The April 19th National Cemetery is a cemetery and memorial dedicated to the 224 lives lost during the April 19 Revolution protests. During these protests, which took place between April 11 and April 26, 1960, hundreds of citizens, mostly students, were killed or injured by the authoritarian government ruled by President Syngman Rhee. Rhee was a dictator who used his power for corruption and to rig elections. These heroes sacrificed their lives for freedom, democracy, and justice for all of Korea.
The April 19th National Cemetery is located at the base of Bukhansan Mountain in the Suyu-dong neighborhood of northern Seoul. At the cemetery, visitors will find a white memorial tower, memorial hall, exhibition hall, multi-purpose plaza, and a pond. The relaxing location of the cemetery, surrounded by lush forests and trees, is beautiful. The total area of the April 19th National Cemetery is 96,837㎡ (23.93 acres).
History of the April 19 Revolution
The April 19 Revolution, also known as the April Revolution or April 19 Movement, were a series of mass protests held in South Korea between April 11-26, 1960. The protests were held against President Syngman Rhee, the first president of South Korea, and the government, known as the First Republic of Korea. Rhee was first elected president on July 20, 1948. In 1956, Rhee was re-elected for a second term. In 1958, Rhee modified the constitution, removing the two-term limit. This, along with a weak economy and lack of social development, angered many Koreans. Citizens saw Rhee as a corrupt dictator who used his political powers to silence any opposition.
Several weeks before the March 1960 South Korean presidential election, Cho Pyong-ok, the main opponent of Rhee, died of cancer. Because of this, Rhee was re-elected unopposed. Allegations of corruption and manipulation of the presidential and vice presidential elections sparked outrage with citizens, eventually leading to the April 19 Revolution. On March 15, the same day of the election, a protest against the election was took place in the city of Masan in the southern part of the country. At these protests, police fired weapons as protestors threw rocks.
On April 11, the body of a student who disappeared during the protests was found. It was determined that the student died after being struck in the head with a tear gas canister fired by people. Rhee and the government tried to censor the story, but it was too late. The news of the death, which shocked Koreans, spread across the nation and across the world.
On April 19, as many as 100,000 students from high schools and universities across Seoul marched to Cheong Wa Dae (Blue House) to call for Rhee’s resignation. Proclaiming martial law, Rhee had police fire on the protestors. In the end, (180) were killed and thousands were left injured. This day would be known as “Bloody Tuesday.”
By April 25, protestors, including students and teachers, outnumbered police. Police refused to fire on the protestors. The next day, Rhee stepped down as the president where he was eventually exiled to Hawaii until his death in 1965.
What to see at April 19th National Cemetery
As you enter the cemetery and make your way past the parking lot and through the multi-purpose plaza, one of the first sights of interest you will encounter is the Symbol Gate. This steel tower, with five circular stone posts on each side, separates the multi-purpose plaza from the April Student Revolution Monument. The gate acts as a separation between the modern world and the heroic, spiritual world where hundreds are buried.
April Student Revolution Monument
Located at the center of the cemetery is the April Student Revolution Monument. This monument commemorates the spirit of those involved in the April 19 Revolution. Many young people sacrificed their lives in their fight against corruption and injustices caused by President Syngman Rhee and the First Republic. And, many of those involved in the revolution are buried in the cemeteries behind the monument. Construction on the April Student Revolution Monument began on September 20, 1963. The monument consists of seven granite towers which are 21 meters (68 feet) high.
Military Relief Sculpture
The Military Relief Sculpture flanks both sides of the April Student Revolution Monument. The granite sculpture, which folds out like a screen for 47 meters (154 feet), tells the story of the April 19 Revolution from beginning to end. The first scene depicts the injustice and wickedness of Rhee and his government. The second part depicts the protests of the students against the government. The third scene depicts the victory over Rhee. And, the final scene depicts freedom and peace.
Also located on each side the April Student Revolution Monument are Guardian Statues. The granite statues depict a man and woman who are using their strength to defend justice and freedom in Korea.
Located behind the April Student Revolution Monument are the cemeteries with the graves of hundreds of heroes who scarified their lives for their country. These brave citizens, many young students, fought against injustice and corruption for freedom and democracy. By sacrificing themselves, they have made the world a better place today. Their actions led to a political system which reflected the will of its people. This is their final resting spot where they can be honored and remembered for generations to come. The total area of the cemetery space is 6,612㎡ (1.63 acres).
Flame of Justice Sculpture
The Flame of Justice is a sculpture which expresses the April 19 Revolution in the shape of a flame. The 10 meter (32 foot) semicircular granite sculpture depicts three rose petals opening up in the shape of a flame.
Freedom Fighter Sculpture
On the northern end of the cemetery is the Freedom Fighter Sculpture. This horizontal 12 meter (39 foot) sculpture depicts the violent confrontation between students with the armed riot police during the April 19 Revolution.
Yuyeongbong Portrait Hall
Hidden in the innermost section of the April 19th National Cemetery grounds, up a stone stairway, is the Yuyeongbong Portrait Hall. Inside this hall are the portraits and tablets of those who sacrificed their life for freedom, justice, and peace during the April 19 Revolution. This includes hundreds of citizens of all ages including university and high school students. These portraits act as a reminder to future generations of the struggle and sacrifices of those involved in the April 19 Revolution. They fought for peace and democracy which Korea enjoys today.
April 19th Revolution Memorial Hall
The April 19th Revolution Memorial Hall is a place where visitors can learn everything about the history of the April 19th Revolution. Displays, photographs, videos, and other information allow visitors to learn the history of the April 19th Revolution including what led up to the revolution and what happened after. If you are interested in Korean history, this is a must. On the 3rd floor of the Memorial Hall is an observatory.
Root of Democracy Sculpture
Down the street from the April 19th National Cemetery, surrounded by the streets and buildings of northern Seoul, is the often missed Root of Democracy Sculpture. This simple sculpture represents the spirit of the people as they rose up against the injustices of the government. The sculpture consists of nine granite columns ranging in height from 2 meters (6.5 feet) to 10 meters (32.8 feet). Whether you are arriving at or leaving the cemetery, be sure to stop by this sculpture.
The National Cemetery is open everyday.
The Memorial Hall is closed on Mondays.