The notoriety of the Seodaemun (meaning the Great Western Gate) Prison may have been equivalent to those of the Auschwitz or Mauthausen in Korea during the first half of the twentieth century. To most young Korean-borns, it must be known as the site where Yoo-Gwan-Soon, a young, heroic female independence activist, was imprisoned and died at the bare age of sixteen. Even after the Liberation shortly after the conclusion of the WWII, the prison continued to be used to jail pro-democracy activists who resisted the authoritarian regimes. It’s living proof of the brutal human rights abuses during the colonial and modern periods.
I have been longing to visit this historic site ever since I read the biographies-for-children of the Korean nationalists who perished at the harsh treatments by the Japanese. Once there, the skyrocketing apartment buildings now surrounding the old construction gave me a weird feeling, but I was somewhat appreciative at the same time of the ongoing efforts to preserve such a historically meaningful site regardless of the commercial approaches.
The museum preserves and displays Seodaemun Prison signifying the suffering and pain of Koreans during the modern period. Here, independence and pro-democracy activists were jailed and martyred. Despite such a history of suffering, Koreans achieved independence and democracy. The Seodaemun Prison Hall represents the history of struggle to achieve Kroea’s independence and democracy with such indomitable spirit and potential.
The basement was where the worst forms of physical and psychological tortures and interrogations were perpetuated. Some of the tools and cells were preserved and displayed for the visitors to interact with.
My favourite… The cells.
The halls were adorned with illustrated commemorations of the dying wills of the Korean nationalists.
After nearly seventy years after the Liberation, the colonial history still haunts between the nations. You may have read from the newspaper about the increasing tension between the two nations in a number of issues. In my opinion, there are still a LOT to be done to successfully get over the humiliating history… In the end, there is no justice to be done… It’s all about power. The Jews, now enjoying significant influence over the world, may have deserved to be sympathized and apologized for their past sufferings. Do Koreans have that same amount of power to yield the sincere apology from their past transgressors? I don’t think we are there yet.