[Modern Cultural Heritage in Gyeonggi-do] Incheon_ A Modern Legacy to Heal the Cracks of the Era

Workers' Residences of Bupyeong

As a province adjacent to Seoul, the country's capital city, Gyeonggi-do has inherited a vast amount of Korea's modern cultural heritage as the country has undergone a turbulent modern history, ranging from the latter part of the Joseon Dynasty to the Japanese Occupation Period followed by the national liberation and division, the Korean War, and the impressive industrialization and democratization processes. “Modern Cultural Heritage of Gyeonggi” will feature an introduction to the modern culture of Gyeonggi-do together with a discussion about the history, identity and values of the Province in terms of cultural heritage.

writer | Ye-sun Choi


Bupyeong is a place that arouses a lot of questions. Since the end of 1930, when the arsenals and munitions factories were built, the ASCOM (United States Army Support Command) came in and formed a military camp town, of which we can still find vestiges left here and there. The houses of the laborers who worked at the arms factory became the camp itself, a living foundation. Then, in the 1970s and 80s, when the factories were founded for the export industrial complex and for Daewoo Motor Company, newcomers flocked into the city for a season before dispersing. And now, Bupyeong is standing at a crossroads to decide whether it is going to remember the hard lives of the laborers.



Bupyeong, standing at the crossroads of an era


Incheon is a city that, historically and geographically, cannot be explained separately from Gyeonggi-do. It was raised in status to Incheon-si (city) in 1981, apparently separated from Gyoenggi, and Ongjin-gun, some islands, and Gimpo, regions once under the administration of Gyeonggi, were included in Incheon and extended its land area. However, the life of Incheon is still in connection with Gyeonggi despite the administrative distinction. After the separation, the most remarkable change that was made is that Incheon turned into a city of industry, offering various footholds for enterprises.


And what part would Bupyeong have played in the deep and colorful history of Incheon? Under the Joseon Dynasty, the dohobu (protectorate) independent from Incheon was established in Bupyeong, and its territory was as large as to include current Bupyeong-gu, Gyeyang-gu, and Seo-gu of Incheon, Gangseo-gu and Guro-gu of Seoul, and Bucheon-si of Gyeonggi-do. The center of Bupyeong at the time was the area around Gyesan, near the Hangang River, and today’s Bupyeong was located on its outskirts. Thus, it is clear that Bupyeong is a city that was developed in the modern era. Bupyeng Station on the Gyeongin Railroad was constructed for its geometrical advantage of linking Seoul and Incheon, and in 1930 the arsenals and munitions factory were built, allowing the rapid growth of the city. Despite the ebb and flow of the population, Bupyeong is the city with the largest population in Incheon (544,606 as of August 2017).


Landscape of camp market in the Bupyeong military base


“Migration” should be a keyword to describe Bupyeong. Many came into the city to become factory workers and merchants as the industrial complex was built in it according to the plan of the Japanese Empire, and when ASCOM took a part of it to set up arsenals, even more laborers rushed in to work in the base. In the 1970s, the U.S. Military Base was moved to places like Osan and Pyeongtaek, after which export industrial corporations and automobile factories were built instead, stimulating a generational shift of workers. As the history of our nation itself can’t be written without migration, so the history of Bupyeong could be a microcosm of our national history.  



Laborer’s housing in Sangok-dong. The original structure remains intact.


The main class that migrated was the working class. Those who gathered in Bupyeong following its structure of industry have already dissipated, but their houses left various traces behind and constituted present day Bupyeong. The employee residences—Samneung Housing in Bupyeong 2-dong, Sinchon (once a military camp town) in Bupyeong 3-dong, and Corporate Housing in Sangok-dong—are a significant modern legacy of architecture in Bupyeong, the city once called the City of Samneung, then ASCOM City, and finally the export complex city, which tells us about the city’s complicated understructure.


A Trace of the Pacific War, Samneung Residence for Laborers


Incheon has 97 remaining sites from the Pacific War including factories, railways, military facilities, and mines. Among them, 19 are in Bupyeong, most of them being arms factories and residences. The arsenals are the manufactory of arms and the historic sites of compulsory mobilization. The whole area around Bupyeong 2-dong is called “Samneung(三菱)”, written with the Chinese characters corresponding to the Japanese ‘Mitsubishi’ today. While some stores have signs reading ‘Samneung’, some of the so-called “Samneung Julsataek” row houses still remain undisturbed. After the Mitsubishi factory was demolished, the Korean Army 88 Maintenance Unit was stationed there, and Bupyeong Park was later created, but there are still old laborers’ residences here and there that testify to the cracks of the era.


The history of Samneung Village starts in 1937, with the factory and residences of Hironaka Commerce and Industry, which manufactured trains and the machinery for mines. The company's stock grew strong thanks to the gold mine development plan of the Government-General of Joseon, establishing their second factory while expanding its factory in Gyeongseong. The number of workers in the new factory was up to 1,088, so it was necessary to build employee residences, bunkhouses, and public baths. The sudden expansion in business resulted in financial loss, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the leading company of the military industry in Japan, bought the factory. The factory was renamed Mitsubishi Steel Manufactory of Bupyeong in 1942, and manufactured not only bulletproof steel plates and breakwater plates but also mortar by the end of the Pacific War, furnishing them to the Japanese army.



