The Washington Post reported incorrectly yesterday that the late South Korean president Synghman Rhee was from Kyungsang Province. He was from Pyungsan in Hwanghae Province.
If the citizens of South Cholla Province have proved anything this week in their antigovernment insurrection, it is their loyalty to a centuries-old tradition of striking back at national rulers.
The uprising in Kwangju and many other towns in that province had the ring of historical fidelity. People in Cholla fought the Yi Dynasty, which governed for centuries. Cholla was a center of rebellion against 35 years of Japanese rule ending in 1945. And it did what it could to get rid of Syngman Rhee, the American-supported postwar president.
This week it was imposition of rigid martial law from Seoul that lit the fires of rebellion in Kwangju, setting off smaller blazes in 16 nearby towns and counties. To many South Koreans, it was simply a playing out of a historical role. People in Cholla are like that, say the people in Seoul.
The specific cause of Kwangju's turmoil was the violent suppression of a student protest last Sunday by military troops. Many people think it grew worse because of the Cholla citizens' conviction that they were being picked on again. There was not a ripple of violence in other southern cities. p
Korean reporters on the scene when the violent reaction set in recall that one particular rumor spread through the city, inflaming the populace. It was that the paratroopers responsible had been purposely sent in from Kyungsang Province, Cholla's hated enemy across the central ridge of mountains that divide the Korean Peninsula.
Cholla dn Kyungsang have been provincial enemies for at least 20 centuries, dating back to a time when they belonged to separate dynasties. For years, in modern times, Cholla has felt Kyungsang has been favored by the central government and the belief is strong today that a disproportionate number of Kyungsang people get the better positions as government-officials and rich businessmen.
Recent governments indicate that they have a point. Rhee was from Kyungsang and so was the late president, Park Chung Hee, who followed in Rhee's footsteps and ruled until he was assassinated last Oct. 26.
Lt. Gen. Chon Doo Hwan, the most prominent of a half-dozen generals now running the country behind the facade of Cabinet government, is also from Kyunsang, as was the man he arrested in a coup within the military on Dec. 12, Gen. Chung Sung Hwa. Chung is now in jail.
Kyungsang natives tend to dominate the upper ranks of the government, military, and business establishments. When regional characteristics are discussed, they are described as strongwilled and very direct people who have an overbearing habit of showing that they expect to be obeyed.
Cholla people feel the discrimination strongly. One native of Chonju, the capital of North Cholla Province, observed today that Korean movies and television programs tend to depict her people in subservient roles -- as maids, chauffeurs and ordinary laborers. Peopel in dominant roles, she said, invariably come from Kyungsang.
The people of Cholla, she said, regard themselves as superior in intelligence, more given to reflection than their rougher neighbors across the mountains. The best writers and novelists, she said, come from the Cholla provinces.
"But we have been discriminated against for centuries by the rest of the country," she said. "We are always the minority."
A major complaint is that the southwest Cholla provinces have been on the short end of government services and economic develoment during the postwar Rhee and Park governments. The roads are the country's worst. When the Park government was determined to promote industrial growth in the south, as far as possible from the North Korean border, most of it went to cities such as Pusan and Ulsan, not to Kwangju or the southwestern ports. t
To a Korean, the differences of Cholla country are obvious. The dialect is distinctive, customs are different, and even the cuisine varies from the national norm.
The history of rebellion dates back to the time of Christ by Western measurement of time, when the area now called Cholla fought against the dominant Shilla Dynasty. In the 18th century, it was a center of the rebellion against the Yi Dynasty. During the Japanese occupation, which began in 1910, it was a center of student opposition to foreign rule. An officers' rebellion against the Rhee government after World War II had the support of students from South Cholla.