Sunday, November 22, 2015

Historical Development of Gunsan

The Modern History Museum in Gunsan has a wealth of information (as it should) on the historical development of the city, and or course putting emphasis on the colonial period as that was when the development of the farming village boomed into a throbbing city and a vortex for Korean freedom fighters. The following is information taken from the museum:

Modern-day Gunsan - the big ships are located nearer the mouth of the river.
Before opening Gunsan port and the subsequent development of port facilities, the town served as a harbor through which ships could come. [I believe the only ships allowed prior to the opening of the Korean ports were the Chinese as Korea only had trade relationships with that country.] 

Gunsan was a natural port, and small ships could reach up to 30 ri [?] from the mouth of the Geum River, and it was judged by evaluating its natural width and depth that small steamers and 3000-ton vessels could be safely anchored even before port construction began. [The Japanese were the first to force upon the ports of Korea, the then Hermit Kingdom, and within a few short years were pressuring Korea to open more and more ports. They were particularly interested in the rice production in the fertile Honam plains and pressed for the opening of Gunsan, which was ideal as a protected port and having close proximity to the Honam plains. In the late 19th century Gunsan became a port which was opened to international trade. Japanese flocked to the port town.] 

Soon after the opening of Gunsan port on May 1, 1899, a settlement was established in the coastal area, and the Okgugamriseo (Governmental Office) was built to manage the port. Daehan Jeguk (the Korean Empire) consigned the various countries to control the settlement jointly to prevent Japan from having a monopoly. However, after the port opening, Gunsan came under the control of Japanese imperialists, which led to distorted economic growth.

Gunsan as an international settlement

The definition of settlement in the late 19th century was an area where foreigners could live and enjoy extraterritorial rights. Gunsan International Settlement was formed in 1899 and lasted until 1914. After the settlement was formed, the houses and tombs of Koreans were torn down, and the land not designated for public use was auctioned.
Newspaper articles: 
May 30, 1909:  The weights and measurements currently used across Korea have not yet been standardized, causing inconvenience in general commerce. For this reason, they must be unified. Japanese weights and measures are being used in some parts of Korea as a trial. 
May 12, 1910: Japanese households and population recently surveyed by the Residency General. In Gunsan, 2,508 Japanese households and 8,161 population. "Seen from the vast Jeonju plain, amounting to 50,000 seok. A jeonbo of land is only 4.5 won. [A jeonbo is about 30,000 pyeong, a pyeong is 3.3 square meters.] Nothing more needs to be said. Come to Korea. Immigrate to Korea." Many Japanese people -- including farmers, merchants and vagabonds -- flocked into Korea with the dream of making a quick fortune. 
Gunsan Customs House, which opened in 1899 under the jurisdiction of the Inchon Customs House, is where duties on goods brought into Gunsan harbor were collected. A German architect designed the European-style house and imported red bricks from Belgium and used the same style as the headquarters of the Bank of Korea. Inside walls are wood and the roof is made of slate and copper sheets. This building remains as a symbol of the exploitation inflicted on the Koreans by the Japanese during their colonial rule.
Japanese-style house in Sinheung-dong, the Hirotsu House, built approximately 1925.
Statistics on the population in Gunsan under the Japanese colonial rule

Around 1890, before the port was opened, Gunsan had been a small, calm village located
at the mouth of the Geumgang, but the population increased remarkably after the port was opened.
Newspaper articles:  
March 29, 1904: Japanese people have already purchased about 100 jeongbo of land in the Gunsan region, but despite this, they continue to purchase more land. 
April 7, 1904: According to Joseon Shinbo, more and more Japanese capitalists and speculators have brought land in and around the Gunsan region. Unfortunately, more are interested not in farming but in real estate speculation. 
The economy for farmers worsens day by day. The farmers have pawned their land and rely on loan sharks. Farmers are coaxed into selling their land for a song by dishonest Japanese merchants, under the table at first, but later in plain sight.

