Sunday, June 11, 2006

Seodaemun Prison

In 1908 the Japanese began to build this prison. In 1910 they took control of South Korea. Throughout the rule of Japan (from 1910 until 1945) South Koreans who fought against Japanese colonization were sent here and to other prisons throughout the country where they faced brutal torture and confinement.

Now a museum (right next to Independence Park), we were able to walk through the prison halls, check out the execution building, and see the different ways the prisoners were tortured - complete with blood curdling scream sound effects.

A few things were particularly interesting here. First, there was a relatively fair display of women being tortured, which felt funny to us considering the very subservient nature of women raised in the Confucian way of life. It surprises me a little that Korean women would be involed in fighting for Korea's independence.

Second, the portrayal of the prisoners was quite dramatic. The museum placards used adjectives like "righteous martyrs" far too often. Check out this blurb from the pamphlet:

A living education site for Korean history where visitors can pay a high tribute to the patriotic ancestors who valiantly fought against the Japanese invation for sovereign independence, and renew the determination of the spirit of independence.

Was it a biased portrayal? Who knows, though I did find myself cursing the Japanese. These kinds of things are nasty and difficult to portray.

Third, the buildings were all made of brick. I wondered why I was so aesthetically pleased by the prison and then I realized that it reminds me of home. I remember lamenting that the architecture in Canada is all so new and lacking is historical significance. In Seoul (and the rest of Korea really) save for a few very old temples and gates, everything has been built with a material more modern than brick. I don't even know what it is, but it's ugly and nasty and I liked the brick prison.


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