The Jeju 4·3 Peace Park: A place to honour, grieve, learn
When late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung signed the Jeju 4·3 Special Law into being Jan. 11, 2000, he enacted legislation that would not only reshape the island’s past but redirect Jeju’s trajectory into the future. And no product of this act better exemplifies these two goals than the Jeju 4·3 Peace Park.
Opened in March 2008, the Jeju 4·3 Peace Park is a massive complex that strives to honour victims of the massacre, educate (and in many ways re-educate) the public about the events and continue research into how the massacre has impacted the island’s residents.
And while there are several facilities throughout the park the two main areas that best fulfill its functions to honor and educate are the memorial service altar and the Jeju 4·3 museum.
The memorial service altar stands near a cemetery where known victims of the massacre were laid to rest. Families come here to grieve by the graves of their lost loved ones, while inside the semidome altar the names of the dead organized by village are chiseled in stone along the walls.
Every year on April 3, around 10,000 Jeju citizens gather before this alter to honour their loved ones as local and central government officials show their respect and grieve alongside those most directly affected by the government’s actions.
It is here where President Moon Jae-in gave his apology on behalf of South Korea during the 70th anniversary of the tragedy, becoming the first sitting president to attend the event.
The museum, within the main building of the peace park, is what draws most visitors here. It is a thorough, chronological retelling of the events that led up to the Jeju massacre, the massacre itself and its aftermath.
It begins with a short walk into a cave-like tunnel that metaphorically acts as a portal for the visitor transporting them back 70 years while subjecting them to what many survivors experienced while hiding underground from the horrors above.
What follows is a detailed explanation of the politics that created the volatile situation that erupted into 4.3.
The information is presented in both Korean and English, and while the displays are informative, art is used to better materialize the gravity and horror of the massacre.
For instance, on exiting the tunnel into the museum, an unmarked tomb lays at the bottom of a tall silo, reminding visitors that while many bodies of the dead have found places to rest in the cemetery outside, countless others have not.
There is also an animation of the March 1, 1947, “Shooting Incident” that incited the massacre and a video piece artistically visualizing what the “red island,” as it was labeled by the US military government then, metaphorically liked.
The museum ends by detailing the literal and figurative work done to unearth the truth of 4.3 in the decades following the massacre, including a recreation of Darangshi Cave, one of the most important pieces of evidence of state violence on the island that helped force the government to acknowledge its wrongdoing when discovered in 1993.
The park, along with the museum, the 4·3 Children’s Experience Center and all its facilities, is free and is closed every first and third Monday of the month.