Chronology of Events January 1997- December 1998
January 1997. Minister of Government Administration, Han-gyu Kim who is a Christian elder announced that the national exam for public officials (Level 7) would be administered during weekdays. Buddhists called for rectification since it is a religiously discriminatory policy to set the exam date in consideration of a particular religion.
June 1997. Human feces were scattered around the Dharma Hall in the Special Forces¡¯ School under the Ranger-commando Force. Candidates for Noncommissioned officers who tried to attend dharma meeting had to write a letter of self-criticism. It was revealed that the officer in command forced the candidates without religion to believe in Christianity and applied unspoken pressure on Buddhist candidates. Buddhists organized Countermeasure Committee against Oppression of Buddhism and protested strongly. Defense Ministry issued an apology under the name of its minister. Lieutenant Colonel H i-man Park, head of the Special Forces¡¯ School was warned, and Commander, Lieutenant Chin-gyu Lee and Chaplain. Captain Siyong Chang were dismissed. ¡°Military Affairs Regulations¡± were formulated and directed to the whole army.
July 3, 1997. Fire, presumably arson, broke out at Kubog-am in Pyongch¡¯ang-dong, Ch¡¯onghak-sa and Samdong-sa in Chongnung 3 Dong. The origin of the fire is unknown.
July 8, 1997. Fire, presumably arson, breaks out at Kumgang-am in Tobong-dong and Pomjong-sa in Ssangmun-dong. CBS denounces Buddhism in a program called ¡°Make us anew (Saerop-ge Hasos ).¡± This incident is revealed during deliberations of Broadcasting Committee and a warning is issued to CBS accordingly.
July 26, 1997. Fire, presumably arson, breaks out at Kungnak-sa in Mang¡¯uri around 1:50 a.m. The main dharma hall and living quarters are burned to the ground. Estimated damages are 500 million won.
August 2, 1997. Attempted arson attack occurs at Inson-sa in Pyongch¡¯ang-dong. The masked perpetrator tries to set fire while threatening the abbot of the temple with a container of gasoline. He escape when interrupted by students. Inson-sa requests a thorough investigation by the police and supplies evidence used by the perpetrator.
August 3, 1997. Fire, presumably arson, breaks out at Homyong-sa in Inch¡¯on and destroyed main dharma hall.
August 18, 1997. Chairman of the Grand National Party (Shinhanguktang) Hoich¡¯ang Lee, in a special live program with presidential candidates organized by the Far East Broadcasting (Kukdong Pangsong), replies that ¡®Sundays should be avoided for national or group functions since Sunday is a day to rest¡¯ when asked a question regarding national exams administered on Sundays and the infringement of religious activities.
August 20, 1997. National exam for public officials (level 7) for the year of 1997 was held during the week instead of Sunday as requested by Christians. Chairman of United Liberal Democrats (Chaminnyon) Jong-pil Kim mentioned that if he is elected president, he would try his best to eliminate hindrances in religious life. However, it may be difficult to eliminate them all, regarding national exams administered on Sundays and the infringement of religious activities.
August 25, 1997. Fire, presumably arson, breaks out in a studio on the 1stt floor of the Buddhist Television Network (BTN). Evidence found at the scene includes partially burnt paper and traces of fuel. This is the second incident in which that the Buddhist media is targeted.
October 5, 1997. Fire, presumably arson, breaks out at Yongsan Pophwa-sa in Hyehwa-dong, Seoul around 2 a.m. It destroys the library in the basement. The fire is extinguished in two hours. Two people including a resident monk are treated for suffocation caused by smoke inhalation. Damage caused by another fire in 1991 amounted to 60 million won.
October 23, 1997. Inch¡¯ n Union of Christianity (Inch¡¯ n Kidokkyo ch¡¯ongyonhap) held a prayer service at Inch¡¯ n gymnasium attended by 5,000 ministers and lay followers demanding removal of the Buddha statue in Inch¡¯on Detention House. In an effort to press their demand, they make a protest visit to the Detention House after the service.
