Posts filed under 'Korea'

1846: Andrew Kim Taegon, the first Korean priest

Add comment September 16th, 2014 Headsman

The first native Korean Catholic priest, Andrew Kim Taegon, was martyred for his faith on this date in 1846.

Catholicism had begun making inroads in Korea from the late 18th century, a development most unwelcome for the Confucian Joseon dynasty. Catholic adherents graduated over the decades of the 19th century to heavier and heavier degrees of persecution. By 1866, the peak of anti-Catholic sentiment, it’s thought that Korea’s Catholic community numbered about 20,000 living souls — and had lost about 10,000 others to martyrdom.

Andrew’s father was one of these 10,000.

The son, and the principal figure of this post, was baptized in his childhood. He trained for Holy Orders at overseas seminaries, in China and the Philippines (according to Wikipedia, he has a statue in the Philippines village where he once hung his hat), finally stealing illicitly into Korea to evangelize underground. Such missions were of ancient vintage for the Church; they have also proven a font of martyrs.

Kim managed about 13 months before he was captured and put to death in the 1846 “Pyong-o persecution”, one of several distinct crackdowns on the alien faith whose episodes punctuated the overall fearful climate for Korea’s Catholics.

Beheaded at the age of 25 among a group of 20 Catholic martyrs, the young man was eventually canonized as St. Andrew Kim Taegon by Pope John Paul II. He shares a common September 20 feast date with other Korean martyrs, including Paul Chong Hasang.

St. Andrew is the patron of the Korean clergy, and of the Pontifical Korean College in Rome. When in Seoul, stop at the Jeoldu-san museum and shrine to remember him.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,History,Korea,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Religious Figures,Torture

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1762: Crown Prince Sado, locked in a rice chest

1 comment July 4th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1762, the Korean king Yeongjo had his son and heir Crown Prince Sado immured in a rice chest — where he would die after eight excrutiating days.

This bizarre incident, attested by the memoirs of Sado’s widow Lady Hyegyeong, continues to perplex down to the present day.

In Lady Hyegyeong’s telling, the tyrannical father warped the sensitive son, sending the latter into a destructive spiral of madness. As the 1750s unfolded, Sado’s behavior grew erratic, violent, and delusional. He was prone to sudden fits of rage, stalked and raped court ladies, and wandered Seoul streets in disguise. He eventually murdered numerous servants, eunuchs, and miscellaneous commoners — even his own concubine. The court lived in terror of the mad prince’s impunity; the ruling dynasty itself stood in peril.

Many years later, the prince’s desperate wife in her autobiography remembered Sado’s own mother finally appealing to the king to do the necessary, unthinkable thing:

“Since the prince’s illness has become quite critical and his case is hopeless, it is only proper that you should protect yourself and the royal grandson, in order to keep the kingdom at peace. I request that you eliminate the prince, even though such a suggestion is outrageous and a sin against humanity.

“It would be terrible for a father to do this in view of the bond of affection between father and son; but it is his illness which is to be blamed for this disaster, and not the prince himself. Though you eliminate him, please exert your benevolence to save the royal grandson, and allow him and his mother to live in peace.

Perhaps to avoid spilling the prince’s blood, the royal lunatic was that very day forced into a sturdy chest in a palace courtyard. The ferocious prince entered it placidly, and his living eyes never again beheld the outside of that box: it was nailed shut and buried. (A recently discovered inscription, however, perhaps implies that the king didn’t actually mean for eight days locked in a box to be fatal. If so, it certainly lends credence to the idea that Sado’s mistreatment in childhood lies behind the later psychotic breaks.)

The royal grandson was indeed spared. When that child, Jeongjo of Joseon, finally succeeded to the throne upon his grandfather’s death in 1776, he wasted little time restoring the honor of his dead father.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Execution,Famous,History,Immured,Korea,No Formal Charge,Notably Survived By,Royalty,Scandal,Starved

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1969: Lee Soogeun, North Korean defector

Add comment July 3rd, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1969, alleged North Korean operative Lee Soogeun (other transliterations exist for his given name, such as Soo Keun or Soo-geun) was hanged at a Seoul prison for espionage.

A North Korean party elite, Lee was the Vice President of the North Korean Central News Agency.

