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Tuesday, June 5, 2001

Ethnic Koreans get home spin on history

Schools focus on Japan's colonial rule, local resistance on peninsula


Staff writer

OSAKA — "Imperial Japan pillaged our country and instituted a cruel, repressive colonial regime. This went beyond acquiring food, resources and labor, and developed into a policy of obliterating the Korean people from the face of the Earth."

A teacher answers students' questions at Osaka Gakuin, a school affiliated with the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun).

This paragraph appears in a summation of Korea's history from 1900 to 1945 in a history textbook used by an Osaka high school.

But this is no ordinary Japanese high school. The textbook is used in history classes at Hakuto Gakuin, a school in Osaka's Sumiyoshi Ward connected to the pro-Seoul Korean Residents Union (Mindan).

The textbook is written in both kanji and the Korean Hangul alphabet. The third-year students who learn from this text get a remarkably different view of 20th century history than their Japanese counterparts.

Of the estimated 550,000 Koreans living Japan, approximately 160,000 live in Osaka Prefecture. Both Mindan and the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun) run high schools in Osaka that also attract Korean students from neighboring Nara, Kyoto and Wakayama prefectures.

Much of the schools' curriculum — such as math, chemistry and physics — is similar to that of a Japanese high school. But definitely not modern history.

Japanese high school students receive only a broad overview of their country's history over the last century, largely because most teachers run out of time to complete the full curriculum.

By contrast, students at the Mindan and Chongryun high schools are taught in great detail the history of Japan-Korean relations from the Meiji Era to the Korean War.

Students at the Mindan-affiliated school are required to take a number of history classes. The national history class covers the history of the Korean Peninsula, while Japanese history is taught as part of world history.

"We use a combination of education ministry-approved textbooks, which teachers must teach from, as well as specialized texts not found in ordinary Japanese schools," Principal Kong Koo Suk said.

In the textbook cited earlier, 20th century Korean history is covered in one 46-page section toward the end.

It says the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904 was the first effort by Japan to rule Korea. This was followed by a series of moves that put Korea's diplomacy, culture, language, police and mass media under Japanese control.

The harsh conditions under Japanese rule until 1945 are explained in great detail, as are stories of Korean nationalists who resisted and led failed rebellions during the 1920s.

But the textbook skips over the 1930s and World War II, and the next section begins with Korean Liberation Day — Aug. 15, 1945. This section ends with words of pride, noting that Korean culture has proved resilient against Japan's attempts to stamp it out and a Cold War that still divides the peninsula.

Photographs in this section include Korean forced laborers hauling goods under the eyes of watchful Japanese, the arrest of resistance leaders, and Korean children learning the Japanese language.

Meanwhile, at the pro-Pyongyang Osaka Chosen Gakuin in Higashi-Osaka, students study modern world and Korean history under the gaze of late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung and his son and successor, Kim Jong Il, whose portraits hang at the front of each classroom. Unlike the Mindan-affiliated school, the language of instruction is exclusively Korean.

Several history classes are available for Osaka Chosen Gakuin students, including Korean history, modern Korean history (since the late 1800s) and world history. Textbooks are written by a Tokyo-based publisher and many teachers are graduates of Korea University, another Chongryun-backed institution in Tokyo.

"Students study historical events since the Meiji Era, including Japan's invasion of Korea and the brutalities committed against ordinary people. We also introduce them to individual Korean resistance leaders who fought against Japanese colonial rule," said Chon Bong Jun, a teacher at the school.

On the broad historical facts related to Korea before 1945, there appear to be more similarities than differences between the Mindan and Chongryun textbooks. But at both schools, officials admit, some teachers will occasionally depart from officially approved texts and teach their own material.

The textbooks offer less detail on postwar history. Sensitive issues for both North and South Korea, including Seoul's allegedly brutal military governments of the past and U.S. support for them, or Pyongyang's socialist regime, are mentioned in passing within the context of the Cold War.

While the textbooks do not deal with current events, the present is not ignored. At the Chongryun school, interested students may participate in special seminars held twice a week where current news events are discussed.

These include social and human rights issues, political events in Japan, conditions in North Korea and relations with the United States.

"It's our belief that, whatever President George W. Bush says, the larger picture between the U.S. and North Korea shows signs of progress," teacher Chon said.

As with all other high schools in Japan, field trips are organized by the Korean residents' schools. But the destinations and reasons for going are quite different.

While many Japanese high school students visit the ancient temples of Kyoto and Nara, their counterparts at the Mindan school often make trips to Seoul. There they visit a museum that features dioramas of Korean schoolboys fighting off marauding Japanese soldiers and photos of the Japanese army plundering local villages.

Chongryun arranges trips to Pyongyang for students who wish to go, where they visit monuments dedicated to Kim Il Sung and receive North Korea's version of postwar events.

Educators at the Mindan and Chongryun schools said that one of the purposes of teaching history is to instill a sense of ethnic pride in their students and ensure that they understand their heritage.

But while they said the students were aware of their background, they lamented their lack of interest in history.

"Most kids are third-, fourth- and even fifth-generation Korean. They aren't really interested in long discussions on history. They just want to know if they are going to have to know the material for a test or university entrance exam," said Principal Kong of the Mindan-affiliated school.



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