The Hwang Sa Byeong (황사평) Catholic cemetery and Catholic massacre of 1901 led by Lee Jae-Soo (이재수), Jeju, South Korea
A darker story from Jeju’s history
Story and photos by Jim Saunders
Long known as a place for internal exile and persecution, the turn of the 19th century saw the flames of rebellion ignite once again on Jeju with Lee Jae Soo’s (이재수) uprising against an increasing number of Catholic missionaries and native converts spreading out across the island. The result: a massacre of some three hundred Catholics and the creation of Jeju’s first Catholic cemetery, which remains with us to this modern day.
The seeds of the massacre, however, were first sown in 1886 with an agreement between Korea and France which legally opened the country to their Catholic missionaries who had previously been unable to practice freely without persecution. Two churches were established on Jeju but local government officials continued an unwelcoming stance which was reciprocated with an increasing lack of trust from the Catholic community. The situation was not helped by certain individuals taking advantage of the agreement- local tax collectors, Bong Sae-Kwan (봉새관) Kang Bong-Won (강 봉원) extorted tax and gave special benefits to Catholics.
Natives of the Daejeong area would in turn organize themselves against such actions, to create the Sang Moo Sa Won (상무사원), led by district head, Chae Goo-Shik (채구식). One member of this organization beat a Catholic before being captured by a Catholic party and beaten himself. This man, Oh Shik-Ran (오 식란) committed suicide, which was one of the final incidents that served as a catalyst for the uprising against the Catholics, led by Lee Jae-Soo (이재수).
The uprising begins
From May 28 through May 30, 1901, the organization descended on Jeju City where many of them lived. The Mayor of Jeju, Kim Chang-Soo (김창수), had attempted to disperse the group, but upon failing was forced to join his soldiers with the Catholics, to fight against the uprising. At first they fared well but the situation swung out of their favour and in front of Gwandeokjeong, using long pikes and stones, some three hundred Catholics were brutally killed by the Sang Moo Sa Won.
The leading French priest on the island at the time, Father Marcel Lacrouts, survived, and as the dead went unburied, reported the incident to his government. A French battle ship was duly dispatched to Jeju and the uprising settled down. The bodies from Gwandeokjeong were laid to rest between Beouldobong (next to Sarabong) and Hwa-buk dong.
However, in 1903 Catholics asked for a better, lasting place for the remains and as a form of compensation a parcel of land, the Hwang Sa Pyeong (황사평), was given to them by the Jeju government. Thus, in amongst the peaceful tangerine groves, with Halla mountain as ever in the background, those killed were placed in a newly created cemetery.
Another little known and dark chapter of Jeju’s history awaits discovery at the Hwang Sa Pyeong where, today, a raised stone basin with earth mounded on top contains the interned remains. It is a far cry from Gwandeokjeong and the brutal deaths that put them here in the early Summer of 1901.
*A film depicting the events detailed above was made in 1999, Lee Jae Soo (이재수의 난) translated directly, or English name, The Uprising.
Visiting Hwang Sa Pyeong cemetery (황사평)
The cemetery is located on the outskirts of Jeju City and can be reached by private transport or taxi.