On March 22, at the Military Armistice Commission meetings at the border outpost of Panmunjom, Lee suddenly leapt into a UN official’s vehicle and escaped over the frontier.

The high-profile defector got a hero’s welcome in the South. (A U.S. Army captain also copped a medal for helping him escape.)

Lee hit the lecture circuit critically discussing the situation north of the 38th parallel, and worked as an analyst for South Korean intelligence.

However, the KCIA also had Lee under surveillance, and came to believe that he was actually gathering intelligence to send to the north. Realizing his predicament, Lee fled with his niece for Cambodia. They were captured en route in Vietnam.

South Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has, while stopping short of exonerating Lee, ruled his confinement illegal, and the self-incriminating statements he made in that environment insufficient evidence, and urged his case be re-tried. Lee’s niece served 20 years of a life sentence as his accomplice, but was released in 1989 and eventually won a 6.8 billion won wrongful imprisonment suit.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,Hanged,History,Intellectuals,Korea,North Korea,South Korea,Spies,Wrongful Executions

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2011: Ryu Kyong, Kim Jong-un rival

1 comment January 4th, 2012 Headsman

Sometime in early January — nobody seems to know quite when — North Korean intelligence official Ryu Kyong disappeared, apparently executed.

The number two man, and perhaps de facto number one man, in the State Security Department and a longtime Kim Jon-il ally, Ryu was reportedly “summoned by Kim Jong-il in early January and on his way to Kim’s residence, was arrested by members of the General Guard Bureau. He was interrogated and secretly executed.”

Speculative reason: the Leader viewed Ryu as having grown too powerful, and therefore as a potential rival to a clean succession for Kim Jong-un.

“With Ryu, many others were purged at the State Security Department,” a Seoul analyst said. “We can say that as he gained control of the department, Kim Jong-un needed to give jobs to people loyal to him.”

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Korea,North Korea,Notable Participants,Politicians,Power,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Torture,Uncertain Dates

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2011: Two leaflet-readers

1 comment January 3rd, 2012 Headsman

South Korean activists have in recent years taken to balloon-lifting propaganda leaflets over the DMZ into North Korea — including on the occasion of the recent leadership succession.

North Korea is not amused by this tactic and has pressured — and even militarily threatened — South Korea to clamp down on it. But that’s nothing next to the clampdown within North Korea.

On this date in 2011, according to an activist whose father is a North Korea abductee, two were publicly shot for the crime of handling these leaflets.

An army officer who pocketed dollar bills enclosed with the leaflets was shot along with a 45-year-old woman who concealed one of the flyers, said Choi Sung-Yong.

He said the executions were carried out on January 3 at Sariwon, 45 kilometres (27 miles) south of Pyongyang, in front of 500 spectators following a special ideological session on the leaflets.

Choi, citing a source in Sariwon, told AFP that six members of the victims’ families had been sent to a camp for political prisoners.

“North Korea apparently carried out the executions to teach a lesson to its people,” Choi said.

He said the regime appeared to have tightened ideological control as it grooms the youngest son of leader Kim Jong-Il as eventual successor to his father.

Those dollar bills that cost the army officer his life are, very sadly, enclosed with some leaflets to induce North Koreans to pick them up despite the risk to life and limb.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Innocent Bystanders,Korea,North Korea,Power,Public Executions,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,South Korea

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1932: Yoon Bong-Gil, nationalist assassin

Add comment December 19th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1932, the Japanese shot Korean Yoon (or Yun) Bong-Gil for bombing a parade dais in Shanghai.

A parade to celebrate the emperor’s birthday may be standard enough fare on the home front, but in a China being swallowed by said emperor’s empire it was a provocative act.

In the first months of 1932, Japan had merrily exploited — or incited — anti-Japanese incidents in Shanghai as pretext for an imperialist mini-war, won handily by Japan.

When the aggressors presented their celebratory pageant of arms in the city’s Hongkou Park (today, Lu Xun Park), our young Korean terrorist* “threw a narrow tin box high in the air. In an ear-splitting roar, the grandstand flew apart like a mechanical toy.” (Time magazine, excerpted in this useful Axis History Forum thread.) All seven of the Japanese VIPs on the dais were casualties, and two of them died: one instantly and another succumbing to his injuries a month later.

