[THIS WEEK IN HISTORY]The first National Assembly and a watery graveMay 10, 1948
After the long-awaited liberation from Japanese colonial rule in 1945, Korea was divided under the trusteeship of the then-Soviet Union in the North and the United States in the South. Some respected independence activists such as Kim Gu asked in vain for the division to end. On this date, under its official name of the Republic of Korea, the first general election of 198 lawmakers under the supervision of the United Nations was held. Despite opposition from leftist groups holding street demonstrations and strikes, the first National Assembly members were elected and launched their first session under President Syngman Rhee. But the first administration of the Republic of Korea was not smooth as the Korean War broke out two years later.
May 15, 1988
The year 1988 was a time of hope for many in Korea, from the end of the Chun Doo Hwan military regime to the long-awaited Seoul Olympics. To grassroots activists hoping for the arrival of true democracy in the country, however, the greatest news was the launch of a newspaper called the Hankyoreh on this date.
Under the military regimes of Park Chung Hee and Mr. Chun, the country did not have much freedom of expression, with newspapers suffering from severe censorship. Censorship led a number of reporters and editors to be unduly fired for writing the truth.
Some such newspeople decided to launch a paper of their own, the Hankyoreh (Korean for “One Nation”). A promotion committee was formed in 1987 representing more than 3,300 former reporters and editors, which started a fund-raising movement to start the newspaper. Instead of having an owner, the paper was launched with 5 billion won given by about 27,000 people. The mission words of the newspaper were “democracy, nation and reunification.”
To the eyes of the right-wingers and the administration of then-President Roh Tae-woo, a close subordinate of Mr. Chun, the newspaper meant only a massive headache and was regarded as a leftist paper only “aiding the enemy.”
Yet the newspaper went on growing, using revolutionary methods such as only using Korean words, staying away from English or Chinese characters. In the late ’90s, the paper ― with a 600,000 circulation ― launched two weekly magazines, Hankyoreh 21 dealing with in-depth coverage of current affairs and Cine 21, specializing in films.
May 15, 1967
King Munmu of the Silla Dynasty (BC 57 to AD 935) was much respected for his achieving unification and ending the Three Kingdoms era. What worried him the most on his deathbed after a 20-year reign was the safety and prosperity of his country. What bothered him most were continuous raids by Japanese pirates, according to historical records. The solution of this devoted king was to remain as a spirit to fight for his dynasty even after he died.
Instead of following the royal tradition of being buried in a great mound or sepulchre, King Munmu said in his will that he wanted to be cremated in the Buddhist way. He then wanted his remains to be kept underwater under the rocky sea bed of the East Sea, where he would eventually be reincarnated as a dragon to keep the country safe from invaders. His remains were indeed kept under a rock, and around the rock underwater passages were built connecting the “tomb” with a nearby Buddhist temple.
This underwater tomb long remained as a kind of legend until this date, when a group of historians specializing in Silla Dynasty history found the site in the sea close to Bonggil village of Gyeongju city, the dynasty’s capital, now in North Gyeongsang province.
by Chun Su-jin