Monday, August 17, 2015

Power of the People (1979)

This story which was told me by my father was about power of people before I was born. The story was about the June Democratic Uprising in 1987. At that time, my father was a salary person for a company in Jongno so he was able to directly see the process of the June Democratic Uprising and participate in a protest. He told me his story in a quiet tone.

In 1979, a military regime staged a coup d'état on December Twelfth after President Park Junghee was dead and by indirect election Jeon Doohan had been elected president of the Korean Republic. Emphatically, so many people wanted the retirement of Jeon Doohan and the withdrawal of the military regime but their demands were not accepted. Since the people’s demands were not listened to, there started so many pro-democracy demonstration parade which consisted of university students. The year of 1987 was the last year of the military regime, but this was an unknown fact at the time. In 1987, many people insisted on the revision of the constitution which meant to change for direct election and the withdrawal of the military regime. The government disagreed with their assertions and declared protection of the constitution.

In June 1987, many people were disappointed at and angry with the declaration of the government. In addition, the torture and death of Park Jongchul who had participated in the demonstration parade became known to the public. At first, government authorities announced that he had died from fright when investigator noisily hit a desk. No one believed in their announcement which made people angry and incited them to take part in demonstration parade insisting on the revision of the constitution and requiring the truth of Park's death.

Hundreds of students stage a demonstration after a ceremony to pay tribute to the late activist Park Jong-chul
(top-right photo) at Korea University in Seoul in January 1987 / Korea Times file - source and article
On June 10, people gathered in front of city hall and started the demonstration parade crying out their demands. Combat police, known as baekgoldan because of wearing white helmets and repressing demonstration parades cruelly, also gathered opposite the parade. Also the subway did not stop at the city hall station but passed by because the government was afraid of people’s power and more people congregating in order to protest and resist the decision of the government. In spite of unfair dealings to prevent the demonstration, people were gathering more and more. At six o’clock, all drivers on the road sounded the klaxon in each car, women shook their scarves and salary persons within buildings flew paper airplanes to support the demonstration parade and protest the protection of the constitution. Because of the huge number of gathered people and supporters, the police could not try to check the demonstration parade and could only watch the demonstrators. People put flowers into the gun-points of police and sang together while putting their arms around each other’s shoulders. My father was impressed by the sight, the people singing, the flying paper airplanes, and he joined the parade. The turnout was overwhelming and as a result, the government could not help but give up the protection of the constitution and made promises to revise the constitution for direct election.

After I heard that story about June Democratic Uprising, I was so moved and felt grateful to the senior generation fighting against the government for democratization of Korea. I am well aware of how we get the right for vote and political freedom, but to hear an account firsthand was to make me feel my privilege as a free voting citizen now. If a dictatorial government appears again and threatens our freedom and our rights, I will fight against it like my father and the senior generation. Now I know that what is right cannot exist for free.


This essay written by my student Choi Jun-hwan is a cultural story that gave interesting detail to social behavior during the June Democratic Uprising of 1979. Sincere thanks to Choi Jun-hwan for his permission to print it here! My student also recommended the link on how the June Democratic Uprising started. The comic strip was drawn by Choi Kyuseok and uploaded on the Internet for free. It's filled with dialect and slang but presents a coherent overview of what led to the momentous uprising.

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