Ewha students are fighting to reinstate a sign in protest of the controversial pro-Japanese activities carried out during the colonial period by the school’s first president.
The Living Modern History Club, a club discusses and debates Korean history, posted the sign reading: “This sign was set up to reveal the pro-Japanese stances of Kim Hwal-ran, the first president of Ewha Womans University” in front of the statue of Kim on Oct. 13.
However, Ewha Office of Student Affairs took down the sign on Nov. 21, after giving the members from the Living Modern History Club two days to remove it.
Living Modern History Club members stated that they would not remove the sign, claiming that the school was trying to cover up Kim Hwal-ran’s pro-Japanese activities. Kim was Ewha president from 1939 to 1961, during and just after Japan’s colonial rule of Korea, which lasted from 1910 to 1945. Although she is the first Korean woman to get a Ph. D. and is considered a pioneering educator, Kim is also known for encouraging the recruitment of Korean women as sexual slaves and for being loyal to the Japanese Empire. These actions have prompted students to challenge and debate her legacy. Student protests over the statue since 2005 have included press conferences for the removal of the statue, throwing flour and eggs, and covering the statue with plastic bags.
The school claimed that the club had violated university regulations, which ban the installation of a permanent facility on campus without proper consultation. Staff also stressed that the administration has the right to remove any objects that it is deemed to be inappropriate.
“Even if 10,000 students signed a petition, facility can only be installed on campus after the approval of the board committee,” said Choi Sung-hee, Vice President of Office of Student Affairs. “If we allow this sign to be erected, we would have to accept any other permanent construction whenever a certain number of students agreed. To meet university regulations, a committee consisting of a relevant dean, Ewha history director, and three members appointed by the president is needed. In a situation where there are conflicting opinions within the committee, it is crucial for majority of the members to agree.”
The school also stated that the Kim Hwal-ran statue is a neutral monument, which exists on campus for continuous self-examination and acknowledgement of the past.
“In a previous consultation, we proposed that the club create a text that deals with Kim Hwal-ran’s actions including points in dispute rather than setting up a sign,” said Choi. “However, this was declined by the students who said it was based on the premise of retaining the statue. Such proposal is still valid.”
Claiming to represent the sentiments of 1,022 students who signed a petition and donated money, the club aims to permanently position the sign in front of the Kim Hwal-ran statue next to Ewha’s Pfeiffer Hall.
“The sign we made with students was put away in the ECC storehouse, covered up with a piece of cloth,” said a spokesperson for the Living Modern History Club. “We are greatly angered by how much the school wants to take down the pro-Japanese acknowledgement sign and how much they want to hide Kim Hwal-ran’s pro-Japanese sentiments. We will try our best to reinstate the sign.”
Since Nov. 27, the students have posted the sign at the Student Union Building, where they have more autonomy over putting up installations. Many students also visited the statue and posted sticky notes with words of support written on them. The club posted posters with its reply at the ECC, POSCO Building, Student Union Building and in front of the Kim Hwal-ran statue. The poster on the statue was quickly removed by an unknown person, but the other posters remained around campus. The club also delivered a protest letter to the office of student affairs on Nov. 29, condemning the school’s actions.
“Although the sign can’t be permanently located on the Ewha campus, if it’s not permanent, it can be located in the Student Union Building for a certain amount of time.” said Choi.
On Dec. 1, members of the club marched from the Student Union Building to the front gate in protest against the sign’s removal, calling on the school to acknowledge Kim’s pro-Japanese activities.
Other students also expressed frustration towards the school.
“On my way home, I saw the history club members at the front gate with the sign,” said a junior Ewha student who wished to remain anonymous. “I felt bad for the members, and I’m also angry at the school. I am deeply ashamed of having Kim Hwal-ran’s statue on campus, and so are thousands of other students. The school keeps stating that the club violated university rules, but for me, it comes across as an excuse for the school to keep the sign hidden somewhere other than in front of the Kim Hwal-ran statue.”