Monday, June 18, 2012

Basic Facts about Jeju

I pride myself in knowing random facts about things that are not relevant to my life in anyway at all. Anything I don’t know the history on I will look up to learn more, it hones my Trivial Pursuit skills and Jeopardy skills, which of course are the most important life skills to have. But oddly I have never read that much into the history and culture of Korea. The most exposure I got to the culture was in middle school when I took Taekwondo lessons. It was good fun but sadly I don’t remember that much about the culture of Korea that I undoubtedly learned. It is interesting to note that in American History classes the Korean War is notably glossed over. I remember in my AP United States History textbook there was little more than a page or two talking about The Korean War, which seems odd for a war that had 36,940 American casualties and set the precedent for United States foreign policy after World War II. Not knowing much about the history and culture of Korea will make my time there a much richer learning experience because I will have “textbook” learning while being immersed in the culture. In this post I will do a brief rundown on facts about Jeju so you can get a better picture of where exactly I am going. I will start with Geography and Geology because it is the driest but most basic section.

Geography and Geology

Jeju (in Korean 제주특별자치도) sometimes transliterated as Cheju Island is the largest island in Korea, located Southwest of the main Korean peninsula. Jeju is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the volcano that makes up the island, and the extensive lava tubes which create a network underneath the island. Jeju is often referred to as the “Hawaii of Korea” due to the climate, beaches and volcanic activity. The island has a population of 531,905 with 408,364 living in the capital Jeju City. Jeju City is actually sister cities with Santa Rosa which is just north of Sonoma State University, and partially why Jeju National University looked to Sonoma State University to find exchange professors. Why a seaside city on a volcanic island in Korea is sister cities with a land locked city a fourth the size that is known for wine business and Peanuts cartoons is unknown to me. Interestingly Santa Rosa is also sister cities with Cherkasy in the Ukraine and Los Mochis in Mexico. I wonder if that means that Jeju is also somehow related to these cities? After all your sisters sister has to have some relation to you. I kind of like the idea of this extended web of a sororal connection between all cities. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. 

Jeju from above. The brown spot in the middle is Halla Mountain, the volcano that makes up Jeju.


Jeju is in the subtropics bordering on the moderate longitude. The island is warm but it does have seasons, it can snow on the island in winter. Due to the islands location it can be quite windy at times. 

As this chart shows it is incredibly pleasant during the summer months. Warm weather and lots of sun. However there is also a high degree of humidity something I have not experienced since I was on the east coast when I was five. I am slightly worried about how my European body will take it. The genetics of thousands of years of plowing fields in the cold rainy countryside where the few days of sunlight were needed simply to get the yearly dose of Vitamin D, do not create a body ready for warm moist air and sunshine everyday. Of course I will be prepared with about a gallon of SPF 50 sunscreen, but I am interested to see what humidity is like...


According to legend, and an unsourced Wikipedia article, the first settlers of Jeju were three demigods who emerged from Samseonghyeol, which translates to “three clans holes”. These demigods founded Tamna, the original inhabitants of Jeju in the 24th century BCE. I chose to believe this theory of how Jeju was inhabited mostly because of how awesome it sounds and I don’t feel like reading anthropological theories of migration patterns. Tamna was sovereign from ancient times until they were absorbed by the Joseon Dynasty in 1401. There is archeological evidence that shows the people of the Tamna Kingdom had a unique culture and language completely distinct from mainland Korea. The Joseon Dynasty ruled Korea for staggering 505 years from 1392 to 1897. During the late 20th century and throughout  21st century Korea was constantly caught in the middle of warring super powers. Most notably between Japan and Russia and Japan and China. The Japan–Korea Annexation Treaty signed in 1910 marked the officially the beginning of Japanese rule in Korea which lasted until the end of World War II. The Korean people were abused by the Japanese with forced labor to fund the Japanese imperial ambitions. During World War II Jeju was located in an incredibly strategic location for the Japanese and towards the end of the war the Japanese forced the inhabitants of Jeju to build coastal defenses in preparation for an American invasion. That was avoided however when the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki defeating the Japanese.  

Sadly Jeju’s most notable historical event in the 21st century is a tragic one. Known as the Jeju Uprising, it began in April of 1948 when Communist Sympathisers in Jeju held a rally commemorating the Korean struggle against Japanese rule. Police fired on those participating in the rally which lead to rioting and outright guerrilla warfare. Peaceful negotiations failed and war escalated with the rebels showing open support for the North Korean government. Terrified of the possibility of subversion in Jeju the South Korean military with aid from the American military overtook the island, with estimates of casualties in the range of 14,000 to 60,000 or one fifth of the islands population, and 70% of the island's villages burned. In the last 8 years the Korean government has acknowledged the tragedy with President Roh Moo-hyun apologising for the massacre and dubbed Jeju “The Island of World Peace” in order to try and heal the wounds of the past.

Here are some interesting articles on the Uprising in Jeju
Newsweek's Article "Ghosts of Cheju" from 2000
Jeju Weekly Article on the Jeju Massacre from 2010

In the next post I will be explaining in better detail what I will be doing in Jeju

1 comment:

  1. Wow, it's so interesting to learn about the recent history of Jeju. 2 months ago, I had never heard of Jeju. It's wonderful to learn so much. Your description of the island and the history is excellent.