SEOUL, Oct. 29 (Korea Bizwire) — The government’s decision to readopt state-authored textbooks for secondary school students has escalated the controversy surrounding the omission of a revered female independence fighter in history textbooks for high school students.
Until the 2014 school year, two of eight government-approved history textbooks had excluded descriptions of Yu Gwan-sun (1902-1920), a female student activist who played a major part in the 1919 civil uprising against Japan’s colonial regime.
Yu was a key organizer in the “March 1 Movement” against the Japanese occupation of Korea in 1919, making her one of the best-known and most iconic freedom fighters in the country.
Japanese military officials arrested the teenager and sentenced her to seven years in prison, where she died at the age of 18, apparently due to torture.
Following the controversies, eight private publishing companies made mention of Yu and inserted photos of her in their textbooks for the 2015 academic year.
However, some raised criticism that she has not been depicted enough and only briefly mentioned as one of many independence fighters in organizing the March 1 Movement.
The dispute over Yu’s omission snowballed when some historians raised the allegation that she was intentionally crafted into a heroic figure in the 1950′s by pro-Japanese scholars attempting to whitewash the brutality of the Japanese colonization.
They argued that Yu was an invented hero, citing that North Korean textbooks do not have contents about her in their history textbooks.
However, even many of the Japanese history textbooks for elementary and junior high school students have mentioned Yu and the March 1 Movement.
According to a Japanese history textbook for middle school students in 2011, Yu was depicted as “a student in the same generation,” further giving explanation that Yu was 16 when the March 1 Movement occurred.
“The March 1 Movement happened when Yu Gwan-sun attended Ewha School. She was arrested while participating in the rally and shouting out ‘Independence for Chosun Dynasty!’ She was 16 when she was incarcerated and died after being tortured in prison,” according to the textbook.
Furthermore, North Korean history textbooks were found to have briefly depicted Yu along with the country’s founder Kim Il-sung as the independence fighters against the Japanese regime.
A North Korean history textbook for senior high school students, which was published in 2000, mentions Yu while depicting that Kim Hyeong-jik, the father of Il-Sung, influenced the independence movement of students in Pyongyang.
“Yu Gwan-sun was victimized while spearheading the movement against the Japanese regime in Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province. She was arrested by Japanese police at the age of 16 and stood against unfairness during trials,” according to the textbook.
Education Minister Hwang Woo-yea earlier acknowledged that there is a problem with some of textbooks not fully depicting Yu.
“The textbooks will depict many independence fighters, including Yu Gwan-sun, in detail” said a ministry official.