“A young Korean patriot has accomplished something tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers could not do,” remarked an admiring Chiang Kai-shek. Coming just months after another Korean activist had taken a whack at Hirohito in Tokyo, the generalissimo couldn’t help but appreciate his brothers in resisting colonization.

For this accomplishment Chiang would later go to bat for postwar Korean independence. But for his part, the patriotic Yoon got only a free trip to Japan for military trial and execution.

When calling in Seoul, drop by a well-appointed memorial hall dedicated to Yoon’s memory … or, at the national cemetery where Yoon’s remains were repatriated in 1946.

You’ll find another subtle memorial to this incident in pictures from the decks of the USS Missouri, where a Japanese delegation surrendered to end World War II on September 2, 1945. Leading the delegation is a distinguished gentleman with a top hat and a cane: it is Mamoru Shigemitsu, walking with an artificial leg thanks to Yoon Bong-Gil’s bomb 13 years before.**


Mamoru Shigemitsu aboard the USS Missouri.

* Note: calling Yoon Bong-Gil a “terrorist” is controversial in Korea. We use the word without moral censure.

** Mamoru Shigemitsu had been Japan’s ambassador to China at the time of the assassination bid.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,China,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,History,Japan,Korea,Martyrs,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Separatists,Shot,Terrorists

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1898: Choe Si-hyeong, Donghak leader

Add comment July 20th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1898,* the second patriarch of the Donghak religion was put to death in Korea.

Like neighboring Japan, Korea was ripe for “new religions” late in the 19th century and into the 20th. And to the concussive effects of modernity were added, for Korea, those of colonialism: a fading dynasty pressured by both western and Japanese empire-building.

“Donghak arose at a time when Korea was on the verge of radical transformations,” writes Kirsten Bell.**

Internally, society was stagnating under a rigid Confucian social hierarchy, which saw destitute peasants over-taxed and generally ill-used by corrupt government officials and landed gentry (yangban). External forces such as the West’s encroachment into the East were also causing considerable alarm. Donghak arose in these circumstances and was … explicitly envisioned … as a rebuttal to the growing influence of the West in Korea; further, Donghak was constructed in explicit opposition to Roman Catholicism, known as “Western Learning.”

Donghak, or Tonghak, was “Eastern Learning” (that’s its literal meaning), a sort of synretic liberation theology for the peasantry in a put-upon peninsula.

This egalitarian movement, light on the dogma beyond the notion that an omnipresent divine inheres to every person, yielded its founder up to the laurels of martyrdom in 1864. That gentleman, Choe Je-u, passed leadership to his kinsman, our day’s subject, whose proselytizing and organizing built the religion over two succeeding generations.

“Despite ongoing government persecution, Donghak proved popular with the disaffected masses,” Bell notes.

Choe Si-hyeong published the Donghak scriptures and planted countless secret Donghak societies around Korea. Rooted as they were in a lower class with an axe to grind, these burgeoning cells tended increasingly towards the revolutionary. In 1894, they tended all the way: the Donghak Peasant Revolution.

In this dramatic affair, a surging peasant-nationalist army marched on Seoul with every prospect of overturning the decrepit monarchy — which unworthily preserved itself by inviting a Chinese intervention.†

This, in turn, precipitated an (uninvited) Japanese response, which became the First Sino-Japanese War, whose titular belligerents had it out all over the Korean peninsula.

Japan, with its modern army, cleaned up in the fight, a signal of its rise as regional hegemon. (It would soon annex Korea altogether.) And just in passing, it routed that ambitious peasant army late in 1894, scattering Donghak adherents to the hills.

Choe Si-hyeong was finally captured and put to death in 1898. Still, that wasn’t the end of the line for Donghak: rebranded Cheondoism after its original moniker became unfortunately affixed to the word “revolution,” the faith is still going strong with well over one million adherents in present-day South Korea.

Choe Si-hyeong is the subjet of the 1991 Im Kwon-taek film Fly High, Run Far.

* The precise date is asserted in Buddhism in the Modern World but generally not extremely easy to come by. I’d rather have access to a clear primary source or a larger consensus of secondary sources or a pony.

