Population: 1,471,324 (as of 4/2013) It is the 6th largest city in Korea.
2002 FIFA World Cup: Gwangju World Cup Stadium was one of the venues used for the World Cup
Politics: Gwangju is the main campaign of the liberal Democratic United Party.
Massacre: On May 18-27 in 1980, Gwangju citizens rose up against SK’s dictatorship, resulting in hundreds killed.
Buddha’s Birthday Plan
It was Buddha’s Birthday and when we tried booking everything, it was too late so we were left with no place to go. Ever the optimistic, Dave came up with this grand adventure…choosing a place on the map and just getting on a bus and just going! Sort of like our very own:
But me being me, of course I couldn’t just go somewhere and not have a clue about anything. Thank goodness for smartphones. They make everything easier. The idea of going to Jeolla province came up, since we’ve never really been. It’s always Seoul, Seoul, Seoul (Imagine Jan Brady right now).
Away we go!
Upon arriving, we strolled to the nearby river in the direction of duck street. Maps are a beautiful thing, easily accessible at the Bus Terminal. It wasn’t until later that night, that I remembered about the massacre and the fact that we were here on the eve of its anniversary.
We fell in love
We met up with Laura and Esther, and after a good ole’ time at the festival, we headed out and miraculously found a salsa studio where there were more men then women! Now if you know my friends Laura and Esther, you know how obsessed they are with salsa. So the fact that this place had more men then we are accustomed to in Daegu, made her instantly want to move to Gwangju! Right upstairs was the most chillest pub I’ve seen in quite some time. Speakeasy was amazing, so relaxing and the owner came over and chatted with us. By the end of the night, we had talked to so many friendly people – both Korean and foreign. As the night began to wane, and sleep called, we were ready to love Gwangju forever.
Beautiful place! Too bad there were so many mosquitoes!
The best part of the night, a festival to celebrate democracy!
Adventure Time Video: Day 1
With the Presidential Election occurring tomorrow, I was curious about the history of South Korea. Talking to students and co-workers peaked my interest so this past week I’ve been studying a bit about the history of the democratization of South Korea. I am by no means an expert but here are the basics along with some of the facts that I think gives us a glimpse into Korea. Here is a short summary of what I found :
1910 – 45
The Japanese Occupation
Japan occupied Korea in 1910, ending its monarch rule. Japan helped build up Korea’s infrastructure, especially the street and railroad systems. The Japanese attempted to eliminate the Korean culture from society, destroying some Korean artifacts, statues and buildings in the process. People were forced to adopt Japanese names, convert to the Japanese religion of Shinto and were forbidden to use Korean language in schools and business. During World War II, Japan used Korea for its resources, including its people, whether for forced labor, sex slaves (women known as “comfort women”) and medical experiments. Koreans, along with many other Asians, were experimented on in Unit 731, a secret military medical experimentation unit in World War II. Many of the forced laborers were never repatriated to Korea.
1945 – 60
The First Republic & the Korean War
The Japanese surrender on August 15, 1945, the 38th parallel marked the beginning of Soviet and U.S. trusteeship over the North and South, respectively. In 1946, an interim legislature and interim government were established, making Seungman Lee 이승만 the first President of South Korea. On September 9, 1948, a communist regime, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), was proclaimed under Kim Il Seong 김일성.
Soon after taking office, Lee enacted laws that severely curtailed political dissent. It soon became clear that Lee’s governing style was going to be authoritarian. His government oversaw several massacres, including the Jeju massacre, where up to 60,000 rebels and civilians were reportedly killed by the Army. Both Lee and Kim Il Seong wanted to unite the Korean peninsula under their individual governments, but the United States refused to give South Korea any heavy weapons. By contrast, Pyongyang was well-equipped with Soviet aircraft and tanks. On June 25, 1950, the North Korean Army invaded the South, starting the Korean War 한국 전쟁. UN forces helped the South while Communist Chinese volunteers sided with the North, resulting in a three-year war which left millions dead on both sides.
