Controversy over choice of female figure for bill
Controversy over choice of female figure for bill
  • 최윤지 기자
  • 승인 2007.12.03 00:00
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▲ The Bank of Korea announced Shin Saimdang as the figure for the new 50,000 won note.
               On November 5, the Bank of Korea finally unveiled the historical figures who will be featured on new banknotes which will be issued by the end of 2009. For the new 100,000 won bill, the central bank chose Kim Koo, an independence activist during the Japanese colonial period in the early 1990s, and for the 50,000 won note, Shin Saimdang, a calligrapher and painter during the Joseon Dynasty, was picked. Most people support the choice of Kim Koo, but the choice of Shin Saimdang has generated controversy.

             The Bank of Korea announced its plan to issue new banknotes last May and the design committee recommended 20 possible figures at the time. These choices were narrowed to 10 after a nationwide survey, and the final figures were chosen after discussions between the Bank of Korea and the Ministry of Finance and Economy. There has been great public attention paid to the choice of figures because it is almost the first time a female figure has appeared on a Korean banknote since 1962, when the 100 hwan (an old denomination) note showed of a mother and a son holding a savings box. The note was scrapped after only a month.

             The central bank said they selected Shin Saimdang because she is symbolic ofKorea’s female artists. However, the decision aroused protests from many feminist groups, as Shin is better known as a prototype of a traditional wise mother and good wife.

             According to a survey of 144 students conducted by the Ewha Voice, 51 percent of the students supported the choice of Shin Saimdang as the figure for the 50,000 won bill, whereas 49 percent of the students said they opposed the result. Reasons given by supporters of the choice varied. Among the 74 supporters, the most common reason, given by 16 students, was Shin Saimdang’s status as one of the great names in Korean history, and another 17 students said that putting a woman on the banknote was meaningful in itself. On the other hand, 41 students out of the 70 who opposed the choice said Shin Saimdang was a stereotype of a wise mother and good wife, and does not represent the image of today’s Korean woman. Seven students also said it would be inappropriate to have both a mother and her son on Korean bills. Shin is the mother of the Confucian scholar Yi Yul-gok, who appears on the current 5,000 won bill. One student who was in favor of putting Shin Saimdang on the bill said, Shin should be evaluated as an artist who excelled in both writing and drawing in a period where women were suppressed and discriminated against in society. She said placing Shin on the note could correct people’s existing image of her.

             When asked who would be an appropriate woman figure other than Shin Saimdang, 51 students chose Yoo Kwan-soon, the Korean Jeanne d’Arc who led the independence movement during Japan’s colonial rule, followed by Heo Nanseolheon, a poet during the Joseon Dynasty, and Queen Sunduk of the Shilla Dynasty, who is considered the first female politician in Korea. One student who chose Yoo Kwan-soon said that, by putting her on the bill, people could learn from her patriotism.

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