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What Can the Student Movement Do in Korea?History and Future of Student Movements
Kim Hye-in  |  317khi@hanyang.ac.kr
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[301호] 승인 2008.05.30  
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First public hearing of Emergency Counter Measure Commitee in front Colleges of Social Sciences, April. 16

Hanyang students do not want the campus organization “Hanchongryun (The South Korea Federation of University Student Council)” to be alloted a position as a Hanyang University (HYU) “General Student Association” (GSA). Though Hanchongryun claims to be a student group, most students believe Hanchongryun is in reality a political organization.

When Hanyang lent an office on the Seoul campus to Hanchongryun, some students on the Seoul campus organized a voluntary emergency counter-move and held a hearing. The students who organized the emergency hearing communicated on the Hanyang bulletin board website. However, they did not stay online to listen to the concerns
of the campus netizens.

Another reason the students are against what GSA authorities is because the lending was done without the knowledge of HYU students. Why should they know the facts? This is because Hanchongryun is a political and idealistic organization. Hanchongryun, also known as the South Korean Federation of University Students Councils, is a leftist
student organization in South Korea.

The Hanyang Journal did a survey of starting May 9 to 400 students on the Seoul campus. Let us show what students think about lending classrooms to Hanchongryun. First, 37.8 percent answered that students oppose GSA’s political activities. Second, 24.7 percent answered the the ideology of Hanchongryun is unrealistic. The opacity of the process of lending the classroom is mentioned by 22.7 percent of HYU students.

HYU Somyung, a former anti-activist GSA member, left Hanchongryun. Some GSAs of other universities are also criticising GSA’s political intervention as well for pushing them to leave Hanchongryun. The 36th GSA of Seoul campus made their stance towards the GSA’s political movement and Hanchongryun known.

In the past, GSA refused to accept Hanchongryun as a student association without the agreement of HYU students. But since Hanchongryun is still active, many students think GSA broke its public pledge. They feel the GSA is just lending rooms and not observing more carefully whether the association is following through with its stated intentions. Let us take a closer look at what Hanyang students have to say.

In 1996 Hanchongryun's struggle in Yonsei University

The Student Movement in Korea

 Student activism is work done by students to affect political, environmental, economic, or social change. It has often focused on making changes in schools, such as increasing student influence over curriculum or improving educational funding. In some settings, student groups have had a major role in broader political events.

The student movement in Korea has been influenced by the social environment; hence independence. It has been developed with diverse ideologies as the history of Korea is full of ups and downs. According to the book, A Student Movement and the Unversity Students’ Activity in Self-administration by Kookmin University professor Bae Kyu-han, student movements are divided into six periods. Professor Bae Kyu-han was chief at the office of student affairs in Kookmin University. He was a chairman in the whole country universities chief at office of student affairs conference. He said that as a representative he talked to many student activists and tried to represent desirable way to them.

Extracting from the book, the first period is independence and establishment of a country before 1959. The second period is the 4.19 Revolution in 1960. The third movement was caused by the opposition of the military regime from 1961 to 1971. The fourth movement was based on the opposition of dictatorship for prolonged one-man rule by Park Chung-hee, the leader of the Republic of Korea from 1961 to 1979 and a labor movement. The fifth period is by the
people’s revolution and there is the controversy of ideology then. The sixth period is after 1988 during the unification movement.The current student movement is related to this complex and volatile change in Korean history. 

Accidents in Student Movements

The student movements started against the rule of Japanese imperialism such as the anti-Japanese movement of students at Gwangju in 1929 and the March First Independence Movement in 1910. As the suppression strengthened students went underground. At the age the socialistic ideology was spread out because resistance to Japan is the resistance to imperialism. Vladimir Lenin suggested the movement against imperialism is a national liberation struggle and it had strong persuasive power over students.

The second student movement is because of enterprises’ accumulation of wealth with illicit means. It was caused by a rigged election under the government of Syngman Rhee, the first president of South Korea. The 4.19 Revolution against the rigged election was radical, not revolutionary and violent.

The movement in the 1970s suggested the democracy on economy. The wellknown the movement is Jeon Tae-il who was a factory worker burning himself to Korean politic and economy. Until 1980, the movement had problems; the violence led many people to turn away from the student movements and head for peaceful demonstrations. Because the sixth republication was not a dictatorship and socialism such as the Soviet Union collapsed the student movement was confused.

