Jan - Feb 2022 (Vol. 62)

Exhibition Highlights

Thematic Exhibition II
“The Advertisement: A Confession to the World”
Opens in March

In January, the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History (MUCH) opened its first Thematic Exhibition. The Thematic Exhibition is designed to provide an in-depth focus on the topics related to the modern and contemporary history of Korea that cannot be explored in detail in the existing History Gallery. This year, two exhibitions are scheduled to be held – one about bestsellers and the other about advertisement. Of these, “A Korean Self-Portrait Read through Bestsellers” opened in January. By spotlighting bestsellers of diverse genres in each period, the exhibition sheds light on perspectives, desires, and intellectual pursuits of the Korean people in different times. A wide collection of bestsellers are displayed along with movable transparent devices to provide an immersive reading experience.

  • Promotional Film of the 10th Anniversary

The second Thematic Exhibition will open in March with the title “Advertising - a Confession to the World.” The use of the word “confession” (gobaek, 告白) is intentional: it was used in 1886 in Korea’s first commercial advertisement, which was featured in the Hanseong Jubo (Korea’s first Western-style newspaper published by the Joseon government from January 1886 through July 1888 along with the Hanseong Sunbo, first published in 1883). In the context, the word “gobaek” was used to refer to advertisement.

Consisting of four parts, the exhibition adopts immersive media art displays to trace the history of advertisement in the modern and contemporary period of Korea. The first section offers an overview of advertisements which represent each era from the Open Ports Period (1876-1910) until the late 1990s to explore what products Koreans consumed in each period. The next section features food product ads that show the development of Korea’s culinary culture in the modern era. It is sub-divided into five periods that collectively show how saturated the food ad market was in Korea’s recent history (e.g. influx of foreign foods, mixed grain consumption policy, promotion of restaurant dining).

The third section opens with Korea’s first ad for a domestically-produced cosmetic product and goes on to display fashion ads from Korea’s modern and contemporary history. Through the ideal “look” promoted by clothing and cosmetics advertisements, visitors can see how perceptions of beauty and the value placed on physical appearance have changed over time. Finally, the last section presents ads for life-changing electronic appliances in a way that seems to create a virtual world by, namely, portraying technological developments as media art. We hope visitors can enjoy this exhibition and have a deeper understanding of the history of consumer goods advertisements with the state-of-the-art media technologies.

“Dreaming of the Future through My Job”
Opens in Donation Hall

On January 25, the Museum opened its Donation Hall on the third floor. As its name suggests, the Hall displays items donated by those who hope to share their lived experiences in the modern and contemporary period of Korea. We also hope this exhibition encourages more people to make donations to the Museum. The first exhibition, which is about occupations and work from the 1960s to 1980s, brings attention to the diverse stories of people who had jobs and careers during this period. Among over 70,000 items from over 400 donors from 2010 through 2021, this exhibition features 203 selected items from approximately 30 donors.

Today in History

Power to the people:
Rigged Presidential Election of March 15,
1960 and the Concomitant April 19 Revolution

The Republic of Korea was founded on August 15, 1948, based upon a democratic constitution and systems. It was not until much later, however, that the “true” democracy actually took root. One dark moment in this process was the rigged presidential/vice presidential election of March 15, 1960. The unfairly-conducted election, which notoriously involved the participation of political thugs, resulted in the enraged citizenry launching the April 19 Revolution. Let’s set the clock back to see what happened that day.

Syngman Rhee was elected as the country’s first president in July 1948 through an indirect election and served a total of three terms in office based on several amendments of the constitution. In 1960, Rhee and Lee Ki-poong, the vice presidential candidate, ran in the fourth presidential (and fifth vice presidential) election as the Liberal Party’s candidates. In the presidential election, the Liberal Party had the upper hand. The problem, however, was the vice presidential election. According to political practices at the time, presidential authority was “passed” from the president to the vice president if the president could not serve his/her term. As Rhee was already in his 80s, he was in need of someone capable of stepping into the presidency if needed. This meant that if a Liberal Party candidate was elected as vice president, the party could remain as the ruling party even if Rhee died while in office. Wanting to stay in power, the Liberal Party joined forces with the Rhee administration to plan a rigged election.

