Think. Discuss. Act. South Korea

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A Student’s Perspective on Reunification

This article was kindly written for us by Yae-ji Won, a student at Seoul Foreign Language High School. In it she shares her perspective on Korean Reunification, including a brief history of the Korean peninsula and her experience with Korean unification education.

Summary

Have you heard about the Korean peninsula? The Korean peninsula is located in East Asia (politically) and geographically located at the northeastwards tip of the Eurasian Continent. It is surrounded on three sides by water, and this piece of land is where North Korea and South Korea are located. In the middle of the Korean peninsula you can see the line, which is called the 38th parallel, that divides North Korea and South Korea. North of the 38th parallel is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea(North Korea), and south of the 38th parallel is the Republic of Korea(South Korea).

How did we get where we are now?

The current division of the Korean Peninsula is the result of decisions taken at the end of World War II. In 1910, the Empire of Japan annexed Korea and ruled over it until its defeat in World War II. The Korean independence agreement officially occurred on 1 December 1943, when the United States, China, and Great Britain signed the Cairo Conference, which stated, “The aforesaid three powers, mindful of the enslavement of the people of Korea, are determined that ‘in due course’ Korea shall become free and independent.” In 1945, the United Nations developed plans for trusteeship administration of Korea.

At midnight on 10 August 1945, two army lieutenant colonels arbitrarily selected the 38th parallel as the dividing line, and the division of the peninsula into military occupation zones was agreed to by the two superpowers — a northern zone administered by the Soviet Union and a southern zone administered by the United States. This was not originally intended to result in a long-lasting partition, but Cold War politics resulted in the establishment of two separate governments in the two zones in 1948 and rising tensions prevented cooperation.

The desire of many Koreans for a peaceful unification was ended when the Korean War broke out in 1950. In June 1950, North Korea began the Korean War by invading South Korea, with Mao Zedong encouraging confrontation with the United States and Joseph Stalin reluctantly supporting the invasion. After three years of fighting that involved both Koreas, China, and United Nations forces led by the U.S., the war ended with an armistice agreement at approximately the same boundary. The two countries never signed a peace treaty, meaning that North Korea and South Korea are still, de jure, at war. (For more information, you can look at Wikipedia’s article on Korean Reunification.)

Education on Korean Reunification

As Korean reunification becomes more widely discussed, school education on unification is getting more important. Our school (Seoul Foreign language high school) also started unification education this year to 1st and 2nd graders [1st and 2nd year in high school]. I (3rd grade) heard both positive and negative response to reunification education in school from underclassmen. So I was curious about students’ response to reunification education.

A government survey released this week highlighted the need for more effective and systematic education about unification to give students a more positive perception of a reunified Korea.

In the survey of 116,000 students at 200 elementary, middle and high schools across the country, 53.5 percent said unification was necessary, followed by 26.1 percent who showed a neutral attitude. Nearly 20 percent replied unification was unnecessary.

It was particularly notable that the proportion of students in favor of unification decreased from 71 percent at primary schools to 54.3 percent at middle schools and 47.8 percent at high schools. School pupils may become less positive toward the reunification of South and North Korea as they get older because they are exposed to a more negative reality. (2014, Aug. 29, The Korea Herald, “Education on Unification”)

I think reunification education is needed because I believe we’ll soon reunify and to do so we need to understand each other, both the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea(South Korea). I envied underclassmen in my school who could take these classes because I wanted to learn about North Korea. Without education it’s hard to know about North Korea when living in South Korea.

One of my friends in school came from North Korea, and I could learn about North Korea from her. I learned that education in North Korea is very restrictive. Most North Korean residents are poor so it’s hard for them to pay their children’s tuition charges. Though the North Korean government recently made citizens free from tuition charges, the loss of a student’s labor is still a serious problem for poor parents.

Through our conversations, I became curious about North Korean English education. From my friend, I also learned English education in North Korea was worse. Their English book is less developed than South Korea’s. The quality of the North Korean English book is worse than the South Korean English book, and due to economic circumstances there is no room to take a note on the book. Also the English textbook lacks communicational function. The content was mostly about self-reliance ideology including Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. This shows that they are actually using the English textbook for their political purposes.

South Korea and North Korea have many different aspects, including education. So I was worried about future English education after the Korean reunification. So I think as a preparation, we need to train English teachers.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What knowledge and experience do you bring to this article, and what interest brought you to it?
  2. Can you imagine this article being discussed by a small group of elite North Korean and South Korean high school students? University students?
  3. How might this student article be discussed among Koreans and American-Koreans? What different perspectives might they have? Might non-Koreans have anything to add to such a discussion?
  4. Can you imagine what reunification will cost North Korean and North Koreans? Can you reckon the cost of reunification to South Korea and South Koreans?
  5. Finally, what is your opinion as to the challenge, possibility, and timing of reunification of Korea?

Implications

  1. The reunification of Korea poses some daunting obstacles. Some kind of apology from all responsible for the division of Korea, especially the U.S. and Russia, might greatly help the prospects and process of Korean reunification.
  2. Arguments against reunification ought to be carefully considered before the gradual reunification process begins.
  3. With North Korean ruler, Mr. Kim Jong Un, out of sight for a month in late 2014, possibly due to illness, the second most powerful person in North Korea, Hwang Pyong-so, is heading talks with South Korean leaders (except its president). This represents some substantial glimmer of hope for improved relations if not future reunification. (BBC, 4Oct2014, “North and South Korea ‘agree to talks’“, retrieved 6Oct14.)
  4. Some proponents of reunification in the South argue that South Korean business community, political parties, and churches need to turn from bickering to greater unity before reconciliation with the North can be achieved.
  5. The Jesus Abbey has dreamed, talked, prayed and practiced reunification between North and South Koreans in Taebaek, Kangwon Do, since 1965. They have practical answers to many seeming overwhelming obstacles.  [Korean: http://www.jabbey.org/bbs/main.php, retrieved 6Oct14.  English: http://www.slc.edu/magazine/only-connect/features/only-connect/Calling.html, retrieved 6Oct14.]

Yae-ji Won, with Dean Borgman

© 2017 CYS

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