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11/06/2017 Special > Special


Learn Painful History and Never Repeat It

Negative heritage in South Korea and its way forward


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National Museum of Korea is located at Ichon Station of subway line No. 4 where all citizens can access to cultural assets of Korea in a stone’s throw. However, does everyone know that the museum was not a native edifice in Ichon? It was originally located at the old building of Japanese Government General of Korea which was demolished by explosion due to President Kim Young-sam’s project to set the history right. The government believed that eradicating all the remnants of the Japanese colonization era is the best path, but is expunging the agony of the past really the solution to our generation’s responsibility?   
Building of Japanese Government General of Korea was demolished in 1995.
(Photo courtesy of KBS)

What they did may be forgiven, but can never be forgotten
Negative heritage in definition means the cultural assets created or related to negative, humiliating, and disgraceful history. In Korea, negative heritage is often found as the vestige of the Japanese colonization era of 1910-1945. The main negative asset of the Japanese colonization era is the Japanese Government General of Korea. In order to symbolize the shade casted on Korea, the building was constructed in front of the heart of country- Gyeongbok palace. The Government General was notorious for its ruthless atrocity towards Korean civilians, habitually exploiting for unpaid services, torturing, and killing them. The Korean history books recall the number of South Koreans massacred during the Japanese colonization era is considered to be about an 8 million and the Japanese Government General of Korea is known to have contributed predominantly.
In 1995, President Kim Young-sam had a clear reason to demolish the building- it was plainly obstructing the symbol palace of Korea. Preserving the carry-over from the tragic past even 50 years after the restoration of independence would be considered treachery for Korean ancestors of the era. Some may regard having the Japanese government general of Korea in the center of Seoul and even utilizing the building for important governmental matters such as the national museum or National Assembly to be patriotic.  
Japanese soldiers are forcing Koreans to labor without pay. 
(Photo courtesy of CNN)

However, several people from the academic fields claim that the demolition was an impatient decision in that painful history is also supposed to be remembered. Also, the building of the Japanese Government General of Korea is one of the well-constructed structures in the modernization era which also has architectural importance.
Learn the pain
When you are painfully hurt, your body may heal the wound but your memory will carry the agony with it. Physical removal of heritages will not heal sorrow of Koreans caused by ruthless colonization by Japan. The negative assets should stay where they belong and show the painful history of Japanese colonization and remind the citizens of today to never forget the history.
Instead of destructing the negative heritages, removing the national or governmental roles within the building should be executed. Also, I think the government should install museums or implement historical lessons at the negative heritages in order to deliver correct information and sincere emotions felt at the site. By looking at the remnants of Japanese colonization and feeling by heart the agony our ancestors went through, Korean citizens will be able to learn and understand the history earnestly. Especially, students will never relinquish their rights and responsibilities to remember the mournful history. This way, this and next generations will always commemorate the pain and try their best not to repeat it.
Korean activists and intellectuals fought for independence movement. 
(Photo courtesy of Insight)

Historians and philosophers Heinrich Heine and Friedrich Nietzche claim that historical reoccurrence is inevitable and will be repeated cyclically. However, I do not agree with the theory. If all citizens can remember and feel the torment of history through negative heritage, people will feel the responsibility to halt the agony recurrence.

Kim Ju-hyun
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