The History of Gwangju

  • page print
  • page download

The History of Gwangju _ Name

Gwangju is considered to be the "City of Light." The name of Gwangju was used for the first time in the 23rd year (940) of the reign of King Taejo in the Goryeo Dynasty. While the reason why the city got this name is unknown, it is said to have originated from one of the great scholars of the Goryeo Dynasty, Yi Saek, who, according to an interpretation in his book "Seoseokjueonggi," referred to the area as "Gwangjiju" or "Village of Light."

Therefore, Gwangju is a city of the sun and light. As shown in the name, Gwangju has always played the role of salt and light in Korea. During Japanese colonization, Gwangju’s spirit shone in righteous activities and in the Gwangju Students Independence Movement. In the 1980s, the May 18th Democratic Uprising was a radiant beacon of democratization linked to the name of Gwangju.

History of Gwangju – Chronicles

Mahan Period
The Mahan Period was the first time during which Gwangju was inhabited. The areas of Mahan, Gusaodan and Bulmi were related to Gwangju. Gusaodan was Jinwon-myeon, and Jangseong-gun and Bulmi were in Naju.
Baekje Period
Baekje was one of 54 countries of Mahan established by immigrants from the collapsed Gojosun through a reign extension after settling on the banks of the Han and integrating neighboring annexed countries. The book titled "Samguk Sagi," meaning the "History of Three Kingdoms," tells that there were 147 "guns and hyeons," or administrative units. Guns and hyeons in Jeollanam-do are under Guhwa Haseong (presently Jangseong and Gurye) in the south, which is one of five directions, including the middle, east, south, west and north. At that time the region of Gwangju belonged to Mujin-ju while there were also Mydongburi-hyeon (presently Nampyeon), Bongnyong-hyeon (region of Naju) and Gulji-hyeon (Changpyeong) which were directly controlled cities. Jeollanam-do had 13 guns and 42 hyeons.
Unified Silla Dynasty
About 1,200 years ago and 16 years after beginning the rule of the Silla, King Gyeondeok (754) established the unification of the Korean Peninsula and divided the nation into 9 jus (district names). Guns and hyeons were under the jus.
It had 5 kyungs including Geumhae-kyung (Yangju), Jungwon-kyung (Hanju), Bukwon-kyun (Sakju), Seowon-kyung (Ungju) and Namwon-kyung (Jeonju). In Unified Silla, Jeollanam-do was Muju of Namwon-kyung and had 15 guns and 32 hyeons.
Late Three Kingdoms Period
Kyunhyon came from Gaeun-hyeon in Sangju and served as the head of "bangsupae" which defended the eastern and southern coasts. He ruled Mujin-ju in the 6th year of Queen Jinseong and occupied the neighboring guns and hyeons (regional district names), making in-roads into Wansanju (present-day Jeonju). He made Wansanju the capital of the Late Baekje Dynasty Kingdom and called himself king.
Goryeo Dynasty
In the 19th year of King Taejo’s reign, Singeom, who was Kyunjyon’s son, surrendered to the Goryeo Dynasty, and thereafter, the Late Baekje Dynasty Kingdom collapsed. In the 23rd year of King Taejo’s reign (940), Mujinju was renamed as Gwangju and at the same time, Dodok-bu (an administrative district office) was set up.
Government organizations were reshuffled in the 14th year of King Sejong and the nation was divided into 3 kyeongs, 4 dohobus and 10 dos. At the same time, 12 Jumoks (governors) changed into 12 Jujeoldosa (governors), and Jeollanam-do was renamed as Haeyang-do. Doho-bu was set up in Annam (modern Yeongam) and Jasa was established in Gwangju.
Joseon Dynasty
Jeolla-do was made up of Jwa-do and U-do (meaning left-do and right-do), and Gwangju was in Jwa-do. From the 12th year of King Sejong’s reign, dos were frequently reduced or restored, while also being embroiled in various conflicts. When Japan invaded Korea in 1592, patriotic activities occurred in Gwangju, and the coast of Jeollanam-do was the stage for General Yi Sunshin.
Japanese Rule of Korea
On September 30, 1910, when Japan annexed Korea, according to new regional systems, the eupjang (the head of an eup-town) ruled Gwangju and the region within Gwangju-eup was called Seongnae-myeon. Out of Seong came Giryebang, Gongsubang and Budongbang, and Gwangju-myeon was established by annexing 1 myeon and 3 bangs. On April 1, 1931, according to the revision of the regional system, Gwangju was promoted to Gwangju-eup and the administrative system was reformed, being promoted to Gwangju-bu. The administrative regions were expanded to 41 Jungs.
Republic of Korea
With the defeat of Japan by the UN on August 15, 1945, Korea was under a trusteeship administration of the United States for 2 years and 11 months, but on June 3, 1947, the military government office was abolished, and in August 1948, new governments were established. Coupled with this, in 1949, Gwangju-bu changed into Gwangju City with two changes in administrative systems. In 1963, the office of Seochang and Daechang were annexed into Gwangsan-gun, the regions under the city were contracted to 214.92㎢ and it had 6 offices and 45 dongs.
On November 1, 1986, the "Act on Installing Jikhalsi" was promulgated and Gwangju was promoted to Jikhalsi following Busan, Daegu and Incheon. At that time, it had 3 guns and 72 dongs, and the area of administration reached only 215.11㎢, but with the promulgation of the 3,963th law, Songjeong City and Gwangsan-gun were integrated into Gwangju Jikhalsi, increasing the area to 501.20㎢ and laying the foundation for the city with key functions in the southwest area of Korea, by governing 9 offices in 83 dongs of 4 districts.
On January 1, 1995, Gwangju Jikhalsi was changed to Gwangju Metropolitan City and Nam-gu was separated from Seo-gu. As of late December 2016, 5 autonomous districts and 95 administrative dongs with 1,489,134 people (including international residents) comprised Gwangju.

