The location for our CWM Assembly 2016, is Jeju Island, Korea. Home to UNESCO’s three World Heritage sites and recently listed as one of the new seven wonders of the natural world. According to government statistics, it attracted 10 million visitors in 2013 and is South Korea’s most popular holiday island. It is well known for natural wonders, including waterfalls, white sand beaches and a dormant volcano — South Korea’s highest mountain — at the center of the island.
Famously known as a ‘paradise with a dark side’, Jeju Island carries along with its striking beauty, a legacy of struggle, courage, and resistance horned over centuries and dynasties of various forms of oppression and occupations; the horrors of modern history; and the on-going resistance against modern day forms of imperialism. Today, Jeju aims to be a ‘Free International Island’ having won the right to self-governance, the only South Korean province to do so.
Jeju’s history of political oppression from the Korean government and other marauding regional forces can be traced back to the 13th century under the Joseon Dynasty that lasted for about 500 years. Jeju, which means the “province across the sea” became a place for political prisoners, and an isolated indigenous population. By the 17th century, an edict was issued to prevent Jeju Islanders to travel to the Korean mainland. Jeju has since been home to numerous civil movements and uprisings often quelled by means of brutal force and bloodbaths.
- In 1931, Jeju saw Korea’s largest protest movement led by women (17,000 participated) against Japanese control of the fishing rights following Japan’s annexation of Korea and Jeju along with it in 1910
- The Jeju Uprising of 1948 which resulted in brutal suppression and deaths of tens of thousands of villagers, about 10% of the total population in a short space of time, has become a symbol of Jeju’s independence from Korean Peninsula
In present day, the people of Jeju, continue their legacy of protest and resistance to achieve its centuries’ long struggle for peace and freedom from participation in all forms of war or foreign occupation. Jeju Islanders have expressed concern over growing Chinese economic imperialism with Korea’s growing economic reliance on China, and increased Chinese military activity in the East and South China Seas. And there is the controversial issue of the construction of the $907 million Jeju naval base by the Korean government which is seen by many as US-driven project aimed at China, rather than enhancing South Korean defence, and with devastating environmental impact on the Island. The strong resistance against the presence of a naval base on the island is best understood in the context of the island’s history.
This preview of the film “The Ghost of Jeju” provides such a glimpse into the sensitivities that form this context.