“Now that my hair is gray and my hands and feet are worn out,

I just hope that a victim’s daughter-in-law like me is also recognized as a bereaved family member…”

Kim Jeong-ha (born 1928, lives in Ara, Jeju)

Kim Jeong-ha was born in 1928, in Jukseong, a village in Odeung-ri, Jeju-eup. At the age of 20, she married Oh Gi-eon, a resident of Indara Village in Ara-ri in 1947, and has taken care of her in-laws for the past 70 years. Kim’s grandparents-in-law were killed during Jeju 4·3, her father-in-law went missing after he was imprisoned in Daegu Prison and her brother-in-law was never seen again after being arrested during a preliminary detainment operation. Her husband, who joined the military during the Korean War after their daughter was born, never returned. Even her mother-in-law suffered from a somatization disorder and died after losing all her family, leaving Kim all alone.
The woman, now 90, set up a tombstone for her missing husband and his brother, managed the graves of her in-law parents and grandparents, and performed ancestral rites on the anniversary of their deaths and on holidays. She has lived her whole adult life as the daughter-in-law of her husband’s family. However, she recently learned that the law does not recognize daughters-in-law as bereaved family members of Jeju 4·3 victims. I interviewed Kim whose last wish as a bereaved family member is to find the body of her husband, her father-in-law, and her brother-in-law.


Photo and article by Cho Jeong-hee,
Deputy Director of the Memorial Project Team

The law is unreasonable…

Now we have the Jeju 4·3 Peace Park and the unified association of bereaved families, and meetings are held. But at first, we held separate meetings for those victims who are identified as dead but whose bodies have not been discovered, those whose bodies were discovered, and those who remain missing. So I had to attend three different meetings on Jeju 4·3. My father-in-law disappeared while he was serving a term in a prison on the mainland, while my husband’s brother went missing after being arrested during the Korean War. My husband’s grandparents were shot dead in my village and we recovered their bodies. It was just me who took care of their cases by attending various events; honestly, my sisters-in-law never attended any meeting or paid membership fees. Even after the Jeju 4·3 Peace Park was built, I never ran into any one of them in the park. I’m not trying to insult them; I just want to say that the law is unreasonable. When a woman gets married, she takes care of her in-laws, not her own parents and family. But do you know what it’s like now? I wrote down the details of how my grandmother-in-law, grandfather-in-law, father-in-law, and brother-in-law died and went missing, and registered them as Jeju 4·3 victims. When I did that, I heard that I cannot be recognized as their bereaved family member but my sisters-in-law can. I set up the tombstones for my missing father-in-law and brother-in-law whose bodies remain undiscovered. I collected the dead bodies of my grandparents-in-law and created their cemeteries, weeding their graves every year. I have performed ancestral rites for them on the anniversaries of their deaths and on holidays. However hard I have worked from the age of 20 until my hair turned gray and my feet became worn out, all I have been left with is the feeling that a daughter-in-law is of no importance. How unreasonable the law is. This Jeju 4·3 Special Act only recognizes daughters as victims’ family members, not daughters-in-law, so this seems so unfair to me. Where should I go and complain to relieve my resentment and sorrow?

I’m the daughter-in-law of Jeju 4·3 victims,
and I’ve taken care of my in-laws alone for 70 years…

At first, the medical expenses support card was not available to victims’ daughters-in-law. Fortunately, from last year, the card is now issued to us. So now, my hospital expenses are somewhat subsidized with the medical expenses support card, but there is no other benefit. I recently saw on TV that subsidies are provided to the 4·3 bereaved families for their cost of living, but daughters-in-law receive no such benefit. The situation is different for each daughter-in-law. Some have a husband, a brother-in-law, or a nephew … I don’t think it would be this unfair if my in-laws had at least one person left to lead the family instead of me. But what would it be like to be a daughter-in-law like me, who has managed her in-laws alone for 70 years? It’s not that I can’t receive a supplementary living allowance worth tens of thousands won. How much longer would I live? How many times would I receive the allowance if there is any? When my neighbors in this Indara Village describe me, they say, “That lady is thorough when it comes to Jeju 4·3.” As such, I have never neglected to take care of my in-laws who lost their lives due to Jeju 4·3. That’s what I’ve done to protect this family. I have put all my efforts into taking care of my family events as the daughter-in-law, and still, no daughter-in-law is recognized as a victim’s bereaved family member.

Kim Jeong-ha smiles brightly next to her portrait painted by her son.

A posthumously adopted son is also not recognized…

My family was devastated during Jeju 4·3. My grandparents-in-law, father-in-law, and brother-in-law all fell victim, while my husband who was drafted for the war went missing. What’s worse, my mother-in-law died of resentment, so I was left alone. If I die, there would be no one else to inherit and look after my family events. That’s how I decided to adopt my son. My son, whom I met when he was in the 4th grade, is now 50 years old. I’ve lived without my husband, reliant on my son as a pillar of my family. It was as hard to adopt my son as to give birth to a boy. The law allows no posthumous adoption. I made frequent visits to city hall but failed, and then to upper administrative offices for several years. In the meantime, I got older, and so did my son. So I couldn’t wait any longer and just had him registered in my own family relations register.

It was an inevitable choice, but now that I think about it, I regret that I failed to posthumously adopt a child. As my son is also not recognized as a bereaved family member, I just feel sorry for him and his wife who are now taking care of the ancestral rites.

