Posts misrepresent South Korea culture ministry's plans for demolished colonial governor residence

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A claim has been shared in multiple social media posts in South Korea that the government is planning to restore the now-demolished residence of the Japanese colonial governor-general, and link to a tabloid article that uses an image of a colonial-era building. However, the claim is missing context: South Korea's culture ministry said its plan involves creating a miniature replica of the governor-general's residence, not restoring it in its entirety. The image shared alongside the claim is also misleading: it shows a building that housed the Japanese colonial government in Seoul from 1926 to 1945 -- not the colonial governor-general's residence. A ministry spokesperson told AFP that their plan is unrelated to this building.

"[Breaking news] The government pushing to 'restore the residence of the Japanese colonial governor of Korea," reads a Korean-language Facebook post shared on July 22, 2022 by a page with more than 278,000 followers.

The post links to a report on the tabloid news website Postshare, which is illustrated with a photo of South Korean President Yoon Seok-yeol on the left and a photo of what appears to be a colonial-era building on the right.

The Postshare report is about a plan from South Korea's Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to "restore" the Japanese colonial governor-general's residence, which was built during Japan's colonial rule over Korea in the early 20th century.

Screenshot of the misleading claim shared on Facebook, captured July 26, 2022

Similar posts were shared elsewhere on Facebook here, here, here and here.

Comments on the posts indicate several users were misled by the claim and photo. 

"Hmm, what are they thinking reviving the government-general building?" wrote one user.

Another said, "There is a pro-Japanese spy among these people. That's why they're trying to build the governor-general's residence."

A third user commented: "Are they building a shrine to the Japanese? Why are they trying to reverse history?"

The claim was shared after several local news organisations, including here and here, reported that the ministry had announced plans to create a replica of the residence.

The residence was located on the grounds of South Korea's former presidential palace, the Blue House, which was opened to the public in May 2022.

According to the Yonhap News Agency, the ministry's plans were met with concern due to the building's association with Japan's 35-year rule over the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

The opposition Democratic Party criticised the restoration plan, suggesting it embodies "an attempt to erase history".

However, the claim that the South Korean government planned to restore the residence is misleading.

Culture ministry plans

According to a press release issued on July 22, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism said it was "considering creating a miniature replica of the building for visitors [of the Blue House] to show them how it looked like 30 years ago".

It was refuting suggestions that its plan was to "restore" the governor-general's residence.

According to the Seoul Museum of History, the residence was built for the Japanese governor-general in 1939 on the inner gardens of Seoul's Gyeongbok Palace -- the main royal palace of Korea's Joseon Dynasty.

A screenshot of a 1966 photo of the former residence of the Japanese governor-general of Korea, from the National Archives of Korea, captured on July 27, 2022

According to the National Archives of Korea, the building -- which was renamed Cheong Wa Dae, or Blue House -- served as the residence and office of the president after the formation of South Korea's government in 1948.

In 1993, the building was demolished to make way for the new Blue House presidential office.

Government-general building

A reverse image search on Google of the colonial-era building used in the tabloid article led to photos shared on Facebook of the old Japanese government-general building that once stood on the grounds of Seoul's Gyeongbok Palace near Gwanghwamun Square.

The same photo was used in an academic paper about the building, published in the Journal of the Korean Institute of Landscape Architecture in August 2018. 

Its caption reads: "The front view of the old Japanese general government building (1988)."

Below is a screenshot comparison of the image shared alongside the misleading claim on Facebook (left) and the photo of the government-general building published Journal of the Korean Institute of Landscape Architecture (right):

   

According to the National Archives of Korea, the building was erected in 1926 on the grounds of Gyeongbok Palace in order to house Japan's colonial government in Korea.

It was also the site where South Korea's first republic was inaugurated in 1948, and served as one of the South Korean government's main administrative headquarters until 1986, when the building was reassigned to house the country's national museum.

In 1995, the South Korean government demolished the building to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the country's liberation from Japanese rule, as part of an effort to remove a lasting reminder of colonial rule and to restore Gyeongbok Palace to its original state.

The plan laid out by South Korea's Culture Ministry is "unrelated to the Japanese government-general building", a spokesperson for South Korea's culture ministry told AFP on July 26.