Posted : 2017-08-11 18:56
Updated : 2017-08-11 18:58

Changes seen in Sejong Books after blacklist scandal

First lady Kim Jung-sook, second from right, looks at a camellia after planting it near the grave of the late composer Isang Yun at Gatow Cemetery, July 5. Kim brought the plant from Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang Province, the birthplace of Yun. Tongyeong is famous for its camellias. / Yonhap

"A Critical Biography of Isang Yun" by Park Sang-wook
By Baek Byung-yeul

Writers critical of the government had to go through a great ordeal during the previous Park Geun-hye administration.

The government created a register of nearly 10,000 artists, writers and filmmakers deemed unfriendly to the conservative administration and discriminated against them using the so-called "artist blacklist" when it allocated subsidies and made awards of state events. The blacklist scandal came to light last year and it was part of the massive corruption scandal that removed Park from office in March.

The blacklist was also applied in the publishing industry. When the government announced its list of book recommendations called "Sejong Books," books written by the blacklist writers were excluded from the Sejong Books list.

However, with the new Moon Jae-in administration, changes are seen in this year's list. The state-run Publication Industry Promotion Agency of Korea (KPIPA) announced on July 21 that 790 books were announced for the Sejong Books list during the first half of this year and writers listed on the blacklist saw their names go on it.

Novelists Han Kang and Gong Ji-young, who were on the blacklist, made the Sejong Books list this year.

Hang, better known as a winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize for fiction for her novel "The Vegetarian," listed her 2014 novel "The Boy Comes," and Gong's 2016 essay "Dining Table of Poet" was also included.

The other noticeable book on the list is "A Critical Biography of Isang Yun."

Written by Park Sang-wook, the biography was published in February to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Yun's birth.

Born in 1917, Yun was a Korean-German composer and led his life as an internationally acclaimed musician in the European country. It has been 22 years since he died in 1995, but Yun still remains controversial here for "pro-North Korean activities."

Despite his success in his musical career in France and in Germany in the 1950s and 1960s, Yun had to undergo a sudden change in 1967.

Yun was abducted by Korean intelligence agents from his apartment in West Berlin and taken to Seoul for visiting North Korea four years earlier and criticizing the Park Chung-hee dictatorship. In Seoul, Yun was tortured and sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of spying. He was released in 1969 after serving two years in prison and became a naturalized German citizen.

South Koreans still differ in opinion about him, but a bold move came last month as first lady Kim Jung-sook visited Yun's grave in Berlin when she accompanied President Moon as he attended the G-20 summit in Hamburg. At Yun's grave, Kim planted a camellia she brought from Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang Province. The coastal city is the birthplace of Yun.

The changes came after Culture Minister Do Jong-hwan vowed to prevent a further recurrence of the blacklisting of artists.

Do had a meeting with professionals in the publishing industry a week after he was appointed as the first culture minister of the Moon administration on June 16. During the meeting, the poet-turned-lawmaker said he will put forth "the utmost efforts not the defame creators' creative freedom."

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism spends 14 billion won ($12.2 million) annually to purchase books listed on Sejong Books. The books are chosen by the ministry's affiliate agency KPIPA.

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