The March general strike in Jeju

“The Plaza on the General Strike” (1991) by artist Kang Yo-bae shows the empty streets of Gwandeokjeong, the main seat of Jeju government following liberation, during the March 10 general strike in 1947.

As part of the strong resistance and protest by the Jeju people, a general strike was called for March 10 to 22, 1947. Students refused to attend school, vendors closed shop and even public officers did not go to work. Although the strike made it harder for locals to provide for themselves, they did so to call for justice following the March 1 shooting.

If the USAMGIK wanted to instill democracy in Korea, then it should have listened to the voice and agony of the Korean people. Unfortunately, the USAMGIK reacted in the opposite manner, designating Jeju an “island of reds” and began indiscriminately arresting people. Although the government blamed the influence of North Korea for the unrest and claimed that “90 percent of Jeju people are leftists,” recent research challenges this and indicates the whole island was enraged by the policies of the USAMGIK.

There were some people who tried to find a rational solution for the situation. Then-Jeju Governor Park Gyeong-hun (1946-47) submitted his resignation in protest and stated that he took full responsibility for the situation. The statement he issued proclaimed that“Independence is not complete even after liberation,” adding that “all 300,000 Jeju people are expressing condolences to the people killed in this tragic incident.” He also expressed the people’s support for “our unified independence in the future.”

However, these efforts were ineffectual as the USAMGIK ignored the public and continued to suppress the Jeju people. In the month following the March 1 shooting, around 500 people were arrested and 245 people were detained. In the year leading up to the uprising in April 1948, around 2,500 people would be arrested. This not only indicates that most of Jeju’s youth and educated population had been arrested by the USAMGIK, but also indicates that the Jeju 4·3 Uprising was not a sudden event but was rooted in ongoing animosity toward the USAMGIK.

Park Gyeong-hun The first Jeju governor under the US Military Government