May - Jun 2022 (Vol. 64)

Special Exhibition

Small Exhibition Commemorating the
140th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations
between Korea and the United States

The National Museum of Korean Contemporary History (MUCH) has been hosting Small Exhibitions in the lobby from January this year. The first exhibition was held in celebration of the 103rd anniversary of Samiljeol (national holiday commemorating the March 1 movement of 1919, at which the Korean Declaration of Independence was read publicly to show Koreans’ desire to be free of Japan’s colonial rule). Five issues of the Dongnip Sinmun (The Independent), a newspaper published by the Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai, were on display. The second exhibition, titled “Taegeukgi and Diplomatic Relations between Korea and the U.S.,” has been on view since May to mark the 140th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and the U.S.

Joseon (1392-1910) began engaging in diplomacy with other countries in the late 19th century. The Joseon-US Treaty of 1882, also known as the “Treaty of Peace, Amity, Commerce, and Navigation” (May 22, 1882), was the first treaty that Joseon signed with a Western power. In honor of the 140th anniversary of the Treaty, the exhibition introduces early sketches of the Taegeukgi, a national flag of Korea, that were made at the time. Visitors are able to see the sketches of the Taegeukgi included in the Robert Wilson Shufeldt Papers (commonly known as the “Shufeldt Papers;” Library of Congress) that were discovered in 2018 and Flags of Maritime Nations, a book published by the United States Department of the Navy in 1882 that is currently owned by MUCH. These drawings are especially meaningful because they are the oldest known records of the Taegeukgi. The exhibition is on view through August 4.

History Hashtag

Life and Death of Jobs:

The Changing World of Vocations from the
1960s to 1980s

Donation Hall, located on the third floor of our museum, is currently featuring “Dreaming of the Future through My Job,” an exhibition of donated items related to working and occupations in the period from the 1960s to 1980s. In association with this exhibition, this article traces the jobs that emerged and disappeared in the decades of the Korean economy’s most rapid growth.

1960s to 1970s:
Jobs that followed changes in industry and modes of transportation

Until the 1980s, in Korea, coal was the primary source of energy that fueled many areas of everyday life and all major industries. Because of the high demand for coal year-round, many Koreans worked as miners. At the time, a miner’s average annual income was on the upper end of the wage income system. However, this changed in the 1980s, when the main energy source changed to crude oil, leading to a sharp decrease in coal demand and decline of the mining profession.

Another occupation that emerged with Korea’s industrial growth was the textile factory weaver, who was credited as a “pillar of export industries” in the 1970s. The development of the textile industry as well as the clothing/sewing industries led to an increase in the number of sewing machine operators and garment cutters (for Western clothing). The popularity of these occupations declined once the demand for higher wages resulted in factories being moved overseas and conglomerates entering the clothing industry.

There were also occupations that newly emerged and/or disappeared according to changes in public transportation. In Korea, trams were the most popular public transportation through the late 1950s since its first operation in 1899. The advent of the automobile and bus in the late 1950s eventually resulted in the shutdown of tram operations in 1968. This, in turn, led to the extinction of tram drivers and the increase of bus and taxi drivers due to the soaring demand in city buses and taxis. Also, the launch of the subway system in Seoul in 1974 engendered the emergence of a subway driver.

The increase in bus passengers led to the implementation of the bus attendant system in 1961. The bus attendant (annaeyang in Korean), whose job primarily involved packing as many passengers onto the bus as possible and, while holding on to the small handle of the bus door, shouting to the driver to signal when it was time to head to the next stop, remained a very popular profession among young women well into the 1970s. This began to change in the 1980s: ahead of the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games, the public bus system was altered (as part of a government initiative to boost citizens’ “personal autonomy”) to make passengers responsible for paying the bus fare and boarding/deboarding, resulting in the decline of bus attendants.

A bus attendant in 1981 © Choi Yong-bu

Changes in occupations in the 1970s and 1980s

In the 1970s, the Korean government began designing policies with a focus on heavy chemical industries, resulting in the growth of the petrochemical, shipbuilding, electronics, steel, and construction industries. This in turn led to high demand at industrial worksites for engineers with undergraduate degrees in related fields. The government’s active support of exports accelerated the growth of the export industries: being employed at a major export company was considered a dream job. The 1970s was also the height of the Middle East construction boom, leading to the hiring of many construction workers. In the 1980s, however, the popularity of the heavy chemical industry began to decline. Interest shifted to areas such as bioengineering, semiconductors, and info-communications, which were expected to become mainstream in the near future.

Also, the introduction of industrial robots led to the rapid growth of the automobile and electronics industries and an increase in jobs for specialists in the sciences and engineering. Another area that emerged in the 1980s was sports-related occupations in response to founding of the Korea Baseball Organization League and the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games.

