Publishing Under The Gun

On September 1, 1977 A Dialogue With Eight Hundred Million People, an anthology of first-hand accounts of communist China written by Western reporters and scholars, was published in South Korea. Three months later, Mr. Lee Yong-hui, the translator and compiler of the anthology, was arrested by South Korean authorities. Lee was accused of failing to omit from his translation those passages "praising, encouraging and siding with 'foreign communist movements' as he would have been expected to do." Many of the accounts in the anthology had been published in South Korea without the objections of the government. Among the authors translated by Mr. Lee were Harvard China expert Ross Terrill and economist John Kenneth Galbraith. Galbraith described the essay in question, "The Chinese Economy Which I Saw," to Newsweek as "a straightforward and I would say highly uncolored description."

Mr. Lee established five criteria in selecting works for the anthology. One criterion states that "the observers were all to be the highest authorities and most distinguished experts in their fields..." Another says, "those known to have 'pro-communist China' points of view were to be entirely omitted as were works from socialist circles."

The Korean Supreme Court ruled, however, that a publication judged as "benefitting an anti-state organization" could be considered a violation of the Anti-communist Law even if the author and publisher had no such intent.

Mr. Lee, a university professor and correspondent for The Washington Post, was forced to give up both of his careers because of his political and intellectual beliefs. He was a journalist with Chosun Ibo, a leading Seoul daily, and has published a collection of essays entitled Idolatry and Reason as well as A Dialogue With Eight Hundred Million People. He now sits in prison in Seoul, waiting out a three-year sentence, magnanimously reduced to two years on appeal.

The publisher of the anthology, Mr. Paik Nakchung, was also arrested and sentenced to one year's imprisonment. Mr. Paik, who attended Brown University and received his Ph.D. from Harvard is also the publisher and founder of Creation and Criticism, the most prestigious intellectual journal in South Korea. The South Korean government has banned several issues of the quarterly, which is devoted to publishing works of leading Korean historians, philosophers, social scientists, and artists.


The arrest and imprisonment of both Mr. Lee and Mr. Paik represent the gross violations of human rights which have become commonplace since the 1972 "Yushin" (revitalization) Constitution promulgated by the Park regime. Lee and Paik are only two of several hundred South Korean citizens who have suffered arrest, imprisonment, and in many cases even torture, for peacefully criticizing the government. Among others jailed are university students, churchmen, journalists, lawyers, poets, and intellectuals.

The South Korean Constitution enables President Park Chung-hee to remain in office for life and to "temporarily suspend the freedom and rights of the people" whenever he feels the "national security of the public safety and order is seriously threatened or anticipated to be threatened." "Emergency Decree Number Nine," enacted in 1975, prohibits criticism of the government or the constitution, bans all student political activity, enables authorities to remove offenders from their jobs, and prohibits news coverage of acts which violate the decree.

Both Lee and Paik had previously been dismissed from professorships and Korean universities--Paik for signing a petition that called for the restoration of democracy in South Korea. In Korea a civil servant may not participate in any political activity. However, the signing of a petition--in effect, a statement of political belief--seems to fall somewhat short of political activity.

It is obvious, as Edward J. Baker, research associate in East Asian Legal Studies at Harvard Law School, points out, that these men along with many others are being prosecuted because of their opposition to the dictatorial regime of President Park. "It seems pretty clear that these men have been imprisoned because they have ideas which the government considers dangerous," Baker states. The United States "divided Korea. We helped create this monster," Baker says, adding, "We have the responsibility to help the Korean people to establish a democratic society."

Granted, the Republic of Korea has gone a remarkable way toward providing the bulk of its people with a decent standard of living. But the argument that the shattered lives of Lee Yong-hui, Paik Nakchung and others is the cost that must be paid for this prosperity is a cynical and unworthy one. Yet that is the argument heard these days from official South Korean sources. Surely it is one that thoughtful members of this academic community, and most particularly our colleagues who have labored long to understand and present the Korean case, will want actively to reject. South Korea is a nation that has suffered too long and come too far to have its government and its international friends betray its real interests in the very name of defending them.

Mary Ann Z. Kocur '81 and John McDargh, instructor at the Divinity School, are members of Amnesty International Group 69 in Cambridge.