Mar - Apr 2022 (Vol. 63)

Special Exhibition

“We Are All Children at Heart”:
Special Exhibition Celebrating
the 100th Children’s Day

What is Children’s Day?

Children’s Day was first promulgated in 1923 in the aftermath of the March 1st Movement in 1919, the largest independence movement in Korea against Japanese colonial rule. Saekdonghoe, an association of children’s rights activists which included Bang Jeong-hwan (1899-1931), a renowned children’s magazine publisher and educator, played a primary role in the promulgation to raise national awareness of children. Initially held on May 1, Children’s Day was changed to the first Sunday of May in 1927. It has been celebrated on May 5 since 1945, the year Korea regained its independence.

From April 22 through July 17, the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History (MUCH) hosts a special exhibition titled “We Are All Children at Heart” in celebration of this year marking the 100th Children’s Day. By displaying images of children in different circumstances in the modern and contemporary eras, the exhibition aims to spotlight the problems of Korean society as well as offer visitors an opportunity to engage in self-reflection.

The exhibition is comprised of three main sections and a prologue and epilogue, with the prologue screening a video on a day in the life of a child. The first section, under the theme “Children Taken Away to [     ],” shows how, throughout history, children have been forced to do things against their will, such as labor, inciting violence, fighting in wars, and early marriage as well as been subject to abuse and life-threatening accidents. There is also a space entitled “A Gone Child” about migrant children in Korea and other countries.

Lim Eung-sik, War Orphan, 1950,
National Museum of Korean Contemporary History

Section 2, titled “Children Changed [     ],” features children throughout history who changed the world in ways that many adults may be unaware of. Section 3, under the theme “Children Happy for [     ],” presents children enjoying themselves at home, at school, and on neighborhood streets. The epilogue section spotlights children whose daily lives have been destroyed or are in the process of being restored. Visitors can make their own illustrated diary entries (a common homework assignment in Korea) and display them in the interactive corner.

Kim Ki-chan, King of the Street, 1988,
National Museum of Korean Contemporary History

We hope visitors can engage with the stories of joy, sadness, fear, and hope of children living in the modern and contemporary eras and be inspired to create a social environment that values children.

  • Promotional Film of the 10th Anniversary


Hope for Tomorrow through Work:
Kim Soojin (Senior Curator,
Collection Management Division)

Donation Hall, which was opened in January 2022, is currently hosting an exhibition titled “Dreaming of the Future through My Job”. This exhibition narrates the periods from the 1960s through 1980s focusing on work and occupations of the Korean people. We met Senior Curator Kim Soojin, who planned this exhibition, to hear more about it.

Q. Why did MUCH decide to construct Donation Hall?

Between 2010 and 2021, MUCH received over 70,000 donated items. Considering that our collection includes approximately 150,000 items, the donations account for a large proportion of our entire collection. Therefore, one of our biggest priorities is treating donors with the utmost respect while putting processes into place that allow us to receive more donations. For this, we held two special exhibitions of our donated items in 2013 and 2017 and were constantly experimenting with new formats, such as opening an online donation hall. However, we eventually reached the conclusion that these efforts, as well-meaning as they may have been, were insufficient and that we wanted to have a permanent exhibition hall exclusively for donated items.

Q. Donation Hall features 203 exhibits among the total of 70,000 donated items. According to what criteria did you select the items to be displayed?

We chose items that vividly represent the period in Korean history, from the 1960s to 1980s, in which the damages inflicted during the Korean War were repaired and the country was experiencing rapid growth. For example, we present the items related to taxi drivers, train station employees, and garment workers. These occupations may seem common today, but at the time, they were fledgling (yet promising) industries. Donations like these embody the youth, passion, and professional pride of people who worked in future-oriented occupations.

Q. What skills and efforts are required to work as a curator?

There are two things at the core of a curator’s work: editing (which is generally called “curating”) and collaboration. For example, the theme of the first exhibition in Donation Hall, life and work from the 1960s to 1980s, is not my area of expertise. I am also unfamiliar with many of the other tasks needed to put together an exhibition hall, such as designing the exhibition space and installing lighting. Nevertheless, as a curator who is planning and preparing an exhibition, these are all issues I have to address. One of the most important skills of a curator is discernment or, simply put, editing—which is an intangible yet truly wide-reaching skill that involves knowing which expert to consult and what content to include and what to leave out. In my job, it is also important to never rest on your laurels or stick to what you are familiar with. You should not be afraid to learn things that are outside of your major, and you have to be willing to engage with experts in areas that are completely different from yours.

Q. Is there any particular project you hope to undertake in the near future?

A contemporary history museum does not have “treasures” in the traditional sense, such as Buddha statues or items of Goryeo celadon. What we do have is resources that are period-sensitive—things that contain personal memories and experiences of ordinary citizens. My dream is to come up with a new method of resource collection that allows us to pass down these invaluable materials to future generations. Recently, I was greatly inspired by one project of the Imperial War Museums in the UK in which the stories of those who experienced World War II were collected through the museum’s website through things as small as a single photo or letter. I would love to try something similar in Korea.

