Recently, I went back to Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province to take some more photos of the Korea Independence Hall. Complete in 1987, this mammoth institution is meant to be a reminder of the terrific cost of independence. It is a fairly nationalistic place. It is not meant to present an unbiased look at history. As such, it may make some people feel uncomfortable. It is also meant to serve as a memorial to all the many people who lost their lives in fighting against Japan’s imperialism. In the grand scheme of things, 1945 is not that long ago. When President Lee Myung-bak was born in 1941, Korea was bearing the brunt of Japanese oppression. Korea has borne for many long centuries the memory of Japanese invasions, especially the Hideyoshi invasion of the sixteenth century and the eventual colonisation of Korea in 1910.
Because the place was built in the 1980s, some of the buildings look like something straight out of the 1970s-1980s architectural playbooks.
There is a main hall with an utterly huge Korean-style roof. Inside, there is a huge statue in honour of the indominatable Korean people and one of the largest examples of the taegeukgi (national flag) that I have ever seen.
Speaking of the Taegeukgi, it figures heavily in the design of the grounds from the huge number of flags on the lawn to even the street lights. Korea does posess a very impressive national flag. It is at once simple in design and impressive.
There are a series of seven halls documenting a certain facet of modern Korean history. The first hall, which highlights aspects of Korea’s hall leads to the second hall which is concerned with the beginnings of Japanese colonial activities.
Inside and outside the buildings, there are dioramas of uprisings, independence activities, and the like. Some of these are pretty realistic. The Japanese did some truly awful things to the Korean people. There are some jail cells outside the buildings which depict various tortures which were used on the independence leaders.
There is even a minature version of the Independence Gate in Seoul. There used to be a gate in Seoul where Korean envoys, having given tribute to the Emperor of China, would pass through. As Korean began to assert her independence, that gate was torn down and the Independence Gate erected in its place.
There are also more nationalistic friezes and sculptures as well.
There is also a replica of the memorial stone of King Gwanggaeto of Goguryeo, the only other Korean king to bear the title “the Great”. (The other one is, of course, King Sejong the Great.) The original stone is in Ji’an, China. Korea’s territory was once larger than it is today. At one time, it covered a bit of what is now China as well. There is a Korean community in China. They are regarded as one of the official minorities of the People’s Republic of China. The street signs, I am told, are in Korean and Chinese. And it is to China that many North Koreans seek to escape. However, if they are caught, they are very quickly repatriated back to North Korea where they most certainly will be executed.