Jeju Uprising

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Jeju Uprising
Jeju SK.png
Map of South Korea with Jeju highlighted at the bottom in pink
Location Jeju Island, South Korea
Date April 3, 1948–May, 1949
Target United States Army Military Government in Korea and later Government of South Korea
Attack type
Deaths 14,000–30,000,[1] or one fifth of population killed from all fighting[2]
Perpetrators Pak Hon-yong
Motive Protest against oppression by national police employed by the US military government and the election that was held only in South Korea

The Jeju Uprising was a rebellion on the Korean province of Jeju Island that lasted from April 3, 1948, until May 1949.[3][4]:139, 193 The main cause for the rebellion was elections scheduled for May 10, 1948, designed by the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea (UNTCOK) to create a new government for all of Korea. The elections, however, were only planned for the south of the country, the half of the peninsula under UNTCOK control. Fearing the elections would further reinforce division, guerrilla fighters for the South Korean Labor party (SKLP) reacted violently, attacking local police and rightist youth groups stationed on Jeju Island.[3][4]:166–167

Though atrocities were committed by both sides, the methods used by the South Korean government to suppress the rebels were especially cruel.[3][4]:171[5]:13–14 On one occasion, American soldiers discovered the bodies of ninety-seven men, women, and children, killed at the hand of government forces. On another, American soldiers caught government police forces in the act of carrying out a gruesome execution of seventy-six villagers, including women and children.[4]:186

In the end, about 30,000 people died as a result of the rebellion, or 10% of the island’s total population.[4]:195[5]:13Some 40,000 others fled to Japan to escape the fighting.[3][6] In the decades after the uprising, memory of the event was brutally suppressed by the government through strict punishment.[5]:41 Only in 2006, more than 60 years after the rebellion, did the Korean government finally apologize for its role in the killings. Although the government simultaneously promised reparations, as of 2010, nothing had been done to this end.[7]


After Japan surrendered to Allied forces on 15 August 1945, Korea's 35 years of Japanese occupation finally came to an end. Korea was subsequently divided at the 38th parallel, however, with the Soviet Union assuming trusteeship north of the line and the United States south of the line. In September 1945, Lt. General John R. Hodge established a military government to administer the southern region, which included Jeju Island. In December 1945 the U.S. met with the Soviet Union and United Kingdom to work out joint trusteeship. Due to lack of consensus, however, the U.S. took the “Korean question” to the United Nations for further deliberation. On November 14, 1947, the United Nations passed UN Resolution 112, calling for a general election on May 10, 1948 under UNTCOK supervision.[8]

Fearing it would lose influence over the northern half of Korea if it complied, the Soviet Union rejected the UN resolution and denied the UNTCOK access to the northern part of Korea.[9] The UNTCOK nevertheless went through with the elections, albeit in the southern half of the country only. The Soviet Union responded to these elections in the south with an election of its own in the north on August 25, 1948.[10]

Incidents leading up to the uprising

Sam-Il demonstrations

Jeju residents began protesting the elections a whole year before they took place. Particularly concerned about permanently dividing the peninsula, the South Korean Labor Party (SKLP), a sister party to the North Korean Communist Party of Korea, planned gatherings for March 1, 1947 to denounce the elections and simultaneously celebrate the anniversary of the March First Independence Movement.[4]:153[5]:28 An attempt by the military government to disperse the crowds only brought more citizens of Jeju out in support of the demonstrations. In a desperate attempt to calm the boisterous crowd, U.S. military forces and Korean police fired warning shots above their heads. Although these shots successfully pacified the demonstrators, one struck and killed a six-year old child[4]:154[5]:28

Chong-myon jail incident

On March 8, 1947, a crowd of about a thousand demonstrators gathered at the Chong-myon jail, demanding the release of SKLP members the military government had arrested during the Sam-Il demonstrations. When the demonstrators started throwing rocks and subsequently rushed the jail, the police inside shot at them in a panic, killing five. In response, SKLP members and others called on the military government to take action against the police officers who fired on the crowd. Instead, 400 more police officers were flown in from the mainland, along with a radical anti-leftist group called the Northwest Youth Group, to help maintain order.[4]:154 Although both groups employed violent and harsh tactics in their suppression of the locals, the actions of the Northwest Youth Group was borderline terroristic.[1]:99[3][4]:155 (Merrill, 155; Deane 58; Johnson, 99). Considering 20 percent of Jeju’s population (60,000 people) were SKLP members and another 80 percent of the population were SKLP sympathizers, the arrival of these radical rightist groups and additional military police forces increased tensions on the Jeju Island dramatically.[4]:157

