A traitor’s death; leftists rise up on Jeju

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A traitor’s death; leftists rise up on Jeju

March 30, 1925
Song Byeong-jun, a pro-Japanese Korean official, died on this date. Mr. Song played an important role in helping Japan colonize the Joseon Dynasty (1392 to 1910) in the early 1900s, and is remembered as one of the most reviled traitors in Korean history.
Living off the wealth of Queen Myeongseong’s brother, Min Yeong-hwan, Mr. Song started his career as a court official. In 1884, after a coup d’etat attempt by a group known as the Gapsin Jeongbyeon, Mr. Song went to Japan, where the leader of the uprising, Kim Ok-gyun, had been exiled.
The purpose of Mr. Song’s visit was to assassinate Mr. Kim, but he instead fell under the marked man’s influence. The two became friends, and later returned to Korea together, where they were both jailed in connection with the attempted coup.
After being released from prison, Mr. Song went to Japan again, this time for business. He was back in Korea in 1904, working as an interpreter for the Japanese army during the Russo-Japanese War. He remained in Korea after the end of the war, forming pro-Japanese groups and pushing the interests of the Japanese government.
He called for the dethronement of King Gojong after it was discovered that the king had sent envoys to alert the world to Japan’s designs on Korea.
Mr. Song saw Korea colonized in 1910, and lived for more than a decade after that, remaining loyal to the Japanese until the end.
April 3, 1948
Springtime on Jeju Island is a season of flowers and soft breezes. On this date, however, the island was a place of bloody gunfights, which eventually led to the slaying of 30,000 civilians, 10 percent of the island’s population at that time. History remembers this period as the worst bloodshed in Korea’s modern history, excluding the Korean War (1950 to 1953).
In 1948, tension blanketed the entire Korean Peninsula. The country had been liberated from Japan three years earlier, but was on the verge of being divided between the United States and the Soviet Union. It was announced that elections would be held in the South ― an idea opposed by some left-leaning Jeju citizens, which rankled the U.S.-backed government in Seoul.
A rally to protest South-only elections was held on March 1 on Jeju; police opened fire on the crowd, killing six people. Tensions simmered for a month, and on April 3, leftists on Jeju declared revolution, attacking right-wing groups and police stations.
The South Korean and U.S. governments reacted strongly: A 1,700-strong police force was sent to the island to restore order. The election went ahead in May, with Jeju citizens excluded; on Aug. 15, Syngman Rhee officially declared the formation of the Republic of Korea.
Meanwhile, the bloody crackdown on the island’s population continued. By the following February, an estimated 30,000 people had been slain. Decades later, no one has been held officially responsible for the killings.

by Chun Su-jin
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