In August, 1987, 95 universities and 400 students organized Jeondaehyop (the whole country university students representative council). The purposes of Jeondaehyop were to establish a democratic state, peaceful reunification, people joinin and making independent campuses. Major activity is the trial of talk between north and south students, to watch a fair election, participation in Pyeongyang festivals. Jeondaehyop could gather the masses with the Juche ideology. It is the official state ideology of North Korea and the political system based on it.

The doctrine is a component part of the North Korean term for Kim Il-sung’s family regime. Juche literally means “main body” or “subject” it has been translated in North Korean as “independent stand” and the “spirit of self-reliance”. During the sixth Jeondaehyop, Juche ideology was criticized and Hanchongryun succeeded Jeondaehyop. The ideology inspired students to unify and caused them to be criticized by public opinion.

Why Does the Student Movement Still Exist?

Professor Bae Kyu-han in the College of Social Sciences in Kookmin University said that the student movement is  olitical student self-administration. Basement of student movement organization, GSA is for students’ rights,  evelopment of their potential energy. Under its dictatorship, the students fought against the government for democratization sacrificing their rights. He thinks it is students’ movement by political intention which is inevitable in the age. Their social movement was out of system.

But some university student presidents said student movement reflects students’ demand in any aspects. GSA President in Soongsil University, YONG Rebekah thinks of student movements as campaigns for developing society and GSA’s activity itself. GSA president of Ansan campus in HYU, Kim Do-hee said student movement is necessary because students make movements for their own demands themselves. Most students answered student movement
is needed to request, “Is the student movement needed in society?” Like this, it is continued by students’ requirement and is being done by them.


Political activities of Hanchongryun

Description of Hanchongryun

In May 1993, Hanchongryun started succeeding Jeondaehyop. Hanchongryun is a group of 195 universities from nine regions; Jeju, Daegu-Gyeongbuk, Busan-Gyeongnam, Gwangju-Chunnam, Chungcheongbuk-do, Jeollabuk-do,   Geonggi-Incheon, Gangwon, and Seoul. According to education data about Hanchongryun history on ‘http://hcy.jinbo.net’ Hanchongryun can hear many more students’ opinion than Jeondaehyop due to their organization system. It is a mass organization which has many efforts for the homeland’s independence, democratization and reunification. 1,000,000 students of Hanchongryun fought against authoritarianism for democratization for the last 16 years. They do fight for university students’ life and academics. They meet to solve the problems which are hard for one GSA to solve such as education cases. Their major problems are rising tuition, the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement, reunifications of North and South. They introduce themselves, ‘we plan the struggle and affairs’. Hanchongryun demonstrated by occupying Yeonsei University in August 1996. The Supreme Court judges Hanchongryun as anti-national group. It is caused by violence accident at Yeonsei unification festival in 1996 and
Lee Suk-ki being fatal in HYU in 1997. The court judges that Hanchongryun is agitator who stirs up divisions in a nation with violence and familiarity with north of Korea. It is an organization that, knowing that an enemy organization stated by the National Security Law is one that threatens the nation’s existence and democracy, nevertheless
supports such organizations. In February 2003, Hanchongryun demanded abrogation of the rule of Roh Moo-hyun.
But it still exists.

Hanchongryun struggles for the National Security Law abrogation, withdrawal of troops which is still stationed in
the South Korea, against Korea-US Free Trade Agreement from 2004 to 2008.

In March 2008, Hanchongryun failed to elect a chairman. About this case Han Sangjoon journalist at Donga-ilbo mentioned maintenance or abolition of Hanchongryun. According to his article Hanchongryun collapse is not the collapse of student movement, and the Hanchongryun situation is not serious. This singular candidate just
resigned because of private circumstances.

Over 200 GSAs had onced joined, but there are only about 40 left. Professor Bae said after dictatorship disappeared the GSAs should return to self-administration organization, but they do not forget the achievement and glory during the struggle for democratization and go doing political struggle against government. About this, former GSA president of Seoul campus in HYU, Kwon Joong-do said, it is natural for university students to take politic participation, because university students are also members of the community and affected by many policies. Politic activities are for
keeping university students’ comprehend, demand and right. He answered it is because that Hanchongryun should keep doing politic movement despite of low support from students. The low support of students for Hanchongryun or its activists is caused by prejudice and misunderstanding which is taken on the society.

