As my Verso Radical Diary reminds us, on May 18, 1980, “citizens of Kwangju, South Korea, seize control of their city, demanding democratization, an end to martial law, and an increase in the minimum wage.”
“The Gwangju Uprising, alternatively called May 18 Democratic Uprising by UNESCO, and also known as May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement, was a popular uprising in the city of Gwangju, South Korea, from May 18 to 27, 1980. Estimates suggest up to 606 people may have died. During this period, Gwangju citizens took up arms (by robbing local armories and police stations) when local Chonnam University students – who were demonstrating against the Chun Doo-hwan government – were fired upon, killed, and beaten in an unprecedented attack by government troops. The uprising eventually ended in defeat on May 27, 1980. The event is sometimes called 5·18, in reference to the date the movement began. [….]
During Chun Doo-hwan’s presidency, the authorities used to define the incident as a rebellion instigated by Communist sympathizers and rioters. By 1997, a national cemetery and day of commemoration (May 18), along with acts to ‘compensate, and restore honor’ to victims, were established. In 2011, 1980 Archives for the May 18th Democratic Uprising against Military Regime located in Gwangju city hall were inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.
- Katsiaficas, Georgy and Nah Kahn-chae, eds. South Korean Democracy: Legacy of the Gwangju Uprising (Routledge, 2006).
- Lewis, Linda Sue. Laying Claim to the Memory of May: A Look Back at the 1980 Kwangju Uprising (University of Hawaii Press, 2002).
- Shin, Gi-wook and Kyung Moon Hwang, eds. Contentious Kwangju: The May 18th Uprising in Korea’s Past and Present (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003).