Debate has surfaced over whether the use of South Korea’s national anthem composed by Ahn Eak-tai, whose pro-Japanese activities during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula have come under scrutiny, should be discontinued amid the growing anti-Japanese sentiments here.
On Thursday a public hearing was held at the National Assembly to initiate a public discourse on whether the national anthem, called “Aegukga,” should be replaced by a new one. The hearing was hosted by Rep. Ahn Min-suk of the ruling Democratic Party.
Composer Ahn, who conducted major orchestras in Europe, is on the list of more than 4,000 people who supported Japan during its 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. The list was released in 2008 by Institute for Research Collaborationist Activists.
Most of the experts at the hearing called for a change of the national anthem to root out traces of the Japanese colonial era.
“It is not to disparage or denounce an individual, but to realize historical justice and set straight the people’s spirit,” said Yoon Kyung-ro, an honorary professor at Hansung University and head of the committee that published the list of pro-Japanese collaborators. “If we think about how the future generations will see us, it is not a matter that can go unnoticed.”
Anti-Japanese sentiments are spreading amid worsening ties between the neighbors over historical issues.
Following a Korean court’s ruling that ordered Japanese companies to compensate Koreans forced into labor during the colonial period, Japan, in early July, tightened restrictions on exports to Korea of three key materials necessary for the production of memory chips and displays. On Aug. 2, it also removed Korea from its whitelist of trade partners.
Seoul sees the moves as retaliation against last year’s court ruling, although Japan denies it.
“I am feeling betrayed that the composer of Aegukga was pro-Japanese and anti-Korea,” said Kim Won-woong, head of Heritage of Korean Independence. “The current anthem has already lost its status as a song that instills love for the country (in people.)”
Others expressed caution about changing the national anthem.
“There is need to create a new national anthem,” said Lee Jong-koo, honorary professor of composition at Hanyang University. “But it will be difficult to reach a public consensus on changing it because we have sung it for decades.”
Lee suggested the government and National Assembly take action to create a committee to come up with a new national anthem.
By Ock Hyun-ju (firstname.lastname@example.org)