Monday, August 24, 2009

Protests, public space in Seoul, and cyberspace - Part 3

Part 1: From the Joseon Dynasty to the 5th Republic
Part 2: Sports nationalism in 2002: Through a video screen darkly
Part 3: Funeral processions from the Joseon Dynasty to the present
Part 4: The 2002 candlelight protests: A new form of demonstration
Part 5: Anti-communist exhibitions
Part 3: Interlude: Funeral processions from the Joseon Dynasty to the present

This photograph is presumed to be the state funeral of Queen Min (Empress Myeongseong), which took place in Sejongno on November 22, 1897, and is the first photo I can find of a funeral processsion taking place in the Gwanghwamun - Taepyeongno corridor (Taepyeongno itself wouldn't really exist until the early 1910s, as I've pointed out here). The next large-scale funeral procession would come a year later - but it would not be a state funeral. During the second half of 1898, the Independence Club tried to push King Gojong to create a parliament and share power - some thing he wasn't very keen on doing. During this time, the Independence Club organized protests and sit-ins in front of the Daehanmun gate of Deoksu Palace - across from what is now Seoul Plaza. To counter this, the King had thugs (in this case, members of the peddler's guild) hired to attack the demonstrators, who defended themselves by hiring stone throwers, and thus a precedent of violent political demonstrations was set. One of the organizers of the protests was Yi Seung-man, better known as Syngman Rhee, South Korea's future first president. When the King gave in to protesters demands (after certain foreign consulates made clear they would be displeased if the protesters were fired upon), the protesters celebrated. According to this book,

On December 1, they decided to celebrate their victory and display their power by holding a funeral procession for a supporter, Kim Deok-gu, who had been killed the previous week in a skirmish against the peddlers. "Tens of thousands" of people joined in the procession and lined the streets to watch the funeral train move from the center of the city, Jongno, to the funeral site at the outskirts of the city wall and then to the burial site. Even though the victim was a mere cobbler, most likely one who weaved straw shoes commonly worn at this time, the funeral rivaled that of any royalty in grandeur and scale.
Gojong would go back on his word and most of the people involved with the Independence Club - including Syngman Rhee - would be thrown in prison.

As far as I know, the next large funeral was King Gojong himself, after he died in January 1919. The caption for this photo reads "Crowds gathered in front of Daehanmun Gate the day before Gojong's state funeral."

This strikes me as odd, seeing as that day would have been March 2, 1919, and the day before that this same area - present day Seoul Plaza - was filled with people protesting against Japanese rule as part of what became known as the Samil movement.

When the funeral took place on March 3 (when the photos below were taken), this site tells us that "the emperor’s funeral was conducted according to the Japanese protocol for state funerals. Consequently, only some seventy Koreans attended the ceremony."
The funeral procession leaves Daehanmun Gate (source).

If the photo above is indeed from Gojong's funeral, then it seems to me that there were more than 70 people there.

The next large funeral was Gojong's son, Sunjong, in 1926. Sunjong's procession does not seem to have gone through the Gwanghwamun area, and was held on the location of what was Dongdaemun stadium (s). Loads of photos can be seen here.

I'm not sure if it was a state funeral, but Kim Ku's funeral, on July 5, 1949, was certainly a huge event, and well attended.

Five years after Syngman Rhee was forced out of office by the 1960 student uprising, he died in Hawaii. On July 27, 1965, his funeral was held in Seoul.

On Liberation Day in 1974, Park Chung-hee's wife Yuk Yeong-su was killed during an assassination attempt against her husband. On August 19, her funeral was held; the funeral procession in Gwanghwamun can be seen below.

Four years later, Park Chung-hee himself was killed; his funeral took place November 3, 1979.

Following Park's death, Chun Doo-hwan rose to power, but his decision to pass the presidency on to Roh Tae-woo after seven years of authoritarian rule led to massive protests which eventually led Chun to concede and allow elections. After this success, a huge, unofficial 'state funeral' was held for a student killed during the protests, much as had taken place in 1898. The area in front of Seoul city hall and Daehanmun Gate were filled with hundreds of thousands of people.

