Jeju uprising

John Florens | Mar 13, 2023

Table of Content


The Jeju-do Rebellion (窶4-3사건) is an armed popular uprising on Jeju Island in South Korea that began on April 3, 1948, and lasted until May 1949 (the last skirmishes occurred in 1953). The people of Jeju, who opposed the division of Korea into northern and southern parts, organized a general strike in 1947 against elections planned by the United Nations Transitional Commission (UNTCOK) in territory controlled by the U.S. Military Administration in Korea. In April 1948, the Labor Party of South Korea and its supporters began an uprising by attacking the police. Members of the Northwest Youth League stationed in Jeju were mobilized to suppress the uprising. From August 1948, on the orders of President Lee Seung-Man of the First Republic, the army of the Republic of Korea participated in suppressing the uprising; martial law was declared in November; in March 1949, the army began fighting against rebel forces in rural Jeju and suppressed the uprising within two months.

The suppression of the Jeju uprising was most brutal, with estimates of 14,000 to 30,000 (10 percent of the population of Jeju) killed in the fighting and subsequent reprisals, while 40,000 more fled to Japan.139,193 Atrocities and war crimes were committed by both sides, but historians note the particular cruelty of government troops. Violence against civilians by pro-government forces sparked uprisings in Yeosu and Suncheon (Jeolla-Namdo Province):186. Some historians and scholars, including military historian Allan R. Millett, regard the Jeju uprising as the true beginning of the Korean War.

The Jeju uprising was officially censored and silenced in South Korea for several decades:41 In 2006, nearly 60 years after the Jeju uprising, the South Korean government apologized for its role in the killings and promised to compensate the victims. In 2019, South Korea's police and defense ministry apologized for the first time for the mass killings.

The political situation in Korea

On August 15, 1945, after the surrender of Imperial Japan to the Allied forces, the 35-year Japanese occupation of Korea ended. Korea was subsequently divided along the 38th parallel, with territory north of the line under Soviet control and south of the line under U.S. control. In September 1945, Lieutenant General John R. Hodge established a military administration to govern the southern region, which included Jeju Island. In December 1945, U.S. representatives met with representatives of the USSR and the United Kingdom to work out joint guardianship. However, due to a lack of consensus, the U.S. referred the "Korean question" to the UN for further discussion.

On November 14, 1947, the United Nations voted in favor of Security Council Resolution 112, which called for elections in Korea to be monitored by the United Nations. The Soviet Union refused to comply with the resolution and allow the commission access to the northern part of the country. Elections in the south were held with a turnout of 99.6 percent. 86.3% of the electorate voted for candidates supported by the government. The Communist Labor Party of Korea decided to boycott the elections held in the south. The U.S. occupation authorities estimated that about 60,000 (2,500 activists were arrested, of whom at least three were killed, after organized action began on the island against the Communists.

On August 25, 1948, the Soviet Union responded to this election in the South with its own election in the North.

The political situation on Jeju Island

The inhabitants of Jeju Island were among the most active participants in the Korean independence movement against Japanese occupation. Because of the island's relative isolation from the mainland, the situation on Jeju after Japan's surrender was calm, in contrast to the intense unrest in southern mainland Korea. As on the mainland, after Japan's surrender, People's Committees and local autonomous councils were formed on Jeju and charged with coordinating the transition to Korean independence. When the U.S. military government arrived in Jeju in late 1945, the Jeju People's Council was the only real power on the island. As evidence of this relative stability, the U.S. military governor under the U.S. Military Administration in Korea (USAMGIK) John R. Hodge stated in October 1947 that Jeju was "a truly communal area peacefully controlled by the People's Committee without much Comintern influence."