November 3, 1997. Munhwa Broadcasting Company (MBC) airs a program on monk Yongsan at PD Notebook (PD Such¡¯ op) which was derogatory against Buddhism.
November 1997. Presidential candidate Hoi-ch¡¯ang Lee printed ¡°an apostate monk mask¡± in his publicity leaflet as the symbol of deceit and lie. Even though this can provide enough ground for misunderstanding, the fact that they did not thoroughly check the leaflet is the indication of their lack of understanding of or prejudice against Buddhism.
December 30, 1997. Fire of unknown origin breaks out at Kimyong-sa in Munkyong, Kyongbuk. Three buildings including Solsondang Pavillion, and living quarters are burnt to ashes. Solsondang, a huge lecture hall built about 100 years ago, was the biggest wooden building in the country.
February 16, 1998. Marine Corps Commandant Tobong Chon says that he would make the Marine Corps soldiers of Christ at a ground-breaking ceremony of a church for the Second Division of the Marine Corps. Buddhists made a strong protest against the incident. Marine Corps Commandant sends a letter of explanation stating that the incident was found groundless through self investigation under the directives of the Chief of Naval Operations (March 13, 1998) and promises to prevent any recurrences of the kind (March 14, 1998).
May 7, 1998. President DJ Kim and the First Lady invite a Catholic priest and a minister to the Blue House for Mass and worship service. It was announced that President Kim could not attend mass the last two months. This is to save the President trouble of going out during the weekend and to avoid causing inconvenience to other parishioners. Buddhists express concern
1998. Joog-ang Daily Newspaper¡¯s Chicago Office publishes 1998 version of the Joong-ang Ilbo Korean Business Directory omitting four Buddhist temples including Pult¡¯a-sa, Pongbul-sa, Pulsim-sa Sonryon-sa in the religious category. Joong-ang Daily sends a letter of apology to the Chogye Order and promises to prevent any recurrences. Head of the Chicago office visits the temples and apologizes.
1998. Jae-sop Lee, head Minister of Joong-ang Holiness Church (Joong-ang Songgyol Kyohoe) in Taejon distributes leaflets denouncing Buddhism. Upon a protest by Buddhists, Minister Lee visits the Buddhist Association in Taejon and promise to run an apology statement in the daily newspaper.
1998. The government revokes its intention to engrave a dragon image on the handle of National Seal due to a strong protest by Korean Christians. Christians assert the ¡°animal symbolizes Satan¡± and should not be used in an image representing our nation.¡¯
May 16, 1998. Police investigator following a tip without evidence about organized gangsters barge into a dharma hall where a special ritual (Yesujae) is in progress, put handcuffs on a monk and take him to the police station without an arrest warrant using violent language in front of the worshippers. This case is now on trial.
June 3, 1998. A certain Kim breaks into the Main Dharma Hall of Podok-sa in Pangbae-dong and trie to destroy the Buddha triad. He is arrested but is later released without being charged due to the indifferent attitude of the Pangbae Policebox. The Kim had threatened arson attack against the temple several times during the past month. Pangbae Policebox rearrest the suspect who was found to be a Christian, upon strong demand by the temple.
Damage traces indicate that someone smashed a door of the dharma hall and tries to set fire to Hyangnim-sa, Yangch¡¯on-gu, Seoul. Temple residents catch two suspicious people including a wife of a minister who was wandering around the dharma hall and reported them to the police. Police find no evidence and they are released.
June 26, 1998. Su-jin Kim, a Christian, breaks into Wonmyong Sonwon (Zen Center) in Cheju Island, decapitates 750 granite Buddha statues and destroys a gilt bronze Buddha triad, gold-plated jade Buddha and many other Buddhist items. He is caught by people at the temple while breaking windows of the living quarters. Kim confesses at the police that he destroyed Buddha statues in order to convert the temple to a church.
