A systematic government campaign has become necessary to help foreigners better understand Korea as many foreign textbooks contain erroneous information about the country according to the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS), Sunday.
``In the past, Korea was mainly known for fast economic growth and the Korean War (1950-1953). But now, many textbooks have started to introduce Hallyu or the Korean cultural wave, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon or the successful 2002 World Cup as well as its long history,'' she said.
Cool, I'm sure American students would love to know that the land where tens of thousands of their countrymen died two generations ago is actually famous for spicy food. And the country that made the news recently for spending months vigorously protesting American beef actually held some soccer games or something there six years ago. Much lengthier remarks on the issue of foreign books and their approach to Korea to come later, in my forthcoming contribution to Roboseyo's series. Just wanted to point out that when they go after textbooks they're not simply trying to shape Korea's image abroad, but are doing so by arrogantly trying to manipulate other countries' histories.
The irony isn't lost on me. Who is some Korean academy or some local publisher to say that Korean entertainment warrants mention in an overseas history textbook while the Korean War doesn't, or that Ban Ki-moon ought to be emphasized over the country's industrialization? For better or worse, from an American perspective the two noteworthy things about South Korea are the Korean War and the region's economic growth. And it isn't like Ban Ki-moon or entertainers like Rain developed in a vacuum, independent of the influence of the massive economic development that took place after the Korean War and fostered in no small part by aid from the same foreign nations that are apparently misrepresenting Korea's image today. In the same spirit, perhaps South Korean history textbooks would consider deemphasizing the occupation period and giving the whole comfort woman thing a rest in favor of more flattering write-ups about Toyota and Hideo Nomo.
Man, this widespread impulse to sanitize Korea's image abroad and paper over what it feels it has outgrown makes me wonder if universities here put Korean History in quotation marks on diplomas and course catalogues.