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The Faded Soul of Martyred Patriots

Posted February. 29, 2004 23:00,   


It was the 28th of February. A journalist visited “Doklipkwan (Annex of Independence),” which is located inside the Seodaemun Independent Park in Hyunjeo-dong, Seoul.

“Doklipkwan” is the place where the memorial tablets of 2,327 martyred patriots during the Japanese occupation of the peninsula have been enshrined.

In the journalist’s sight, however, the place can be hardly believed as a national memorial site, the place where the spirits of the fallen patriots are enshrined.

Torn doors, fade signboards and the memorial tablets are covered with dust.

As he entered into the Korean-style structure, he first noticed tatters, sewed up here and there, covering the stairways.

Writings of a combination of memorial tablets in the center were hard to be identified, because the paints came off here and there. When touching the tablets by hand, a lump of dirty dust dropped down.

A drainage way nearby the structure was surrounded by cigarette butts, and one side of the railings under an eave was even entirely dropped out.

Cho Sae-hyun, a vice-chairman of the Martyred Patriots Survivors’ Committee, who is in charge of management, said, “As the weather gets warmer, it is common that citizens spread mats holding drinking bouts, and street roamers sleep at the thresholds, which cannot help making the place messy.”

“Doklipkwan” was once used as a head office of the Independence Association but later withdrawn by the Japanese imperialists. In 1996, the building was newly remodeled as the only place that enshrines memorial tablets of martyred patriots. But its supervision has been poorly operated since then.

The worse thing was that publicity of the Independence park was not successful enough, and a total number of visitors per year merely reaches to 2000~3000, which includes members of survivors’ committees, group tourists and some students.

It shows a clear difference from the Japanese Yaskuni Shrine, whose operation has been strictly and successfully controlled by the government and therefore receives 8 million of visitors a year.

The reason of this poor management comes from the lack of manpower from Survivors’ Committees who are in charge of operating the newly reconstructed structure. Furthermore, the responsible Seoul City government, although knowing the problem, didn’t give any support, even on the basic operating expenses such as electric charges.

For the past 2-3 years, the Martyred Patriots Survivors’ Committee has suggested assistance to Seoul City for establishing fences that surround the front garden and arranging receptionists. However, their efforts were unsuccessful under the Seoul City’s excuses for insufficient budget matters.

“It would rather hamper the park’s beauty if they try to build fences around the public facilities only for the sake of cultural properties,” an official of the Seoul City’s park and environmental division explained. “The city thus cannot accept the suggestion of assisting the budget for the park.”

Jae-Dong Yu jarrett@donga.com