2021-6 / Volume 61 / ISSN 2384-230X


Exhibits with the Most Visitor Engagement in the Last Decade

In December 2012, the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History was open with the mission of providing “a space for history and culture where we can share and relate to diverse historical experiences of Korean people who led the birth and growth of the Republic of Korea.” Marking the 10th anniversary in 2022, we are determined to continue our effort to shed new light on every aspect of Korean contemporary history, while also attempting to get closer to visitors. Our thematic exhibition will open in January 2022, following the special exhibition “Gwanghwamun: Korean Contemporary History from the Perspective of Space.” This thematic exhibition serves to explore a variety of topics in Korean contemporary history that cannot find a proper home in the existing history galleries. In 2022, we will present best-selling books and advertisements in Korean history. Other special exhibitions, such as a photo exhibition commemorating the centennial of Children’s Day, as well as exhibitions on pandemics and financial business, are scheduled to take place one after another.

Then, which of the museum’s exhibits has been the most popular with visitors over the last ten years? Based on the result of the online poll of 9,000 citizens and museum visitors conducted in 2018, we are introducing a list of the most popular exhibitions of our museum.

1. The Photograph of the National Celebration of the Establishment of the Government of Korea (1948)

The ceremony celebrating the establishment of the government of the Republic of Korea held at the Seoul Capitol on August 15, 1948. The southern half of Korea conducted a general election on May 10, 1948, for the first time after the national liberation, under the supervision of the United Nations. The key structure of the government was set up soon afterwards, as the constitution was enacted, the first president was elected, and the cabinet was formed. In celebration of the series of nation-building events as well as the third anniversary of the national independence, the government of the Republic of Korea was officially established amid rousing cheers from citizens.

2. An 18-year-old girl’s authentic description of the people’s revolution (1959-1960)

In 1960, the April 19 Revolution set off as citizens took to the street in protest of the dictatorial rule and corruption of the RHEE Syngman regime. Ms. LEE Jae-young, an 18-year-old girl and 11th grader at the time, left a vivid account of historical moments in the whirlwind of the people’s revolution on her notebook. The diary contains entries between September 12, 1959 and October 11, 1960.

3. Pony 1, Korea’s first originally produced automobile (1982)

Designed by an Italian car design company Italdesign-Giugiaro S.p.A., Pony 1 was the first original model produced in Korea since the Hyundai automobile factory in Ulsan began operation. Named ‘Pony 1400GL,’ the model was produced exclusively for export at first. Later, it commanded more than 60% of the total domestic car share and enjoyed favorable reception in foreign markets as well. By 1984, it became the first model that was produced more than 500,000 units.

4. Looking for missing family members – Placards of Separated Families (1983)

A special live TV show “Finding Dispersed Families” ran for 138 days on end from June through November 1983. A large crowd of people who were separated from other family members during the Korean War flocked to KBS Headquarters in Yeouido Island holding placards with their missing family members’ names on them. This historical object was made by Ms. YOO, Yeon-sook from Hongcheon-gun County, Gangwon-do Province, who was looking for her brother-in-law. In the top right corner of the placard is a stamp of approval for broadcasting.

5. The beauty of Korean traditional craftsmanship represented in the Olympic torch – The Olympic Torch for the 24th Summer Olympic Games in Seoul (1988)

Inspired by an ancient royal brazier with a dragon motif, the Olympic torch signaled the opening of the 24th Summer Olympic Games in Seoul in 1988. The two dragons circling around the brazier at the top signifies the year of the dragon (1988) according to the East Asian zodiac. The Olympic logo right below the fire bowl is inlaid with cloisonné enamel, one of the materials used in luxury Korean traditional goods and furniture, giving an additional touch of Korean history to the torch.

In honor of the 10th anniversary, we also created a promotional film featuring dancers making continuous, uninterrupted moves which represent the endless drama of Korean history, while also conveying a message that visitors can breathe with the living history at our museum. You can watch the video by clicking the link below.


Gwanghwamun, the Most Symbolic Place of the Republic of Korea

  • -
  • Special Exhibition “Gwanghwamun: Korean Contemporary History from The Perspective of Space”

Since the national liberation in 1945, Gwanghwamun Avenue has been the center of political, administrative, and diplomatic affairs of the Republic of Korea as well as the venue for various cultural activities and expressing public fervor for democracy. Thus, it has undoubtedly taken the center stage of Korean contemporary history as the most symbolic space in Korea. The National Museum of Korean Contemporary History presents a special exhibition titled “Gwanghwamun: Korean Contemporary History from the Perspective of Space,” on the theme of historical memories and experience found in and around the Gwanghwamun area. This exhibition is the third installation of the series “600 Years of Gwanghwamun: The Three Stories,” which aims to explore the history and culture of the area around the Gwanghwamun gate, organized jointly by the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History, the National Palace Museum of Korea, and Seoul History Museum. The exhibition at our museum focuses on the spatiality of Gwanghwamun.