Working in groups of three to five, the Liberal Party and its supporters engaged in actions to obstruct the election, such as forcing citizens to vote for their candidate, employing “armband units” as a scare tactic, and even dispatching mobsters (political thugs) such as Lee Jeong-jae and Yu Ji-kwang. Such mobilization of central government authority for the full-scale rigging of the March 15 election resulted in a predictable landslide win that would otherwise have been impossible. As ballot counting progressed, districts emerged where the Liberal Party accounted for 95 to 99% of total votes. Taken aback and fearful of reprisal, the Liberal Party ordered vote numbers to be lowered before being announced. The final official tally was 88.7% for Syngman Rhee and 79% for Lee Ki-poong.

Outraged by such ridiculous results, citizens joined a demonstration against the fraudulence of the election, beginning in the city of Masan. One of the participants, a high school student named Kim Ju-yeol, disappeared during the event. His body was found 27 days later floating off the coast of Masan, which served as a trigger of the April 19 Revolution. In response, the central government declared martial law in an attempt to suppress any hint of revolution. This, however, failed to prevent large-scale protests by students, university professors, and ordinary citizens. On April 26, Syngman Rhee announced his resignation from the presidency.

Citizens marching down Taepyeongno,
a street in Seoul,
in protest of the rigged March 15 election.
© National Museum of Korean Contemporary History

Democracy in Korea went on to be tested several more times after the April 19 Revolution. However, citizens played a proactive role in overcoming every crisis thus contributing to the growth of democracy in Korean society. As can be seen in Article 1-2 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea (“The sovereignty of the Republic of Korea shall reside in the people, and all state authority shall emanate from the people.”), which was included in the constitution’s earliest version (1948), Koreans have long understood that they are the source of the government’s power.

New & Upcoming Exhibitions

Display of Five Original Copies of Dongnip
Sinmun (February 28 - March 29, 2022)

The Museum owns original copies of five issues of the Dongnip Sinmun (The Independent), a newspaper that was published by the Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai from 1919 until 1926. From February 28 until March 29, the museum’s first-floor lobby will be displaying these invaluable primary resources to the public. Of note, the original copies will be on display alongside translations in modern-day Korean, enabling visitors to better understand what it meant to be deeply involved in the anti-colonial movement. There is also a special brochure for visitors to take home that borrows the appearance and format of the Dongnip Sinmun and juxtaposes key articles of the independence movement in their original version and modern Korean.

An article on Baek Gwang-un, an independence
activist and a former member
of the Righteous Army (Uibyeong), with a list of accomplishments and a photo.
(Dongnip Sinmun, No. 177 (Oct. 4, 1924))

Photojournalism Exhibition in Celebration
of the 30th Anniversary of Korea-Vietnam
Diplomatic Relations (March 25 - May 9, 2022)

Our Museum is proud to present a photojournalism exhibition in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Korea-Vietnam diplomatic relations. Jointly hosted by Yonhap News and the Vietnam News Agency (VNA), the exhibition is sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Embassy of Vietnam in Seoul. Various places inside the Museum, including the third-floor terrace, will be displaying a total of 80 to 100 news photos owned by Yonhap News and the VNA as well as non-photo visual materials (e.g. infographics) and items that symbolize both countries. To make it more accessible, the exhibition will be held in conjunction with an online version provided via a metaverse platform.

Cultural Event Review

Music Concert Commemorating the March 1st
Independence Movement (March 1, 2022)

On March 1, 1919, Korea’s largest independence movement was launched against the Japanese colonial rule. To commemorate this historic occasion, March 1 has been commemorated as a national holiday. Celebrating the 103rd anniversary of the March 1st Independence Movement, MUCH hosted a music concert in which nine gagok (traditional lyric songs) were performed in the form of classical music. Gagok is a genre of vocal music in which sijo (traditional three-lined poetry) is performed with the accompaniment of a small orchestra. The concert provided an opportunity to reflect on Korea’s modern and contemporary history and express hope for a brighter future.

  • Muse Salon - 1
  • Muse Salon - 2

National Meseum of Korean Contemporary History Newsletter Jan - Feb 2022 (Vol. 62) / ISSN 2384-230X
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.