The Gwangju Uprising was a popular rebellion in defiance of martial law in Gwangju, South Korea. To mark the anniversary of the uprising on 18 May, 1980, Verso is proud to publish an excerpt from Human Acts (Portobello, 2016) by Han Kang and translated by Deborah Smith, winners of the Man Booker International Prize 2016. Opening in the Gwangju Commune, Human Acts unfurls in the crucible of the 1980s student and worker-led democratic movement demanding an end to military rule. After a citizen’s army fought back against the crackdown on protests and ejected the military from the city, an autonomous community comparable to the Paris Commune endured for a few days until it was crushed by a military operation on 27 May that killed and injured thousands. Deborah Smith’s Introduction excerpted here contextualises the events of the uprising and is followed by a selection from the chapter ‘Factory Girl’. Featuring a women’s splinter group from the main union, the excerpt portrays the complexities around class and gender in the democratisation movement.
(Thousands of Gwangju citizens amassed in the city square during the May 1980 uprising)
In early 1980, South Korea was a heap of dry tinder waiting for a spark. Only a few months previously Park Chung-hee, the military strongman who’d ruled since his coup in 1961, had been assassinated by the director of his own security services. Presiding over the so-called ‘Miracle on the Han River’ – South Korea’s rapid transformation from dirt-poor and war-shattered into a fully industrialised economic powerhouse – had gained Park support from some quarters, though numerous human rights abuses meant he was never truly popular. Recently, he’d succumbed to the classic authoritarian temptation to institute increasingly repressive measures, including scrapping the old constitution and having a new one drawn up making his rule a de facto dictatorship. By 1979 things were fraying at the edges, and Park’s declaration of martial law in response to demonstrations in the far south was, to some, a sign that something had to give.
“A complex, beautifully interwoven account of Europe from the ancient Greeks to modern absolutist monarchies…Exhilarating.” – Guardian
As a deal between Greece and its lenders begins to look increasingly unlikely, Costas Lapavitsas outlines the respective parties' proposals and argues that the "institutions" have left Greece with little choice: accept public defeat—and still no solution to the debt—or default. Visit the Jacobin to read the original piece. Translated by Wayne Hall.