Student protests in Masan (the city I visited just a few weeks ago) against the corrupt government caused Seungman Lee to step down as president in 1960. On that election day, protests by students and citizens against the irregularities of the election burst out in the city of Masan. Initially these protests were quelled with force by local police, but when the body of a student was found floating in the harbor of Masan, the whole nation was enraged and protests spread nationwide. He died in exile in Honolulu, Hawaii.
1961 – 79
The Second & Third Republic
The Democratic Party, which had been in the opposition during the First Republic, easily gained power and the Second Republic was established. The revised constitution dictated the Second Republic to take the form of a parliamentary cabinet system where the President took only a nominal role. The assembly elected Yun Bo Seon 윤보선 as President and Chang Myeon 장면 as the prime minister and head of government in August, 1960. Under pressure from the left, the Chang government carried out a series of purges of military and police officials who had been involved in anti-democratic activities or corruption. A Special Law to this effect was passed on October 31, 1960. 40,000 people were placed under investigation; of these, more than 2,200 government officials and 4,000 police officers were purged.
South Korea’s First Dictator
The May 16 coup, led by Major General Park Cheong Hee 박정희 on May 16, 1961, put an effective end to the Second Republic. He then established martial law and later had himself elected president. Park’s administration started the Third Republic by announcing the Five Year Economic Development Plan, an export-oriented industrialization policy. Though his leadership was oppressive, President Park instigated many economic and social changes which helped elevate Korea into and industrializing nation. Major infrastructure enhancements, including the Seoul-Busan expressway and the Seoul subway system, began under his regime. The Fourth Republic began with the adoption of the Yusin Constitution on November 21, 1972. This new constitution gave Park effective control over the parliament and the possibility of permanent presidency. The Korean CIA director Kim Jae Kyu 김재규 assassinated President Park on October 26, 1979, thus bringing the 18-year rule of military regime to an end.
To understand what is happening currently in Korea, we must understand that he was born in Gumi, a small city outside of Daegu. Daegu is known to be a conservative city, so a lot of older people still support his rule and currently wish to see his daughter take power. His wife was assassinated the previous year by Mun Segwang, a North Korean sympathizer from Japan during an attempt on his life. His daughter, Park Geun Hye 박근혜, is currently running for President.
1980 – 87
The Fifth Republic
After President Park’s assassination, the prime minister took the president’s role. It only lasted for 6 days, when General Cheon Du Hwan 전두환 staged a military coup and took power on May 17, 1980. After re-establishing martial law which closed universities, placed further restrictions on the press and banned political activities, he had himself elected President and banned several hundred former politicians from campaigning. Uprising in the city of Gwangju occurred on May 18 to 27, 1980 and is referred to as the Gwangju Democratization Movement 광주 민주화 운동 and sometimes called 5.18, in reference to the date the uprising began. During this period, citizens rose up against Cheon’s dictatorship and took control of the city. In the course of the uprising, citizens took up arms by raiding police stations and military depots to oppose the government and re-establishment of Marshall law, but were ultimately crushed by the South Korean army. Estimates suggest up to 2,000 people may have died, although numbers range from as little as a few hundreds to a few thousands.
The government denounced the uprising as a rebellion instigated by Kim Dae Jung 김대중 (a politician) and his followers. In subsequent trials, Kim was convicted and sentenced to death. With the intervention of the United States government and international supporters (including the Pope), the sentence was reduced to 20 years in prison and later he was given exile to the U.S. Kim temporarily settled in Boston and taught at Harvard University as a visiting professor to the Center for International Affairs, until he chose to return to his homeland in 1985.
In September of 1980, Chun was elected president by indirect election and inaugurated in March of the following year, officially starting the 5th Republic. A new Constitution was established with notable changes; maintaining the presidential system but limiting to a single 7 year term, and strengthening the authority of the National Assembly. But the system of indirect election of president stayed. Despite the economic growth and results in diplomacy, the government, having gained power by coup d’etat, was essentially a military regime When a protesting Seoul National University student died under police interrogation in 1987, public fury was immense, forcing President Chun to implement more social reforms and hold presidential elections in 1988.
