How Much Do You Really Know about Korean History?

이다현 기자, 강혜진기자l승인2013.11.06l0호

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A few months ago, one member of the girl group “Secret” suffered bitter criticism because she said that “Our members do not democratize” on a radio program. “Not democratize” is a statement made by a member of the community website Ilgan Best to belittle the Gwangju Democratization Movement of May 18th. Many people pointed out that this speech was a distortion of historical facts. Then the girl from “Secret” explained that she did not know about Ilgan Best, but her image was still damaged. Perhaps this situation illustrates the fact that younger generations do not know about history very well. Currently, many adolescents and young adults are poorly informed about correct history. We investigated the current level of university students’ historical awareness.


Indifference to history
The Ministry of Security and Public Administration conducted a survey on May 25th of this year about security
awareness. The survey showed that 35.8% of adults and 52.7% of adolescents did not answer correctly to a question about the year that the Korean War started. According to a survey conducted by KBS, 10% of middle and high school students answered that the Korean War was started by a country other than North Korea. Moreover, 20% of the students surveyed did not know Korea’s liberation year. Some people responded that Kim Gu was a poet. An educational company run by the educational content provider Etoos announced that only 7% of students selected history as an elective subject on the 2012 College Scholastic Ability Test. Moreover, the percentage of high school students who select history as an elective was only 10.4%.


Reasons for the lack of historical consciousness
One of the primary reasons is that Korean History is an elective course on the College Scholastic Ability Test. History was a required course until 1993, but history has been just one of the 11 possible Social Studies courses since 2005.

The importance of historical consciousness
Historical consciousness helps people to have a clear perspective of their country. An important reason to have good understanding of national history is that understanding history helps form social opinion. Social opinion in
turn affects national politics. A prominent example of this dynamic is when Germany was defeated in World War I. Germany was further crippled by the Great Depression and heavy war reparations. The German people believed that they did not lose the war on the battlefield, and that they were betrayed by weak politicians. This distorted understanding of national history led to the rise of the Nazis. Historical consciousness is helpful in establishing national and cultural identity. People can have a sense of belonging that comes from a firm understanding of their nation’s history. If people do not pay attention to history, they risk losing their heritage. The absence of historical
awareness led to China’s Northeast Project and the dispute over Dokdo. The Northeast Project is China’s
attempt to claim that all of the land that was once on China’s frontier throughout its history still belongs to
China. Another example is the Jeju War Peace Museum. This museum has suffered from financial
difficulties and was recently sold. Moreover, this museum houses 280 pieces of the National Archives
and around 2,000 artifacts. In addition, The Yun Bong Gil Memorial is in danger of being closed. The memorial is filled with mold. Books and keepsakes have been damaged because the memorial does not control the moisture within the facility. Moreover, the memorial is in a blackout crisis because of electricity costs.


How other countries enrich history education
China
Students in grades 1 and 2 learn Chinese History for 2-3 hours per week and World History is required in
third grade for two hours per week in grammar school (the equivalent to middle school in Korea). Twohundred
and forty-eight hours per year are allocated to history. Students complete Modern Chinese History
and Modern World History in general high quality middle school (equivalent to high school in Korea).


Japan
Japan integrated its existing Social Studies curriculum to include history in 1989. Moreover, in high
school World History is designated as a required subject and Japanese History is designated as an
elective subject. This choice was made because most of World History is inclusive of Japanese history.
Russia
Russian students start to study history from sixth grade. Students in grades 6 to 9 have history for 68
hours a year. Forty-four hours are dedicated to Russian History and 24 hours are for World History. Students in
grades 10-11 must study Russian History for 69 hours and World History for 34 hours per school year. In
recent years, the Russian government has pushed Modern Russian History education during grades 9-11.
Moreover, the Integrated National Exam (Unified State Exam) requires history. Students who want to enter
university must take a history exam. Students must pass a history exam in order to graduate.


Efforts to improve historical consciousness


Education
The Department of Education announced that history will be designated as a required course in 2017.
Moreover, the Department of Education has stated how it plans to strengthen history education. The content of
this plan will require school principals and assistant principals to complete a history course. History teachers must complete history teacher job training for 30 to 60 hours every 5 years. New teachers must also take a Korean History test.
Mass Media
MBC’s “Infinite Challenge 329th” is a show where young entertainers answer questions about Korean
history and listen to lectures about Korean history. EBS has taken the lead in reinforcing historical content on
the air with their history based programs. EBS broadcasts “Radio History Theater” which reenacts historical cases and “Radio Figures Fierce Fight” which presents anecdotes of great men on FM Radio. Moreover, EBS created “EBS History Lecture” followed by “History Channel E” and “Great Men Theater” on public TV. In addition EBS also produces historical documentaries. “Veranda Show” which is presented by the entertainer CulTwo who gives history quizzes to young people and criticizes the absence of history education. Involvement of the major media outlets will be a key component in improving the situation.