Throughout the entire period, the Jeonbuk area had an overwhelmingly large ratio of farmland compared with other areas, and there was a great deal of land exploitation ... as can be seen from the chart above comparing 1910, 1920 and 1930. 
The largest Japanese landowner, Gumamoto, at the Gaejeong Hospital, Gaejeong-dong, Gunsan-si, owned 3,500 jeongbo of rice paddy land in 1932. To put the amount of land into perspective, he owned the 10 times larger than the current area of Yeouido [2,479,338.84 square meters]. The land was vast, spreading across 1 bu, 5 gun and 25 myeon.

Comparison of sale price, net profit, profit ratio on land between lands in Gunsan and Japan

As indicated in the table, a rice paddy transacted at less than 1/10 the price of a rice paddy in Japan, but was guaranteed a profit ratio of 4 times or more higher. The cheap land price and high profit ratio caused Gunsan area to be exploited severely.
Newspaper articles:  
May 30, 1907: 700 Japanese boats were operating illegally near Impi, Jeollabuk-do, and a number of outrages have been committed by the Japanese fisherman, including sexual harassment of a woman near Gunsan port. 
May 16, 1909: During the farm hardship period, the local farmers in the Gunsan region were starving due to shortages of food, with some people allegedly digging out grass roots to eat.
An on-going struggled to resist the Japanese ensued with actions including farm tenancy disputes by workers at the ports and rice-grinding mills, the Korean March 1st Movement, and raising an army at the end of Joseon Dynasty to fight for the cause of justice. 

The history of resistance in Gunsan:

March 5 - Yangmyeong schoolteacher and student-centered street protest
March 23 - Lee Nam-ryul and Kim Su-nam committed arson in Gunsan Public Elementary School.
March 29 - Jin Jang-kwon was discovered preparing for the street protest in Impi.

November - Farm tenancy dispute by Western District union members took place in Okgu.
February 1928 - A verdict hearing for a farm tenancy dispute was held in Gunsan District Court Jeungjeong rice-grinding mill.

February - A strike for a wage increase by workers on Namseon rice-grinding mill
October - A strike in Yukseok rice-grinding mill; a strike in Heujeon rice-grinding mill

January - A strike on a wage issue in Gadeung rice-grinding mill
April - [Dated April 23, Dong-A Ilbo] The sowing season imminent, but about 70 workers have gone ... those who want to find a way to make a living [sic]
[August 1, Dong-A Ilbo] - Four largest rice-grinding mills in Gunsan close their business. Layoff of about 1,000 employees.
Newspaper articles: 
January 20, 1932: Cases of theft are on the rise due to extreme poverty. Houses left unlocked have seen shoes, braziers, and A-frames stolen. You should be on your guard against the thieves, as all of them are opium addicts. 
October 10, 1936: Residents in Gunsan showed sympathy. A relief fund for victims was raised from different places.
The farmers living in Gunsan were reduced to being sharecroppers, and their families were also subordinate to the Japanese-owed plantations. They underwent all sorts of hardships as feudal sharecroppers, the lowest class of people. Needless to say, as sharecroppers and semi-sharecroppers they cannot make a living independently.

Rice exploitation trend at Gunsan port

The rice type exported through Gunsan Port was unpolished rice. Exploitation of unpolished rice was remarkably higher at Gunsan than at Busan or Incheon ports. Of all the rice, 70% was heading for Osaka, followed by Kobe and Tokyo.

