I know how hard it is to get Korean middle/high school students to even speak, let alone voice their opinions or think critically. I hope that this Korean-specific content, which is not afraid to court controversy and disagreement, helps you in your teaching, lesson planning, and in being a real teacher who can change minds and offer a meaningful intellectual experience to one's students, rather than simply be a cog in the soul-crushing, dream-demolishing machine of death that is the English education industry here. Hardworking English teachers of Korea, I salute you!
TIPS FOR USE: The long passage defines the main theme and sets the stage, and often provides background information. The short passages are related, but usually present smaller cases and/or specific examples that illustrate the larger theme. I try to keep the sentence structure simple, but do pepper in harder vocabulary words. Also, since I hate wishy-washy content that encourages equivocation and lame discussion, the material makes reasonable assertions and doesn't confuse fairness with simply not having a real opinion. By adding stats and facts to the discussions and having the students properly disagree with assertions, but demand that they back up their reasons for doing so, the passages can help you not only educate, but also destroy myths, fallacies, and the habits of non-rigorous thinking. I apologize in advance for typos. Please note them in the comments section and I will correct them in the post.
The Trouble with the Colonial Period
History and emotion are not a good mix. History requires being calm, logical, and objective. Of course, because we are human, being 100% objective is impossible. But we must try to be as much as possible. Because when we write history, we must look at the facts first, then make our conclusion second. And sometimes, the conclusions we find are not what we want. But that does not mean they are untrue.
So, good historians must be brave. When studying a sensitive topic, sometimes a historian will come to an unpopular conclusion. And if it is very unpopular, a professor can lose his job, the media can attack her, or netizens may make them a target.
For Koreans, the colonial period is probably the most sensitive historical topic there is. Koreans are ashamed of being colonized, and don't like to think about Japanese influence on Korea. This is understandable. Every country has embarrassing history. The US murdered millions of Native Americans and enslaved Africans as part of building its country. The Japanese did horrible things when it was an empire. So did the Germans, when the racist Nazis were in power. Korean soldiers in Vietnam were infamous for their brutality. But the question is -- how do we handle our embarrassing history?
The Germans highlighted it. The mass murder of the Jews and others -- called "the Holocaust" -- is taught in all history textbooks. During high school, German students learn about just the Holocaust for an entire year of history class.
In the US, there has been a lot of emphasis on slavery, Native Americans, and the Vietnam War since the 1960's. Before that, American historians were very conservative. Nowadays, many Americans demand to be included in the story, so textbook companies are sensitive to that. American history textbooks are not written by the government, but are written by private textbook companies. They are not perfect, but they must respond to the demands of the audience. Many blacks, Latinos, Asian Americans, and Native Americans now demand proper balance in the textbooks.
In Japan, embarrassing history is generally covered up. This has led to some historical arguments between Japan and Korea, as well as Japan and China. But Korea's attitude towards embarrassing history is not so different. If something is embarrassing, or too sensitive, people want to skip it, or just not talk about it.
Korea's behavior in Vietnam, the government's treatment of laborers, or some issues during the colonial era -- Koreans have trouble looking at these issues objectively, too. But looking at these kinds of "secret histories" can be quite interesting, actually. And you can learn a lot from having a healthy debate about them.
The Myth of Blood Types and Personality
Many Koreans believe that one's blood type is related to one's personality. For example, there is a Type A man, Type B woman, etc. Many people in Taiwan and Japan believe the same. This is because this bad science was only spread in the Japanese empire. It all started in 1927. Takeji Furukawa was a professor who published a paper called "The Study of Temperament [Emotion] Through Blood Type." The government liked his idea, so it assigned him to study the Taiwanese. The government wanted to show that the Taiwanese and other groups were inferior, or lower, than the Japanese. Furukawa "proved" this with his blood type research. But the public soon forgot about blood types and personality. This idea became really popular again in the 1970's in books by Nomi Masahiko. He wrote several books about the link between blood type and personality. They were all bestsellers. But remember, this silly idea about blood types all started as a part of racist Japanese science. And no other countries in the world believe in it, besides those in Japan's former colonies, Taiwan and Korea. Do you still believe in the results of racist Japanese science?
The Origin of "Minjok"
It may sound hard to believe, but Koreans didn't use the word "minjok" until 1898. Of course, the Chinese characters for "min" (people) existed, as well as the Chinese character for "jok" (family). However, they were never used together as a single word meaning "race" or "people. " All that started in the Hwangseong News. Many Korean nationalists wrote for this newspaper. At the time, many Korean thinkers and writers were getting new ideas about national identity from Japanese books and intellectuals. They wanted to use these concepts to help think about Korean identity. So, this began the belief in "one nation, one race, one people." For the Japanese, these ideas made people feel like one, and therefore, easier to control. Also at that time, Korean nationalists weren't following the Japanese model. Many Korean features and intellectuals looked up to Japan. Before the 1900s, many Koreans thought of Japan like a big brother, and a good model of development to copy. Who could know that Japan would turn around and colonize Korea only a few years later?
The Irony of History
Shin Chae-ho is Korea's greatest historian and most famous nationalist writer. It may be shocking to hear, but he was also an eager supporter of Japan before the 1900s. When Japan was colonizing Taiwan from 1895, Shin and another Korean intellectuals gave the Japanese great praise. Shin praised Japan for making a "backwards" Taiwan into a modern nation. He praised Japan for building schools, railroads, and many other modern things for Taiwan. This is very ironic. What we can see is that even Korean nationalists supported Japan before the 1900s. Actually, this makes sense. It was only in the early 1900s that a hardliner [conservative or harsh] group developed in Japanese government that wanted to just conquer Korea. Before that, most Japanese planners looked at Korea as a sort of junior partner. Most thought, "Why conquer Korea? They are already mostly cooperating with us." But after Ahn Chung-geun's assassination of Ito Hirobumi in 1909, the hardliners won. In 1910, Korea was no more. Of course, Shin was no traitor. Rather, politics between Korea and Japan changed amazingly fast. Who could know how quickly Japan would change its mind?