The first on-campus encounter of Jeju 4·3 and humanities studies
Kang Hye-lim, Division of Public Cooperation and External Relations, Jeju National University
Reflecting on Jeju 4·3 allows one to revisit the contemporary history of Korea. It is now time for the Korean people to properly rebuild their sense of value towards improved inter-Korean relations and gain a far-sighted vision of the future. The promising young generation should be able to start the quest for future-oriented values themselves.
Choi Tae-sung, a Korean history lecturer, and Yang Jo Hoon, president of the Jeju 4·3 Peace Foundation, brief the students on the lessons learned from Jeju 4·3 and the role of the coming generations at the 4·3 Humanities Course for the Promising Youth, a Jeju National University lecture event held in the Ocean Hall at the school’s College of Ocean Sciences.
Jeju National University or JNU (President: Song Seok-eon) and the Jeju 4·3 Peace Foundation (President: Yang Jo Hoon) held a two-day lecture course on June 23 and 24. Titled the “4·3 Humanities Course for Promising Youth”, the program addressed key Jeju 4·3 issues from the perspective of humanities studies.
JNU is the only national university in the Jeju region that fosters advanced intellects for balanced regional growth. As the cradle of the Jeju 4·3-related truth-finding movement, the university co-hosted the lecture event with the Jeju 4·3 Peace Foundation, a leading institute dedicated to bringing peace to humanity and improving human rights by sublimating the values pursued during Jeju 4·3.
A JNU-Jeju 4·3 PF lecture program for June
The 4·3 Humanities Course for Promising Youth consists of four sessions, including two special lectures, a ‘book concert’, and a field trip. The in-person and virtual lectures were live streamed so that those students who were unable to visit the venue could join the program’s Zoom meetings or watch them live on YouTube. The JNU’s network with the nation’s national and private colleges also enabled the attendance of other students and researchers who are interested in learning about history. Additionally, the hybrid format of the course broadened the audience spectrum, attracting more than 240 participants that included people from outside the campus and Jeju Island. The success of the event was the outcome of diversifying its channels of communication from the planning stage, with the COVID-19 pandemic in consideration, for the purpose of extending the opportunity to learn about peace and human rights, which are the key values inherited from Jeju 4·3.
The first program of the course was the lecture that took place on June 23, featuring Bishop Peter Kang U-il of the Catholic Diocese of Cheju, who is highly reputed as “a priest of peace and justice”. The local Catholic leader spoke on the topic of “What does Jeju 4·3 mean to us today?”, inspiring the audience to start off on the two-day program with an earnest and sincere attitude.
Bishop Peter Kang guided the participants to understand Jeju 4·3 from its background to its significance, and encouraged them to have their own thoughts on Jeju 4·3. He explained that Jeju was the only constituency that refused to join the General Election which intended to establish a separate government on the southern part of the Korean Peninsula. Jeju 4·3 occurred as an extension of the refusal, which turned out to be the onset of Korea’s national division, he added.
According to the Catholic priest, reflecting on Jeju 4·3 allows one to revisit the contemporary history of Korea. He emphasized that it is now time for the Korean people to properly rebuild their sense of value towards improved inter-Korean relations and gain a far-sighted vision of the future. The promising young generation should be able to start the quest for future-oriented values themselves, he urged. The spiritual leader also asserted that the greatest achievement that a man can accomplish would be that he or she has the ability to make efforts to change themselves.
The lecture evoked the public anticipation about the changes that could be made in young Koreans’ perception of Jeju 4·3 and their attitudes toward the historic event. After listening to the Bishop’s speech, the participants expressed their impressions of the program, freely asking questions about the religious leader’s journey of defending peace and human rights and about the significance of Jeju 4·3.
The second lecture was offered by Choi Tae-sung, a Korean history lecturer also dubbed the “Big Star Teacher”. Under the topic of “Jeju 4·3, a memorable aspect of Korean history”, Choi shared with the audience his own experience about what sparked his interest in Jeju 4·3, as well as the timeline and keywords to help the participants have a better understanding of the historic turmoil.
The “Big Star Teacher” mentioned the dramatic scene of August 2013, where victims’ families and former police officers reconciled by holding their hands. According to his assessment, the touching moment signifies that Jeju 4·3, a movement for reconciliation and peace, has left us with a lasting heritage amid the reality where the victims and the victimizers coexist. The course of disentangling the complicated conflicts and relieving the resulting pain represents the best answer to resolving all those contradictory issues that swept over the Korean Peninsula, he added. The lecturer also reiterated that Jeju 4·3 is not just a past event but features a future-oriented aspect that blooms as a lotus of hope despite the muddy, painful contradiction.
Concluding his lecture, the historian impressed the participants by introducing memorable historic figures who admirably fulfilled their respective roles and eventually lost their lives during Jeju 4·3. While the presentation solemnly proceeded, some participants shed tears of condolence to the figures as well as to all the other Jeju 4·3 victims. The interactive lecture allowed both the lecturer and the audience to ponder the significance of Jeju 4·3.
A participant who introduced herself as a student with a particular interest in history commented in her review that Jeju 4·3 was a chaotic event where an innocent bystander gets hurt in a fight. She said we learn history in order not to repeat the mistakes of the past, and that admitting wrongdoings should also be a part of history. The lectures were a good opportunity to better understand the perspective of others through history, she added.
Another student who watched the lectures online said that the program motivated the audience to think about the different views of history. The lectures shocked him in a positive sense, helping broaden his narrow view of history, he commented. The high level of satisfaction of the online and offline audience built up the anticipation that the ‘book concert’ and the field trip, slated to be held in September and October, respectively, would also be successful.
Efforts to hand down the historical lessons to the coming generations
There is a saying that history does not teach us anything if nobody remembers it. To prevent the historical suffering from being repeated, the efforts to remember the past should further usher us into the stage of sympathy. Then the youth will be able to give shape to both memory and sympathy, which will be handed down to our coming generations.
In September 2019, JNU and the Jeju 4·3 Peace Foundation agreed to cooperate on the education regarding peace and human rights and towards the public awareness of the history surrounding Jeju 4·3. The two institutes’ first joint project, held in November 2020, was a program for the local youth titled, “A day with thinking and living”. (‘Thinking’ and ‘living’ have the same Korean pronunciation as 4·3.) During the program, the students took a tour of the Jeju 4·3 Peace Memorial Hall and the Jeju 4·3 Peace Park, in memory and mourning for the victims of the poignant, miserable historic event.
In 2021, JNU and the Jeju 4·3 Peace Foundation expanded their joint efforts by co-hosting the 4·3 Humanities Course for Promising Youth. From its planning to its operation, the program featured a broader spectrum, diversifying the lecturers, topics, and content. The course also made changes to its operational format to enable interactive communication with the participants. The latest event bears great significance in that it allowed the two institutes to lay the steppingstone for the handing down of the historical lessons of Jeju 4·3. JNU and the Jeju 4·3 Peace Foundation will continue to work together in providing mutual assistance to more diversified educational, cultural, and art programs down the road.