History is considered a difficult subject to learn. It usually requires much memorization, so students tend to be a little afraid to show interest in the subject. Also, after entering university, learning about history becomes more difficult unless students enroll in history courses. Taeeun, a reporter of the Sookmyung Times is also the one who, did not enjoy learning history, so she went to a place where students are easily exposed to history and can learn it leisurely.
History is Their Story, Not Mine
All throughout the reporter’s elementary to high school years, the reporter disliked studying history. History was like a distant unconnected story from times past. Hence, the reporter never put forth much effort to study history hard, nor did have any interest in it. The reporter also disliked going to museums since museums only displayed monuments. Because the reporter enjoyed “experiencing” things firsthand rather than merely appreciating things, museums were not her cup of tea. However, the reporter changed her bias attitude of museums being boring and history being difficult after meeting and hearing firsthand of the joy of history from her friend majoring in history. The friend was deeply interested in Korean history and told the reporter that her favorite museum was Seodaemun Prison History Hall. She said “Your low interest in history and prejudice towards history that it is difficult will surely disappear if you visit Seodaemun Prison History Hall. There are a lot of things to experience and one is able to indirectly experience the life of prisoners since it was once a real prison.” Thus, the reporter was tempted to visit the museum. Also, the reporter believed it to be a great place to introduce to fellow Sookmyungians.
Welcome to Seodaemun Prison History Hall
The reporter felt Seodaemun Prison History Hall to be the perfect place because of its location and content. First of all, it is located at Dongnimmun Station, which is close to Sookmyung Women’s University, so Sookmyunians will be able to visit it easily. Three buses go directly to Seodaemun Prison History Hall from Sookmyung Women’s University entrance station. By riding Bus 752, it will take 22 minutes passing five stations. Also, by riding bus 750A and 705B, it will take 29 minutes passing four stations to Seodaemun Prison History Hall. The second reason the reporter opted for Seodaemun Prison History Hall was it was used until as recently as 1987. It was built by the Japanese during the colonial era and held jailed independence fighters. It is known that prisoners were tortured very cruelly at the prison. Seodaemun Prison History Hall was first established on October 21, 1908 and called ‘Kyungsung Prison.’ Because the location had limited space to board all prisoners, another prison was built in Gongdeok-dong. It is now more commonly known as ‘Seodaemun Prison After the 3-1 Movement, 3,000 people were imprisoned including the woman independence activist, Yu Gwansun. Many students and 33 people of the ethnic representatives were also imprisoned in the prison. Unlike other prisons during the Japanese colonial era, prisoners under 18 years old were also placed in Seodaemun Prison. In 1944, right before independence was achieved, there was a total of 2,890 prisoners in the prison.
Feeling and Experiencing the Hardship of Our Ancestors
Upon entering Seodaemun Prison History Hall, the reporter looked over the yard and landscaped of the site. The buildings were composed of red bricks, which looked desolate. The reporter entered the first building and saw displays of real objects that past prisoners used. After moving to the next building, the reporter came to the torture area. This area of the Hall showed the many gruesome torturing methods utilized in the past such as water torture and so on. There were also mannequins depicting the torturing of independence fighters. After seeing those gruesome torturing methods, the reporter dared to go inside and experience firsthand the torture equipment. Do not worry. The facilities there today are safe, so no one gets harmed when trying the equipment. The reporter went inside something called a ‘standing coffin.’ It was made to confine prisoners inside. The prisoners had to stand upright in there for hours and hours. The coffin was so cramped that the reporter could not move any part of the reporter’s body, so reporter’s body hurt a bit. The reporter could not imagine how scary and hard it must have been to have had to stay inside there for hours. After examining the coffin torture method, the reporter went inside another torture method: a small cage with big and sharp spikes fixed on the walls. It was just big enough for a single person to enter and sit crouched. The Japanese guards would put a prisoner inside the cage and shake it so that the prisoner would get pricked by the sharp spikes. Do not worry if you wish to enter the cage. The spiked walls are covered with thick plastic so no one gets hurt when they enter inside and explore it. Even though the reporter merely stepped inside the cage, she could not sit still. It is almost impossible to imagine how awful prisoners felt inside being tortured.
After gruesome torture area, the reporter headed to the place where prisoners were imprisoned. The reporter was able to enter the rooms and even sit down. The prison then seemed unexpectedly big. Also, because there was a big window, the prison did not seem too dark. However, the reporter soon learnt that each room held as many as 100 prisoners at one time. Thus, the prisoners had to take turns in order to make space to sleep. After exploring the entire room, the reporter left and went out onto the grounds of the Hall and it was very desolate. The reporter saw firsthand how many hardships Korean ancestors went through to bring independence to the nation. Despite the gruesome torture and abuse, Korean prisoners did not give up the hope of independence. Every student, having learnt the history of the independence fighters, will surely be familiar with our history. Even after visiting the museum, it is still difficult to really comprehend the hardship of their lives at the time. Thus, even the reporter could not know really feel life of prisoners in the Seodaemun Prison History Hall. If it had not been for the reporter’s friend, this reporter would have never learnt nor experienced this period in Korean history. It was a very meaningful moment for the reporter to experience and learn the history lively.