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Seodaemun Independence Park: A Living Historical Site
The Pircture of Patriotic Martyr, Yoo Kwan-sun

November 17th is patriotic martyr’s day, honoring patriots who fought against Japanese colonial rule and sacrificed themselves for Korea’s independence. The Sungkyun Times (SKT) visited Seodaemun Independence Park, a symbol of an arduous journey to freedom and peace, to be reminded of their patriotism.

Before Walking Through History

Patriotic Martyr’s Day

Patriotic Martyr’s Day is the national memorial day of honoring patriots who committed themselves to regain national sovereignty during the Japanese colonial era. In 1939, the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in Shanghai first designated the day for remembering the spirit of the patriotic martyrs and the disgrace of the Eulsa Treaty, an unwilling treaty signed on November 17th, 1905, which deprived Korea of its diplomatic sovereignty. Until Korea’s liberation, the Korean Provisional Government held memorial events. After the liberation, it was held by private organizations and the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs and finally enacted as a national anniversary in 1997 following the long-cherished desire of the families of patriotic martyrs.

Dongnimmum Gate

The History of Seodaemun Independence Park

Seodaemun Independence Park is a city park located in Hyeonjeo-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, and is always open to all citizens and is free of charge. It was opened on August 15th, 1992, the 47th anniversary of Korea’s liberation. At first, Seodaemun Prison, also known as Gyeongseong Prison, was built here by Japan to imprison independence fighters. Being changed to Seoul Guchiso after the liberation, many democratization activists were also suppressed here during the despotic regime. After Seoul Guchiso was moved to Uiwang, Gyeonggi Province, Seoul city bought the site and reopened as historical park. In the early days of the opening, some old facilities that remained from Seoul Guchiso and Japanese-style ponds left from the Japanese colony were criticized for tarnishing historical significance. Accordingly, after replacing all the Japanese-style gardens with traditional Korean ones in 2009, many people are visiting here as historical educational sites.

Walking Through History with Patriotic Martyrs

Independence Hall

1. Dongnimmun Gate and Independence Hall

Dongnimmun Gate, a stone structure erected in 1897 to reaffirm the people’s determination for independence, is the first structure that can be seen when entering the Independence Park. The Plinths of Yeongeunmun Gate in front of Dongnimmun Gate is under preservation construction until November 15th. Passing Suhr Jae-phil’s Statue holding a newspaper behind Dongnimmun and following the pond, visitors can see Independence Hall on their left side. The Independence Hall was initially used as a reception hall to receive envoys from China. After the renovation in 1897 by Independence Society, it was renamed as Independence Hall and used as their office. It, however, was forcibly torn down by Japan to oppress the independence movement. Since the restoration in 1997, the hall’s ground floor has been used as a memorial room for patriotic martyrs by enshrining 3,000 tablets that bear their names. The basement floor has been used as a venue for commemorative ceremonies and seminars promoting the independent spirit.

2. Memorial of March First Independence Declaration and Memorial Monument to Patriotic Martyrs

The Declaration of March First Independence and the Names of 33 Korean Ethnic Leaders That Are Engraved on the Memorial

Going straight along the pond after leaving the Independence Hall, visitors can see two memorial monuments. The first one is the Memorial of March First Independence Declaration. Visitors can see the declaration of March First Independence and the names of 33 Korean ethnic leaders that are engraved in the back of it. The other one is the Memorial Monument to Patriotic Martyrs, which was erected with the opening of the Seodaemun Independence Park on August 15th, 1992, to commemorate the spirit of the patriots. A sculpture of Taegeukgi is located at the center of this monument, and the figures of independence activities are embossed on both sides. For example, the figures of patriots Yun Bong-gil and Yu Gwansun are engraved on the left side and the images of the March First Independence Movement are on the right side.

Memorial Monument to Patriotic Martyrs

3. Seodaemun Prison History Hall

Water Torture Done in the Underground Torture Chamber
Records of Independence Activists Who Were Imprisoned in Seodaemun Prison
Prisoner’s Exercise Facility, Gyeokbyeokjang

Sufferings of many patriots who were imprisoned and tortured at Seodaemun Prison are preserved and displayed here. Visitors can visit all the buildings following the guideline on the signs. First, in the exhibition hall, visitors can look back in history, including the changing process of Seodaemun Prison and the tyranny of Japanese colonial rule. Visitors can also experience torture in the underground torture chamber, where many patriots were interrogated at that time. This site showed how Japan undertook much violence and how much suffering the Koreans experienced while struggling for national sovereignty. Central Prison Building, just in front of the exhibition hall, is a two-story building connecting the 10th, 11th and 12th jails to surveil the prisoners effectively. At that time, it was also used as an office for Japanese guards and as a place for prisoner’s ideological conversion education. Now it is displaying the lives of the prisoners with things such as meals and clothing. Besides these, many traces of history are preserved here, including jails, the execution ground, and Gyeokbyeokjang, the prisoner’s exercise facility. Several partition walls were installed in the history hall to prevent prisoners from having conversations during the exercise periods and to facilitate the monitoring of prisoners.

All the freedom and peace that we enjoy today are the results of the sacrifices of many independence fighters of our country. It is a painful and sad history, but we should never forget their graceful sacrifices. With the cold weather outside, how about going to the Seodaemun Independence Park and feeling the passion of the patriotic martyrs?

이현정  pinkcarpet@skku.edu

<저작권자 © THE SUNGKYUN TIMES, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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