Protests at present day Seoul Plaza

Note that Daehanmun can be seen in both photos above.

In June 2002, two girls were killed in a traffic accident involving U.S. troops, and the next day, hundreds of thousands of people flooded the area in front of Seoul city hall... cheer the Korean soccer team in the World Cup. A few months later, starting in December, memorial vigils for the girls - certainly not Anti-American protests! - would be held, repeatedly, by crowds of people holding candles. These vigils - with their calls for a renegotiation of the Status Of Forces Agreement between the U.S. and Korea - helped Roh Moo-Hyun into the Blue House.

Memorials marking the day of the girls' deaths would be held every year from then on...

...unless the Korean team was playing in the World Cup at the time.

After former president Roh Moo-hyun committed suicide, his funeral was held on May 29, 2009, and involved a great deal of fighting over the symbolic space that Seoul Plaza has come to represent.

His predecessor, Kim Dae-jung, died last week, and on Sunday, August 23, his funeral was held in front of the national assembly before the funeral procession eventually made its way to Gwanghwamun and Seoul Plaza.

What was interesting about the funeral was that this time (unlike with Roh's death) Seoul Plaza was open for mourners, and they could also watch the funeral on a large screen on the hoarding in front of city hall - reminiscent of the crowds watching the world cup in the same space in 2002 and 2006.


Above can be seen the mourners at Seoul Plaza, and beyond them, Daehanmun Gate, the place where modern Korean protest culture began 111 years ago, and where the body of the protesters' adversary, King Gojong, left as part of a funeral procession in 1919.

Worth remembering too is that it was his funeral which influenced the timing of the Samil protests, which contributed further to Korea's protest culture.


The Sanity Inspector said...

I love old photos. That's a great set in this post, clever theme, thanks for posting.

King Baeksu said...

"What was interesting about the funeral was that this time (unlike with Roh's death) Seoul Plaza was open for mourners..."

I'm pretty sure that Seoul Plaza was also opened for mourners on the day of Roh's funeral procession (a Friday, I seem to recall), though it was quickly closed up again the next day. By that time, however, even though the hard-core anti-Lee groups such as KCTU were trying to provoke the police the same day that Seoul Plaza had been opened, the general public wasn't really willing to jump on that bandwagon (unlike last year during the mad-cow protests). I think a combination of factors made the public reaction to DJ's death much more muted in comparison to Roh's: His passing was expected and therefore not nearly so "shocking," the public had "mourning fatigue" after the recent Roh suicide and its heated, drawn-out aftermath, and, finally, I think at this point that the general Korean public can see through the hard-core left's tactics and have become far more discriminating compared to last year. Plus the fact that it's the late-summer holiday season also had something of a moderating influence.

In related news, LMB's approval rating has just passed 45%. Interesting how much of a difference a year makes.

Helen said...

Nice arrangement!

Whenever I see the news about candle protest, a lump comes into my throat looking at
the sight. I've never been in there though, I like candle protest because it's not
violent and it makes me feel we are in the common socity and it makes us one at
that moment. Koreans like the word 'we'(우리) ‘our'(우리의) I think. don't know why.

King Baeksu said...

"I like candle protest because it's not violent..."

Helen, you really need to actually attend a candlelight vigil in Korea and see how "peaceful" they often are:

Helen said...

네,King Backsu.
I really need to attend it and see how "violent" they often are.
I meant the try of candlelight vigil is not violent. (the idea of doing protest with candle)
Now it's perverted right?
anyway,I like candles. they look peaceful.

Anonymous said...

this is a great post. thanks for your efforts, and i'm so sorry you got fucked by SMOE (at least, that's the impression i got from a later post). try to enjoy the autumn in Canada, and good luck getting back-

hardyandtiny said...

See how the gate is off axis with the main drag in Park's funeral. It appears the new gate will also be like that. I wonder how that happened.