The February 1948 General Strike

As the May 10, 1948 elections approached, SKLP leaders hardened in their opposition to the involvement of UNTCOK in Korean affairs. In January 1948, Pak Hon Yong, the leader of the SKLP, called on SKLP members south of the 38th parallel to oppose the elections with violence. On Jeju, SKLP members responded to this call by attacking government installations and engaging with police forces in open conflict. These engagements between SKLP guerrillas and rightist groups and police continued through March 1948.[4]:164


April 3, 1948

Although skirmishes had been taking place on Jeju Island since early 1947, April 3, 1948 is remembered as the day the Jeju uprising officially began. Some sources claim it came about when military police “fired on a demonstration commemorating the Korean struggle against Japanese rule,” igniting mass insurrection.[1]:99 Other sources, however, make no mention of this demonstration incident, and claim that SKLP plans to attack on April 3, 1948 had been in the works for some time.[4]:166 [5]:30 Whatever the case, provoked or unprovoked, on April 3, 1948, about 500 SKLP guerrillas plus up to 3,000 sympathizers attacked around half of the 24 police stations on the island, killing 30 police officers in the process.[3][4]:167 (Merrill, 167; Deane 55).

Lieutenant General Kim Ik-ryeol, commander of police forces on the island, attempted to end the insurrection peacefully by negotiating with the rebels. He met several times with rebel leader Kim Dal-sam of the SKLP but neither side could agree on conditions. The government wanted a complete surrender and the rebels demanded disarmament of the local police, dismissal of all governing officials on the island, prohibition of paramilitary youth groups on the island and re-unification of the Korean peninsula.[3][4]:174

In the wake of these failed peace negotiations, the fighting continued. The Military Government responded to guerrilla activity by deploying police companies, each 1,700 strong, from the mainland’s southern provinces to Jeju Island.[4]:168 Fighting continued through the May 10 elections. During election week, the guerrillas “cut telephone lines, destroyed bridges, and blocked roads with piles of stones to disrupt communications."[4]:171Sporadic arson, violent demonstrations and attacks on government installations effectively disrupted the elections.[4]:171 [5]:31

August 1948 underground elections and Yosu rebellion

Although guerrilla activities waned during the summer months of 1948, they picked up again after the Soviet Union held elections north of the 38th parallel to form the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).[4]:176,179 In conjunction with these elections, the Communists organized “underground elections” for those wanting to participate south of the 38th parallel, including on Jeju Island.[4]:177 [5]:34 Although the turnout of these elections is disputed, they certainly succeeded at emboldening SKLP military forces.[3][4]:177 In the months following the elections, conditions got so bad, Republic of Korea (ROK) officials decided to send the Fourteenth Regiment, stationed near the southern port city of Yeosu, to Jeju Island to assist counter-guerrilla efforts. Not wanting to “murder the people of Jeju,” however, these troops rebelled on October 20, 1948, just as they were preparing to depart.[4]:179–180[5]:34 Embarrassed by this incident, Syngman Rhee, the newly elected president of the ROK, intensified the government’s efforts to stamp out the rebellion.[4]:182[5]:34 On November 17, 1948, Syngman Rhee proclaimed martial law in order to quell the rebellion.[11] During this period, ROK police forces engaged in unspeakable atrocities. One report describes the events of December 14, 1948 in a small Jeju village. ROK attacked the village and captured many young men and girls. The young girls were gangraped over a two-week period and were executed along with the young men.[6]

By the end of 1948, the ROK’s harsh tactics and effective suppression campaigns had reduced the number of guerrilla forces to just 300.[4]:184

SKPL’s 1949 New Year Offensive and the ROK’s eradication campaign

On January 1, 1949, the guerrillas launched one last offensive against ROK police. They attacked at Odong-ni and Jeju City, but were beaten back by ROK police and driven to the island’s interior mountains.[4]:184–185 ROK police pursued the guerrillas and continued to commit gross atrocities, including mass-killings of villagers.[1]:58[4]:186[5]:36 The ROK, now determined to destroy the remaining SKLP guerrillas, launched an eradication campaign in March 1949. During the campaign, 2,345 guerrillas and 1,668 civilians were killed.[4]:189 With the campaign now effectively over, the ROK held elections on Jeju Island to fill the province’s empty seats in the National Assembly; Jeju Island was now effectively and symbolically under ROK jurisdiction.[4]:192[5]:31

