1st Quarterly, 2006 No.139

Historical Legacy of Hyongpyong Movement:
Toward a Human Rights City in Jinju

Joong-Seop Kim
Professor of Sociology, Gyeongsang National University, Jinju, Korea

How It Started

On 10 December in 1996, there was a special gathering in Jinju, located in the southern part of South Korea. People celebrated an unveiling ceremony of the Hyongpyong (literally meaning of 'Equality') Movement Monument that was designed for the commemoration of human rights activities by Hyongpyongsa. The monument was built with donations and supports from ordinary people from home and abroad who believed in the historical significance of the Hyongpyong Movement. The Movement, lasting from 1923 to 1935, was initially aimed to abolish all forms of social discrimination against peakjong, the outcaste group in Choson society.

I believe that the Hyongpyong Movement has enlightened us with a great spirit, that is, human equality. The activists of Hyongpyong Movement argued that all human beings must have equal chance to enjoy their dignity without any discrimination. Even though the movement ended its existence in mid-1930s, its goal has not been realized in reality. The current social situation is quite far from one by their desire to lead initiative in Hyongpyong Movement. Therefore, we have a sort of obligation to recover the spirit of Hyongpyong Movement in contemporary society and to repeat that kind of the activities for establishing an egalitarian society.

In the morning of the day when the unveiling ceremony of the Hyongpyong Monument was held, there was a meaningful conference with the theme of the "Human Rights Situation in Jinju Community and the Spirit of the Hyongpyong Movement." I put "Jinju Human Rights Congress" on the title of the conference. Speakers were from social groups that had worked for the disabled, old people, women, and poor people. Among audiences were members of the Hyongpyong Commemoration, residents of the Jinju city and members of Buraku Liberation Research Institute from Japan. I think the conference was a very symbolic event. It attempted to bridge the gap between Hyongpyong Movement and current human rights activities in terms of goal and spirit toward an egalitarian society. I remember that the conference was overwhelmingly occupied by mood of the solidarity among people who wish to abolish all forms of social discrimination in the world and to establish an egalitarian society where all human being enjoy their dignity.

It was the origin of the Jinju Human Rights Congress. Afterwards, Jinju Human Rights Congress has been occasionally held on the day of December 10, the International Human Rights Day. The theme was on the human rights issues raised in Jinju community. The papers for the conference were published in books that were praised as valuable reports of human rights situation in local community in Korean society.

Nonetheless, the occasional events did not make the Jinju community sensitive on human rights as much as we expected. Therefore, we decided to establish a permanent organization. In May 2005, an association, with the same title of Jinju Human Rights Congress, was launched in Jinju for the purpose of making Jinju community a human rights city. Its founding members believed that the association would inherit the historical legacy of Jinju, including the monumental human rights activities of Hyongpyongsa.

Aiming at a Human Rights City

For the purpose of establishing a human rights city, we need to provide efficient programs in tangible strategy. And we initiated several programs. One of them is to the diffusion of human rights culture. I believe that human rights culture should be in the basis of society and, in the end, can make human rights activities efficient and fruitful. It is attempted to enlighten all residents with concept of human rights and to make them sensitive to human rights. Therefore, we organized small groups such as 'human rights reading group' and 'human rights group for visual communication'. We are also prepared to organize a 'human rights school' for residents to have intensive lessons on human rights. I expect these small group activities will contribute to mobilize human resource for establish human rights community.

Through some episodes on the 80th anniversary of Hyongpyongsa, we had already recognized the cultural power to encourage understanding of human rights. For example, the traditional mask dance group in Jinju modified their dance, the Jinju Okwangdae, to revive the history and spirit of the Hyongpyong Movement in their dancing play, the Paekjong. Through their performance of the mask dance drama, Peakjong, the audience realized the history of unfair and unjust discrimination against the outcaste group and the meaning of human rights. And their visit to Japan in 2004 has given them an opportunity of international friendship and cooperation for understanding of the neighboring country. The members of the mask dance group told me that their experience to visit Japan made them to recognize another world of human rights and cultural power from their activities.

Another program by Jinju Human Rights Congress is to provide 'communication channel' in various way to enhance human rights activities. It is aimed to strengthen a social basis for mutual understanding among all human rights activists in Jinju community as well as outside Jinju. The programs to link them are expected to bring about concrete solidarity among them toward the realization of universality of human rights at home and aboard.

At the local level, we organize 'meeting for open discussion' on the human rights issue raised in Jinju community. Social activists and Jinju residents are welcome to join the forum with open mind. At the forum, participants are encouraged to share their ideas about current human rights issues and to find good solution to improve human rights situation. Among topics were on 'What kind of human rights problems we have in Jinju,' 'Sexual violence and the Youth,' and 'Human rights for the disabled.'

Mutual Understanding betwen Neighboring Countries for Human Rights

Jinju Human Rights Congress is also to mobilize young people for human rights. It resulted in the launch of a student association for human rights in a university. I hope members of the students group will be leaders of our society in the future to play a significant role for improving human rights situation. The members of the student association have regularly gathered together to study human rights and to work for human rights initiative. And they have promoted an exchange program with other youth group. Last year they had exchange programs with DASH, an Izumi city youth group for human rights in Osaka, Japan. This year some members will visit migration worker groups in Tokyo and Yokohama, Japan, with support of Gyeongsang National Univeristy.

The exchange program is one of human rights initiative that I desire to promote mutual understanding of the neighboring countries, Korea and Japan. In the era of globalization, human rights issue is no longer confined to domestic matters. I believe that mutual understanding between members of international community is one of crucial factors to develop human rights practice at home. In a sense, we have advantage at historical perspective, even though Jinju is located in far from centrality of Korean peninsular. Even under Japanese colonial rule, Hyongpyongsa did make international cooperation with Suiheisha (Levelers Association) in Japan. And since the commemoration activities for Hyongpyong Movement began in 1992, Korean and Japanese associations have gradually accelerated their cooperation at various levels. The Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Institute has played a key role to develop the relationship between Jinju and Japanese human rights activists. Thanks to their cooperation, Jinju Human Rights Congress has provided several events for developing mutual understanding of the neighboring countries since its foundation. Among them are the study tours by Tokushima Prefecture activists, Izumisano city and Izumi city youth groups to visit Jinju in 2005, and my lecture tour to Tokushima and the study tour to Jinju by Hukuoka activists in 2006. I am convinced that these events contribute for members of both countries to understand each other and in the end to develop human rights practice and peace between the neighboring countries, especially in the situation of tearful historical background and unstable tension which the careless and inadequate behavior of their political leaders have mainly brought about.

These activities depicted above are mainly aimed to promote human rights practice in Jinju city. And we will promote human rights education program, because education provides the basis of understanding of human rights. In addition, we will persuade the leaders and residents of Jinju community to introduce legal system for guarantee of human rights in everyday life. The ordinance for promoting of human rights will be part of legal system for that. Because law is one of basic requirements to implement human rights in society, we cannot ignore the importance of its influence.

With great dream to build Jinju as a 'human rights city', Jinju Human Rights Congress has just been launched. To make our local community sensitive to human rights standard is, I believe, the ultimate goal for global community in the 21st century. I am convinced that it will contribute for the development of human rights at home and in global community.

Nobody, however, knows its track in the future. Depending on the ability of the participants and supporters, it will move towards the goal. I am sure that the previous experience and evaluation of such human rights city movements in the world, especially in Japan, will be very valuable to guide the movement in Jinju. As a leader of Jinju Human Rights Congress, I would like to ask all people to support for the activities for human rights city in Jinju and to call them to come together for establishing human rights community in the world.

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