New Korean history textbook to stir controversy

A new Korean history textbook authored by conservative scholars was approved for use in high schools Friday amid criticism over its allegedly slanted views on the country's modern history.

The National Institute of Korean History, the screening panel commissioned by the Ministry of Education, authorised eight Korean history textbooks, including a controversial book from Kyohak Publishing Co., to be used at high schools from next year.

The decision was expected to prompt strong backlash from progressive historians who had been campaigning to block the final authorisation of Kyohak's book since May.

Criticism was focused on the books' alleged understatement of pro-democracy movements. For instance, the Gwangju Democratic Movement on May 18, 1980, is termed as a "riot," while the Student Revolution on April 19, 1960, is described as a "student movement."

Critics also claim that it tries to glorify Japan's colonial rule (1910-1945) as a contribution to Korea's modernisation.

The book's authors, however, have dismissed the claims as "groundless rumours," saying that the exact content of the book has not yet been made public.

"We try not to evaluate or make any value of past historical events, but to write factual things," coauthor Lee Myung-hee, professor of history at Kongju National University, told The Korea Herald.

But he admitted that the new textbook does detail some of the "achievements" from the colonial period, such as a "modern public school system and industrial infrastructure," which he said were neglected in previous textbooks.

The protesters have also pointed to the composition of the six-member writing panel for the book joined by Lee and Kwon Hee-young, current and former presidents of the Association for Contemporary Korean History, respectively.

The association, described as an organisation of "New Right" historians, was set up in 2011, pledging to "fix biased research and education led by progressive historians." Among their suggestions was changing "democracy" to "liberal democracy" in current history textbooks.

The process of approving textbooks has sparked controversy repeatedly since 2003, after the government allowed private publishers to publish history textbooks. Before that, schools could only use state-authorised history textbooks.

The screening committee is expected to reveal the details of new history textbooks on Monday, and each high school may select from the eight listed books.