When traveling Jeju, regardless of our intentions, we encounter the traces of the Jeju Uprising. One of such places is Gwandeokjeong Pavillion, an annex building to the former Jeju Magistrate Office. This area was highly significant during the incident.
The Special Act on Jeju 4.3 Incident defines it as “an incident in which the lives of inhabitants were sacrificed in the riot that arose on April 3, 1948, starting from March 1, 1947, and in the process of armed conflicts and suppression thereof that took place in Jeju-do and the suppression thereof until September 21, 1954.”
It is called the 4.3 Incident because it occurred on April 3, 1948, but the origin of the incident was March 1, 1947. Gwandeokjeong Pavilion was where the conflict that had accumulated in Jeju before and after the liberation exploded.
On March 1, 1947, at 11 am, the 28th Anniversary of Convention on Jeju’s March 1 was held at the Jeju North Elementary School. This event was led by the “Democratic National Front (Minjeon)” formed on February 23, just before March 1. Ahn Sehun, co-chairman of Minjeon and chairman of the preparatory committee for the March 1 commemorative event, was also the chairman of the Jeju Committee of the Workers’ Party of South Korea.
At the event. participants shouted, “let’s establish an independent and unified democratic state!” and “eliminate foreign powers such as the US military government.” The number of people gathered reached up to 30,000. Considering that the total population of Jeju Island was 270,000 to 300,000 at the time, the scale of the event was incredible. How was this possible?
Kim Yong-sam, a professor at Syngman Rhee Academy, says that communist forces were rampant in Jeju Island. He argues that the people fell for the propaganda and instigation of the communists. He even describes Jeju as a “hotbed of leftists.” For this reason, he claims that so many people were able to gather at an event hosted by the left-wing.
However, in the same book, Kim says that the Korean Communist Party consistently lost public sentiment through “radical strikes and intense struggles” to achieve the communist revolution right after liberation. The red scare is “widespread” in South Korea at the communists’ own fault, he insists.
It is quite contradictory to argue that Jeju Island had fallen for the propaganda of communists while also asserting that they had lost public sentiment. In fact, the event’s preparation committee was not only comprised of leftists. Including Inspector Kim Cha-bong, who was deputy chief of the Jeju Prosecutor’s Office, the committee consisted of police officers, prosecutors, and well-known rightists. Therefore, it may be more appropriate to assume that the large number of people participating in the March 1 event was due to the loss of public sentiment by the US military government.
▲ Photo= 4.3 Archives
In reality, the US military government had instigated Jeju people’s resentment and anger with a series of mistaken measures. One of the biggest misgovernment was its food policy. During the chaotic times, the US military government allowed free trade in food without any control or coordination. This worsened the cornering of the market and monopolies, and the rate of inflation skyrocketed.
The price of rice, which was 9.4 won for 1 mal (approximately 18 liters) at the end of September 1945, jumped to 2,800 won in September of the following year. When the market was disrupted so severely, the US military government urgently ceased free trade and enforced an order to collect and distribute rice. However, the American order to collect rice was harsher than the level demanded by the Japanese colonial force. They also set the purchase price at less than a quarter of the general market price, which attracted backlash from farmers. What’s worse, coal powder and sand were mixed in the rations, causing stomach aches among the consumers.
If Kim Yong-sam’s logic is applied the same way, the people’s anger and resentment were initiated by the US military government itself. The leftists penetrated the hearts of the people in that angle. These were the people who gathered at the March 1 commemorative event.
It’s not that I am trying to defend the Workers’ Party of South Korea. The “Jeju 4.3 Incident Fact Investigation Report” also states that on April 3, 1948, the guerrilla forces of the Jeju Provincial Party of the Workers’ Party of South Korea made an armed uprising. In other words, the situation in Jeju cannot be simplified only as a result of the left-wing propaganda and instigation of residents, without considering the public’s anger against the US military government.
After the March 1 commemorative ceremony was over, people started marching toward Gwandeokjeong, the center of the town. Today, the old Jeju Magistrate Office is restored, but this was the location of Jeju police station at that time.
Around 2:45 pm, when the procession passed Gwandeokjeong, the incident broke out. Among the mounted police, Inspector Lim Yeong-gwan knocked down a girl. But the officer tried to pass by as if he couldn’t see the injured girl. People around him protested rightfully, and the policeman drove his horse away from the crowd and fled to the police station. At this very moment, the police who were watching the protesters from the nearby watchtower opened fire.
On this incident, Ji Man-won (2011) claims that the WPK protesters deliberately made the horse run wild by stabbing the horse’s anus with a bamboo stick. However, he does not disclose the testimony or source on which this claim is based.
As a result of the shooting, six people were killed, and eight were seriously injured. When the incident broke out, the police set aside a proper fact-finding and immediately began violent suppression. An island-wide curfew was imposed from 7 pm on the day of the incident to 6 am the next day. On the day after the incident, March 2nd, 25 students were arrested.
On March 14, Cho Byeong-ok, then National Police Director, came to Jeju and released a statement on March 19. The main content was that the police firing at Gwandeokjeong on March 1 was justifiable as “self-defense” against the protesters who tried to raid the police station. But was this police announcement indeed true?
▲ Photo= 4.3 Archives
Among the people who were shot and killed at Gwandeokjeong at the time was a 21-year-old woman named Park Jae-ok, who was holding a baby. Also included was Heo Dy-yong (age 15), a sixth-grader in elementary school. Most of the victims were shot on the edge of the street, not in the middle of the square. Park Gyeong-hun, the first governor of Jeju Province, also announced that the people who were shot were not protesters, but those who were watching from the sides.
Most surprisingly, five out of six victims who died were shot in the back, contradicting the police’s claim that it fired at protesters rushing to attack the police station. The fact that police shot people who turned their backs was proof that they did not fire to calm or disband the protesters, but aimed to shoot them instead.
In this situation, it was inevitable that public sentiment exploded. On March 10, a massive strike took place that even involved the participation of some public officials. The strike demanded to identify the truth of the March 1 shooting and punish the person responsible for the firing. The police and the US military government responded with a hardline crackdown that arrested over 500 protesters. Although the strike ended after about ten days, the anger of the people did not subside.
▲ On June 7, 1949, a body hung on a cross frame was displayed at Gwandeokjeong Square. The corpse was Lee Deok-gu, the second commander of the guerilla forces. This marked the de-facto demise of the guerilla forces. Photo= 4.3 Archives
After the general strike, Governor Park Gyeong-hun resigned. In April, Yu Hae-jin was appointed as the new governor of Jeju Province. He was a former Korea Independence Party member and head of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Department, far right of the political spectrum. When he came to Jeju, he brought his seven of his personal guards, all of whom were members of the famous Northwest Youth League. It was the first official entry of the League, marking the beginning of the suffering that the Jeju people will face between the left and right.
The public sentiment that had boiled from below eventually exploded on April 3, 1948, a year after the initial incident. In the early morning of this day, beacons rose all over Jeju, and the armed uprising began. Gwandeokjeong was one of the initial points and centers of the 4.3 incident, with the body of the guerilla force commander Lee Deok-gu on display.
▲ Photo= 4.3 Archives
Gwandeokjeong’s wide roof still casts a generous shadow and provides a cool shade on hot summer days. It also has embraced so much blood and tears. The same can be said of the beautiful beaches, scenic views, oreum, and every corner of the Olle Trail that we meet in Jeju: there is not a spot that is free of the stains of blood from April 3.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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