Relevant to today
A new movie called 26년 (26 years) is now out in theaters. It is a fictional story about a group of people searching for the person responsible for the Gwangju attacks.
Ex President Chun is still alive today and this past year got into some hot water: Disgraced Ex-President Claims to Live on $300, Joins Golf Club
1988 – 92 The Sixth Republic
General Noh Tae Woo 노태우, Chun’s chosen political successor, won the presidential election. Noh befriended Chun Du Hwan while in high school in Daegu. The opposition party failed to field a single candidate, splitting the opposition vote and giving Noh a comfortable win and became the country’s first cleanly elected president. During his term, President Noh’s government established diplomatic relations with many non-capitalist countries, including the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union, both long-term allies of communist North Korea. The successful hosting of the 1988 Olympic Games brought Korea to the center stage of world recognition.
1992 – 1996
The election of President Kim Yeong Sam 김영삼 ushered in a new era of civilian rule. The implementation of the real-name financial transaction act put an end to the easy hiding of hot money. Another 2,000 rules and regulations were abolished or amended during President Kim’s term. Kia Motors collapsed, setting off a chain of events which embroiled South Korea in the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis during the last year of his presidency. Despite the many contributions he made, Kim, Yeong- Sam will probably be remembered most for the dismal economic situation the country was in when he left office.
“Trial of the Century”
Almost immediately, Kim came under pressure to right the wrongs of the military government’s past transgressions. After a long investigation, former Presidents Chun and Noh were found to have initiated the 1979 coup, now referred to as a “premeditated military rebellion,” that led them to power. At first, it appeared the two men would not be prosecuted; however, public outrage demanded that they be tried for staging the 1979 coup and the Gwangju massacre. They each faced separate bribery charges. Chun received life imprisonment, while Noh was sentenced to 17 years in jail. President Kim Yeong Sam issued a special pardon for them a year later, in the name of national reconciliation.
1997 – 2002
The election of President Kim Dae Jung 김대중 (the man who had been arrested during the Gwangju Democratization Movement) marked the first time an opposition leader has been elected as president in Korea. In diplomacy, Kim Dae Jung pursued the “Sunshine Policy“, a series of efforts to reconcile with North Korea. This led to reunions between the separated families of the Korean War, and the summit talk with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Because of this, he was the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize recipient. He came to be called the “Nelson Mandela of Asia” for his long-standing opposition to authoritarian rule. The Wikileaks data reveals that the US Embassy in Seoul described Kim as “South Korea’s first left-wing president” to the American government on his day of death.
So here is where I read up to. I was blown away by how hard it was to get a democratic government in South Korea. And even the past few presidents have shown moments of corruption, bribery etc. I forget how young Korea is sometimes, the flashy technology sometimes blinds me from how new it all really is. So tomorrow is election day, and another moment for Koreans to choose how they will be governed. But I am assured that if they are really unhappy and disagree with what their government is doing, they (especially the young people) will stand up for their rights. I hope they continue to feel like they are being heard, and can mature and define what democracy means to them.
This past Sunday I had the humbling and amazing opportunity to visit the House of Sharing in Gwangju, Gyeonggi-do province, about 45 minutes from Seoul. The House of Sharing is both a museum and home to former “Comfort Women” – survivors of sexual slavery at the hands of the Japanese military during the Asia-Pacific War (1932-1945). It is the world’s first human rights museum centered on the theme of sexual slavery.
Eight of these women live in the house today. They are called the halmonis (할머니), or grandmothers. During World War Two, they were what many called wee-an-bu (위안부) or “comfort women”, 200,000 of the girls and young women from all across Asia who were taken by the Japanese to work as sex slaves.
