Background on movement to remove ‘So Far From the Bamboo Grove’ from US schools
The Choson Ilbo has an article about one of the people behind the attempt to ban ‘So Far From the Bamboo Grove’, a semi-fictional novel that describes a Japanese family fleeing the Korean peninsula in the wake of WW2.
It was a Korean junior high school teacher who ensured that 171 schools in Prince George’s County of the U.S. state of Maryland no longer teach a controversial novel portraying the Japanese as victims of Korean abuse at the end of World War II. As a result of the efforts of Bob Huh, a permanent resident in the U.S., the county education authorities decided on May 15 that “So Far From the Bamboo Grove”, a fictional account of the last days of the Japanese occupation of Korea from a Japanese perspective, can no longer be used as teaching material in elementary schools and junior high schools in the area.
Huh teaches English at Kenmoor Middle School, one of many schools in the county where the novel by the Japanese-American author Yoko Kawashawa Watkins was being taught. He didn’t realize his students were studying the book until reading an article about it in January. “I was so ashamed,” Huh says. “I’m a Korean, and I didn’t even realize that my students were learning with this book. Koreans were victims of the 36 years of the Japanese occupation, and I was angry about how the book portrays Koreans as evil and abusing the harmless Japanese.”
Huh, determined to get the novel out of schools, drew up a list of inaccuracies in the book. He first persuaded the head English teacher and the principal of his own school to stop teaching “So Far.” Then he wrote to Maryland Senator Ben Cardin and the Maryland State Department of Education but was told to talk to the county Board of Education, since selection of textbooks is not a matter for the state government. Huh wrote dozens of letters to education officials saying schools shuld not teach incorrect history to students.
Mr Huh seems to be lost in the victim/oppressor dichotomy. Any victim can become an oppressor given the right conditions, like those described in ‘So Far From the Bamboo Grove’. Saying that Japanese that were killed, raped, or had their property stolen after the Japanese surrender are not victims is equating individuals with policies of a government that they may not have agreed with, and is the same as saying those Japanese individuals (which includes children) had it coming to them.
For more information on the controversy, see guest writer Sonagi’s thorough review of ‘So Far From the Bamboo Grove’.