As indicated in the table, exploitation was rising incredibly compared with production, indicating that exploitation was taking place according to schedule even though the planned increased in rice production had failed. Taking into account that exploitation of rice affected the sharecroppers most precipitously, the rate of poverty cannot be imagined. In 1933 exploitation reached a peak, with more than 53% of all rice products being transported to Japan.
Newspaper articles: 
November 28, 1907: The completion of the Public Gunsan Elementary School was celebrated on November 10, 1907. In terms of expenses, the legal advisor Suzukilimcha [Japanese] and members of school faculty gave explanations in turn about the significance of education and consciousness, and collected donations that added up to 300 won. On the celebration day, a ceremony was held from 10am - 12pm, followed by an athletics meet. 
May 19, 1909: Kim Yong-hwan, who lives in Bugok-ri, Habuk-myeon, Impi-gun, established Hanil School in 1907, and has been recruiting youths and professors from all over the country. His father, Kim Sang-hyeok, often offers refreshments to his students, commending his son for his good will and actions. The students have a great interest in learning. 
May 27, 1909: Since the Education Department authorized public schools in Gunsan, Daegu, and Hamheung to admit female students, it has been found that the academic performance of the girls has been satisfactory, so public elementary schools in Ganghwa, Mokpo, Gaeseong, Masan, Jeonju, Pyeongyang, and Yeoju, as well as the public Eoeui-dong elementary schools, have since been authorized to teach girls. Japanese female teachers will be appointed to teach the girls.
Gunsan Youth Adult Group has established a working night school to provide the destitute poor with a learning opportunity. On behalf of men without learning, Im Man-chun and Lee Seong-ok organized Miseongong/Maegari Cooperatives for the purpose of providing education to illiterate adults in a social setting.

1,500 won was collected to pay for wood and roof tiles, and a cooperative building with 10 offices was built. A celebration was held on September 20, 1921 to mark the completion of construction. A night school for illiterate women has been operating since October 1.

A night school in Gunsan:

The private Yangyeong School was established at #94-7 Changseong-dong, a mountain town in Jeongeup, by Han Sang-seol, a wealthy man, in 1918.

This school was the result of a save-the-nation drive actively promoted in the Japanese colonial period. It was a place for a patriotic social movement that aimed to enlighten people as a way to set the deprived nation right. This was the school that carried on the legacy of the anti-Japanese educational movement between 1910 and 1919.

Compared to Korea's bleak national illiteracy rate of 77.7% in 1930 [male 63.9%, female 92%], the national illiteracy rate was in fact even more severe in 1918. The new school was a 4-year school for uneducated women in Gunsan during the day, while at night uneducated men were taught Japanese, mathematics, Korean and commerce. The school was closed due to financial difficulties and a decrease in the number of students. About 100 students and parents protested the closing of the school, weeping for days and nights.

Characteristics of architectural structures during the Japanese colonial period

Gunsan branch of the Bank of Joseon was constructed in 1922 and featured the brick construction of a typical bank. Compared with other banks in the local area, this building was very large in scale, and one of the highest building structures in Gunsan at the time of its construction. The 2nd floor had almost no function, but despite this, the building was designed as a 2-storey building with a hipped rectangular high rooftop, apparently only to give the building presence rather than function.
It employed western classical architecture but had moderate decoration, similar to the modern secessionism that was in vogue in Europe in those days. The height, foundation, frames and roof are proportionate. The roof, buttressed by wood trusses, are quite rare in modern Korean architecture.

The establishment of the night school in Seosu

After opening Gunsan barbor, the Japanese who settled in Seosu in 1904 felt the need of unite organization, thus, established Yiyeopsa farm in 1926 as a cooperative farm.

Yiyeopsa farm was vast with 1700 tenant farmers. Meanwhile, two students of Jeonju High School -- Jang Taesung (also known as Jang Gonguk) and Park Sangho -- were ousted from their school because of the student movement. Out of this incident, the will of peasant movements was born. This pushed peasants to establish a night school at Seosu-myeon Yongjun-lee which was humbly located in Lee Heyongno's house. They educated the public with the aim of eliminating illiteracy and stirring up national consciousness by teaching how to draw the Korean flag. 