A poster issued by the Department of the Public Information
in 1967 to promote Korea’s various industries.
(It indicates that occupations in construction were
a major pillar of Korea’s economic growth in this period.)
© National Museum of Korean Contemporary History

The rapid development of technologies in the 1990s resulted in the decline of occupations such as typist, abacus instructor, and telephone operator. Today, we are once again at the cusp of many jobs based on menial and repetitive labor disappearing due to the proliferation of artificial intelligence. We are also, on the other hand, witnessing the creation of new jobs that had been unimaginable until very recently, such as pet funeral director, due to populating aging, the increase in single-person households, and changes in consumer trends. Therefore, we can see that occupations, which are a “mirror of society,” have changed significantly according to Korea’s socioeconomic changes over the past few decades.


Kim Seon-mi (Curator, Education Division)

In the previous issue, we started an interview section that spotlights one museum staffer. For this issue, we sat down with Curator Kim Seon-mi, who works in the Education Division on designing and operating the museum’s diverse educational programs.

Q. Tell us about the current educational programs that you participated in designing.

We began operating the Museum College program in 2013 which explores a variety of themes in modern and contemporary Korea. In 2018, the title was changed to Lectures on Contemporary History to focus more on historical issues. In the first half of this year, we held sessions to understand Korean contemporary history through the lives of different groups of people such as students studying in Japan, intellectuals who defected from North Korea, and engineers. Participants had an opportunity to rethink the significance of each groups in modern-day Korea.

This summer, we will be operating Young Curator Academy, a program for those interested in pursuing curatorial research that is held twice a year during summer and winter vacations. The program consists of two parts: lectures on contemporary history and occupational training. For the past couple of years, it was held entirely online because of COVID-19. This year, we plan to hold in-person sessions to learn more deeply about the actual process of curation.

Q. What differentiates MUCH programs from those of other museums? Is there any educational program you would like to design in the future?

As our museum deals with the entire history of modern and contemporary Korea, we can cover a much wider range of topics than other memorials or thematic museums. However, dealing with comprehensive topics also means there is a possibility to be confronted with many controversies. In this regard, our educational programs should be designed with greater care.

Considering such characteristics, I would like to support a study group-style gathering directed by the participants of each program. Another idea I have in mind is to create a program in which we can hear from those who had a significant influence on contemporary Korea. I believe such programs would allow the public to gain a deeper and broader understanding of Korean contemporary history, serve as a kind of PR for our museum, and can be added to our History Archives.

Online educational programs

Event Highlights

Music Concert Celebrating the
10th Anniversary of MUCH

On May 28, an outdoor concert was held to mark the 10th anniversary of our museum. The main performers were sEODo Band, which is pioneering a new genre by blending traditional Korean music with contemporary musical elements, and Kim Jurri, whose unique and upbeat songs were well-received by attendees. The concert was broadcast live via our YouTube channel to make it available to a larger audience.

  • Performance Highlight (1)
  • Performance Highlight (2)

Academic Conferences

In May and June, MUCH hosted two in-person academic events. On May 25, an academic conference, entitled “Children and Modern Korea: Images, Discourse, Reality,” was held in conjunction with a special exhibition for the centennial of Children’s Day (“We Are All Children At Heart”). The event was comprised of a brief introduction of the exhibition and presentations on diverse topics, including the history of the children’s rights movement in Korea and the role of female children in the family. The presentations were followed by a discussion on visual images targeting children, children’s rights, and adult perceptions of children as well as the status of children in society today and in the future.

On June 15, Professor Kwon Heon-ik (University of Cambridge), the author of After the Korean War: An Intimate History(2020), gave a lecture on the return of the remains of Korean War casualties and how it is related to post-war grieving and commemoration. The lecture was followed by a lively discussion by Kwon and participants that was moderated by Professor Kim Seong-bo (Yonsei University).

Museum Preview

Music Events

Every month, MUCH hosts music events that are open to the public. This summer, two concerts are scheduled to be held. In July, Kim Do-hyang, a Korean singer known as a “master of commercial songs,” presents his own list of “old pop” that inspired his creative work as well as anecdotes related to his songwriting.

Kim Do-hyang ⓒ Cho Se-hyeon

In August, MUCH Orchestra will give a concert in celebration of Gwangbokjeol (National Liberation Day). It will showcase the joy of liberation from colonial rule that pervaded the country on the day that Korea regained its sovereignty. Featuring familiar songs such as “Arirang” and newer songs by Korean composers on the hope/meaning of Gwangbokjeol, the concert will encourage audiences to renew their appreciation of this national holiday.

The Gwangbokjeol Concert in 2021

Small Exhibition Commemorating Gwangbokjeol(National Liberation Day of Korea)

In commemoration of Gwangbokjeol (National Liberation Day), a national holiday to celebrate Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule on August 15, 1945, our museum holds a small exhibition about media censorship during the Japanese colonial period. In this exhibition, several issues of the Jungoe Ilbo are displayed to show how the colonial government controlled the media. The Jungoe Ilbo was a well-regarded “people’s newspaper” published from 1926 until 1931, with a total of 1,492 issues published. The newspapers will be displayed to show the juxtaposition of corrections requested by the censorship authorities and the content of the final version. Visitors will be able to see how the Japanese colonial government cracked down on the Korean press as well as other literary works and articles on the independence movement that were kept from being published.

National Museum of Korean Contemporary History Newsletter May - Jun 2022 (Vol. 64) / 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.