American involvement

At the time of the uprising, the island was controlled by the United States Army Military Government in Korea. Only a small number of Americans were present.[1] Jimmie Leach, then a captain in the U.S. Army, was an adviser to the South Korean Constabulary and claimed that there were six Americans on the island, including himself, and that they could call on two small L-4 scout planes and two old minesweepers converted to coastal cutters, manned by Korean crews.[12] Brutal suppression of the protests by the national police and the army controlled by the U.S. military government under American Colonel James A. Casteel, commander of Jeju's security forces,[13] resulted in thousands of deaths, the destruction of many villages on the island, and more rebellions on the Korean mainland. Rather than dealing with the cause of the issue, sparked by the shooting of civilians by police, the U.S. military dispatched to Jeju was quick to conclude that it was a communist uprising and declared Jeju a "red island".[14] By spring of 1949 four South Korean Army battalions arrived and joined the local constabulary, police forces, and extreme right-wing Northwest Youth Association partisans to brutally suppress protests. The combined forces quickly destroyed or disabled most of the remaining rebel forces. On August 17, 1949, the leadership of the movement fell apart following the killing of major rebel leader Yi Tuk-ku.[15] The U.S. military later called the complete destruction of Jungsangan village - the biggest tragedy of the events - a "successful operation".[16]

The National Committee for the Investigation of the Truth about the Jeju April 3 Incident concluded that the U.S. Army Military Government in Korea and the Korean Military Advisory Group were responsible for the incident as it occurred under the rule of the military government and an American colonel was in charge of the security forces of Jeju.[17]

After the outbreak of the Korean War, the U.S. assumed command of the South Korean armed forces.[18] Brigadier General William Lynn Roberts commanded Americans on Jeju.[19][20]

The U.S. media documented and publicized the massacre but the U.S. military did not intervene.[21] On May 13, 1949 the American ambassador to South Korea wired Washington that the Jeju rebels and their sympathizers had been, "killed, captured, or converted."[1] Stars and Stripes reported on the South Korean Army’s brutal suppression of the rebellion, local support for the rebels, as well as rebel retaliation against local rightist opponents.[22]

During the Korean War

Daranshi cave massacre on Jeju

Immediately after the North Korean attack on South Korea which opened the Korean War, the South Korean military ordered "preemptive apprehension" of suspected leftists nationwide. Thousands were detained on Jeju, then sorted into four groups, labeled A, B, C and D, based on the perceived security risks each posed. On August 30, 1950, a written order by a senior intelligence officer in the South Korean Navy instructed Jeju's police to "execute all those in groups C and D by firing squad no later than September 6."[21] In March 1950, North Korea sent thousands of armed insurgents to resuscitate the guerrilla fighting on Jeju,[dubious ] but by this time the South Korean Army had become particularly adept at counterinsurgency and squashed the new insurgency in only a few weeks.


In one of its first official acts, the South Korean National Assembly passed the National Traitors Act in 1948, which among other measures, outlawed the Workers Party of South Korea.[23] For almost fifty years after the uprising, it was a crime punishable by beatings, torture and a lengthy prison sentence if any South Korean even mentioned the events of the Jeju uprising.[1] The event had been largely ignored by the government. In 1992, President Roh Tae Woo's government sealed up a cave on Mount Halla where the remains of massacre victims had been discovered.[21] After civil rule was reinstated in the 1990s, the government made several apologies for the suppression, and efforts are being made to reassess the scope of the incident and compensate the survivors.[citation needed]

In October 2003, President Roh Moo-hyun apologized to the Jeju people for the brutal suppression of the uprising, stating, “Due to wrongful decisions of the government, many innocent people of Jeju suffered many casualties and destruction of their homes.”[11] Roh had made the first apology as South Korean president for the 1948 massacre.[11] In March 2009, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission confirmed its[who?] findings that "At least 20,000 people jailed for taking part in the popular uprisings in Jeju, Yeosu and Suncheon, or accused of being communists, were massacred in some 20 prisons across the country," when the Korean War broke out.[24]

The commission reported 14,373 victims, 86% at the hands of the security forces and 13.9% at the hands of armed rebels, and estimated that the total death toll was as high as 30,000.[25] Some 70 percent of the island's 230 villages were burned to the ground and over 39,000 houses were destroyed.[1] Of the 400 villages before the uprising only 170 remained afterwards.[11] In 2008, bodies of massacre victims were discovered in a mass grave near Jeju International Airport.[11]

In popular media

Jiseul is a 2012 South Korean film about Jeju residents during the uprising.[26]

