Korea has existed since the 7th century BCE. They had series of wars, and rebellions both among its own people and with other nearby countries. Many conflicts, such as the Korean War, were caused due to the nation’s desire for independence, liberation, and land. However, the Gwangju Uprising of May 18th, 1980 did not occur because the country suffered from foreign relationships. It was driven because the citizens wanted democracy from the government.
President Chun Doo-hwan was the fourth president of the Republic of Korea after the 3 leaders who were useless to the country. The first President Rhee Syngman‘s obsession towards his political opposition, Park Chung-hee’s dictatorship, and Choi Gyu-ha’s idleness angered the citizens. They thought they would finally have democracy after President’s Park’s assassination and the 1979 December military coup d etat, but the president reinforced and
repeatedly set unfavorable laws, such as confirming martial laws, restricting universities and the press. The people soon aroused and rebelled against his authoritarian government. Although the Gwangju Uprising failed to change the authoritarian regimes at that time directly, it paved the way for further democratic movements that later became symbols of the South Koreans’ struggles and fights for democracy.
Firstly, the Gwangju Uprising brought the discussion of democracy at that time and then reminded South Koreans of the hardships their ancestors had to suffer for the democracy they have today. “According to reports, the uprising was triggered by student demonstrations on the morning of May 18 in defiance of the new military edict closing the universities and stifling any political dissent. City police were unable to control the crowd, so the military dispatched a Special Forces unit trained for assault missions to quell the protest. The troopers used tear gas, batons, and rubber bullets to put down the uprising but still workers, shopkeepers, and parents took to the streets to defend their children. Then the military opened fire, killing dozens of people, and wounding hundreds more” (KRCLA). The whole massacre was calmed down by the army forces. The people could not win due to lacking defense, but the casualties left many cemeteries in South Korea and motivated the people to promote more democratic policies. They knew that the uprising did not happen for no reason, and the efforts should not end there. Therefore, the Gwangju Uprising left a clear impression of the amount of effort our ancestors put in for the better government in the South Korean history.
Secondly, the uprising let the government realize its citizens’ interests and opinions towards the country. The Korean Penninsula was governed by kings and the royal family for many centuries, followed by the colonization of Japan. The citizens had always been controlled by certain powers that they were unable to reach. As the nation’s citizens declared their independence and liberation from Japan, they started to realize that a country can be governed by the people. Demonstrations protesting for more freedom and rights led to the passion for democracy, and it continued from Rhee Syngman’s presidency until the outrage of the citizens in Gwangju Uprising. After this incident, the government was finally able to know what the public wanted, how much they desired for it, and why they wanted it so badly. The people were able to sacrifice their lives for democracy of the nation, and therefore, the Gwangju Uprising truly let the South Korean government acknowledge its reality upon progressing towards the future that will contain more conflicts among people as a real nation, not a colony.
Now, South Korea credits the Gwangju Uprising for the foundation of the discussion of democracy for the Korean government. The people value their representation of the government as a reward given from their ancestors, and they are thankful for it. Both Koreas have a national holiday that commemorates this incident, and especially the South Koreans are passionate about how the people sacrificed their lives for the better living of the future generations. The uprising serves and represents the citizens’ devotion to fairness and liberty. Therefore, this Gwangju uprising gave the nation the opportunity to reform again, which made the biggest change in history that benefits Korea the most as a democratic country today.
Sua Shin 9th Grade North Hollywood Magnet
<Sua Shin 9th Grade North Hollywood Magnet