The exhibition is divided into four parts. Section 1 “Gwanghwamun Restored” traces the history of how Gwanghwamun Avenue, once the symbol of Japanese colonial power in which was located the Japanese Government-General of Korea, was returned to Korean population and their history after national independence. The following Section 2 “The Development and Construction of Gwanghwamun Avenue” narrates the development of the Gwanghwamun area in the 1960s and how the neighborhood came to command a modern cityscape as a result. Section 3 “The Modern Reconstruction of Gwanghwamun Avenue” presents an overview of today’s Gwanghwamun and how the development of Gangnam region as well as the redevelopment of Gangbuk area contributed to the current modernized urban landscape around the avenue. Finally, Section 4 “Gwanghwamun Transformed” explains how the space of Gwanghwamun has been transformed with a series of social transition after the June Democracy Movement in 1987.

We hope that this special exhibition will help you rediscover Gwanghwamun Avenue as the main stage of Korea’s contemporary history, remind us of varying messages inscribed in the memory of Korean citizens, and eventually envision the future of the space of Gwanghwamun.


The Time When We Did Not Have a Good Night

  • -
  • The Era of Night-Time Curfew

As the COVID-19 swept all across the world in 2020, several countries, including the U.S., Australia, France, and Thailand, imposed a temporary night-time curfew. Unfamiliar it may sound to the younger generation these days, the term “tong-geum,” a Korean shorthand for curfew (tong-hang-geum-ji), would ring a bell and remind the days of the past among the elderly. For quite some time in the past, people were punished for wandering outside at night. At 10 PM every night, announcements encouraging people to return home early came out on the radio, and people rushed to catch the last bus and taxi. At midnight, barricades were set up on the street and night patrollers came out on the beat to clamp down on people staying outside. That was a common yet dismal sight of the days when the overnight curfew was firmly in place.

In fact, night-time curfew in Korea was as old as the history of the Joseon dynasty, but the modern version was first ordered by the U.S. military government right after the national liberation of 1945 under the pretext of ‘maintaining law and order.’ The Korean War broke out hard on the heels, perpetuating the regulation for 37 years, until it was abolished in January 1982. Although it varied over time, the curfew usually began at midnight and lasted until 4 AM. Violators were taken to the nearest patrol center or a temporary detention house and were released at 4 AM once they paid a fine through a summary trial.

©Yonhap News

©Yonhap News

The 37-year-old night-time curfew was lifted permanently on January 5, 1982, except for some regions adjacent to North Korea. Some people observed that the change was made to host international sporting events, such as the Asian Games in 1986 and the Summer Olympics in 1988 successfully and smoothly. Later in 1986 and 1989, the remaining curfew was removed, and people finally regained the joy of night out.

Bus and subway services were extended until after midnight, and some shops made an appeal with 24/7 business hours. Also, the lifting of the curfew led to enormous economic benefits, thanks to an extended time for airline service, an increase in the employment in the service sector, etc. Above all else, the curfew restricted the people’s freedom of movement between midnight and 4 AM, and its removal represented a recovery of basic rights and autonomy of Korean citizens.


Muse Salon (November 24)

CHO, Jinjoo, a Korean violinist based in Canada who has been performing on stages all over the world, gave a special joint performance with pianist PARK, Jong Hai. Combining youth and splendor with musical depth and excellent interpretation, the duo took the cultural performance at our museum to the next level. Their varying facial expressions and gestures were a telling commentary on why we need to watch performing art in person.

Hareem and Blue Camel Ensemble Present

  • -
  • A Story of Diaspora (December 15)

For wanderers, music represents their identity and serves to confirm their origins. In the modern and contemporary era when a motley group of people exchanged and communicated with each other, music has played a role to connect people quietly but surely. Hareem and Blue Camel Ensemble performed the music pieces of the era, recounting stories of vagabonds as if they were tracing the paths those wanderers took.


The Age of Gwanghwa

In February 2022, the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History is slated to unveil “The Age of Gwanghwa” in collaboration with the Korean Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) at Gwanghwamun, a symbolic place where Korea’s past and future coexist. “The Age of Gwanghwa” is a project allowing people to experience true-to-life 5G contents around the Gwanghwamun area. As part of the project, our museum is displaying media works expressing the significance of Gwanghwamun Gate on its outer wall, along with a diverse array of interactive contents.

One of the most notable symbols of the Republic of Korea, Gwanghwamun is also the very witness and main character of the country’s modern and contemporary history. We hope that you will appreciate a futuristic Gwanghwamun Avenue brought into virtual existence with cutting-edge technology after taking a close look at the history of the avenue at our special exhibition “Gwanghwamun: Korean Contemporary History from The Perspective of Space.”

An architectural rendering of the outer wall of the museum with the
“Age of Gwanghwa” display panel installed on it.

National Meseum of Korean Contemporary History Newsletter 2021-6, Vol.61
198 Sejong-daero, Jongro-gu, Seoul, 03141, Republic of Korea / 82-2-3703-9200 / www.much.go.kr
Editor: PARK Sookhee, KIM Hyunjung, HONG Yeonju, KIM Hyewon / Design: plus81studios

Copyright. National Museum of Korean Contemporary History all rights reserved.