Crisis of Activists

Many GSAs are anti-activist, students’ participation in an assembly is decreasing and some GSAs are leaving Hanchongryun. It seems that the student movement is in a crisis. At the election policy data published by the 36th GSA of Seoul campus in HYU, it is important that student movement still has possibilities to change the society and
play a role. The GSA said they lead the students to participate and support the student movement. They refer registration fee struggle in 2005 and 2006 as a fruit of student movement and said at the time university students did many things against the government and get concern of nations. ButGSA also knows the student movement is weak.

Hyun Tak-su, professor in the Department of Sociology at Korea University said that although specific groups are hard to see, student movements do not disappear. Different from the past which is full of ideology struggle, current movement is shown as diverse social problems for handicapped movement, women movement and irregular jobs.

Chief in Office of Student Affairs in 1980s

From December 1996 to June 1998 the whole country’s universities conference had four seminars to study the way of university students living guidance, to share the experience of each universities, to exchange beneficial information. They discussed the things that should be prevented and removed. The self-administration which has many students’ concern was also discussed. Student participation in self-governance at present is low. This is due to the GSA’s idealess arguments, criticism without alternative proposals, and frequent rallies. GSA tries to get concern with contrast raising tuition and welfare facilities. Bae Kyu-han, who was a chief in the office of student affairs, suggested ways to normalize the self activity. It is inducing students to sound activities and supporting dongari and induce self activity to civil activity such as conservation of nature and citizen order. It is a way to restore university students’ knowledge to society.

There are purposes which students purchase as self-administration activity. Especially oneself improvement, positive self-perception, developing ability to ability, leadership, responsibility for social and raising modality can be acquainted in student activity.

What Does GSA Do?

Hanchongryun is GSA’s organization for mass activity. GSAs which are the basis of Hanchongryun is representative of each university students. The data GSAs made to solve things which are hard to solve by each student is reported on the Hanchongryun website.

For example, there are concrete things such as need for room to study, study, relationship and directions to go and abstract thing such as desire to campus culture, political liberty. GSA is an organ of selfgovernment for many students’ desire with community consciousness.

The GSA of Seoul campus in HYU promises to lead the reunification as well as to solve school inner problems. And there are political things related to North Korea. The pledges made by the country’s university students who supported the 6.15 Joint Declaration included documented unification trips to Mt. Baekdu, North-South Korean joint cheering for the Beijing Olympics, North-South overseas youth unification, educational, cultural, art, and sports festivals. GSA of Soongsil Univerity and Ansan campus in HYU also mentioned the necessity of student movements. GSA in Soongsil University does something related to students’ life and study. GSA president in Soongsil University said they struggle for tuition and students’ room, education environment, reunification and irregular jobs abolition.

GSA president in Soongsil University said student movements should started in school. The dictatorship of the 1980s does not exist anymore. Causes for students to fight for do not exist anymore. But the president of Soongsil mentioned GSA which works for only welfare is not GSA but student welfare commission. As shown in a survey, students do not want political movement of GSA. About this former GSA president of Seoul campus in HYU, Kwon
Joong-do said, as a member of community university student cannot be seperated with society. And we should cope with the society because society has an effect on us. The political category is quite large. All things which is from action to avoid individual pressure to foreign policies between nations are related a private people.

The Reason for Students not Participating in Political Movements

There are some reasons why the students do not participate in political movements. Student Union President of Soongsil University, YONG Rebekah mentions social change. In society, unemployment of students and infinite competition society students should study English, Chinese character, computer, etc to get a job. And it is another reason that universities are institutes for employment.

