Conflict surrounding the Kim Hwal-ran statue: emblem of school autocracy
Conflict surrounding the Kim Hwal-ran statue: emblem of school autocracy
  • Kim Yun-young
  • 승인 2017.03.27 21:15
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Kim Hwal-ran was the first president of Ewha Womans University from the time Ewha was given government approval as Korea’s first university in 1946. Her statue was unveiled in 1958 to commemorate her 40th year of service in Ewha as an educator. To the students, however, the statue symbolizes the school’s disregard of student opinion.
Who is Kim Hwal-ran, and why do the school and students have such conflicting stances regarding the statue?
Kim Hwal-ran, one of the few female intellectuals and leaders of her time, undoubtedly devoted herself to Ewha throughout her entire life. Born in 1899, she completed her entire elementary, middle and high school education at Ewha. Graduating from what was then Ewha College, she became Korea’s first woman to earn a bachelor’s degree. In 1931, she earned the first doctorate degree in Philosophy as a Korean woman and worked as a vice-principal in Ewha College from 1932 to 1939. 
When the Japanese Governor-General of Korea ordered the school to replace its Western principal with a Korean scholar, she was promoted to the position in 1939. After liberation, she was placed as the first Ewha president and remained in office until her retirement in 1961. She then became an honorary president and a member of the board of directors.
Her affection for Ewha was undeniable. Yet, so was her loyalty towards the Empire of Japan. In 2008, she was officially recorded as pro-Japanese under the Law on Punishment of Antinational Activity.
Among Kim Hwal-ran’s pro-Japanese statements prior to liberation are the followings. “The great honor of the long-awaited conscription (for the Japanese army) has finally arrived.” “Revering the majesty of the (Japanese) imperial family and sacrificing for the (Japanese) army force beyond our lives is the privilege only of our Japanese loyal subjects, especially the soldiers of the empire.”
Many students argued to get rid of her statue and demanded that Yu Gwan-sun, an Ewha alumna and one of Korea’s most well-known independence activists, is more fit of a figure to be commemorated on campus. As the school disregarded students’ opinion altogether, the statue of Kim Hwal-ran has come to symbolize the undemocratic administration of the school. Since then, it has been one of the targets of numerous student protests against the school.
On May 30, 2013, the statue was covered with sticky notes from students demanding the removal of the statue. On July 28, 2016, students threw eggs, flour, and paint over the statue during a protest against the establishment of LiFE College. On Feb. 18 this year, the statue was covered with a huge plastic bag plastered with red stickers reading “Stop the board’s tyranny” by students protesting against the board of directors for undemocratically passing a presidential electoral reform. On March 4, the statue was seen wearing a large red cloak reading, “Cease the dictatorship.”
Continuing the protest, the Living Modern History Club set a campaign on March 15 regarding Kim’s pro-Japanese acts.
“We plan to continue our campaign every Monday and Wednesday until we gather 1,000 signatures from Ewha students and set up a sign next to the statue to pressure the school concerning our disapproval,” said Jeong Eo-jin, a sophomore majoring in History Education and the president of the club. “Kim Hwal-ran encouraged Joseon people to join the battlefield and wrote numerous articles on Korea Daily News that encouraged Joseon women to participate as ‘comfort women.’ Having her statue on campus is an insult to the independence activists and defeats the true values and spirit of Ewha.”
In Kim’s time, however, she was not alone regarding her loyalty toward the Empire of Japan. Paek Nak-chun, the first president of Yonsei University, and Kim Heung-bae, the founder of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, are both registered as pro-Japanese under the Law on Punishment of Antinational Activity. Those were the days when anti-Japanese Joseon people were persecuted and could never reach a position as high as the presidency in a university.
The Ewha of this generation now faces an important decision as to how to commemorate the school's dark period in history. 

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