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Thursday, February 19, 2004

(Social groups) Descendants of independence heroes not doing well

Kyunghyang Sinmun (or whatever the Latinized/Englishized form of the newspaper name is) has surveyed how the descendants of the "independence meritorious" (tongnip yugongja) are doing in the contemporary Korean society (via Media Daum). After the liberation from the Japanese rule, the ROK government nominated more than 9000 as having been meritorious in the independence struggle; at the moment some 300 of them are still living. Kyunghyang made the survey together with the Minjok Munje Yôn'guso, literally "Research Institute of National Problems (questions)" but for its official name "Insitute for Research in Collaborationist Activities" (thanks to Oranckay.

The survey shows that these descendants are not doing well; 80% have high-school graduate education or less, and 60% think of themselves as belonging to the "low statum". (The strata/classes given as alternatives in the survey were low [하층], middle [중층] and upper [상층] stratum.)

We cannot know whether the intention of the research was to prove the widespread notion that having taken part in the independence movement during the Japanese occupation/colonial era has brought nothing but misery to the people themselves and their descendants. (This is a common theme, and to hear it the speaker doesn't need to be so-called progressive, even though that helps.) Minjok Munje Yôn'guso concentrates on "cleaning" the remnants of the Japanese era, and has been compiling a record on the collaborationist Koreans (for which the Parliament refused additional funds), so its agenda is clear; Kyunghyang Sinmun, which I read very rarely, is usually regarded as kind of progressive, and I'm under the impression that it's favored over Hankyoreh by those for whom Hankyoreh is too Minjudang/Roh/Uri Party(depending on the time)-minded.

Here are some comments on the survey results: "history cleansing (yôksa ch'ôngsan) gone wrong", "movement for correcting the history (역사바로세우기 운동을 ) must be done before it's too late" and so on. This issue is on the chopping board (to borrow the Korean expression) again; "Producer's Memo" (PD Such'ôp) in MBC television has recently aired to programs with the topic "Pro-Japanese are still alive" (part 1 and part 2), to which Chosun lbofelt the need to respond and defend its position.

(This is also one theme in Jo Jung-rae's 10-volume novel Han'gan, which I've started to read again. One of the characters is a former member of Kwangbokkun (Independence army) trying his luck in politics, and another, a powerful politician, a former colonial police chief of a kind. And yes, there is also a schoolmate of the main characters, who is a son of a deceased independence fighter.)

What I would like to see someone to do is to compare the Korean situation after the liberation not to France but to the three Baltic states, which in my view have much more in common with Korea. (Except that there are not millions of Japanese living in Korea, with Japan bullying Korea and demanding better treatment for them, as if there had been no occupation.) Not that the comparison should give any guidelines as to how to act, but that it would be much more meaningful.

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