The May 18 Democratic Uprising in Gwangju is one of the most tragic events in South Korean history. Beginning with peaceful demonstrations against the imposition of a state of emergency by the Chung Doo Hwan military regime across the country on May 17, the use of firearms by the Korean army against protesters led to an escalation of the conflict, armed resistance of Gwangju citizens to the authorities. After the suppression of the uprising, preserving memory of it became a significant task of the democratic movement.
Over the past 40 years, the policy of remembering the Gwangju Uprising has undergone significant changes. At present, the memory of Gwangju is maintained through regular commemoration ceremonies organized by the government in the largest cities of the Republic of Korea on May 18 annually, the creation of memorial complexes, memory societies, and school education.
Literature and cinematography play an important role in preserving the memory of the Gwangju uprising. Based on the analysis of 1980s literature and contemporary cinema, the article shows which themes and images about the Gwangju Uprising are dominant today, and why it has a special place in the national identity of Koreans. South Korean cinematography shows the Gwangju Uprising as a historical tragedy and tries to reconcile both sides of the conflict - citizens and soldiers.
Traumatic memories of May 18 are like an open wound that can be neither forgotten nor neglected through generations. In South Korean movies, survived participants of the Gwangju uprising still suffer from post-traumatic syndrome while former soldiers cannot get rid of the guilt that destroys their identity and life.
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