This is the first report in The Weekly’s special Jeju April 3rd Massacre coverage that will continue in Issue 71. — Ed.
▲ Chae Jong Ok. Photo by Darryl Coote
It was the first time Chae Jong Ok had ever seen a dead body. It was between November and December 1948, some eight months after the start of the Jeju Massacre (known as 4.3 in Korean). By 1954, an estimated 30,000 people would lose their lives, mainly at the hands of the US-backed, newly formed South Korean government.
“I was very shocked and the scene was so brutal ... I was devastated,” recalled the 87-year-old sitting on his living room floor in Jongdal village, Gujwa district, Jeju City. Chae had stumbled upon 11 bodies scattered about Darangshi cave, close to his present home.
▲ former Darangshi researcher Kim Dong-man. Photo by Darryl Coote
Then 22, Chae was on patrol with several other men from his village to protect it from people who were living on Mt. Halla fighting government forces, he said. They were intercepted by these men who were looking for a man in Chae’s group suspected of being a government supporter. They were taken away but Chae was set free.
In 1948 the people of Jeju were living in fear. The military were targeting those they suspected of being Communists and many people fled to the forests of the mountain for safety.
After being released Chae heard about the cave while looking for safety on the mountain and searched it out for refuge from the police, the military, and the North West Youth League (a extreme-right group particularly of young men who fled North Korea). After about 10 days, he found the cave and stayed there for roughly a week.
“Around Nov. 20, there was a major mission and it was a collaboration between the army, police, and the North West Youth League,” said Jeju April 3 Peace Foundation Deputy Secretary General Oh Seung-kook. “They found the cave, and those in it were asked to come out but they didn’t because they knew if they did they were going to be killed.”
They then set fire to the mouth of the cave, and the 11 people inside asphyxiated, including three children and four women.
“A few days before they hit the cave I left. I met police in other areas but luckily I survived. When I came back to the cave I found out that everyone was smoked to death.”
He returned a day after they were killed and arranged the bodies, lining them beside one another.
“I didn’t go back into the cave [after that] because … now they knew where the cave was. It wasn’t a safe place anymore,” said Chae, who then wandered around the mountain for another six months before heading back to his village.
▲ Researchers in 1992 examine Darangshi cave for the first time since 1948 when 11 people were killed inside by government forces. Photo courtesy Kim Gi Sam
It took 45 years for Darangshi cave to be found again.
In 1992, researchers from the Jeju 4.3 Research Institute were in Gujwa interviewing survivors of the massacre when Chae told them what he had been through.
The researchers spent a month looking for the cave, but with no luck. Then, they brought Chae to assist them but all he could remember was the area, not the specific location. Then one of the researchers found the cave.
“At the time they didn’t even tell the old man [Chae] it was found and [the researchers] had an emergency meeting,” said Oh.
“Before [the discovery of the cave], 4.3. had been only a spoken history, and after 45 years … to see the reality of it. To see something very solid. It was very shocking,” said Kim Dong-man, present Cheju Halla University professor, and one of the researchers who investigated the cave after its discovery. He was 27 at the time.
Even then, the massacre was an unspoken topic. A little over a decade earlier, Hyun Ki Young, who wrote the first book on the massacre, was imprisoned and tortured because of his work. The researchers feared that they too would face repercussions.
“In 1992 the government didn’t accept the fact that 4.3 happened and saying something the government denied was going against the government,” said Oh.
“I was worried,” said Kim, who was later imprisoned for violating the National Security Law by making a video on the topic. He was later found not guilty and released.
Kim said that during the emergency meeting two things were discussed: how to figure out the identities of the bodies, and then to properly care for their remains “to make their deaths more memorable and honor their sacrifice.”
The researchers originally set out to handle the cave’s discovery on their own, but during the meeting realized they needed the media’s involvement to make the story public.
In late March 1992, Hankyoreh, Jemin Ilbo, and DongA Ilbo published stories about the 11 bodies.
▲ The families of the 11 people killed in Darangshi cave are taken to Gimnyeong harbor, Jeju City, in 1992 to scatter the remains of their long-lost relatives into the ocean. Photo courtesy Kim Gi Sam
“The discovery of the 11 dead bodies revealed to the world the brutal reality of what really happened … Just one photo of the 11 dead bodies had a huge impact,” said Oh, adding that it was the first time those on the mainland were forced to take notice of the massacre.
Soon after the publication of the articles, the government sealed the cave and prevented the families of the dead from entombing the bodies out of fear that their burials “would trigger … some kind of public movement against the government,” said Oh. The government then convinced the families to have the bodies cremated and scattered in the sea near Gimnyeong, Jeju City.
“It was essentially to cover up the truth of 4.3,” said Kim. “The provincial government and police did not want the public to find out about the bodies ... They didn’t want 4.3 to be revealed to the world.”
Dr. Kim Hunjoon states in his paper “Seeking Truth After 50 Years: The National Committee for Investigation of the Truth about Jeju 4.3 Events,” the national coverage of the cave “was certainly the most significant event since the publication of Hyun’s novel.”
He credits the discovery of the cave as the main force behind transforming the massacre from a issue pursued by activists into a public movement. The evidence showing that the government was behind the deaths would challenged the previous concept of the Jeju Massacre.
This year marks the discovery of the cave’s 20th anniversary, and in honor of its importance the Jeju 4.3 Research Institute will be holding a seminar on March 28 to 29 about how the massacre has changed in the wake of the cave’s discovery.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
All materials on this site are protected under the Korean Copyright Law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published without the prior consent of Jeju Weekly.
Mail to firstname.lastname@example.org | Phone: +82-64-724-7776 Fax: +82-64-724-7796
#505 jeju Venture Maru Bldg,217 Jungangro(Ido-2 dong), Jeju-si, Korea, 690-827
Registration Number: Jeju Da 01093 | Date of Registration: November 20, 2008 | Publisher: Hee Tak Ko | Youth policy: Hee Tak Ko
Copyright ⓒ 2009 All materials on this site are protected under the Korean Copyright Law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published
without the prior consent of jeju weekly.com.