Blue House is named; Chun returns to society

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Blue House is named; Chun returns to society

Dec. 30, 1960
The Blue House, originally called Gyeongmudae, was given its name on this date by then President Yun Bo-seon, who replaced Syngman Rhee, the first president of Korea. Mr. Rhee was exiled to the United States after his dark designs for lifelong rule were frustrated by the April 19 Revolution earlier in the year. The name, the Yun administration said, came from the blue roof tiles on the building, but people knew that it was aimed at giving the building a whole new reputation, to help it escape from its negative image.
The Blue House site had long been a place fit for a king. Originally a royal villa in the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), the site was later used as a rear garden of the Gyeongbok Palace in the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). It was King Gojong of the Joseon Dynasty who dubbed the place Gyeongmudae. When Japanese colonial rule over Korea began in 1910, however, the site became a home for the Japanese ministers to Korea. After the liberation from Japan came the U.S. trusteeship, whose administrators used the site as their headquarters. After the Republic of Korea was officially established in 1948, the place became the president’s residence, which it continues to be to this day.

Dec. 30, 1990
Former President Chun Doo Hwan gained power through a coup d’etat in 1979 and cemented his military regime the following year after showing little mercy in suppressing a grassroots uprising in Gwangju. Later dubbed the Gwangju Revolution, it ended up as a bloodbath with thousands of victims, which nevertheless did not daunt him. Few people knew of Mr. Chun’s devotion to Buddhism, and people were shocked to hear him declaring his plan to retreat to a Buddhist temple in 1988, saying he’d been a Buddhist all these years. With his wife Lee Sun-ja, he entered the Baekdam Temple in Gangwon province on Nov. 23, 1988, where he stayed for 769 days, until this date.
Following another popular uprising against the regime in 1987, known as the June Struggle, Mr. Chun finally relinquished power after eight long years. His longtime fellow soldier-cum-politician Roh Tae-woo took the reins at the Blue House, posing as if he were trying to bring democracy to the country. And thus a chasm opened between the two longtime military regime fellows.
A few months after Mr. Chun stepped down from the presidency, he found himself, his close aides and his family involved in corruption scandals after an investigation of the new president’s administration. He then declared that he would retire from politics, which people called Mr. Roh’s defeat of Mr. Chun. Mr. Roh in November said as a kind of gesture of reconciliation that no legal action would be taken against Mr. Chun. It was too late to console Mr. Chun, however, and he retreated to the temple, finding seclusion from the world in a kind of silent protest.
During his stay at the temple, he did not forget about publicity. Photographs of his tiny room were printed in newspapers along with his mottos emphasizing gratitude, reflection and gentleness.
When he returned to society on this date, he received a hearty farewell from the temple staff and monks and headed back to Seoul, guarded by two police patrol cars. “Now I completely understand Buddhism, which will be a great help to my life,” Mr. Chun said to the monks of the temple, which enjoyed a lot publicity during his stay. At his home, he again received a hearty welcome, including a gift of a plant from the president with a message, “Sending off the old and welcoming in the new.”
His ascetic years at the temple, however, seemed to do little to change Mr. Chun. Sent to jail on charges related to the Gwangju crackdown and others, Mr. Chun fasted for months in protest. He also created a scandal by claiming he was broke while he was busy spending his free time at golf courses and fancy restaurants.


by Chun Su-jin
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