, although with some similarities now that I come to think about it. In both cases they seem to constitute attempts by a section of the right to delineate itself from the previous right. However, in the case of the US the Neocons defined themselves in contrast to the ‘realist’ or religious conservatism of the past, while in South Korea the New Right has been defining itself as a ‘rational conservatism’ against the ‘old conservatives’ associated with corruption, dictatorship, and the military.

    It is also interesting to note that quite a few of these Korean new rightists do actually fit the definition Andy gives above for a Neocon, although in many cases they come not from the progressive wing of Korean politics as such but straight from the pro-North jucheist camp. See for example this recent article in Hankyoreh on Choi Hong-jae, leader of the Liberty Union.

  3. Oi, that link to the Hanky leads to a Gmail account. I’ve given up trying to guess the password, but the article is here.

    This guy Choi Hong-jae (did he even read Marx?) might enjoy today’s post over at Lenin’s Tomb, if he sees “juche” when he reads “Stalinism” …

  4. Thanks. Fixed the link.

    Indeed, I doubt whether many NLs have spent too much time reading Marx. Who needs Marx anyway? He’s so passe, particularly when you have Kim Jong-il to light the way. Having said that, not all NL apostates have strayed into the rightwing twilight zone, some have actually become very good Marxists and socialists (in my opinion).

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