By the end of 1946, the Jeju People's Council was subject to the directives of the South Korean Labor Party (SKLP). The SKLP encouraged the People's Council to form military and political committees as well as mass organizations. The dissolution by the U.S. military administration in 1946 of the provisional Korean People's Republic and its affiliated People's Committees on the mainland provoked the 1946 Fall Uprising, which did not spread to Jeju (because the military administration had little or no involvement in its People's Committees), but contributed to the island's tensions:17-18

On April 3, 1948, police on the island fired on people who had marched at a demonstration commemorating the Korean struggle against the Japanese invaders. Outraged people attacked 12 police stations. That day was the day the uprising began.

Demonstrations in Sam-Ila

Residents of Jeju began protesting against the election a year in advance. Concerned about the possibility of partitioning the peninsula, the RPUK held rallies on March 1, 1947, to commemorate the election and the anniversary of the March 1 Movement at the same time:28

In an attempt to calm the crowd, Korean police fired warning shots into the air, some of which hit the crowd. Although these shots calmed the demonstrators, six civilians were killed, including a six-year-old child.

Chongmyeong Prison Incident

On March 8, 1947, about a thousand demonstrators gathered outside Chongmyong prison, demanding the release of RPUK members arrested by the military administration during the demonstrations in Sam Ile. When the demonstrators started throwing stones and stormed the prison, the police opened fire, killing five of them. In response, RPUK members and others called on the military administration to take action against the police firing on the crowd. Instead, 400 more policemen flew in from the mainland, along with members of an extreme right-wing paramilitary group known as the Northwest Youth League:154.

Although both police and paramilitary groups used brutal tactics in their actions, the Northwest Youth League acted in a particularly ruthless, terrorist manner.

The General Strike of February 1948

As the May 10, 1948 election approached, RPUK leaders intensified their opposition to UNTCOK involvement in Korean affairs, believing that the election would legitimize the division of Korea along the 38th parallel. In January 1948, Park Hongyeon, leader of the RUJK, urged RUJK members south of the 38th Parallel to oppose the election by any means necessary and called for a general strike on February 7. At that time, there were at least 60,000 RYUK members and at least 80,000 active supporters in Jeju. In addition to participating in the strike, RYUK members and supporters had several attacks on government facilities and had open conflicts with the police. Clashes between SKLP guerrillas and right-wing groups and the police continued until March 1948:164

April 3, 1948.

Although skirmishes had been taking place on Jeju Island since early 1947, April 3, 1948, is considered the day the Jeju uprising began. Some sources claim that it occurred when military police "fired on a demonstration commemorating Korea's struggle against Japanese rule":99 However, other sources make no mention of this demonstration incident and claim that the uprising was organized by the TPUK:30 In any event, at about 02:00, about 500 TPUK guerrillas, together with 3,000 party supporters, attacked Northwest Youth League positions as well as 11 of the 24 police stations on the island, killing 30 policemen, primarily those previously known for their cooperation with the Japanese:55. A total of about 100 people were killed on both sides.

Attempts to resolve conflict

General Kim Ik-ryol, commander of the South Korean forces on the island, tried to end the rebellion through peaceful negotiations with the rebels. He met several times with rebel leader Kim Dalsam (a member of the Communist Party), but neither side could accept the demands. The government demanded that the rebels immediately lay down their arms. The rebels demanded disarmament of the local police, dismissal of all ruling officials on the island, prohibition of paramilitary youth groups on the island and reunification of the Korean peninsula.

After unsuccessful peace talks, hostilities continued. The U.S. military government responded to the guerrilla action by moving another regiment to Jeju from Busan and deploying police companies, each with 1,700 men, from the southern provinces of the mainland:168

The guerrillas retreated to their bases in the forests and caves around Hallasan, an extinct volcano and the highest mountain in South Korea. On April 29, the Korean (non-military) governor of Jeju Province left his post, defected, and joined the guerrillas. This prompted many police officers, frustrated by the atrocities they had been ordered to commit against their fellow citizens, to do the same. In response, U.S. provincial military governor William F. Dean ordered the expulsion of SKLP supporters from the Korean police force, and three sergeants were summarily executed:68

