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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The real Sinûiju uprising

The city of Sinûiju on the Korea-China border was not only the setting for North Korea's attempt at re-enacting the Kwangju uprising (see last post) but also the site of a genuine uprising that took place in November 1945 - an incident that is not widely known about.

Around three months after the Russians had occupied the northern half of the Korean peninsula, resentment began to boil over towards the occupying troops and the hand-picked Korean Communists they were putting in positions of power. In her book The Korean Peninsula from an Internationalist Perspective (국제주의 시각에서 본 한반도) Kim Ha-yong gives a good account of the events, following the testimony of Ham Sôk-hôn (leader of a local People's Committee and later a well-known democracy activist in the South). An extract from my translation (a work in progress):
Ham Sŏkhŏn points out that the direct cause of the Sinǔiju Incident was the occupation of the local law courts by the Communist Party and the establishment of their local headquarters there without consulting the provincial People’s Committee. “The behaviour of the Communist Party became more arrogant, absurd and violent by the day. This was the single most important cause of the incident.”

The students who came out to demonstrate on November 23 at Sinŭiju condemned the looting by Soviet soldiers, the improper conduct of Han Ung, security chief of North Pyŏng’an provincial People’s Committee, interference in the local school and the inhuman mistreatment of Korean refugees returning from China and Manchuria. At the time there were some 3500 middle and high-school students in the city and the most of them took part, marching in three different directions to hold demonstrations. About 1000 of these students laid siege to the former Sinŭiju court building, where the Communist Party had set up its North Pyŏng’an headquarters. The students crowded their way up to the third floor with the intention of occupying it. But at that moment, from somewhere on the third floor the sound of a pistol shot fired by a Soviet officer rang out and one student collapsed with blood pouring from his head. Around 100 members of the poandae [security police] then appeared from the basement of the building and began beating the students with their rifle butts. The sound of machine gun fire could be heard coming from behind the fleeing students as they scattered in various directions.

The well-prepared
poandae crushed the attempted occupation in an instant. According to witnesses, between 15 and 24 people were killed and 168-350 injured. Immediately after the demonstration a wave of arrests began with around 1000 people rounded up. The Soviet secret intelligence service intervened directly in the interrogation of the arrested students. Of those arrested, a certain number were transferred to Soviet jails while the rest were detained in the poandae police cells. Ham Sŏkhŏn, who at that time was head of education and culture on the North Pyŏngan Peoples’ Committee, was among those arrested. During the Japanese colonial period he had been in and out of jail on at least five occasions, but after liberation he suffered his sixth period of imprisonment at the hands of the Soviets.
One thing that struck me about this incident and similar ones from that period was that foreign military occupations seem to have a certain logic to them - a course which they follow regardless of the circumstances and location. The similarities between what happened when the Soviets occupied North Korea and when the US Army occupied parts of Iraq in 2003 are quite striking and I'm sure that a hundred other military occupations could demonstrate some of the same similarities. A particular recurring flashpoint seems to be the use of public buildings - the occupying army may already be carrying out acts of theft, rape and murder but it is often conflict over a specific physical site that seems to set the spark to the tinder.

As I read about the uprisings in Sinûiju and Hamhûng I immediately thought of Fallujah, where the initial demonstrations also erupted over the requisitioning of public buildings and where they were also met with overwhelming force. Of course, the Soviet occupation of northern Korea and the US occupation of Iraq have played out in very different ways. Unlike the Americans, the Soviets and their Korean Communist allies (Kim Il-sung foremost among them) took a conciliatory stance after these events and were later able to win large sections of the population around with reforms that benefitted peasant farmers and so on. The US doesn't seem to have been so tactically astute, offering little to the Iraqis apart from death and privatisation.


At March 16, 2005 11:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At April 03, 2005 11:44 PM, Blogger kotaji said...

Decided to delete the comment preceding not because it contained abuse, which tends to be the sign of a seriously frustrated mind, but because the writer seemed not to have read my post at all. I simple request for people who wish to comment, please show that you have at least two brain cells to rub together and read what I have written and then comment on that, not something bearing no relation to it. Cheers.


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