In 1995, the Kim Young-sam administration ordered the demolition of the Japanese colonial-era General Government Building in the centre of Seoul. The destruction of the building and the construction of a new national museum were two of several symbolic gestures by the Korean government to ‘rectify history’ and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Korea from colonial Japanese rule. This decision followed a long and controversial debate about the sites, politics of memory and the symbols of Japanese colonial oppression in the country. The General Government building was completed in 1926 and became the centre of the administrative life of the colonial Japanese government and a symbol of authority. In the post-colonial period, it housed US military offices until 1948, the National Assembly of South Korea from 1962 to 1982, and the National Museum of Korea until its demolition. This fascinating episode tells the story of how the building became the object of a contentious discussion on national identity and explores how we deal with sites of memory and the traces of colonialism.
Ricardo Matos Cabo