Incheon, Gateway to Korea

Opened to the world in 1883, the port city of Incheon was the site of a decisive turn in the Korean War, when General MacArthur landed UN troops there in 1950. In 2001, it became the home of world famous Incheon International Airport. This year, the Global Fair & Festival Incheon, Korea is being held from August to October 25, 2009, and the Asian Games will also be hosted there in 2014.

1. Black Flower
Kim Young-ha, Munhakdongne Publishing Corp.
2004, 356p, ISBN 89-8281-714-X

2. The Diary of Kim Gu
Kim Gu, Dolbegae Publishers
1997, 472p, ISBN 978-89-7199-255-5

The city of Incheon occupies a strategic point of entry into Korea on the Yellow Sea, 40 kilometers west of Seoul. Currently known for Incheon International Airport, Korea’s most well-known airport, the city was also the site of the Battle of Incheon, a decisive move led by General MacArthur in the Korean War.
As of 2009, the population of Incheon stood at 2,750,000, making it the third largest city in Korea behind Seoul and Busan. But as recently as 1883, when the port of Incheon was forcibly opened by Japan and the West, it was just a small fishing village with just over 2,000 residents. The population increased by over 1,000 in just 120 years after the port opened, and the small fishing village was completely transformed into a modern city. As a result, Incheon accompanied the glory and shame of Korea’s modern history more than any other city. It was both a foreign concession under Japanese, Chinese, and western powers, and the port from which many Koreans left as migrant workers. Kim Young-ha’s novel Black Flower depicts the lives of those people who left as migrant workers from Incheon. People left their hometowns and flooded to Incheon in the hopes of finding work building the harbor and railroad. Even prison convicts were mobilized to help build the harbor. Special facilities were needed to enable commercial ships to enter the port, where tide levels vary dramatically. Kim Gu, who played a leading role in the founding of the Republic of Korea and who was also known by his pen name Baekbeom, also labored in Incheon before escaping prison. In his biography, The Diary of Kim Gu, he captures the appearance of Incheon in the early days of the opening of the port.

Since modernity entered Korea through Incheon with the opening of the port, traces of western modernity were left behind. The first modern park, church, school, and other buildings can still be found in the heart of the city, including the houses where western, Chinese, and Japanese residents lived. Though much was destroyed in the Korean War, the city contains relatively more relics of this era than any other city in Korea.

With the end of World War II, Japan conceded defeat and retreated, and Korea was divided into North and South. With national division and the Cold War, Incheon Port could no longer fulfill its role as the center of the western coast of the peninsula. Then, in 1950, the city was leveled during the Battle of Incheon. The UN forces’ amphibious landing changed the tide of the Korean War, but destroyed the city in the process. Oh Jung-Hee’s Chinatown depicts the poverty that took hold in Incheon after the war. Through the coming-of-age story of a girl who moves with her family to Incheon, Chinatown takes a critical look at the backdrop of the Chinese concession that was formed during the ope...