Note: For the smaller city of Gwangju in Gyeonggi-do, see Gwangju, Gyeonggi-do.
Gwangju (광주광역시, 光州廣域市, bright.province.wide.space.city) is the sixth largest city in South Korea, with a population of around 1,400,000. It is located in the southwest corner of the country, encircled by Jeollanam-do, the province of which Gwangju was once the capital. It is perhaps best known for the Gwangju Uprising, a series of pro-democracy demonstrations that swept the city and the surrounding province in May, 1980, and which was brutally supressed in the Gwangju Massacre. The independent spirit has lent itself to art, and Gwangju's reputation for artistic creativity is represented by Biennale, a biannual art festival that was last held in 2006.
The city was established in 57 BC, and has been a major political and economic centre of Korea ever since. It was one of the administrative centres of Baekje during the Three Kingdoms Period.
With the construction of a railway to Seoul in 1914, modern industry was established. This includes cotton textiles, rice mills and breweries. Construction of a designated industrial zone in 1967 encouraged marked growth in industry, especially in the sectors linked to the automobile industry.
In 1929, during the period of Japanese occupation, a confrontation between Korean and Japanese students in the city turned into a regional demonstration, which culminated in one of the major nationwide uprisings against Japanese rule in the colonial period.
In May 1980, civil demonstrations took place in Gwangju against the newly installed military government of Chun Doo-hwan. The demonstrations were suppressed by military forces, including elite units of the Special Operations Command. Most commentators agree that the suppression was characterized by its egregious brutality, including several incidents where military forces fired automatic weapons into crowds of unarmed demonstrators. Some commentators assert the United States is partly responsible for the mass killing in the city, because of its tacit endorsement of the Chun Doo-hwan regime and the mobilization of some units which normally required approval from the U.S. military command. Gwangju is sometimes called "the shrine of Korean democracy" because of this incident, which is known today as the Gwangju Massacre. After civilian rule was reinstated, a national cemetery was established honoring the victims of the incident.
Gwangju is divided into a total of 5 gus and 90 dongs.
- Dong-gu, 동구, is and has traditionally been the central area of Gwangju, and this is where the Jeollanam-do provincial office and the previous Gwangju City Hall is located (though it is now in Seo-gu).
- Buk-gu, 북구, is also a vibrant, heavily populated area, and its Jungheung-dong (중흥동) is where Gwangju Station is located.
- Nam-gu, 남구, is known for residential areas such as Juwon-dong (주월동) and Bongseon-dong (봉선동).
- Seo-gu, 서구
- Gwangsan-gu, 광산구
People from Gwangju
Movie and commercial actress Moon Geun-yeong was born in Gwangju, as were three current Major League Baseball players: Kim Byung-hyun of the Florida Marlins, and Choi Hee-seop and Seo Jae-weong of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Gwangju native and resident Kim Kyung-jae made history in 2002 when he became the first person to die from playing video games for an extended period of time. Kim died of deep-vein thombrosis after playing the game Mu for 86 hours, stopping only to buy cigarettes and use the toilet.
Gwangju has a total of 507 schools:
- 215 kindergartens,
- 110 elementary schools,
- 70 middle schools,
- 58 high schools,
- 7 junior colleges,
- 9 universities,
- 27 graduate schools, and
- 11 others.
The total number of students in 2000 was 404,065, for a total of almost 30% of the population.
Galleries and Museums
- Main article: Shopping in Gwangju
There are several main areas in Gwangju that offer Western goods: the area between Gwangju Bus Terminal and Nongseong Station; the Chungjangno district near Docheong Station; and Sangmu. The area pictured to the left is Chungjangno, a trendy, (largely) pedestrian shopping area with popular restaurants, boutiques, and movie theatres. Intersecting with Chungjangno is Art Street (예술의 거리), which offers pottery, paintings, arts and crafts, and the occassional exhibition of traditional Korean music and dance.
Gwangju has many department stores, including Home Plus, Lotte Mart, Lotte Department Store, E-Mart (several locations), Shinsegye, Big City, and Migliore. It also has a large electronics market, Geumho World. Chungjangno has several blocks of brand-name clothing boutiques and Western restaurant chains such as T.G.I. Friday's, Outback Steakhouse, McDonald's, Burger King, and Starbucks. Also in Chungjangno is 금남로지하상가, a large underground shopping center, that spans the length of 3 subway stops.
There are a number of second-hand stores throughout Gwangju. Please browse this list for more information.
There are several movie theatres in the city. Columbus Cinema and CGV are located near Uncheon Station (Honam University) in Sangmu, and Jeil Cinema, Megabox, Migliore Cinema and Mudeung Cinema are located in Chungjangno.
Restaurants and Bars
As the average Korean, Japanese, and Chinese restaurants are in abundance throughout Korea and are easy for foreigners to find, the following restaurants reflect a sampling of restaurants considered to be either popular or are western-friendly choices and other ethnic foods.
The two most popular foreigner-friendly bars in Gwangju are Soul Train and Mike and Dave's Speakeasy, both located in Chungjangno. As with any Korean city, there are countless hofs, cafes, and other establishments that serve alcohol.
Gwangju is well-connected by buses and taxis. Buses run through all areas of the city, and taxis are considerably cheaper than those in Seoul and Gyeonggi-do. Those arriving to Gwangju via bus will enter Gwangju Bus Terminal, which is approximately 500 meters from the nearest subway stop, Nongseong Station.
Gwangju has a small subway line that runs west to east. There are currently 14 stations, and there are plans to significantly expand it in all directions in coming years.
Gwangju has an international airport, which will soon be connected to the subway station. Gwangju International Airport connects to all domestic airports in Korea, and offers flights to selected cities in Japan, China, the United States, Russia, and Vietnam.
Please browse this list of accommodation in Gwangju for more information about hotels, motels, and hostels.
Gwangju has a sister city agreement with the ity of Sendai in Japan to promote friendship through exchanges in sports, culture and other areas.
Other sister cities include:
- San Antonio, Texas, USA
- Tainan, Taiwan
- Guangzhou, China
- Medan, Indonesia
Confucian academy in Gwangju
View of Gwangju from Sajik Park
Memorial to students killed in the Gwangju Massacre
Entrance to Nongseong subway station