History – Characteristics

Key City of West-South Regions
Gwangju is the leading city of the Honam region, with the entire nation within a day's reach. The emerging importance of Korea's western coastline and the government's effort to balance growth across the nation have triggered large-scale urban development projects, such as the construction of the Gwangju hi-tech industrial complex, transformation of Gwangju into a center of production and improvements within housing and leisure facilities. Such support will boost Gwangju's status as the hub of Korea's southwest region.
Historic City of Patriotism
Gwangju successfully defended itself during the seven-year-long Japanese invasion into Korea beginning in 1592, and since then the city has always been at the forefront of the movement against invaders. This tradition of citizens fighting bravely in times of crisis in the nation has continued throughout history. Citizens sacrificed their lives during the Japanese invasion in 1592, fought against the colonialist Japanese rule in the early 1900s and many lives were lost during the May 18th Democratic Uprising in 1980 in defense of justice, democracy, human rights and freedom. Gwangju has staged campaigns to designate May 18th as a national holiday, and is staging efforts to designate the May 18th Cemetery as a shrine in homage to the lives sacrificed, and is continuing its traditions of defending democracy to establish its position as part of the democratic history of the world.
A City of Culture and Arts
Gwangju has long been regarded as a city rich in culture and arts. Having given birth to renowned and respected scholars, poets and artists, Gwangju is also the place where the Southern School of Chinese Painting (Namjonghwa) and Pansori, a form of Korean performance art and a traditional Korean singing genre, originated.
The level of artistic sophistication here is higher than any other region in Korea, with a large proportion of the population involved in the arts. The humble nature of the people, who do not pursue worldly gains, has enabled legions of people to enjoy art, dance and music over the years. The Gwangju Biennale, an international arts festival first held in 1995, is now taking place every two years and has further enhanced Gwangju's worldwide reputation as a city of arts. With the Asia Culture Center (ACC) having opened to the public in November 2015, Gwangju has secured Asia's cultural stronghold emerging as a window of Asian culture to the world.
A Traditional City of Education
As of April 1, 2016, there are a total of 703 schools (321 kindergartens, 153 elementary schools, 90 middle schools, 67 high schools, 6 community colleges, 11 universities, 44 graduate schools, 5 special needs schools and 6 other schools) with a total of 358,076 students that comprise 24% of the entire population in Gwangju. The number of students in relation to the number of households is 0.6, which indicates that Gwangju is regarded as a traditional education city.

Division in Charge : Culture City Policy Division

Contact : +82-62-613-3424