Zainichi Korean writer Sok Pok Kim has written a novel Kazantō (Volanic Island) about the event; his work is seen as controversial in South Korea and he has been denied entry to the country twice (in 1980 and 2015).[27]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Johnson, Chalmers. Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (2000, rev. 2004 ed.). Owl Book. pp. 99–101. ISBN 0-8050-6239-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> According to Chalmers Johnson, death toll is 14,000-30,000
  2. "Ghosts of Cheju". Newsweek. 2000-06-19. Retrieved 2010-07-24.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Deane, Hugh (1999). The Korean War 1945-1953. San Francisco: China Books and Periodicals Inc. pp. 54–58. ISBN 0-8351-2644-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 4.16 4.17 4.18 4.19 4.20 4.21 4.22 4.23 4.24 4.25 4.26 Merrill, John (1980). "Cheju-do Rebellion". The Journal of Korean Studies: 139–197.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 Kim, Hun Joon (2014). The Massacre at Mt. Halla: Sixty Years of Truth Seeking in South Korea. Cornell University Press. pp. 13–41. ISBN 9780801452390.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 HIDEKO TAKAYAMA IN TOKYO (June 19, 2000). "Ghosts Of Cheju". newsweek. Retrieved 2009-03-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. O, John Kie-Chiang (1999). "Korean Politics: The Quest for Democratization and Economic Development". Cornell University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "United Nations Resolution 112: The Problem of the Independence of Korea". United Nations. 2007. Retrieved 2009-03-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Alexander, Bevin (1998). Korea: The First War We Lost. New York: Hippocrene. p. 11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Lanʹkov, A. N. (2002). From Stalin to Kim Il Sung: The formation of North Korea, 1945-1960. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. p. 46. ISBN 0813531179.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 Jung Hee, Song (March 31, 2010). "Islanders still mourn April 3 massacre". Jeju weekly. Retrieved 2013-05-05.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Col. Jimmie Leach, as told to Matt Hermes (January 10, 2006). "Col. Jimmie Leach, a former U.S. Army officer, recalls the Cheju-do insurrection in 1948". beaufortgazette. Retrieved 2009-03-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. The National Committee for the Investigation of the Truth about the Jeju April 3 Incident (15 December 2003). "The Jeju April 3 Incident Investigation Report" (PDF). Office of the Prime Minister, Republic of Korea. p. 144. Retrieved 17 Aug 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. (Korean)
  15. Michael J. Varhola. Fire and Ice : The Korean War, 1950-1953 (July 1, 2000 ed.). Da Capo Press. p. 317. ISBN 1-882810-44-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "제주4·3사건 진상규명 및 희생자 명예회복 위원회".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. The National Committee for the Investigation of the Truth about the Jeju April 3 Incident (15 December 2003). "The National Committee for the Investigation of the Truth about the Jeju April 3 Incident". Office of the Prime Minister, Republic of Korea.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "Andreĭ Nikolaevich Lanʹkov" (2002). From Stalin to Kim Il Sung: the formation of North Korea, 1945-1960. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0813531179.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Gibby, Brian (2008). Stoker, Donald, ed. Military Advising and Assistance: From Mercenaries to Privatization, 1815–2007. New York: Routledge. p. 88. ISBN 0-203-93871-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "U.S. Gen. Roberts, center, back, commanded the operation in Jeju. Image courtesy Yang Jo Hoon". Jeju weekly. Retrieved 2013-05-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 HIDEKO TAKAYAMA IN TOKYO (June 19, 2000). "Ghosts Of Cheju". newsweek. Retrieved 2009-03-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Sandler, Stanley (1999). The Korean War: No Victors, No Vanquished. Padstow, Cornwall: The University Press of Kentucky. p. 38. ISBN 0-8131-2119-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Carter Malkasian. The Korean War (Essential Histories) (September 25, 2001 ed.). Osprey Publishing. p. 2222. ISBN 1-84176-282-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. "Truth commission confirms civilian killings during war". Republic of Korea. 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-29. At least 20,000 people jailed for taking part in the popular uprisings in Jeju, Yeosu and Suncheon, or accused of being communists, were massacred in some 20 prisons across the country.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. "The National Committee for Investigation of the Truth about the Jeju April 3 Incident". 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-15.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Yun, Suh-young (18 March 2013). "Requiem for Jeju's forgotten masscre". The Korea Times. Retrieved 2013-03-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. "Seoul bans entry to ethnic Korean writer on 1948 massacre - AJW by The Asahi Shimbun". AJW by The Asahi Shimbun. Retrieved 2015-10-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Merrill, John (1989). Korea: The Peninsular Origins of the War. University of Delaware Press. ISBN 0-87413-300-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> "Examines the local backdrop of the war, including large-scale civil unrest, insurgency and border clashes before the North Korean attack in June, 1950."

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