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Tuesday, 18 March 2014

National Theatre of Korea, Seoul Jung-gu: When the Gwangbokjeol Celebrations covered with blood...


The National Theatre of Korea (Hanja: 國立劇場) was opened in 1950 as the first national theatre in Asia. Located at 59 Jangchungdan Avenue/Jangchungdanno, Jangchung-dong 2-ga san 14-67 beonji, Seoul Jung-gu, the theatre is the base of operations for four performance groups: the National Drama Company, the National Changgeuk Company, the National Dance Company, and the National Orchestra Company. By supporting these performance troupes, the National Theatre strives to globalize Korean traditional arts, modifying select pieces to reach a larger audience. This is the place where Yook Young-soo, wife of President Park Chung-hee and mother of the Current President, Park Geun-hye was assassinated by a North Korean sympathizer, Mun Se-gwang in his failed attempt to assassinate President Park Chung-hee.

The National Theatre of Korea located on Namsan, which is a central of the metropolitan city of Seoul founded in April 1950. It was not until the National Theatre established on Namsan in 1973 that it was transferred from place to place under many circumstances.

After the Korean Government was established in 1948, an executive order to establish a national theater was promulgated. The Bumingwan, the City Hall (now Seoul Metropolitan Council) was designated as a site for a national theatre, and Yoo Chi-jin was named the first president of the National Theatre of Korea. The New Theatre Council was inaugurated with a national theater in January 1950, under which two resident drama companies, Shin-hyup and Geuk-hyup. They staged Wonsulrang (written by Yoo Chi-jin) for the opening performance in April 1950. It drew more than fifty thousand visitors for 15 days.

The subsequent staging of a Thunderstorm (written by Cho Woo) was successful in a row. The play drew approximately 75,000 people, or about one sixth of the total population of Seoul and registered a new high in Korea's drama history. While it was working on its third performance, all activities of theatre were totally paralyzed with the outbreak of the Korean War only after 57 days of opening.

The war made the theatre's functions completely paralyzed. Many artists were either kidnapped or defected to the North Korea. Consequently, hopes for a new theatrical art were dashed. However their passion survived the internecine war. A money bill to rebuild the National Theatre was passed in May 1952 by the National Assembly and the cabinet meeting. With a decision to use the Daegu Cultural Center as a new place for the National Theatre, it reopened in a refuge of Daegu.

Returning to the capital after the war, the National Theatre opened at the Sigonggwan (Seoul Public Hall) in June 1957 on condition that it would occupy part of the latter. With no resident companies under exclusive contract with the National Theatre, it invited members of Shin-hyup to work for the National Drama Company. Witnessing ordeals such as the April 19 Student Uprising and the May 16 Military Coup on one hand, and a rapid influx of visual media into Korea including the film industry on the other, the theatrical arts faced new challenges. Rising up to such challenges of the times, the National Theatre came up with a variety of self-help measures including 'Opening a Prize List of Plays' which aims at boosting performances of original plays.

With the newly establishment of Seoul Public Hall by the Seoul City Government, Sigonggwan became an exclusive building for the National Theatre in Myeongdong. Timing with the Opening ceremony of the renovated National Theatre in March 1962, the theater inaugurated resident companies including the National Dance, Changgeuk, Opera Company in addition to the existing Drama Company.


Yook Young-soo and Park Chung-hee before her assassination

29th Anniversary of Gwangbokjeol: Black Gwangbokjeol - The Assassination of the First Lady Yook Young-soo
At 10:23 a.m, 15th August 1974 - 29th Anniversary of Gwangbokjeol, Yook Young-soo was shot and killed by Mun Se-gwang (Japanese name: Nanjou Seikou), a North Korean sympathizer Zainichi Korean, during an attempt by Mun to assassinate President Park Chung-hee.

The assassination occurred at the Seoul National Theatre of Korea during an Independence Day ceremony. Mun intended to shoot Park in the theatre lobby. However, his view was obstructed, and he was forced to enter and be seated near the back of the theatre. During Park's address, he attempted to get closer to the President but inadvertently fired his Smith & Wesson .38 revolver prematurely, injuring himself. Having alerted security, he then ran down the theatre aisle firing wildly. His second bullet hit the left side of the podium from which Park was delivering his speech. This third bullet was a misfire. His fourth bullet struck Yook Young-soo in the head, seriously wounding her. His last bullet went through a flag decorating the rear of the stage. A bullet fired by Park Jong-gyu one of the President's security, in response to Mun's attack, ricocheted off a wall and killed a high school student, Jang Bong-hwa. Immediately following the capture of Mun, Park ever disciplined, resumed his scheduled speech despite the wounding of his wife and her being carried from the stage. Following it's completion he picked up his wife's handbag and shoes and left.

Yook Young-soo's last moment - seems tragic, isn't it?
Yook was rushed to the hospital in Wonnam-dong, Seoul Jongno-gu. Dr. Shim Bo-seong who was chief of the hospital’s neurosurgery department began operating on Yook at 11 a.m. and which lasted for over 5 hours. The bullet hit the biggest vein on the right side of brain and remained lodged within her brain. Yook’s blood type was AB, which is a rare blood type and was in short supply in Korea. As a result hospital staff had to obtain additional blood from other nearby hospitals and the Red Cross Blood Service. The surgery was unable to save her life and she died at 7:00 p.m. that same day.

Yook Young-soo is buried next to her husband (Assassinated in 26th October 1979) at the Seoul National Cemetery, Dongjak-dong, Seoul Dongjak-gu and received state funeral on 19th August 1974.