The diffusion of a national consciousness: After the March 1, 1919 activity in Gunsan, which was hot, a national consciousness spread and was organized by Okgu tenant combination establishment (March 10, 1927) and Seosu Youth Club organization (August 8, 1927). After that, people resisted Japan. In a farmer speech hosted by Seosu Youth Club organization on November 9, 1927, hundreds of people besieged Seosu police substation and cried for freedom of the press. After the organized Seosu peasant assembly and protest, hundreds of members stages a demonstration in front of Lee Yiyeopsa farm.

Oppression and resistance at Yiyeopsa farm

The oppression at Yiyeopsa farm against the Joseon tenant farmers had been going on since the farm's establishment, but in 1927 when peasants were told to pay 75% of their crops, peasants refused as they would be unable to live off of the remaining 25%. The peasants asked for leniency in that they could keep 45% of the crops, but the farm firmly refused and on November 24, 1929 were given warnings for non-payment. Ultimately, with the peasants uprising and rebellion, they were given a peasant's income exemption. [Not clear on what this entails.]

Because of the tenant farmer's nonpayment for their tenancy, Yiyeopsa farm demanded help from the police and too Jang Gonguk, the leader behind the farmer's movement, away. He was arrested at 8am on November 25 and taken to Impy police substation. Because of this, peasants' league struck a gong and gathered about 500 tenant farmers at night. About 300 of them attacked Impy police substation and beat Japanese guards. They cut Jang Gonguk's handcuffs off and carried him on their backs shouting 'hooray'. Another 200 farmers attached Seosu police substation and three rocks, making the Japanese run away to wild cries of 'hooray'.

The trouble of the peasant's trial was attracting national attention. Three lawyers, including Kim Byeongro, who worked pro bono, represented the defendents. At the trial, Kim Byeongro pointed out that the police were to blame for the chaos that was being charged to the defendants. Despite a strong case, Jeonju District Court in Gunsan charged the 35 leaders guilty and convicted them. The deprived peasants couldn't find a way to express their grief and sorrow. 

When Gunsan police received a report that the peasants were holding a demonstration, they called out to arrest the 30 people who were the leaders and heads of the union. These 30 leaders were detained at the police station. After which about 200 farmers, including women, gathered outside Gunsan police station to demand for the release of the innocent convicted peasants. As the crowd's pressure was increasing, Japanese police needed to disperse them, escalating the crisis and leading to the arrest of 50 more people, some of whom were women. Of the 80 prisoners, 34 were sent to the public prosecutor's office after harsh investigation. The 30 women were released.

Commemoration of the heroic anti-Japanese peasants: By forced suppression, tenant farmers were expelled from their home town and forfeited their farmland. Descendants of expelled tenant farmers lived a hard life and were under surveillance and pressure by the police. After independence, some people in Gunsan and descendants built a monument for the Okgu peasants' anti-Japanese war to remember the spirit of Okgu peasants fighting against the oppression. They hold a civil ceremony annually to commemorate their ancestors' fight. 18 of the 34 peasant patriots, who were judged as guilty by the Japanese rules, were initially commemorated. Recently, three more related men of merit were included in the commemoration.

Changes in Gunsan over time

The Gyeongam-dong Railroad (in operation from 1944 to 2008)

Gyeongam-dong Railroad - The railroad the Japanese built in 1944 to carry raw materials for newsprint is no longer is use and has largely been removed to facilitate expansion of the city or road construction. The 2.5 kilometer-long railroad operated twice a day and ran through the middle of a densely-packed residential area. Three station employees would blow whistles to tell people to grab their belongings and get out of the narrow path of the on-coming train. The train ceased to run in 2008 but the area is being overtaken by artsy vendors, and the walls and gardens are designed to be cutesy to attract customers. It's become a popular place for dating and has even been featured in a couple of movies, increasing its popularity.
Sites along the Gyeongam-dong Railroad
Picture contributed by Kathleen O'Connell
The art wall at the end of the Gyeongam-dong Railroad
Picture contributed by Rainer Rippe

For more on Gunsan, read about Gunsan in colonial Korea.

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