The History of the Jeju April 3rd Incident in Bukchon-ri

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For the title of this post I’ve borrowed the text from a notice at a site in Bukchon-ri, in the middle of the route of Olle 19. This typical Jeju rocky landscape has a dark history from the days of the Jeju 4.3 incident and is the burial site of children killed on 17th January 1949. Once again, I’ll use the text from the notice.

Bukchon-ri is a seaside village located in the east end of Jocheon-eup. During the Japanese colonial rule, there were many anti-Japanese activists from this village and after the liberation, independent organizations were very active in Bukchon-ri with the People’s Committee as the central organization.

  • August 13th 1947 : Police shot at people who were pasting up leaflets. Three men were injured.
  • April 21st 1948 : Armed guerrillas attacked the Bukchon-ri office of the National Election Commission and seized documents related to the general election.
  • June 16th 1948 : Two policemen were killed by the armed guerrillas.
  • December 16th 1948 : Soldiers massacred 24 civilians in Nansibille near Bukchon-ri.
  • January 17th 1949: After two soldiers were killed by armed guerillas, the army massacred the residents of Bukcon-ri.

What happened in Bukchon-ri is an exemplary case of genocide which is strictly prohibited by the international laws even in wartime. On January 17th 1949, about 300 defenseless (sic) villagers in Bukchon-ri were killed regardless of age or sex. The Bukchon-ri Incident resulted in the highest number of people murdered in a single incident during the Jeju April 3rd Incident. The massacre was carried out in the fields and farms around Bukchon Elementary School.

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It’s worth remembering that it was not legal to talk about the Jeju 4.3 massacres for several decades after they happened. Indeed, local writer Hyun Gi-young published a short novel, Aunt Suni, about the Bukchon-ri incident in 1979 and was arrested and tortured for doing so. It’s only very recently that the events have been publicly acknowledged and the important sites commemorated. A small museum now records the events of January 1949 in Bukchon-ri and the memorial below records the names of those who were killed.

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Seotal oreum 4.3 site

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I made my first reference to the Jeju 4.3 Massacre in a post about Goneul-dong, on the north coast, earlier this month. Seotal oreum, another 4.3 site, is much closer to home, adjacent to land that used to be the Japanese airfield between Museulpo and Songaksan. There’s a memorial (photo above) which appears to record names of the murdered. Again, I can do no better than quote the English translation of the notice. You’ll have to replace the word ‘compulsively’ with ‘compulsory’:

This place used to be the largest arsenal built by compulsively mobilized people in Jeju during the Pacific War, but it was blasted by the U.S. armed forces after the liberation from Japan.

The Korean War broke out on June 25, 1950. Department of Interior Security exploited the abrogated preventive detention law that was once used by Japan to suppress our nation, and gave every police department instructions to detain and execute blacklisted people and unsavoury elements. Accordingly, Moseulpo Police station had preventively detained and closely watched 344 people until government forces stationed in Moseulpo massacred approximately 210 people (20 on July 16 and 193 on August 20 1950) without legal process and buried them in secret. Civil access to this area had been limited until exhumation was allowed in spring 1956. This is the hideous spot described above.

The two pits in the photo below are the sites of the burials.

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Goneul-dong, deserted village

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Here’s a subject I haven’t written about before: The Jeju 4.3 Uprising or Massacre. I’ve had opportunities but didn’t know where to start; I still don’t understand it well. What is clear is that many thousands of Jeju people were killed in fighting or were summarily executed by the South Korean authorities, many dumped in unmarked graves. The reason? The real or perceived threat of communist sympathisers on Jeju in the uncertain years after the Japanese had left after the Second World War, when the division of the Korean Peninsular was becoming a long-term reality. ‘4.3’ refers to April 3rd, 1948, the nominal date of the start of the Uprising, which lasted until May 1949.

The photo above is taken on the north coast of the island, just a few kilometres east of Jeju City. The background shows a typical modern Jeju settlement; the foreground shows the remains of the site of Goneul-dong village, as does the photo below. I can do no better than quote from the notice erected to record the site:

Goneul-dong was located in the west coast of Hwabuk 1-dong, Jeju City. Before the  April Third Uprising, in ‘Inside Goneul’ at the east bottom of Byeoldo Peak, there were 22 dwellings, in ‘Middle Goneul’ located between the two branches of Hwabuk Stream, 17 dwellings,  and in ‘Outside Goneul’, 28 dwellings.

On January 4 and 5, 1949, Goneul-dong was put to the torch and has been deserted since. Around 3-4 p.m. on January 4, 1949, one platoon from the 2nd Regiment of Korean Constabulary laid siege to Goneul-dong. They rounded up all the villagers. They took approximately 10 young men to the coast and executed them. Then, they set fire to all 22 dwellings in Inside Goneul and all 17 dwellings in Middle Goneul.

On January 5, soldiers killed some villagers who were confined in nearby Hwabuk Elementary School at ‘Mosalbul’, on the east coast of Hwabuk-dong. Then, they burned all 28 dwellings in Outside Goneul. Since then, Goneul-dong has been deserted.

And according to Wikipedia, “For almost fifty years after the uprising, it was a crime punishable by beatings, torture and a lengthy prison sentence if any South Korean even mentioned the events of the Jeju uprising.”

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