Foreigners’ presence sparks protests in YongsanFeb. 3, 1887
Yongsan, in central Seoul, has long been a place for foreign troops. Since Mongolian intruders used the Yongsan area as their base in the 13th century, the neighborhood has seen Japanese, Chinese and American troops, who were were not welcomed by many locals at the time.
More than a century ago on this date, merchants in the Yongsan area opposed the foreign community’s move to the area. Shops closed, and merchants took to the streets in demonstrations. The campaign was soon suppressed by the government.
With the recent plan to move the U.S. military base to Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi province, Yongsan will bid goodbye to its longtime residents.
The move is causing upset in the Yongsan area and in the troops’ future home. Yongsan area merchants won’t be glad to see the foreigners leave, as they depend on business from expatriates. In Pyeongtaek, residents are staging a sit-down protest against the U.S. military's move.
Feb. 7, 1887
The Korean Peninsula, surrounded by more than 3,000 islands, has long suffered in power struggles of other countries. Geomundo Island, situated far off the South Sea, was one such ill-fated Korean territory in the late 19th century.
The island, where banished court officials lived in the Joseon Dynasty (1392 to 1910), flew the Union Jack instead of Korea’s national flag, from 1885 until this date.
On April 15, 1885, Great Britain occupied the island by force with six warships and two trading vessels. The occupation was intended to hold back Russia’s southward advance.
Back then, Russia and Great Britain were keeping each other in check in northeast Asia. As Russia moved south in search of an ice-free port, Great Britain grew fidgety.
Among the three places that Russia was eyeing around the peninsula, Great Britain made the first move on Geomundo Island.
To the British, Geomundo, which consists of four islets, was strategically important as a stronghold for northeastern Asia. They called the island Port Hamilton.
Port Hamilton, however, regained its name as Geomundo Island two years after the occupation. The Joseon Dynasty court asked other world powers, such as China, for arbitration. China played as a go-between, getting Russia to promise that it wouldn’t conquer any territory in Korea, which led to the British leaving the island.
While serving in Port Hamilton, seven British soldiers and citizens died on the island, whose cemetery sits on a hill facing the sea. Now a must-see attraction on the island, the British Cemetery is also the first place for a new British ambassador to visit in Korea.
Feb. 7, 1996
Jeong Seung-u, an ex-convict, had nothing more to lose after going to prison eight times, so he cooked up a scheme to make him rich.
In 1982, Mr. Jeong passed himself off as a Buddhist monk with a divine power, reborn from his dismal past. Encouraged by people’s gullibility, Mr. Jeong established a village for the mentally challenged, single mothers and juvenile vagrants, naming it Sojjeoksae, or Cuckoo, Village.
Mr. Jeong became known as the saintly Buddhist monk Illyeok, whose name’s Chinese characters meant “one force.”
Starting in 1989, he made a number of TV appearances to appeal for donations, which were successful. More than 70,000 Buddhist devotees around the country reportedly contributed more than 10 billion won ($9 million) in total.
Behind the well-meaning facade, Mr. Jeong was raking in donations and sexually harassing teenage girls living in the village. He continued his libertine ways until the summer of 1995, when the local press started to catch on to his scheme.
Sensing the danger, Mr. Jeong flew to China with his wrongfully gathered assets. In Yanji, northern China, where ethnic Koreans make up the majority of the population, Mr. Jeong pretended to be an exile from the South Korean military regime.
While buttering up the local community with his fraudulent plans to help the local government, Mr. Jeong also tried to gain Chinese citizenship.
However, his plotting and scheming came to an end when the South Korean government caught him and sentenced him to serve two and a half years in prison, with an additional fine of 430 million won on this date.
by Chun Su-jin