The fighting continued until the May 10 elections. During election week, guerrillas "cut telephone lines, destroyed bridges, and blocked roads with piles of stones to disrupt communications. "171 The night before, the women's league of the SCLP had campaigned to shelter residents in the guerrilla-controlled mountainous area so that they could not be forcibly brought out to vote, and thousands did so. Many election officials also refused to show up. These campaigns, as well as sporadic arson, demonstrations, and an attack on three government facilities on election day made the election futile. Turnout in Jeju was the lowest in all of South Korea, and the two seats allotted for Jeju Province in the new national assembly were left vacant:31

Fearing a surge in guerrilla activity after they had succeeded in getting what they wanted in the elections, General Din demanded a U.S. Navy blockade of the island on May 11 to prevent sympathizers from the mainland from reaching Jeju. The Navy sent the destroyer John R. Craig (DD-885) to reinforce the blockade:172

Guerrilla Warfare

When government troops invaded the coastal strip, the rebels retreated into the mountains, where they established their base camps. The farmlands between the coast and the hills became the main battlefield. In October 1948, a rebel army of about 4,000 poorly armed soldiers won a series of battles against regular troops. In the spring of 1949, four battalions of South Korean troops were sent to the island. The combined forces quickly defeated the rebel forces. On August 17, 1949, the command of the rebel forces disbanded after the assassination of their supreme leader, Yi Tuk-ku. There were few Americans on the island during the rebellion; Captain Jimmy Leach was the sole advisor to the South Korean troops during their campaign against the communists on the island.

Immediately after North Korea's offensive in the south of the peninsula with which the Korean War began, the South Korean army carried out "preventive raids" against suspected activists throughout the country. Thousands were arrested on Jeju-do. The suspects were divided into four groups designated A, B, C, and D. On August 30, 1950, a senior South Korean police officer in Jeju-do ordered that all people in groups C and D be executed by firing squad no later than September 6.


  1. Jeju uprising
  2. Восстание на Чеджудо
  3. ^ 2,345 killed in March–May 1949 alone
  4. ^ U.S. State Department analyst John Merrill originally reported that only one person was killed, a six-year-old child. However, this conflicts with the official G-2 Periodic Report given by the 6th Infantry Division, the division responsible for firing on the protesters. The G-2 report states that 6 civilians were killed.
  5. U.S. State Department analyst John Merrill originally reported that only one person was killed, a six-year-old child. However, this conflicts with the official G-2 Periodic Report given by the 6th Infantry Division, the division responsible for firing on the protesters. The G-2 report states that 6 civilians were killed.
  6. (en) Chalmers Johnson, Blowback : The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, New York, Henry Holt & Company, 2001, 288 p. (ISBN 9781429928113 et 1429928115), chap. 4 (« South Korea: Legacy of the Cold War »), p. 99-101
  7. (en) Bruce Cumings, The Korean War : A History, New York, Modern Library, 2010, 320 p. (ISBN 0679603786 et 978-0-679-60378-8), chap. 5 (« 38 Degrees of Separation: A Forgotten Occupation »), p. 124-125
  8. (en) John Kie-Chiang O, Korean Politics : The Quest for Democratization and Economic Development, Cornell University Press, 1999.
  9. a b c et d (en) Hugh Deane, The Korean War, 1945–1953, San Francisco, China Books & Periodicals, 1999, 246 p. (ISBN 978-0-8351-2644-1, OCLC 43456191, LCCN 99062801, lire en ligne)
  10. ^ a b Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, 2000, rev. 2004, Owl Book, 23 gennaio 2001, pp.  99–101., ISBN 0-8050-6239-4.
  11. ^ (EN) Spencer C. Tucker, Enduring Controversies in Military History, p. 672. URL consultato il 27 maggio 2022.
  12. ^ John Kie-Chiang Oh, Korean Politics: The Quest for Democratization and Economic Development, Cornell University Press, 1999
  13. ^ Hugh Deane, The Korean War, 1945-1953 , China Books, 1999

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