Jeju Peace Museum

Peace_Museum2Here are two views from Gama Oreum. The top one looks through the trees northwards towards Jeoji Oreum; the one below looks at some more distant oreums a little more to the east.

Apart from being a vantage point from which to admire the scenery, Gama Oreum is the site of the Jeju Peace Museum, on account of the three-level network of military tunnels within it. A total of 2 km of tunnels, with 33 separate entrances, were dug between 1932 and 1945. Jeju was strategically important, and Gama Oreum was in turn important because of the view over Altteuru airfield.

There’s a film for visitors to watch as you enter the museum. It has a message of world peace; indeed, Jeju has been designated as an Island of World Peace. However, I’m not sure that the message is unambiguous within the film, or fully supported in the rest of the museum. It’s a difficult thing to achieve – telling things how they were without either pointing the finger at the aggressors in the war or simply allowing visitors to draw conclusions that are unhelpful.

And it’s not just the events of the Second World War that are covered. There’s a shell on display that was fired by the North Koreans at the south in 2010, and some booklets for sale with illustrations that show the South Koreans and their allies with benevolent faces and soldiers from North Korea with wild eyes and fierce faces. Sigh.


The legacy of war


There are plenty of physical legacies of war on Jeju although they’re not always easy to spot. Here’s another tunnel dating from the occupation by the Japanese, this time from inside looking outwards rather than the other way round.

Sadly, the emotional legacies are more damaging. The BBC news published an article recently – – in which it explores the reasons. One of the interesting themes in the article echoes something that a Japanese friend said to me before I came to Jeju: Schoolchildren in China, South Korea and Japan are all taught different versions of history.

I’ll pick out some comments of the article that reflect this, although I’m unable to verify the accuracy of the statements. One Chinese writer for the state-owned People’s Daily is quoted as saying that none of Japan’s 25 apologies to China have been covered by the Chinese media, and neither has the £21.8bn of aid that China has received from Japan over the years. The article also claims that, since 1989, the Chinese Communist Party has promoted nationalism within China by breeding “hatred against the most recent invader and aggressor”, i.e. Japan. The article also refers to China’s “patriotic education” policy.

China doesn’t have a monopoly on such things, of course. There have been strong feelings in South Korea recently about how history books approved for use in schools here describe the war; some people claim that the history books whitewash events that show Japanese brutality. The reason? I was told that it’s in the financial interests of some prominent Koreans not to rock the boat with Japan.

Add to that some of the statements that come from the right-wing politicians and public figures in Japan (“the comfort women system that the Japanese army employed during the Second World War was a necessary one”, “the 1937 Nanjing Massacre in China by Japanese troops never happened” – that sort of thing), and it all creates a legacy of distrust and recrimination.

On that basis, you shouldn’t believe what you read in the newspapers or history books; history is a tool used by the powerful to manipulate the “laobaixing” (Chinese for “old 100 names”, i.e. the average man in the street) in order to achieve their own political or financial objectives.

A time of war on Jeju

Japanese_occupation_Kunsan_oreum1Jeju was an important military base for Japan, both for offence and defence, and I’ve been collecting photos of what remains of the wartime Japanese occupation of Jeju since I got here. They’re not very impressive as photos, but they have prompted me to do a little research about that period of time. I know there’s been a lot written in Korean – I’ve seen it in the library of Jeju National University – but I’m having to use signboards at the sites I’ve visited and the internet to find information in English.

The photo above shows the entrance to a tunnel in the side of Kunsan oreum; the photo below shows tunnels along the shoreline at the base of Songaksan. There are plenty of others. In the latter stages of the war, the Japanese army used local people to dig these and others in order to create an extensive underground tunnel system as a defence against the threat of an allied invasion.

There’s an abandoned airfield near the southern tip of the island that was within bombing range of Shanghai – but I’ll save that for another post.


Oedolgae Rock


I’ve posted a picture of this stack, Oedolgae Rock, before. It’s very close to the start of Olle trail 7, just west of Seogwipo City. The name has a meaning something like ‘lonely rock’ and is so named because of its isolated position. More anthropomorphism; inanimate objects aren’t just named because of an imagined resemblance to an animal (Cow Island, Bat Oreum, etc.), but because they’re attributed human feelings and characteristics.

Something I hadn’t seen before is a monument nearby that recalls an incident in 1968, and I quote:


“Here on the night of August 20th, 1968, Unit 753 of the North Korean Military arrived on Armed Boat 51 to extract a North Korean spy named Yi X who was operating in Jeju-do, South Korea.

“In a fierce 6 hour battle, a joint military unit comprised of Police Officers from the Seogwipo Police Station and a South Korean military unit completely destroyed the armed boat, killed 12 guerillas, arrested 2 armed guerillas and captured 14 machine guns along with some antiaircraft weapons.

“On this day, the 60th Anniversary of the establishment of the National Police Agency, this monument was built to honor the bravery, courage and valor displayed by the aforementioned Seogwipo Police Officers and South Korean Soldiers. May this exemplary achievement serve as an inspiration for all.”