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Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Dark Memoirs of Gwangju Massacre, Part III: Former Southern Jeolla Provincial Office, Gwangju Dong-gu


The Former Southern Jeolla Provincial Office in 38 Culture Complex Avenue/MunhwaJeondang-ro, Gwangsan-dong 13-beonji, Gwangju Dong-gu has the significant meaning that the Korean architect Kim Soon-ha (Born: 1901 - Died: 1966) participated in the design and construction procedure when it was the time when the Japanese hogged all the procedure of building the public office.

This office is completely built in December 5th 1930 and had been the administration center of Southern Jeolla Province 75 years since it was built. This office served as the Provincial Office of Southern Jeolla until November 11th 2005, when the provincial capital was moved to Namak-ri, Samhyang-eup, Muan County. 

It was the live site of 5.18 democratic movement in 1980 and is a historical place of modern history of Southern Jeolla Province. The three windows are equipped vertically in the front and in between windows, a stigma which is a simplified version of Korint pattern is decorated. It is a unique design which couldn’t be seen in those constructions.


The timeline of 1980.5.18 Gwangju Massacre - inside the Former Southern Jeolla Provincial Office
(May 18th ~ May 21st)
On the morning of May 18, students gathered at the gate of Chonnam National University, in defiance of its closing. By 9:30 am, around 200 students had arrived; they were opposed by 30 paratroopers. At around 10 am, soldiers and students clashed: soldiers charged the students; students threw stones. The protest moved then to the downtown, Geumnamno (the street leading to the Southern Jeolla Provincial Office), area. 

There the conflict broadened, to around 2000 participants by afternoon. Initially, police handled the Geumnamno protests; at 4 pm, though, paratroopers took over. The arrival of these 686 soldiers, of the 33rd and 35th squadrons of the 7th Brigade, marked a new, violent, and now infamous phase of suppression.

Witnesses say soldiers clubbed both demonstrators and onlookers. Testimonies, photographs, and internal records attest the use of bayonets. The first known fatality was a 29-year-old deaf man named Kim Gyeong-cheol, who was clubbed to death on May 18 while passing by the scene. As citizens were infuriated by the violence, the number of protesters rapidly increased and exceeded 10,000 by May 20.

As the conflict escalated, the army began to fire on citizens, killing an unknown number near Gwangju Station on May 20. That same day, angered protesters burned down the local MBC station, which had misreported the situation then unfolding in Gwangju (acknowledging only 1 civilian casualty, for example). Four policemen were killed at a police barricade near the Provincial Government Building after a car rammed into them.

On the night of May 20, hundreds of taxis led a large parade of buses, large trucks and cars toward the Provincial Office to meet the protest. As the drivers drove in the demonstration, the troops used tear gas, pulled them out of the cars and beat them. These “drivers of democracy” showed up to support the citizens and the demonstration because of troop brutality witnessed earlier in the day, as well as out of anger after many taxi drivers were assaulted when trying to assist the injured and while taking people to the hospital. Some were even shot after the drivers attempted to use the vehicles to block soldiers or as weapons.

The violence climaxed on May 21. At about 1 pm, the army fired at a protesting crowd gathered in front of the Southern Jeolla Provincial Office, causing casualties. In response, some protesters raided armories and police stations in nearby towns and armed themselves with M1 rifles and carbines. Later that afternoon, bloody gunfights between civilian militias and the army broke out in the Provincial Office Square. By 5:30 pm, militias had acquired two light machine guns and used them against the army, which began to retreat from the downtown area.

(May 26th ~ May 27th)
By May 26, the army was ready to reenter the city. Members of the Citizens' Settlement Committee unsuccessfully tried to block the army's advance by lying down on the street. As the news of the imminent attack spread, civil militias gathered in the Provincial Office, preparing for the last stand. May 27th 1980 - 0400 KST (+9), troops from five divisions moved into the downtown area and defeated the civil militias within 90 minutes.