SEOUL, Aug. 29 (Korea Bizwire) — A controversial plan by the southwestern city of Gwangju to build a park in commemoration of Korean-born Chinese composer Jeong Yul-seong has met with fierce opposition from the conservative central government and veterans and conservative organizations.
Jeong, who is also known by his Chinese name Zheng Lucheng, is revered in China and North Korea for composing many of their military songs, but many South Koreans regard him as a communist and even an enemy due to his careers in the North Korean and Chinese armies before and during the 1950-53 Korean War.
Jeong was born in Gwangju in 1914 during Japan’s colonial rule and reportedly fought with Korean independence fighters in China in the 1930s.
He participated in North Korea’s army after the 1945 liberation and then joined the Chinese communist army during the Korean War. He became a Chinese citizen in 1956.
In May 2020, the Gwangju city government, citing Jeong’s fight against Japan’s colonial rule, announced the plan to build Jeong Yul-seong History Park in the area around his birth home in the city’s Bullo-dong district at a cost of 4.8 billion won (US$3.6 million) by the end of 2023.
At that time, the city government touted the park as a symbol of friendship between South Korea and China that would help attract more Chinese tourists there.
But it is only recently that the issue has become a national controversy. Jeong and the envisioned Gwangju park began to made headlines from Aug. 22, when Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs Park Min-shik publicly criticized the Gwangju municipality for attempting to glorify a communist who fought for North Korea during the Korean War.
“I express strong concern over the Gwangju city’s plan to commemorate Jeong Yul-seong who was at the forefront of (the war to) overthrow a free Republic of Korea with taxpayers’ money. It should be completely scrapped,” Park said in his social media post, using South Korea’s official name.
The minister also emphasized that Jeong contributed to the establishment of the North Korean government and sounded the invasion march toward South Korea during the war.
Park further stepped up his objection this week, vowing to risk his ministerial post to block the park project in a public address on Monday.
Members of various veterans associations based in Gwangju also denounced the city’s plan to commemorate the “North Korean hero” in a news conference in front of the city hall on Monday.
They said veterans and patriots are lamenting the creation of a park to glorify North Korea’s hero Jeong.
They said they will team up with veterans groups from other parts of the country to hold a large-scale joint rally at the same place against the park project on Wednesday afternoon.
Conservative political groups and activists also held similar rallies against the project in front of the Gwangju city hall and on a Gwangju street named after Jeong earlier this week.
Despite the growing opposition, Gwangju Mayor Kang Gi-jung appears to remain stubbornly determined to pursue the park project.
Kang told reporters Monday that the project was initiated by the central government during the presidency of Roh Tae-woo in the late 1980s, dismissing the recent spike in opposition as based on an ideological bias.
“The Gwangju city government will responsibly push ahead with the park project launched together with the central government as part of a South Korean-Chinese friendship project,” the mayor said.