Korea's Religious Places - 3.6 Jeam-ri Methodist Church, Hwaseong
|Understanding Korea Series No.6|
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|5)* Chungdong First Methodist Church, Seoul||6)* Jeam-ri Methodist Church, Hwaseong||7)* Geumsan Presbyterian Church, Gimje|
Jeam-ri Methodist Church (Hwaseong, Gyeonggi-do)
The Jeam-ri Church played an important, and tragic, role in the history of Korea. It was the site of one of the saddest episodes of the anti-Japanese protests during the March First Movement (Samil Undong) of 1919. Jeam-ri is located in the countryside to the southwest of Suwon, south of Seoul. It was here that Japanese officials, led by a young lieutenant, forced twenty-three Korean demonstrators into a church and then set the church on fire. This was one of the worst atrocities of the Japanese occupation of Korea. The church has been rebuilt and next to it is a memorial hall that commemorates the horrific events that took place there.
At the time of the atrocity, Korean witnesses told the story of what had happened there, but the Japanese authorities produced their own story, basically denying that they had set the church on fire, insisting instead that the people were killed resisting arrest. Although the Korean accounts are adequate to establish the story, in 2007, the private journal of the Japanese commanding general in Korea, Utsunomiya Taro, disclosed that he had been given a true report of the incident, but that it was considered significantly disadvantageous to the Empire, so they devised a cover-up to hide their guilt. The lieutenant responsible for the atrocity was punished with thirty days’ confinement for his role in the affair. In addition to burning the church, the Japanese military burned several houses in the village, but in those structures, the residents could flee; however, six villagers were shot to death. Those in the church were locked in and burned or shot to death.
The March First Movement was brutally suppressed. There were other incidents and atrocities besides the Jeam-ri Church slaughter. The Japanese may have keyed on the Christians, and also the followers of Cheondogyo, because it was through the network of these churches that the printed copy of the declaration was circulated. It was in the churches where people met to read and discuss the declaration.
Although the March First Movement did not succeed when it unfolded in 1919, it lit the fires for independence that eventually came to Korea in 1945. Much of the definition of nationalism and Korean identity had its beginnings in the March First Movement, and the Jeam-ri Methodist Church served as a major symbol in the process of creating Korea’s modern identity.