** “Pilgrims and Progress: The Production of Religious Experience in a Korean Religion,” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, August 2008.

† The Qing were about to be squeezed by a similar domestic movement, the Boxers.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,God,History,Japan,Korea,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries

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1950: American soldiers during the Korean War

4 comments July 10th, 2011 Headsman

Jensen’s counterattack [during the Battle of Chochiwon in the opening days of the Korean War] in the afternoon [of July 10] uncovered the first known North Korean mass atrocity perpetrated on captured American soldiers. The bodies of six Americans, jeep drivers and mortar-men of the Heavy Mortar Company, were found with hands tied in back and shot through the back of the head. Infiltrating enemy soldiers had captured them in the morning when they were on their way to the mortar position with a resupply of ammunition. An American officer farther back witnessed the capture. One of the jeep drivers managed to escape when the others surrendered. (Source, specifically)


Photograph of a U.S. Army 21st Infantry Regiment soldier executed July 10, 1950.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Korea,Mass Executions,Milestones,No Formal Charge,North Korea,Occupation and Colonialism,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,USA,Wartime Executions

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2010: Jeong Dae-Sung and Lee Ok-Geum, for escaping North Korea

Add comment January 8th, 2011 Headsman

On an uncertain date in early to mid-January 2010, North Korea put to death husband and wife Jeong Dae-sung and Lee Ok-Geum for attempting to defect, along with family friend Song Gwang Cheol for assisting them.

Early that month, the People’s Republic announced the “50-day battle” against unreliable elements … like defectors.

The “battle’s” battle plan included “shooting everybody connected to South Chosun [i.e., South Korea] no matter what they did. This case seems to be a model part of that battle.”

Bad timing for Jeong and family: they escaped North Korea to China in July 2009, along with two young children and Jeong’s 63-year-old mother. Their intent was to make it to Mongolia, and there catch a flight to Seoul.

Instead, they were caught by Chinese authorities and repatriated,* and interrogated — we expect not too gently — into giving up their neighbor Song Gwang Cheol.

After the executions, surviving members of both families were hauled away to a prison camp and to internal exile.

* North Koreans in China are in a pretty unenviable position. Beijing considers them economic migrants, not refugees, and therefore repatriates them to dreadful fates in their homeland; and yet, because of the militarized border between the Koreas, anyone wanting to defect or escape basically has to go to China, and then through China — either on to Southeast Asia, or across the Gobi to Mongolia. (Mongolia “repatriates” illegal Korean migrants back to South Korea.)

This Congressional Research Service report (pdf) makes depressing reading on the subject.

Part of the Themed Set: 2010.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Korea,North Korea,Power,Shot,Treason,Uncertain Dates

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1910: Ahn Jung-geun, Korean nationalist

3 comments March 26th, 2010 Headsman

A century go today, Korean independence martyr Ahn Jung-geun (or An Jung-geun) hanged at Port Arthur for assassinating Japanese statesman Ito Hirobumi.

Ahn Jung-geun, who was also a skilled calligrapher (his epigram, “Unless reading everyday, thorns grow in the mouth” is well-known in Korea), actually had a more visionary pan-Asianist agenda than his nationalist byline might initially suggest.

But he militantly opposed Japan’s annexation of the peninsula, and won his hero stature for gunning down Ito in Manchuria.

Ito, for his part, is a national hero in Japan for establishing that country’s parliamentary government and serving as its first Prime Minister.

So, yeah. Still a spot of tension over this incident.

Because the Japanese worried that “if Ahn Jung-geun’s body is handed over to the surviving family or impudent Koreans … it will not be good in the future,” its ultimate deposition has become an enduring historical mystery, with China the current likely suspect. Koreans’ intensified hunt for records pointing to Ahn’s grave has been much in the news during the centennial run-up.

Wherever his bones rest, the Korean patriot (as the saying has it) lives on. He’s even been posthumously promoted by the South Korean army to the rank of “General”.

The recent Korean film 2009 Lost Memories is premised on an radically different alternate timeline starting when Ahn is prevented from killing Ito. Here’s its aesthetically appealing climax, when history is righted.

Scrabbel put the Ahn Jung-geun story to music.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Arts and Literature,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Hanged,History,Japan,Korea,Martyrs,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Separatists,Treason

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