June 27, 1998. Thirty Christian naval men from the First Division of the Marine Corps missionize in front of Seoul Railroad Station after attending a spiritual retreat. Only three months before the Chief of Naval Operations promises to prevent recurrences of such incidents.
July 1, 1998. Songsun Kim, ward chief of Sonpa-gu district and Chong-shik Chang, ward chief of Kangbuk-ku district are sworn in with their hands on a Christian Bible, which evoked public criticism. Kim apologizes later. Chang refuses at first but apologizes later when repeatedly demanded by Buddhists.
July 6, 1998. Someone intentionally sprays kerosene in the well at a Taego Temple, Wohyo-sa in Sadang-dong, This case is under investigation.
July 16, 1998. Leader of the Grand New Party Hwa-gap Han stirs up trouble when he states, ¡°if President Kim¡¯s reform fails, the future of the country will be grim. This government was given to us by God¡± in an interview with Sisa Journal dated July 16.
July 26, 1998. Two right hand fingers of the Shakyamuni Buddha statue and four left fingers of Manjusri Boddhisattva at Torim-sa in Cheju island are damaged. Police suspect a Ms. Yang who damaged Buddha images the same way in 1995.
July 30, 1998. Newsmaker which is published by Kyonghyang Daily uses an expression derogatory to the ordained clergy and Buddhism in an article, ¡®Money Loving Elite Worldly Desires Gone Astray¡¯ and ¡®Safe in hell, no keys¡¯, written by the reporter Kil-gon Chong. ¡°Once a monk acquires the taste of meat, not even a fly in the dharma hall will be spared.¡±
August 25, 1998, Two Buddha statues in Pohyonsa Temple in Ch¡¯ongju City are damaged by a Mr. Oh Pyong-gak, a member of a local church. He had a psychiatric history.
August 29, 1998, Four policemen from Public Security Division of Seoul Metropolitan Police rough up Ven. Song Kwang at the entrance of Chogyesa Temple, the main headquarters temple of the order in Seoul at 9:30 am. The police had been blocking the driveway of the temple and he asked them to step aside so he could drive in and park. They hit him and used abusive language in response. Outraged lay people struggled with the police and a few people received injuries. The police escaped the scene when the protest by lay people escalated. Immediately after the incident, Police Chief Kim, Yonghwa and Kim, Hongjun, Director of the Public Security Division visit Chogyesa to make formal apology and to promise that police involved in the incident will be disciplined. The four perpetrators of the violence visited Chogyesa later that afternoon and apologized to the victim and laypeople involved and performed many prostrations in the temple.
September 1, 1998, Rev. Kim An-shik of Kunbit Church in Ch¡¯ongju visits Ven. Wonbong, abbot of Pohyonsa Temple with a letter of regret for desecration incident committed by a former church member.
Rev. Kim¡¯s letter states ¡®it broke my heart upon hearing of the desecration at Pohyonsa¡± and asks forgiveness of the abbot and hopes that these acts should never be repeated in the future.
September 4, 1998, Korean National Council of Churches (KNCC) responds sympathetically to destructive actions of some Christians against Buddhist shrines in previous months. There is a spectrum of reactions by Korean churches to the KNCC announcement as be seen in the following news report.
SEOUL (Yonhap) 980904 KST - In response to incidents of vandalism targeting Buddhist statues, the Korean National Council of Churches (KNCC) expressed concern about the destructive actions of some Christians.
The KNCC's announcement has eased the tension between Christians and Buddhists.
However, a Christian non-denominational weekly newspaper published by the Rev. Kim Chul-young ran articles justifying vandalism of Buddhist property.
The newspaper, Hanil-nara (Heavenly Kingdom), published on its front page a photograph of a decapitated Buddhist statue, with the caption from the Old Testament's Book of Judges urging the destruction of religious idols.
A page-two editorial, entitled "All religious idols should be eliminated," said, "The Buddhist community's criticism of the government over these incidents is unfair."
