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[Opinion] "Precious History for Everyone"

Posted August. 29, 2004 22:17,   


We know a lot about Athens. It is because our world history textbooks are centering on western history, not only because of the Olympics. We know all the names of the Greek gods and what they symbolize by memorizing them. We know about the Roman Empire and are well informed about dynasties and revolutions of Britain and France. By comparison, our knowledge of old history of our neighboring countries such as China and Japan is utterly lacking. This is because our textbooks are biased, stressing the West while the East we belong to is underestimated. It is a type of “history distortion.”

History is important to everyone because one can confirm his or her identity and present, and design the future, through history. However, history has been covered with wounds “historically.” Fabrication and distortion have been common, and even history was “created” and “invented.” Frequently, specific interests have intervened in history, and universal history has not always been recorded as it happened. There are numerous cases of changed versions of world history according to who ruled the world, and changed versions of state affairs according to who held state power. Thus, history has been exposed to the lure of distortion, although it is precious for everyone.

There came a significant change in northeast Asian dynamics in the 21st century. China is settling down as an economic power, and Japan is dreaming of a take-off once more to be a world power. They not only show self-confidence, but also have strong nationalistic tendencies. They show nationalistic ways of thinking and approach in matters of territory and history, while crying for cooperation and unification in the area of economy. We are not different in the sense that we cannot simply abandon nationalism. The result is friction and tension.

Now, East Asian history is bothered by the temptation to distort. There is friction between Korea and China on the issue of Goguryeo history, and Korea-Japan relations are also highly volatile due to the declarations of the East Sea and Dokdo in textbooks. This is so pitiful in this era of cooperation and unification. It is the historians’ task to examine why there are so many different interpretations with the same evidence. The best way is to entrust academic tasks to academic circles and solve conflicts and troubles through dialogue. The message of peace and prosperity going hand-in-hand is more important due to such frictions and tensions.

Lee Su-hun, guest editorial writer and professor at Kyungnam University, leesh@kyungnam.ac.kr