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Caveman Anti-Japanism - South Korea’s National Idea?

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In previous articles we have already noted that anti-Japanism is a key part of South Korea’s political narrative, and commented on the country’s determination to erase “inconvenient persons and events” from its national history.

But each time this issue is discussed we see comments from people who are unable to accept that South Korea’s preoccupation with Japan is similar to the obsession that certain former Soviet states have with eradicating what they see as their “Soviet legacy” – in both cases the perceived enemy is little more than a straw man. Let us give a few examples.

In an incident back in 2019, South Korean schoolchildren, quite against their will, were made to write anti-Japanese placards and chant anti-Japanese slogans by their teachers. A student commented on these incidents in a post on his Facebook page, in which he declared: “We are not your political toys!” The issue quickly attracted a lot of public interest, and about 40 school children responded by setting up a group, organizing a press-conference in a school and posting related materials on the Internet.

In another incident, in October 2020 the director of the Bank of Korea Lee Ju-yeol announced that the bank will remove the word “priority”, which is carved in Chinese characters on the cornerstone of the bank’s former headquarters in downtown Seoul. It was earlier assumed that the inscription was based on writing by the former president of South Korea, Syngman Rhee, and intended as part of a campaign to erase Japanese influence in the country following its liberation and to emphasize its national identity. But, horror of horrors, it turns out that the carving in question is copied from the handwriting of Hirobumi Ito, the first resident general of Korea prior to the 1910-45 Japanese occupation of the peninsula, who was killed by Ahn Jung-geun, a Korean independence activist, in 1909. Although, as resident general, Hirobumi Ito was more of a dove than a hawk, as the main initiator of the protectorate, in South Korea he is seen as a villain.

And in November last year the Central Bank made another announcement – that it will change the designs of the 5 000, 10 000 and 50 000 won banknotes and the 100 won coin. The coin bears an image of Admiral Yi Sun-sin, a national hero who fought against the Japanese in the 16th century, but the image is based on a painting by Chang Woo-soung, who was recognized and supported by the Japanese colonial government from 1941 to 1944 and was later put on a list of enemy collaborators and traitors. And even though the portrait has been on the coins since 1983, given the patriotic frenzy sweeping the country, there is little option: all coins bearing the work of this discredited artist must be taken out of circulation and melted down.

The portraits of political leaders and scientists on the banknotes are also........

© New Eastern Outlook

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