Gwangju Uprising of 18 May 1980 and the Struggle for Democracy in Korea

National memorial for the Gwangju uprising that many South Korean conservatives believe was inspired by communist North Korea.

Event details

PSC Seminar

Date & time

Thursday 18 May 2017


Hedley Bull Theatre 2
ANU Canberra


Rev. Dr. John Brown


Maxine McArthur

Public lecture presented by the Department of Political and Social Change, and the ANU Korea Institute

On 18 May, 1980, students in Gwangju City in South Chollado took to the streets to express their discontent with the rule of the military regime in Seoul. Although there was a long history of discontent in the south-west of the country, President Park Chung-hee had largely succeeded in suppressing the resentment across the nation. But, after the assassination of Park, General Chun seized power in what was seen as a quite illegitimate authoritarian act at a time when the nation should have been heading towards democratic elections. The uprising reflected widely felt anger and resentment at the oppressive nature of military rule, and the poor distribution of the increasing wealth from industrialization. Many local people joined the student protests as the days passed, and in the end General Chun, having seized power from the elected President, Choi Kyu Ha, sent in overwhelming army forces and crushed the uprising. Estimates of the number of people killed in the uprising vary between 200 and 1000. Bodies were buried in a mass grave. Although the immediate uprising was crushed, the resentment continued to grow and by the end of the decade led to much stronger democratic struggles. The military tried to implicate Kim Dae-jung in the rebellion, but in fact his election as President 20 years later greatly aided the movement for democracy.

Rev. Dr. John Brown is a graduate of the University of Melbourne, and the Melbourne College of Divinity. He worked as a missionary and Theological Teacher in Korea from 1960 to 1972 during the military government of President Park Chung-hee. He has maintained a close interest in the human rights struggles in Korea since his students were deeply involved during the 1960s and 1970s. Some of his students worked in Urban Industrial Mission at a time when active unionism was banned. The Reverend also worked on the development of livestock management with poor farmers in South Kyung Sang Province, and he has maintained close contact with graduates working with industrial workers throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He has visited Korea every year since returning to Australia in 1972. As Chair of the committee which developed work in North Korea over the last thirteen years, he has also visited North Korea frequently. He has continued a long and close involvement with the Korean community in Australia since 1974.

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