Since visiting the 5.18 Peace Park in Gwangju my interest in Korean history had peaked, especially the stuff that was seemingly swept under the rug. While looking for places to visit and things to do in Jeju I came across the 4.3 Peace Park and was immediately captivated by the Jeju Uprising, another bit of Korean history I was yet unaware of. As most things are in Jeju, the park was not an easy place to reach without a car, but I'm no stranger to Korean public transportation, so the hour long bus ride didn't phase me. Bus 43 runs from downtown and stops directly outside the park, the only problem is it only runs once an hour, so it's wise to plan your trip accordingly.
The park was built as a tribute and compensation to the communities of people in Jeju for the damage and loss they had incurred during the April 3rd incident. Although it's known by this name, the problems surrounding this incident in Jeju started as early as March 1947 and continued well beyond. The events centered around a resistance from Jeju residents in the South Korean Labor Party (SKLP) against elections slotted for March 1948, fearing a permanent divide of the country. Throughout the year in 1947 there were various incidents between Jeju residents and the Korean government, however April 3rd is remembered as the date the Uprising officially began. On this day SKLP party members, after months of suffering from government forces, planned protests against the government forces, but were met with strong resistance.
Although deaths occurred on both sides of this battle the problem lies in the brutal force sometimes used by the government in Jeju. Soldiers were known to have tortured and terrorized Jeju civilians, with one report noting a raid of villages in December 1948 where young men and women were captured, raped and murdered. In 1949 a campaign was launched to eradicate all guerrilla forces in Jeju, however in the process of doing so hundreds of civilians were also killed.
One of the most gripping parts in the museum was the replica of the Darangshi cave, a place where civilian refugees had retreated to, hiding from soldiers, but upon being discovered were killed with hand grenades and blocked in by fire set to the entrance. What was most shocking was that the remains were only discovered in 1992 at which time the remains were cremated and entrance to the cave was blocked, seeming to erase this event ever happened. There is one report of troops refusing to "murder the people of Jeju" in an attack slotted for October, 1948, but aside from this it puzzles me that Korean soldiers could so brutally kill their own people.
Additionally, the Government kept the events of April 3rd and it's aftermath a secret for 50 years, with the first acknowledgment only coming in 1998 from former president Kim Dae-Jung. While it was believed that the Jeju Uprising was a communist rebellion it was finally stated that many innocent civilians were falsely accused, tortured and ultimately killed. This was the first action that led to the special law in 2000, allowing the government to uncover the whole truth of the incident and apologize to the people of Jeju, ultimately leading to the development of this park.
Similar to the Gwangju incidents these events played a critical role to the development of Democracy in Korea. While there is still much controversy surrounding the events, and I personally have a hard time following the politics of it, the fact that innocent people were tortured and murdered, en mass, is appalling. Human beings are meant to be an intelligent breed, but time and time again masses are brainwashed into following the thinking of one party, leading to murder, war, fighting and even the killing of their own people, something I will never be able to understand.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the park, but only wished I would have had more time to appreciate and take it all in. Unfortunately I had underestimated the time I would need and overestimated the efficiency the buses would provide. Having only one bus an hour and afternoon plans meant I had to be going, but I would definitely consider returning in the future. Aside form offering a look into another tragic historical event, the park itself is beautifully laid out and (at least when I visited) free of the crowds you so often encounter in Jeju.
Where to start. After living in this country for three years I have memories, experiences and stories galore. I'll now always be a bit partial to the Land of the Morning Calm. Filled with delicious foods, beautiful nature and friendly people, I'm always happy to return.