The JDC-Jeju Weekly Junior Journalists visited Bukchon village in Jeju City on April 14 for the third journalism field trip. At the historical sites of the village they learned about the April 3 massacre and wrote individual articles. The Weekly’s editorial staff selected two outstanding pieces below.
Jeju Island was recently selected as a New7Wonders of Nature, however, amid the celebration Jeju continues to be haunted by the violent events of its past. April 3, 1948, is the day attributed to the start of a prolonged massacre on the island committed by government forces. From 1947 to 1948, an estimated 30,000 people were killed.
The conflict began after World War II with Korea regaining its independence ending Japan’s 35 years of colonial rule over the peninsula. On Jeju, this was met with both happiness and concern. With Japan being kicked out of the country, Korea had no government and many Jeju citizens opposed that the election for the country’s first president was only occurring in Korea’s southern half. By voting in the election they would have been supporting the divide of the country. In response, the people of Jeju went on a general strike, deteriorating the island’s relationship with its country’s fragile government.
▲ A memorial stone in the massacre site. Photo by Jeong Yu Jin
▲ Names of April 3 Massacre victims. Photo by Jeong Yu Jin
On March 1, 1947, Jeju islanders gathered in Gwandeokjeong, Jeju City, to commemorate its Independence Movement Day and to simultaneously protest the upcoming presidential election. Through much confusion and to the quell the protest, police open fired on the crowd killing six people.
In response to the government’s continual suppression of the people of Jeju, on the early morning of April 3, 1948, a small group of islanders attacked police stations and political figures. In turn, the government labeled the citizens of Jeju as Communists and the newly formed US-backed South Korean government set out to cleanse the island of opponents to democracy.
This was the beginning of the Jeju Massacre (commonly referred to as 4.3 in Korean).
▲ April 3 Massacre survivor Kim Seok Ho tells his story to The JDC junior journalists. Photo by Jeong Yu Jin
Kim Seok Ho, 77, is a survivor of the Jeju massacre, and spoke with the Jeju Weekly Junior Journalists about what he went through during those seven years.
“I cannot talk about the seriousness of the 4.3 massacre exactly because those who killed the people of Jeju are still alive. I am so angry about that and it causes me a lot of stress. Anyone who did not experienced it can know how it feels,” Kim said. “Even though my father was the village chief, he couldn’t stop the deaths of my siblings.”
Oh Seung Kook, 55, deputy secretary general at the Jeju April 3 Peace Foundation, who started to study the events surrounding this tragic aspect in Jeju’s history in order to provide a Jeju perspective, said that concerning the massacre, “The government needs to think about the Jeju people’s perspective. [At that time] the people of Jeju just really wanted a unified Korea,” meaning that the people opposed the election not because they were Communists, but because they wanted to prevent the bisection of their country.
▲ Oh Seung Kook from the Jeju April 3 Peace Foundation. Photo by Jeong Yu Jin
Even though more than 60 years have past since the start of the Jeju 4.3 massacre, the people of Jeju must not forget what happened. Those who know of the massacre will never forget the victims and the people who were sacrificed. Jeju’s inauguration as one of the New7Wonders of Nature seems to disguise its violent past. Like a hurricane, the Jeju Massacre greatly affected Jeju Island, but Jeju will continue to develop, and an incident like this will hopefully never happen again.
Scars of 4.3 remain in people’s hearts
By Kim Yeon Jin
Those Jeju citizens who suffered through the seven years of armed conflict on the island known as the Jeju Massacre (4.3 in Korean) are still tormented by its horrible memory. Starting on April 3, 1948, and continuing until 1954, roughly 30,000 Jeju islanders were killed and those that survived are still suffering. The citizens of Jeju Island were killed by a government they couldn’t publicly blame.
This massacre was the consequence of opposition to the American army who was in control of the southern half of Korea and was in the process of establishing a new government here. Huge numbers of Jeju citizens were killed as a consequence of the American army and the South Korean army repressing their opponents by force.
The survivors, though, can still clearly remember what happened, and are reluctant to speak about it because it is too gruesome to think about.The Jeju Weekly Junior Journalists went to Bukchon village, Jeju City, where some 400 people were murdered during the massacre to uncover more about this tragic event in Jeju’s history.
Kim Seok Bo is a survivor of the Jeju Massacre. He escaped from the throes of death while army soldiers were shooting the villagers of Bukchon on January 17, 1949. At midnight he went to the nearby village of Neobeunsungi with his mother after the army had begun the massacre.
“My mother was trying to find my brother and sister relying on the moonlight. When I was there with my mother, I saw lots and lots of corpses. I saw a man who lost half of his face. I was so scared,” he said.
Five hundred people, half of all those who were living in Bukchon village at that time, were killed. They were killed in many places around Bukchon village like Dang Pat, Neo Beun Soong Ee, and the Bukchon Elementary School field.
▲ Aunt Suni memorial commemorating the April 3 Massacre. Photo by Jeong Yu Jin
▲ A line from the novel Aunt Suni carved on stone statue in the massacre site. Photo by Jeong Yu Jin
“The armies were taking people to Dang Pat by car. At that time, people didn’t see cars very often, so people tried to get into them. They didn’t know it was a road to death. When my family arrived at Dang Pat, my brothers and sister had already been killed and my mother and I were the only survivors from our family.”
Those from the village were separated into two camps; those who were related to police officers and those who were not, with the former being saved and the latter executed.
“Soon, the commander came and ordered them to stop shooting people. We wriggled out of the crowd and hid among the police officers’ families since they were the only people who were allowed to live.”
He said that it has only been recently that he has been able to discuss the massacre, and even still it is very difficult to go into great detail. The reason for this, he continued, is that some of the other survivors in the village don’t like for him to share his experiences.
“I think survivors don’t want to think about the massacre. Neither do I. It’s painful to think about that time and talk about it to people. However, I want many people to know about this horrible historical event called 4.3.”
There are lots of people who suffer from their painful memories related to the 4.3 massacre. Please visit the places that were left scarred by the Jeju Massacre so that we can try to understand the pain that the survivors feel to this day.
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