The term “comfort women” is obviously a euphemism used by the perpetrators in order to lessen the horrific reality of the situation. The official name for these women is “Women drafted for military sexual slavery by Japan” or Cheong Sin Dae 정신대.A bronze statue that represents what these women would have wanted from their life at the time – she wears a traditional marriage crown, on her right is a suitor and on her left is a family. The waves symbolize prosperity in childbirth. Across from the first bronze statue, a second one reflects the juxtaposition of their reality – bayonets rise from a Chrysanthemum flower (the official flower of Japan) and pierce her, ripping through the traditional Korean hanbok, falling doves reflect fallen hope while her right hand drops the rose of sharon (the official flower of Korea).
Location of the Japanese Military “Comfort Stations”
The First One
In 1990, amid rumors of sexual slavery by the Armed Forces before and during World War II, a Japanese official spoke at a session of the Japanese Diet. He denied any governmental involvement with the recruitment of comfort women. He denied the forced abduction of these women, claiming they were never forced against their will. The outright denial of what had happened finally provoked one woman to speak out, Kim Hak Soon 김학순.
She was born in old Manchuria, but grew up in Pyongyang. After her father passed away, she was adopted. When Hak Soon was 14 years old, her stepfather enrolled her at The Gisaeng School (an all-girls performing arts school ). It was here that she was sold to a Japanese platoon in Northern China. Eventually she married, and emotionally abused by her husband who repeatedly insulted her for the life she had had. His death and the 1990’s denial by Japan pushed her to submit an official testimony. She protested until her death in December of 1997.
“I was born as a woman but never lived as a woman….I suffer from a bitterness I do not know how to overcome. I only want to ask the Japanese government not to go to war again. I feel sick when I am close to a man. Not just Japanese men but all men–even my own husband, who saved me from the brothel–have made me feel this way. I shiver when I see the Japanese flag. Because it carried that flag, I hated the airplane I took to come to Japan. I’ve kept trying to disclose the facts….Why should I feel ashamed? I don’t have to feel ashamed.”
The last painting Kim Hak Soon vowed to make before her death, “Punish Those Responsible”.
The Japanese government set up the Asia Women’s Fund in 1995 to compensate some comfort women, but it established the fund with private donations, not public money. Many of the survivors refused the “unofficial” offering. The following is a list of their demands:
7 Demands to the Japanese Government
- Admit the drafting of Japanese military comfort women
- Make an official apology
- Reveal the truth about the crime and reveal all official documents
- Erect memorial tablets for the victims
- Pay restitution to the victims or their families
- Teach the truth in schools so that the same crime is not repeated
- Punish the war criminals
The Netherlands prosecuted some of the soldiers who had captured 35 Dutch women during World War II when the Japanese Army overran Dutch colonies in Asia. Those responsible were sentenced to prison. The Japanese government officially apologized for these women only.
The Korean Government ignored the sex-slavery issue in 1965 when it negotiated a treaty with Japan which settled other grievances due to war damage and colonialism. Interestingly enough, it was also mentioned during the tour that perhaps a reason the Korean government has not done more for these women is because they themselves have crossed that line – comfort stations were a reality during the Korean War.
Shortly after the war, the U.S. Government appears to have had knowledge of various Japanese war atrocities. They were aware that the Unit 731 biological warfare lab conducted experiments on human beings and “against entire populations and was responsible for anywhere from 3,000 to 200,000 deaths.” 7 The unit’s commanders were given amnesty in return for access to their research records. [Source]
Specifically, following WWII, the primary interest of the United States was to rebuild Japan into a strong ecopower to help in the Cold War fight against communism. Even as late as 2001, Washington actively opposed a class-action lawsuit filed in the U.S. by former comfort women demanding redress from Japan. [Source]
It was a lot to take in as I walked through the dark displays and cringed every time my boots clicked agains the purposely placed wooden floor. The questions that came to mind were:
- What were the responses of US and United Nations both at the time and presently?
- Has this issue become a platform for other groups to open the door of discussion to the current issues of sex slavery in Korea?