How to Place August 15 in South Korean History? The New Right, the “1948 Foundation” Historical View, and the 2008 Kŏn’gukchŏl Dispute

Abstract

In Korea, August 15 marks both the liberation from colonialism (1945) and the promulgation of the South Korean state (1948). As a memorial day, 8.15 became to be narrated mostly as the day of liberation, while 1948 plays only a minor role. However, in the 2000s, the emergence of the New Right brought new debates on how to evaluate post-liberation history. A historical view proposing public memory on 8.15 centred on the “foundation” of South Korea emerged (kŏn’guk view). Combined with attempts to re-name 8.15 into a foundation day (kŏn’gukchŏl), an intense dispute between proponents and opponents of the re-narration was the result. This paper outlines the emergence of the New Right and traces the origins and politicisation of the kŏn’guk view and demonstrates how adopting the kŏn’guk narrative in state commemoration events led to a broad dispute in South Korean society. I trace this view’s origin to 2003 and argue that it got politicised in early 2008 during the early Lee Myung-bak administration. The politicisation resulted in a dispute in politics, civil society, and newspapers, whose progress and characteristics I analyse in detail. As a result of the 2008 Kŏn’gukchŏl Dispute, the issue of how to narrate the events of 1948 became actively discussed in academic scholarship since 2009.

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