In 1945, when South Korea ceased to be a Japanese colony, there was a conflict for control of the hospital on Sorokdo, with doctors and patients on one side and hospital staff on the other side. This led to the killing of a large number of patients.
On August 15, 1945, when the Korean Peninsula was liberated, the Japanese people on the island too, including Nishiki, the director of the sanatorium, returned to Japan.
After that, senior nurses 呉淳在 and 栄晦甲took control of the hospital, but one of the doctors, 石四鶴, opposed this, leading to discord between the two sides. The patients also formed a Patients’ Committee. In an effort to regain control, Dr. 石四鶴 met with 李宗揆, the patient’s representative, and started a false rumor that 呉淳在 and his supporters were transporting grain from the storehouse, medicines. and other daily necessities off the island. The patients believed this and took poles and hoes and went to the staff area. The startled staff fired guns and some people were injured, but it ended at that and the two sides agreed to talk the next day.
When the patients arrived the next day, however, armed staff and security personnel were waiting for them, and killed them. As a result of this incident 84 patients were killed, including 李宗揆 who were burned at the stake at the harbor.
Sorokdo National Hospital
Located in Jeollanam-do, this was Korea’s only national Hansen’s disease sanatorium. It opened as the Shoroku-tou Jikei Clinic in 1916, when Korea was a Japanese colony. The facility was expanded in 1934, and the name changed to Shoroku-tou Kousei-en.
After gaining independence from Japan, South Korea enacted the Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act, and Hansen’s disease came to be treated as an ordinary infectious disease. The law was revised in 1963 to abolish forced quarantining.
Today, most Korean people affected by Hansen’s disease live among the general public, but about 40% live in colonies, and 10%, or roughly 700 people, live at the Sorokdo National Hospital.
(Kim Kwiboon, Curator of the National Hansen’s Disease Museum in Tokyo, Japan)
“As you know, I am not a professional artist. If you ask why I paint, it is to pass on the tragic history of Hansen’s disease in Korea, and the especially sad history of Sorokdo to future generations, with the wish that this tragic history will never be repeated. Please forgive me if my artistic technique and depth are not sufficient.
My paintings focus on the thoughts of Hang Haun, a Hansen’s disease patient. I mostly paint about the tragic history that Hansen’s disease patients endured, especially my thoughts from when I was working on Sorokdo. I will be more than happy if these paintings can give the people who view them at least some sense of the pain and suffering that these souls faced.”
(From the introduction to the “Cho Chang-Won Exhibition – Sorokdo Light and Shadows”)