▲ Inchon Kim Sung Su’s statue on the campus. PHOTOGRAPHED BY SONG YEONSOO.
Redressing the ills of the Pro-Japanese faction during the Japanese colonial era is not an easy task, as so much controversy surrounding the buried history still haunts Korea. Korea University (KU) is not an exception to such concerns. Traces of Inchon Kim Sung Su, commemorated as one of the founders of KU, but condemned for his Pro-Japanese engagements during the 1940s, can be found all over the KU campus—on the streets, statues and buildings. The time has come for KU students to retrace the path of his footsteps.
In May, the Korea University Student Association (KUSA) posted a campus wall poster requesting the removal of Inchon’s statue in front of the Main Hall. Some have voiced that Lee Yong Ik, the founder of the Boseong College, which is the original institution that later changed its name to KU, is not credited enough for his contribution to the school and that his statue should replace that of Inchon. Through it all, is removal of the statue the right move in addressing KU’s scarred past?
Voices Inside KU
The KU administration seems unmoved by the final decision made by the Supreme Court of Korea upon the controversial deeds of Inchon. On April 13, the Supreme Court declared Inchon as a Pro-Japanese collaborator during the Japanese colonial phase, despite the skeptics who claim insufficient evidence for his wrongdoings and place more weight on his contribution in reconstructing Korea after the colonial era.
▲ President Lee discussing KUSA’s stance on the issue. PHOTOGRAPHED BY PARK TAE IN.
In response to the KU administration’s silence, KUSA held a press conference in front of the Main Hall on July 12. The President of KUSA, Lee Seungjun (’11, Psychology) said, “It would be a shame if our school were to hide this issue and move on.”
Especially because the statue is often featured in promotional material, backlash was more severe than ever. President Lee mentioned, “In the past, there were more aggressive efforts, such as trying to physically demolish Inchon’s statue. However, if demolition itself is difficult for the school, they can at least try to relocate the statue somewhere else on campus.”
However, talking to the school has never been an easy process for KUSA as Inchon is a figure that is a large part of the school’s foundation. President Lee also showed his understanding that it would be difficult for the administration of KU to make any noticeable moves on this subject, especially because the issue is related to Inchon, his family and the foundation itself.
The Trace of Inchon Kim Sung Su
Inchon, the man at the center of all this controversy, is ironically a hero for some and a national conspirator for others. Such paradox amidst a shower of both praises and criticism has led many
to wonder about the exact deeds and actions of Inchon Kim Sung Su.
Not all his actions are considered national treachery. In 1919, Inchon established the Gyeong-sung Spinning Corporation along with other financially empowered businessmen of the time, which contributed to the nation’s then frail economic infrastructure. In 1920, Inchon founded the Dong-A Ilbo, one of the most influential press to this day. He was also elected as the second Vice President of Korea in the following years and resigned while protesting against the dictatorship of the Rhee Syngman administration.
The reason why he is such a widely commemorated figure in KU is because he has helped KU become what it is today. He took over the school and became the school’s president in 1937. Inchon named the previous Boseong College Korea University and financially assisted the institution to survive through financial crisis since its establishment.
Along with such feats, however, during the Japanese colonial era, Inchon perpetrated actions that were judged as national treason. Some of them include continuously publishing written pieces and giving instigative lectures that extolled enforced conscription of the Korean people. In the Maeil Shinmun, he wrote on August 5, 1943 that such enforced recruitment would qualify Koreans to become loyal subjects of the Japanese Empire. He was also physically present at events that celebrated the drafts of the Korean people.
Voices Outside of KU
Looking outside of KU, the complex issue of the aftermath of the Pro-Japanese sympathizers is a problem for many—including universities, high schools, and the government. In an effort to address the issue, Ewha Womans University (EWU) has also held a press conference on April 6, requesting an explanatory sign next to the statue of Kim Hwal-Ran, a controversial figure within EWU. Similar movements have been held in universities such as Seoul National University (SNU), Sungshin
Women’s University(SWU), Yonsei University (YU) and many more across the Korean Peninsula.
In regards to the issue, the current Moon Jae-in administration has obviously declared the clearing of the so-called deep-rooted evils of Korea. This not only includes political corruption, but also the
unresolved questions from the Japanese occupation involving the Pro-Japanese collaborators.
▲ Inchon Kim Sung Su’s statue. PHOTOGRAPHED BY SONG YEONSOO.
Where the Controversy Leads To
To reach a compromise between KUSA and the school administration, it is important that none of the parties involved become emotionally attached regarding the issue of Inchon. The past deeds are what they are, done and finished within the pages of history—exaggeration or distortion of such facts will never strengthen anyone’s voice. It will only distort and weaken not only KU, but also Korea’s reputation.
Therefore, to sweep a possibly disagreeable and uncomfortable side of Inchon under the rug will never shed more light on his accomplishments. The only way in which the KU students, KUSA and KU administration can all become fully satisfied with the way Inchon is presented is by objectively
reviewing his legacy—both good and bad. If KU wants to keep promoting Inchon as one of the most influential founders of KU, admitting and embracing the controversial side of him should be the top priority.