Ecobs News, November 11, 2019, “Special Exhibition commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Deungdaesa Incident to be held in Busan November 12 to December 13”

Inside the Special Exhibition Room on the 6th floor of the National Memorial Museum of Forced Mobilization Under Japanese Occupation, the exhibition is entitled Changing History, Unchanging Conscience.

A special exhibition commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Deungdaesa Incident will be held at the National Memorial Museum of Forced Mobilization Under Japanese Occupation, Busan, from November 12 until December 13 following its installation at the Seodaemun Prison History Hall, Seoul. The incident marked the starting point of conscientious objection in Korea.

Six thousand pages of trial documents housed by the National Institute of Korean History (the National History Compilation Committee) will be introduced to the public, shedding light on the whole story of the Deungdaesa Incident, only partially reported in the press until now. It will also highlight how the spirit of the Deungdaesa Incident, which is called Korea’s first case of conscientious objection, has continued throughout the last 80 years.

This exhibition introduces the Deungdaesa Incident from its beginning in 1939, that year making it the nation’s first case of conscientious objection. Deungdaesa members, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known, were arrested and imprisoned for their refusal to worship the Japanese emperor and participate in military activities during the Japanese colonial period.

Between 1939 and 1945, at least 66 members were [arrested] for violation of the Sedition Act; they were imprisoned for more than four years on average. Six of them died in prison, including one who died in a prison in Japan.

It also introduces the story of Jang Sun-Ok, who was arrested and imprisoned for five years and five months and tormented for her refusal to bow down toward the Japanese emperor.

Regarding the Deungdaesa Incident, Han Hong-gu, a professor at SungKongHoe University, said that from a historian’s point of view: “It is Deungdaesa members who resisted emperor worship and military activities with all their strength. The Imperial Japanese government regarded their stance as the most fundamental challenge to its own system and as very dangerous.”

What captures our attention at this exhibition is the story of Ok Gye-seong’s family. Due to their refusal to participate in emperor worship and to perform military service, both the first and second sons were imprisoned and the third son died in prison in Japan. Even after liberation, Ok’s descendants continued to be imprisoned for the same reason. Thus, the total collective prison term served by the Ok family is 28 years.

Ok Gyu-bin, Ok’s great-grandson who now resides in Sasang-gu Busan, has been waiting for alternative civilian service since the Supreme Court’s ruling in November 2018. He refused military service in 2017 [Note: started in 2016].

He said: “I am so proud that my grandfather didn’t give up on his conscience. I will never change my faith to the end.”

Hong Dae-il, spokesman for the South Korea branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses said: “Many people think that conscientious objection began after the Korean War. In fact, it began 80 years ago during the Japanese occupation of Korea.”

He continued, “The Ok family was there when the first arrest of conscientious objectors was made in the Korean Peninsula, and they will be here when alternative service is implemented for the first time in South Korea.” He also stresses, “This exhibition shows that conscientious objection does not depend on either the times or the political situation.”

Meanwhile, a total of 51,175 visitors, including 5,700 international tourists, visited this exhibition when it was held at Seoul’s Seodaemun Prison History Hall last September. Seodaemun Prison is the very place where Deungdaesa members were actually imprisoned 80 years ago and was the building used during the Japanese occupation. After its designation as a national historic building, it was preserved, and as a result it provides visitors with a vivid experience, as if they were actually back in the past.

Following its installation in Seoul, a special exhibition entitled Changing History, Unchanging Conscience will be held in the Special Exhibition Room on the 6th floor of the National Memorial Museum of Forced Mobilization Under Japanese Occupation starting November 12. It is located in Nam-gu, Busan. It commemorates the 80th anniversary of the Deungdaesa Incident. Visit for further information on the Deungdaesa Incident and the special exhibition.

© Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania 2019.

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