Independence Hall to miss this year’s festivities

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Independence Hall to miss this year’s festivities

Aug. 15, 1987
On this day, the Independence Hall of Korea was completed in the city of Cheonan, in South Chungcheong province.
It was on the same date, Liberation Day, that construction on the hall complex began in 1983. And today, 18 years after it opened, will mark the first time since the hall was built that the Liberation Day celebrations will be held elsewhere ―in the Gwanghwamun area of central Seoul.
The Independence Hall is home to more than 40,000 photographs and artifacts covering centuries of Korean history, from the ancient Gojoseon era in 2333 B.C. up to modern times.
The hall’s main historic focus, however, is on the lives of Koreans in the late 19th and 20th centuries. The exhibitions describe in particular detail the wars that occurred during that time.
The government’s decision to build the Independence Hall complex was a result of campaigning by the general public.
From 1982, there was a groundswell of public opinion demanding that the government build some form of monument to represent the patriotic spirit of the nation and the trials it had been through.
Much of the public had been angered earlier by an attempt by Japan to gloss over the atrocities it committed against the country during World War II.
A national public fund was started and 70 billion won ($69 million) in donations were received.
With that fund, the government of the time purchased four million square meters (988 acres) of land on which to build a complex of museums, parks and monuments to commemorate the nation’s liberation from Japanese occupation early in the 20th century.
Ground was broken for the project on Aug. 15, 1983, but progress was delayed when a huge fire broke out in the main building in 1986. Most of the roof tiles were destroyed, resulting in billions of won worth of damage in addition to the delay.
Once the Independence Hall finally opened in 1987, six million people, or more than one-sixth of the entire South Korean population, visited the site.
They were awed by its size. The main building is 126 meters wide and 45 meters tall, its appearance modelled by architects after the Sudeok temple from the 10th-century Goryeo Dynasty.
In front of the main building, there is a spacious yard on which to hold national events, symposiums and meetings.
It seems natural, therefore, that events such as the annual celebration of Liberation Day on Aug. 15 should be held at Independence Hall. But this year, they won’t be.
Government officials said this year’s 60th anniversary holds a special significance in Korean history and should therefore be held in central Seoul.
Not everyone is happy with this decision. Critics say the number of visitors to the Independence Hall has been declining rapidly every year. In 2004, the number of visitors was well below one million.
Now, critics say, even the government, which led the national drive to build the Hall, has decided to turn away from the 70 billion won project. (The actual cost was much more than that because of the damage and delays caused by the 1986 fire.)
Some say that it is the hall’s remote location that is keeping visitors away. There is subway service to the area, but no further public transportion to take visitors from the subway station to the hall.
By car, a Seoul resident would have to drive as long as five hours to reach the site.
(The government of 1983 decided that Cheonan would be an ideal site for Independence Hall because of its location in the center of South Korea. Also, the cost of purchasing 988 acres of land in Seoul would have been prohibitive).
Many people also complain that is unreasonable for the Independence Hall to charge 2,000 won in admission fees to visitors. It was, after all, donations from the people that built Independence Hall, they note.

by Lee Min-a
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