→ We have introduced the most typical examples of the state of history education and we discovered many efforts
being made to provide a correct view of history in many areas.


What do YU students think about Korean history?
The Observer conducted a survey about how YU students’ historical consciouness and how much they knew about important history questions with a total of 243 students. We conducted the survey from September 4th to the 9th. 125 students answered “yes” to the question “Do you think that you are interested in history?” We also asked them, “Do you think we need to strengthen Korean History education?” (88 students answered “no” to the first question and “yes” to the second question, 25 students answered “no” to both questions, and 25 students answered “yes” the first question and “no” to the second question). We were a little surprised that many students at YU have a fundamental view of history. Eighty percent of the students knew the answer to the questions, “When did the
Samiljeol, Independence Movement Day start?” and “When is National Liberation Day?” Some students were
confused about the year that the war started.


Programs for establishing a historical view at YU
The Center for Innovation of Engineering Education has created a program to develop thought and the cultural
lifestyle in Gyeongsang-do by experiencing the culture of classic scholars every year. It has the intention of training
engineers who are well informed and takes place at the training center of the classical scholar, Dosan Seowon in
Andong. There is also a program that organizes groups to visit the Baekdusan and Goguryeo historical sites. It is
hosted by the General Students Association. It is a program that allows students to climb Baekdusan and visit
Goguryeo historic sites like Joelbon Castle, the great King Guangaeto’s gravestone, Janggunchong mausoleum,
Supoong Dam and the Amnok River every summer vacation.


Interview with the planning board of history trip
General Students Association solidarity business chairman
Jun-beom Kim, Senior, Material Science and Engineering
Q) Why did you think of establishing this program?
A) I thought we could cultivate a progressive spirit and vigor, and establish a proper view of history and organize
the power of harmony through climbing Baekdusan and visiting the Goguryeo historic sites.
Q) How did you feel while implementing the project?
A) While tracing the footprints of Korean history, I was satisfied with experiencing new things with new
people. I hope that there are many learning programs established which cannot be experienced at school and that many students choose to participate in them.

Randomly selected events in Korean history
The Korean War
The Korean War started because of the conflict and enmity that existed between South Korea which was
attempting to stabilize a democratic state and North Korea which promoted a communist ideology. On June
25th, 1950, North Korea launched an invasion of South Korea. With aid from the Soviet Union and China,
North Korea had thoroughly prepared for its invasion of the South and occupied Seoul in 4 days. South Korea
retreated. The U.S directly convened the United Nations Security Council and passed a resolution
proclaiming that the North Korean invasion of the South was illegal. The UN forces of 20 countries were
dispatched to South Korea. The war dragged on until July 27th, 1953 when the war was ended and the
division of the Korean Peninsula became permanent.
National Liberation Day
On August 15, 1945 World War Ⅱ came to an end and South Korea became its own nation again after Japan's surrender. On August 15, 1948 South Korea achieved the establishment of its government. The Korean government legislated a national holiday on October 1st, 1949 to celebrate our liberation from Japanese imperialism and the day of the government’s establishment as an independent nation. August 15th of every year is designated as
National Liberation Day.


Geiujeongnan (癸酉靖難)
In the second half of 2013, the movie “physiognomy” based on Geiujeongnan (癸酉靖難) which was started by Suyangdaegun who wanted to usurp the throne. King Moonjong was not in good health, and died suddenly leaving a young crown prince to claim the throne. Suyangdaegun deceived everyone into believing that he was from
Danjong in 1453. He then caught Jong-seo Kim, the first vice-premier, by surprise at his house and killed him and his two sons. After that, Suyangdaegun successively killed several senior statesmen and
ascended to the throne of the Joseon Dynasty by usurping his nephew Danjong. The events of this time have already been made for historical dramas like “Joseon dynasty 500 years: Seoljungmae,” “King and Queen,” “Hanmyeonghwoe,” “Insudaebi” and “A Man of Prince.”

Sin Chae Ho made the following statement: “There’s no future for people who forget their own history.” This
statement illustrates the importance of history, but people are not interested in it. On the contrary, Korean history
education has been left out in the cold and has lost out to foreign language education in Korea. Learning other
languages is important, but most of all, we need to have a deeper understanding of Korean history and establish a
higher standard from the beginning of the educational process. History is a road that connects our past to our future. This deeper understanding will help Korean students understand their country’s place in the world.


이다현 기자, 강혜진기자  dbdk0918@naver.com, dbgn84@naver.com
<저작권자 © The Yeungnam Observer, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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