Today in History

History of International Adoption in Korea

Adoption Day

In 2006, the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare designated May 11 as Adoption Day as part of efforts to create a culture of adoption that is non-exploitative and beneficial to everyone involved. May was chosen because it is known as “family month” in Korea, due to the fact that there are multiple family-related days in May, and the 11th was selected in recognition of the goal of creating new families (1+1) in which one (1) child is adopted by one (1) family.

International adoption began gaining momentum in Korea in 1953, the year the Korean War was brought to a close via ceasefire. At the time, Korea had a large floating population of war orphans and children born to American soldiers and Korean mothers. To address this situation, the Korean government began to engage in international adoptions under the pretext of offering a stable home environment to war orphans and sending multiracial children back to their “father’s country.” The long-standing Confucian norms in Korean society prioritizing bloodline-centric families significantly fueled the increase in international adoption: at the time, Koreans were very reticent about raising a child who was not biologically related to them and equally derisive of unmarried mothers. The combination of such hostile social atmosphere and the economic difficulties of a country recovering from the ravages of war led to a surge in international adoption. The US and European countries wanted to “save,” for humanitarian reasons, children whom the Korean government was unable to take responsibility for—a perfect interlocking of interests that eventually gave rise to the “children’s diaspora” that was to persist in Korea for the next several decades.

The establishment of legal grounds for international adoption in 1961 further fanned the flames, resulting in a significant increase in international adoption in the 1960s. By sending children born to unwed mothers or extremely poor families to be adopted by families in other countries, the Korean government aimed to drastically reduce its welfare expenditure as well as rein in the country’s rapid post-war population growth. As late as the 1970s and 1980s, 67 percent of adoptions in Korea (over 110,000 children) were undertaken transnationally. At the time, the Korean government was earning USD 5,000 per child sent overseas. This resulted in the international adoption process degenerating into a money-making scheme and gave rise to criticism that it was turning into an “adoption industry.” Later in the 2000s, the number of children adopted internationally decreased significantly to approximately 300 to 500 per year. However, international adoption still remains a viable last resort given the insufficient socioeconomic support provided for children raised by single mothers or their grandparents.

The stories of children who were forced to leave Korea also bring to the surface the problems of international adoption. In many cases, the identity crisis and stress experienced while adjusting to a new environment at an early age persist well into adulthood. As all children have the right to be protected by their families and enjoy healthy and fulfilling lives, creating a safe environment for adopted children is still a very relevant and urgent goal in Korea.

Museum Review

Our museum strives to engage in meaningful communication with Koreans as well as people worldwide through diverse events, including academic conferences, educational programs, and cultural performances. This month’s newsletter looks back on two events held in March: a classical music concert and the opening ceremony for a photojournalism exhibition commemorating the 30th anniversary of Korea-Vietnam diplomatic relations.

Classical Music at Gwanghwamun (March 30)

On March 30, a classical music concert (entitled “Classical Music at Gwanghwamun”) was held at Lounge Hall. The historical context of Gwanghwamun as the cradle of classical music performances in Korea was brought to life by violinist Moon Ji-weon and pianist Song Young-min. The lively, sophisticated performances given by the two young musicians gave everyone a deeper appreciation for both classical music and Korea’s modern and contemporary history.

  • Muse Salon - 1
  • Muse Salon - 2

Opening Ceremony of the Photojournalism
Exhibition Commemorating the 30th Anniversary
of Korea-Vietnam Diplomatic Relations (March 31)

On March 31, the opening ceremony was held for a photojournalism exhibition jointly hosted by Yonhap News and the Vietnam News Agency (VNA) to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Korea-Vietnam diplomatic relations. More than 30 representatives of government and related institutions from both countries attended the ceremony. The event kicked off with a performance featuring the traditional instruments of Korea and Vietnam, followed by a demonstration of the online version of the exhibition via a metaverse platform. The metaverse platform replicates the offline venue and can be accessed by clicking on the link below. The exhibition ended on May 5, 2022.

  • Promotional Film of the 10th Anniversary

Museum Preview

Remembering and Continuing Our History:
Music Concert Celebrating
the 10th Anniversary of MUCH (May 28)

This year marks the 10th anniversary of MUCH, which opened its doors in December 2012. Of the diverse events to be held in celebration of its decennial, we present a dynamic music concert in May. Visitors will be wowed by the music of sEODo Band, acclaimed as the pioneer of Joseon pop, a genre that blends contemporary melodies with traditional lyrics, as well as the soulful vocals of gugak (traditional Korean music) singer Kim Ju-ri.

-Date and Time: Saturday, May 28 at 2pm
-Venue: Lounge Hall (3rd floor)
-Featured artists: sEODo Band and Kim Ju-ri

National Museum of Korean Contemporary History Newsletter Mar - Apr 2022 (Vol. 63) / ISSN 2384-230X
198 Sejong-daero, Jongro-gu, Seoul, 03141, Republic of Korea / 82-2-3703-9200 /
Editor: PARK Sookhee, KIM Hyunjung, HONG Yeonju, KIM Hyewon
/ Design: plus81studios

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