On Trust

I just made my first real, serious edit to Wikipedia. I’d been reading about Yu Gwan-sun the other day, so I couldn’t help but notice something interesting mentioned in he book I’m reading now, Donald Clark’s history of foreigners in Korea from 1900-1950. In passing, Jeanette Walter is mentioned, and if that doesn’t mean much to you, that’s not surprise.

But if you do know who Yu Gwan-sun is, then you will realize the significance of the woman’s testimony: Walter was one of the missionaries working at Ewha University who (reportedly) pressured the Japanese into giving back Yu’s body, and certainly saw the condition it was in.

And what she says conflicts with Wikipedia. Until just now, Wikipedia reported that Yu’s body had been cut into pieces. But Walter insists this wasn’t the case. She reports, in fact, that when the body was returned, it was in one piece:

Jeanette Walter's account of Yu's death
Click the passage to see the source.

I don’t know if the mutilation of Yu’s body entered the story within the film, or the news reports, or by some other means, but it seems clearly to have been added later. I’ve edited the Wikipedia entry to reflect Walter’s testimony, but I’m curious about how long it will take before the page is edited back. (Or, how long it’ll take before I get some irate hate mail from someone who objects to the change.)

For the record, I think Yu’s torture and murder in prison were awful… and also bad enough on their own, as facts, that the addition of a mutilation that did not occur–such as the chopping of her body into pieces–is unnecessary. I am curious whether “mutilated” means something else in Wikipedia, though Walter’s immediate mention of the claim of it being mutilated suggests the rumor of it being cut up is what she’s talking about… and that it was already, by 1959, commonly accepted as fact.

Indeed, it makes me wonder whether people felt that the addition was necessary to stir up emotions, resistance, or whatever. It certainly sounds as if the other students at Ewha were aware of the state of the girl’s body, given their choice to change her clothing; Walter seems to imply that the mutilation was added to the story at some point later on, perhaps in the film version’s retelling. Was it deemed necessary to justify turning a little girl into a national hero? Was organizing a protest and dying for the cause of independece simply not enough, without some added humiliation and victimization? Or did the story mutate some other way? I am truly curious, though I’m not sure how I could even begin to find that out.

In any case: it’s one of those little reminders to be careful just how much you trust Wikipedia to have its facts straight… especially on contentious issues.

2 thoughts on “On Trust

  1. I just went there and now it reads: The Japanese prison initially refused to release her body, but eventually and reluctantly the prison released her body to Lulu Frey and Jeannette Walter, principals of Ewha Womans School, and only after Frey and Walter threatened to expose this atrocity to the world. Her body was reported to have been cut into pieces, but in fact according to Walter, who dressed her body for funeral, this allegation was false.[3] The body was contained inside an oil crate which was supposed to be returned to Saucony Vacuum Company. The Japanese Authorities did this as a retaliation against the threat from Ehwa School.

    1. Yes, and if you check the edits history, you’ll see that the footnote [3] was added by me. I’m waiting to see how long it takes for it to be edited out by a nationalist kook.

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