Yoon Man-seok’s Gwe

Be it left-wing or right-wing,
every local inhabitant was victimized.

Dishes piled up high in front of the aged gwe,
arranged for ancestral rites, shine with no cracks nor dirt on them.
The gwe brings back the painful memory of the massacre,
while the wooden utensils soothe the wounded hearts.
Preparing food on them with the heart and soul
is to appease the souls of the victims,
and their hunger that is unsatisfied even after death.

Faded portraits of Yoon’s parents placed on the Gwe.

Yoon Man-seok
“This area used to be called Jindongsan, a hill in front of the multong spring in the village of Donggwang. My father’s elder brother and younger brother were potters, and my father made wooden containers called gwe. My house had a bead tree that was over 50 years old. One day, my father was designing a gwe box from the tree when the counterinsurgency forces suddenly raided my house. They took my father, my two uncles and many of my neighbors.


On a previous day, the forces attacked my friend’s place with a giant, black German shepherd. I can still remember that scary dog bit through the neck of a pig. The armed troops took my friend’s father outside and ordered all of the neighbors to gather in an open field. They convened every one of the villagers, regardless of age or gender. Then, they publicly executed my friend’s father. And they started arresting people randomly. On the same day, they imprisoned my father and his two brothers, as well as my mother and my little brother. The whole village was in chaos. I was only seven years old, but I clearly remember what happened. I remember everything. My uncles went missing, and my father was taken to Mokpo prison. He served a jail term there, accused of committing treason. We don’t even know why. During the Japanese colonial era, my father was drafted and forced to work in a mine in Hokkaido. Returning home after national liberation, he suffered during 4.3 similarly as he had during the Japanese occupation when he was a forced laborer. And when the Korean War broke out, he was drafted once again. It doesn’t make sense to conscript a criminal charged with committing treason. But he was drafted anyway, and returned home with a serious injury. He could not work, and I, the eldest son, had to be the breadwinner of the family. The utmost priority was to feed all of the seven siblings including me. I tried everything I could to make ends meet for my little brothers and sisters. I had no other option.


It is hard to describe how we lived. This applies not just to me but also to others that experienced 4·3. Anyone who underwent 4·3 eventually saw their family completely destroyed. Be it left-wing or right-wing, every local inhabitant was victimized. We should restore their honor, no matter what. When those hiding in the mountain areas demanded rice, ordinary villagers had no choice but to give them the rice. If that’s the case, how can it be a crime!”