People Who Focus on Essence Rather Than Just Status Quo
People Who Focus on Essence Rather Than Just Status Quo
  • Lee Jung seungji 기자
  • 승인 2009.04.05 01:54
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Kim Eunho (1892-1979) was a renowned King’s portraitist living at the end of the Joseon Dynasty who was the most typical collaborator of the colonial era.  During the colonial period, he systematized pro-Japanese art organizations and held many exhibitions which highly admired Japanese militarism and was voluntarily faithful to the Japanese Emperor.  He took the initiative in bringing dyeing in the grain and Japanese brushwork to Korean traditional styles of painting.  His works have become typical Korean portraits, such as those of Nongae (1574-1593), Yu Gwansun (1902-1920) and Sin Saimdang (1504-1551), as you can see nowadays.  His followers who inherited his style of brushwork and ideology have become famous representative painters of Korea, such as Kim Kichang (1914-2001) who painted the portrait of King Sejong on the 10,000 won banknote.  It is a problem not only in the world of art in Korea.  In every area of Korea society, the vested rights of colonical era have in fact been continued actually without getting the past into shape.  However, some people who lived under conditions have not forgot the facts and have tried to solve them.  That's because they believe there is no justice, having this history in solution. As one of the fruit, the first  dictionary since independence in 1945 to include the names of those who were collaborators in every sphere like the artists above will be published on the 15th of August.  That is “A biographical dictionary about pro-Japanese” by the Institute for Research in Collaborationist Activities (IRCA,

On the 4th of March, the Sookmyung Times (SMT) met Bang Hackjin (Bang) who is the director of the Institute for Research into Collaborationist Activities.

SMT : Could you introduce the Institute to Sookmyungians?

Bang : The IRCA might be the only private organization, run by both historical researchers and the voluntary participation of the public.  The correction of the past could basically be carried out in two ways: material liquidation and human liquidation.  Material liquidation is a kind of seizing of the assets of collaborators, and human liquidation is a way of penalizing them.  However, those ways may be difficult now that over 60 years have passed since independence.  So the researchers think that “historical liquidation” will be possible through the use of records.  As the result, a biographical dictionary about the pro-Japanese collaborators will be published.  The role of the public in this is a kind of “participation.”  For example, they have worked to change the portraits of Nongae and Yu Gwan Sun on memorial sites, to change the burial site of Kim Chang Yong, who was an assassin of Kim Gu (1876-1949), a typical leader of independence movement, but is buried in a national cemetery, to change statues made by collaborators and so on.  Those works have been carried out by the public based on investigation done by our researchers.

SMT : Would you explain what standard was used when including the names of individuals in the dictionary?

Bang : The institute deduced and chose the common items among the planks made by political parties, nongovernmental organizations and the Special Investigation Committee of Anti-national Activities (SICAA) before the division of the Korean peninsula.  Simply put, the standard is “the spontaneity of conduct, the positiveness and durability.”  For instance, Jung Ji Yong (1902-1950) who is one of famous poet composed a poem whose character is pro-Japanese, but he felt guilty and stopped writing poem after that work.  Because his action showed a lack of durability, he was not picked up in the dictionary.  However, it is different in the case of Park Jung Hee (1917-1979) who was the former president of Korea.  Even thought every teacher was exempt from military service during the colonial period, he, who was a teacher, joined the armed service voluntarily in spite of being over the age to serve in the Japanese military.  Then he mustered out as a first lieutenant.  He is included in the dictionary, consequently, in the category of “spontaneity, positiveness and durability.”

SMT : Since the institute was established and the publication of the dictionary planned, you must have encountered many difficulties.

Bang : The worst difficulty would be that collaborationism is an area of taboo in Korea.  After independence, the United States Army Military Government in Korea re-appointed social and political collaborators to their previous positions.  As a result, the collaborators got the power again in South Korea and their influence has continued in all levels of society.  On the other hand, North Korea punished them severely after independence.  Under the ideology dividing South and North, referring to the problem of collaborators in South Korea came to be regarded originally as a communist activity, thus supporting the Government of North Korea.  According to the situation, not only has social attention and aid been insufficient, and but also many political obstacles have existed.

SMT : If the Institute has any dream or aim through the dictionary and its research, could you give Sookmyungians some explanation?

Bang : Through successive works, we hope Korean society is going to focus on the essence of the problem rather than the just status quo.  The dictionary is not meant to judge the collaborators, but to correct the past and to make Koreans start over right.  As we chose the style of the dictionary, we completely excluded subjective judgment in order to accomplish those hopes.  Through those works, the honor given by the public turns back to our true forefathers who devoted their whole lives to the independence of Korea.  In deeds, we hope Koreans respect them who truly deserve esteem.

Someone said, “When we see people whom a nation puts up as their representatives, we see what the country intends.”  For instance, representative intellectuals of France are the people like Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986), Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre (1905-1980), and Albert Camus (1913-1960).  They argued for the public good as intellectuals and were barely collaborators, although some among them were not actively resistant.  According to the 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index provided by the internet center for corruption research ( Denmark and Sweden shared the first rank with New Zealand, and Finland ranked the third among 180 countries.  Those countries share the common feature of accomplishing their purpose by cleaning up Nazi collaborators after the Second World War. 

Korea has been changed as well.  In the end of 2003, the National Assembly cut the 2004 budget for the Institute which was 500 million won.  However, the public held a voluntary fund-raiser via the Internet site OhmyNews.  After only 11 days, the sum of 500 million won was accumulated and a total amount of around 700 million won was finally sent to the organization.  The record has never been broken until now even though it was carried out through the Internet.  Not only that, but the Midang Memorial of Seo Jung Joo (1915-2000) includes poems which admire Japanese militarism and urge Joseon people to serve the Japanese military, through continuous requests of the researchers and the public, so people who visit there can appreciate him in a more objective way.  Even during the recent economic depression, the number of the supporters of the Institute has continued to increase steadily.  This is because the organization has won sympathy of the public for correcting the past, as well as having opening to the public their dues and year-end tax adjustment.

Historical facts have never been essentially changed by the passage of time or the turnover of regime.  Also, social contradiction and conflict could be seen as influencing one another because history occurs in the stream of time.  Hence, the Institute and the public try to make Japanese imperialism, the just former period, clear today.

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