In the 1980s student movement’s image, excess violence struggle also affects the decrease of students’ concerns about it. GSA president of Ansan campus in HYU, Kim Do-hee also finds the cause in society. In the past, university students were an elite group and they let other people know the truth and lead them. Now university students are not elite anymore. 80 percent of high school students enter universities. People who announce the truth are not university
students because of the development of the Internet. It is busy to live for only oneself and community is collapsing. Then movement for social change is out of sight. On the other side, professor Bae Kyuhan in Kookmin University finds the reasons from three parts; Hanchongryun, students’ change, the reveal of actual state in the North Korea. Hanchongryun was judged illegal group for their violent and familiarity with the North Korea. Professor Bae said this time was a beginning of Hanchongryun’s collapse. Representative of Emergency Counter Move, Park Jong-kyung also mentioned that until 1987 student movement was supported by people. But democratization was done and lost their
moral obligation. And they was beginning to advocate socialism.

Hanchongryun insisted US troops still stationed in the South Korea withdrawal not democratization with violence. The people’s reaction was turning to indifference. People wonder why they fight for government violently when democratic society is already done. Some people think US troops still stationed in the South is needed for South Korea’s national defense. The student movement can be spread out and have strength when there is people’s
support. In past, university students supported student associations’ social movements because they have strong social consciousness. At present, the students who have individualism do not support their movements. Change of students’ consciousness is one reason of decreasing participation of students in political activities. And another reason is their purpose. Their purpose is reunification with the federal system same as the stance of North Korea. But they
who struggle for reunification lost their purpose  again as media develops the circumstance of North Korea such as poverty was revealed.

As the result, the support of GSA is decreasing and it is shown as low ratio of GSA fee payment. Both financial difficulty and judgment as benefiting enemy are lower students’ support. Weaken of selfadministration activity leads low ratio of voting and defeat in election of activist GSA. Like this student movement is on dangerous. Students’ political apathy, conservation also leads indifference of GSA and its movement.

What students want from GSA is welfare inner school. Over half of HYU students answered in the survey by the Hanyang Journal that they want GSA to focus more on students’ welfare. GSA president of Ansan campus in HYU said about students’ requirement. She said that their requirement is diverse, they want to solve problems which they suffer and cultural and welfare affairs to have good campus life. The GSA president in Soongsil University thinks things that students want from representative of students is to guarantee their education right. So they struggle for
decreasing tuition fee. 

Who Should be the Subject of Political Movement?

Each GSA president of several universities and professor Bae and students agree university students are the subject of politics. But they think differently about subject of political movement. Professor Bae said political movement and struggle should be done by groups which made of students having concern in politics about GSA and Hanchongryun’s political activities. At the circumstance 80 percent of university students has no concern about politics, Hanchongryun who said they are representative of 10,000,000 students should not represent them. And GSA also does it. It is a reason for students contrasting GSA’s political movement. Students think GSA does not represent their political  inclination.

Hanyangians’ Opinion

In the survey, 68.8 percent of answers are negative to GSA’s political activity. 50.7 percent of Hanyangians think that student welfare is more important than political participation. And 34.6 percent of them think GSA’s political inclination does not represent students’.

GSA president of Ansan campus in HYU mentioned the necessity of change in movement way. Nowadays students communicate online rather than offline and insist their opinion as an individual more than as a group. Hanchongryun should help the students to understand their purpose correctly and easily. One reason Hanchongryun is not supported is caused by misunderstanding as a group insisting only against America and familiar North Korea.

Professor Bae said because GSA is not official group for student movement and GSA and Hanchongryun’s political activity is not right. Student movement should go back extracurricular activities of students organizing campus life and running it  independent together.

The way how GSAs’ movement can get more student support is to realize social justice and to help students develop their major or interest. So students have concern in movement of GSA. Current movement tends to be against society. Professor Bae said that activity which can have social justice and have social approval is volunteer work.

About the opinion above, former GSA president in Seoul campus in HYU, Kwon Joong-do said, “I also agree with the importance of volunteer work. But the basis of GSA movement is to reflect students’ necessity and comprehend and do activity which can keep their right. From this view, GSA can gain students’ support.” GSA had carrying briquette in winter with havingresponse of HYU students. There is foreign example of change from political movement to self-administration movement in America, Japan, and France in the 1960s. Their movement is against government and
after being democratic they changed the direction of movement. Now, university students find movement for serious social contribution and in which many students can participate.

The student movement in Korea has been changing with historical backgrounds. Student movement has reason of existence when there is participation of students. Students want GSA to focus on welfare in school. GSA and Hanchongryun had better put political movement to the group which is gathered with people who are concerned
about politics. After all, they are representative of university students.

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