The editorial added, "The Buddhists' criticism of former President Kim Young-sam for holding Christian religious services in the Blue House led him to stop; and this refusal to allow the President to pray resulted in disasters.
"The recent flooding in Korea struck hardest those areas in which there were many Buddhist statues. There was no flooding on Cheju Island, where a Christian destroyed many Buddhist statues this summer."
In addition, the editorial said that "if people do not respect the one God, they will be subject to disasters." The editorial concluded that "it is unfortunate that it is illegal to destroy Buddhist statues."
In response to the KNNC's recent announcement, the editorial said, "Do you think God will be happy with your announcement? We fear his reaction." The editorial stressed that "since the current environment is accepting of all religions, Christians should prevent others from worshipping false gods and encourage them to worship the true God."
Earlier, Kidok Shinmun (Christianity Newspaper) said, "Buddhists are overreacting to these incidents." The newpaper printed a cartoon and articles suggesting that Buddhists were overly sensitive."
But another newspaper, Kidokkyo Shinmun (Christian Newspaper), a Presbyterian publication, expressed deep concern about conflict with other religions and dedicated a series of articles to the subject.
It said that because of certain incidents - including "continuous vandalism, Christians' open support for Kim Young-sam in 1992, Christians' destruction of totems at Yonsei University and Seoul's Noryang-jin area, and their opposition to building a memorial to Korea's mythical founder, Tangun" - that the public has criticized Christians for extremism. This criticism, it said, "has resulted from Christians' cultural insensitivity and failure to acknowledge other belief systems."
September 14-16, 1998. The Daily Sports Newspaper (Ilgan Sports) prints a cartoon series called ¡°Toshi-uhon with a sorcerer who tries to kill someone by using the mantra ¡°Om mani padme hum¡± as an incantation for three days in a row from September 14 through 16. ¡®Om mani padme hum¡¯ is frequently recited Buddhist mantra. Buddhists are shocked that this mantra was quoted as a curse to kill people. The newspaper prints a statement of apology on September 25 due to a strong protest by Buddhists.
September 23-24, 1998, One hundred and eighty Buddhist police chaplains participate in training meeting to deal with religious prejudice and prevent the desecration of Buddhism. They resolve to 1) to take initiative to overcome economic crisis and protect the national culture, 2) to make efforts to prevent religious prejudice and 3) to strongly urge the placement of policemen in charge of Buddhist desecration and arson in every police station to prevent future incidents.
November 3-11, 1998, The faces of Buddha statues and paintings in seven temples in Chungch¡¯ongbukto are attacked and severely damaged by razor. Witnesses indicate that a car with license plates from another region was spotted in the temple precincts.
November 27, 1998, Six Buddha statues are found severely damaged outside of Chongsu Am Temple in Pusan. They are decapitated, with damaged noses, and human feces are smeared all over them. Police assume the crime was perpetrated by 2-3 people weilding implements judged by the severity of the damage.
December 1998, Buddhist circles raise concerns about the so-called ¡°Historical and Cultural Tour for Youth¡± conducted by the Korea Youth Federation of Seoul April through August this year. According to the Seoul Federation¡¯s recent publication ¡° Visiting Cultural Sites of Seoul,¡± thr youth visited Protestant Chongdong Church and Catholic Myongdong Cathedral as representative cultural and historical sites while Buddhist sites, relics or remains were neglected. 20,000 youth in the Seoul area participated in the program over five months.
December 15, 1998, A Kwanum statue carved on a rock in Pukhnsan National Park on the hiking route between Hwagyesa Temple and Sansong Am (both of which suffered serious arson attacks in 1996) is damaged by public employees of the Suyu Branch Office of the National Park Authority. They were ordered to remove an artifact of ¡°folk belief.¡± After investigating the case, the National Park Authority delivers an official letter of apology to the Chogye Order Headquarters and decides to provide training for NPA employees on Buddhism and national culture.
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