I couldn’t even hold the baby because I was beaten so much…

Even now, my hands and shoulders throb whenever the weather is bad, and it’s really difficult to endure. I was taken to the police station during Jeju 4·3 and was severely beaten. The residual symptoms seem to get worse as I get older. I moved to Gwangyang with my family in accordance with the Indara evacuation order. My family rented a room at a Gwangyang mill house, and one day, I was taken to the police station. I was carrying my daughter on my back, who was born in May that year. Once a day, one person was called out for questioning, and the only question I was asked was, “What have you offered to those on the mountain?” Jeju 4·3 broke out as soon as I got married and gave birth to my daughter. I was busy with my own life, so how on Earth could I even run into anyone related to the case? So, I said no one had asked me to give anything and thus I hadn’t given anything to anyone. Then the beating started. They beat me on the butt with a club made of bull’s testicles, and then on my palm, then on my shoulder. After the interrogation, I couldn’t even hold my daughter because I was beaten so severely and my hands were so swollen.
I couldn’t hold my baby in my arms while she was fretfully looking for her mother. How pitiful those around me must have felt for me after I was beaten … “Why, next time, just tell them that you contributed something. They need to stamp your document to finish the interrogation,” someone told me. In the end, I was able to finish the investigation only after falsely saying that I had contributed rice. Having spent six days like that, I was released from the 1st District Police Station (Jeju Police Station).

When I closed my eyes, it felt like
the beheaded corpses were falling onto my face…

I was 21 years old when Jeju 4·3 broke out. Considering such a young woman like me as a reliable adult, my mother-in-law took me around looking for my brother-in-law’s corpse. Her daughters were too young, and the other elderly family members were all dead, so I was the only one left to help her. Just like that, she and I climbed Sarabong peak together. And those beheaded corpses that were abandoned with only their heads or bodies left … how dreadful the sight was … The cave was filled with corpses that were so dry that they rattled when touched, which made it difficult to guess when the killings happened. We couldn’t even get inside another cave because those trying to collect the bodies of their beloved ones messed up the corpses left on the site. Finally, we went down Sarabong peak without finding the body of my brother-in-law. But suddenly, there was the sound of a gunshot, “Pow!” Then, without realizing it, I fell down. Hearing that sound, “Pow!” I collapsed out of fear. How scared I was … I don’t even remember how I got home because I was out of my mind. But as soon as I got home, I started to get sick. Just looking at the laundry laid on Indara’s fortress wall, it reminded me of the beheaded corpses. And when I closed my eyes to sleep, it felt like the beheaded corpses were falling onto my face.
“Oh, dear, are you sick?” When asked by my mother-in-law, I answered, “Mother, I don’t know if I am sick.” Worried, she said, “Please, don’t get sick. Get a hold of yourself.” As I gradually lost my mind, she called someone to perform acupuncture on my back with a talisman note to chase away evil … By doing so, I slowly regained my senses. That’s how I came back to life. I was so out of my mind that I was near death.

Having lost all my family members, I couldn’t help but feel ashamed…

At first, I thought I would never be able to live a day without my mother-in-law, but look at me now. I am now older than 90 and have been living all alone for decades. My mother-in-law was enraged at the loss of her husband, her parents-in-law, and her sons. Why wouldn’t she? One day, I woke up during the night to a rustling sound and saw her sick and unable to breathe. It looked like she was dying, and I didn’t know what to do. “Oh, mother, do you feel any pain? Tell me if there is anything that disturbs you.” When I asked, she said, “How could I want to eat pork or anything else to survive … Losing my sons, my husband, all of them … how could I ever say that I will eat to live?” So, I said to her, “Mother, you need to be there when my husband, your conscripted son, comes back. Just try to eat for yourself and you will at least see him again.” After reassuring her for the moment, I brought a simbang [a shaman] based in Ora Village to perform gut [a shamanistic ritual] the next day. But as soon as we started the gut performance, my mother-in-law raised her eyes up three times and suddenly stopped breathing. While there was a loud gut performance going on in the yard, the patient just died. After burying her in the mountain, I came home alone. Then, as soon as I stepped into her room, the mood then made my hair stand on end as I was terrified. No one has been able to enter her room since that day. People said it was because she died while the invited simbang was performing a ritual but failed to practice dojin [the final stage of gut aimed at returning the spirits to their world]. But I eventually ended her funeral without gwiyangpuri [a shamanistic practice of guiding the spirit of the dead person to the other world]. The fear continued for a long time, but in the spring after I performed her memorial service on the last day of November on the lunar calendar, the village reconstruction order was issued. Fortunately, returning to my home in Indara after finishing my life of evacuation to Gwangyang, I built a new house and the scary feeling naturally disappeared.

My last wish is…
to discover the remains of my missing family members

My father-in-law, brother-in-law, and my husband would all have lived long lives if it were not for the Korean War. If the war hadn’t broken out, my father-in-law would have been released after serving his term in Daegu Prison, and my brother-in-law wouldn’t have been subject to preliminary arrest.
And my husband wouldn’t have joined the army. The June 25 Korean War broke out in 1950 and he was conscripted in September of that year. My husband went missing in the war without even sending us a letter. Should he come back now or later? For so many years, I waited for my husband. After all, all I had was a notice of his disappearance. He is now registered as killed in action, but he’s actually missing. I don’t even know exactly when he died. Even after receiving the notice of disappearance, for a while I expected that he would come back. Then one day, people came and collected my daughter’s blood, saying that they would find my husband’s remains. Since then, I have received a letter every year, a letter of apology for not finding my husband’s remains. Eventually, I came to expect to find his remains. But if I can find his remains, can I also find the remains of my father-in-law and my brother-in-law? I saw on TV that they were going to excavate the remains of Jeju 4·3 victims, so I hope they find the remains of my missing family members and let me properly bury them … That is my wish as someone responsible to take care of my family in law.

Kim set up a memorial stone for her husband and his brother in the orchard behind her house.