The Citizens Revolution of April, 19th in 1960 was one of the most important even of Korean modern history. Earlier in March, there were political demonstrations in Masan city, a port city in South against corruption and cheating in the election. A dead body of Kim Juyeol, a high school student then, was discovered in the sea, which ignited a nation-wide resentment and eventually massive demonstrations spread out all over Korea. On 19th of April, the police began to beat and shoot at demonstrators killing around 180 and wounding thousands and this led to the collapse of the ruling government. This event is one of many unprecedented events that can be discovered throughout Korean history. It was only 7 years after the end of Korean war. Korea was still struggling to deal with recovering from the heavy destruction of war and political instability and extreme poverty.
On 10 October 2019, I visited the cemetery for the 4.19 Revolution with the Swiss-Chilean photographer Enrique Muñoz García. At that time we had completed a month-long journey in the Demilitarized Zone between North Korea and South Korea. This was Enrique's last day in Korea. When we arrived at the Cemetery, it was pretty much empty due to the bad weather. We walked in and climbed the steps in front of big stone monuments. Behind them is the burial ground in which hundreds of the deceased are buried. On the right side buried the deceased during the Revolution. Each tombstone has a name and age and photo image of the deceased. When and where and how he or she died was inscribed on the back side of tombstone. We saw so many photo images of the fallen revolutionaries who were just primary and high school boys and girls. The gloomy weather added to the scene a sense of gravity even more. We climbed further up to reach a big traditional style building in which they were enshrined. It is a big hall where all photo images of the buried are put on an altar in front of which lies a big incense pot. Finally I got caught up with a mixed feeling - a feeling full of contradiction. I could feel a bit of many things such as sadness, grief, gravity, hope, brightness and even relief.
As we came out of the memorial hall, I happened to see two workers with shovels and got into a conversation with them. They told me that there would be a burial ceremony at 3 pm. We became quite excited about this rare opportunity and decided to come back after having a lunch nearby. When we came back, the ceremony was about to begin. Some forty people gathered in front of main monuments. They were family members and friends of the dead, members of the association of 4.19 Revolution and officials of National Cemetery. A solemn orchestral dirge came out from a loud speaker and ceremony began. The head of Cemetery read about the personal history of the deceased. His name was Jo Youngho and 75 years old. He got badly beaten by the police and became handicapped. He left two daughters and several grand children behind. The procession to the burial site began after the ceremony ended. One of granddaughter was leading it carrying the portrait of her grandfather. Workers whom we met hours ago already prepared everything and were waiting for the arrival of urn in which the ash of cremated body was contained. We stayed there until the whole procedure ended.
Text: Jungtae Lee
Photos: Enrique Muñoz García