Samneung residence(up) and townhouse(down)


The residences and workers were linked as so. Until 1944, there were 97 residences, 42 employee houses, and 52 bunkhouses and public baths. The fact that more residences were built means that the number of people forced to mobilize had increased. The Japanese managers and Korean workers had to live separately in different houses, and a unique fact is that Korean-style houses were also built. There are no remaining independent residences by now, while the parts of row house no.2, no.5, and no.10 have been preserved until today. Most of them are empty, looking bleak and ruined, but there are also some occupants who have not yet left the place. Recently, Samneung Village was selected as a village for the New-Town Village Project, so preparations have been made for its gradual improvement and development based on consultation with the residents rather than allowing a quick demolition.


The old worker’s residences of Samneung Village. The independent building of row house no. 2 maintains its original appearance, but row house no. 10 has failed to survive for all those years.

Apart from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Joseon Diesel Automobile Manufactory, Dongyang Automobile Factory, and Osaka Wire Factory were built in Bupyeong. In 1941, the arsenals were established to start manufacturing the bayonet. Along with the labor patriotism unit, many laborers came from across the country, greatly increasing the city’s population. It was by then that Bupyeong was incorporated into Incheon-bu, as Incheon-bu was expanding its territory. The neighboring Samneung residences were Buyeong Houses that were built by Incheon-bu and the houses for the railroad laborers. The Buyeong Houses included those of both Korean traditional style and modernized houses, and unit no.1 of housing area no.1 along with four buildings of the Korean traditional-style houses have been kept intact. There now remain two housing units for the railroad laborers.

The Employee Residences must be Recorded Accurately Beyond their Years of Hardship

Bupyeong is no longer the city of ASCOM, but the U.S. military army base is still there. The plan to remove the base by the end of the year (2017) is slowly being undertaken. In September, the Hanmadang Festival was held as a yearly event to open its door to the residents. The base is remarkably close to the apartment buildings. From the rooftop of the neighboring apartment, one can easily see down into the camp market. When I visited the base in 2015, it was as quiet as to be almost motionless. There were once around 1,000 domestic workers frequenting this place. Those buildings in the camp of different ages with a variety of functions are also a potential modern architectural heritage.

The buildings in the camp market of different ages with a variety of functions, also a potential modern architectural heritage.

The first military camp town in South Korea, Sinchon, had up to 70-80 clubs once, and now it is also quiet. As you can see in the interview of the residents printed in A Village of Immigrants, Sinchon of Bupyeong, the U.S. Army comfort women and the club workers found Sinchon “a foul place”. They recall the old days as a time of hunger, where they survived by depending each other despite all the misery. With the memories of its ups and downs, Sinchon seems to have advanced and developed once the U.S. military had evacuated the area.

A sizable residence site was developed around Sangok-dong, which was called Baengmajeong in 1941. The housing was built by Gyeongin Corporation, then sold to Joseon Housing Administration. The Administration also hurried to build Baengmajeong residences. As constructed so, Corporate Housing in Sangok-dong transparently shows the history of the housing of the Bupyeong laborers. The workers changed their uniforms as time passed, as the employees of the arsenals, military base, airborne troops, Korean Bearing, and Daewoo Motor Company went to their different workplaces. There are also remnants of commercial facilities including the market, restaurants, hair salons, and theaters along the broad alleys. The former Baengma theater has turned into a supermarket, with its old sign still hanging intact.

Sinchon, with the memory of a military camp town.

There have been a lot of external and internal shifts in Corporate Housing over the past 80 years, but the plot of the land and the roads still remain, showing the original form of the housing complex. The floor plan and structure of the houses are different from the existing ones, and the fact that the Korean traditional-style houses were built with tiled roofs and ondol (floor heating) makes the complex worth studying. But the hastily and densely built residences are hardly handling reality, not to mention that it merely shows its glory days. The discussion has been opened up for the development of the area while turning one of the well-preserved structures into a history museum that tells the local history.


Baengma Theatre, which opened in 1963. The theatre has closed for good, but its owners are keeping the old documents.

What matters most is careful recording in order to articulate the meaning and value of potential architectural heritage. The Bupyeong History Museum is preparing for the exhibition and the publication of the collection while studying the regions where the laborers’ residences were built, including Sinchon, Samneung, and Sangok-dong. The testimony of the residents is important information in writing the history of the city. While talking about their memories, they will show their perceptions of the city. The mood that they feel about the city should be the very identity of the city, accumulated from its base. Their story will be about survival and labor, leading to the story of their house, the place to combine the two. Again, it is about the house. The language and principles to determine a city cannot be separated from humanity, and the perspective of looking into the house should be attained from the understanding of human beings.

#Incheon #Bupyeong #Joongboo Ilbo #Modern Architecture #Culture #Heritage #GyeongGi Cultural Foundation #History

@Ye-sun Choi

    • Modern Cultural Heritage in Gyeonggi-do

      Writer/ Ye-sun Choi(Cultural heritage columnist)

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    Writer/ GyeongGi Cultural Foundation

    About/ Everything about the GyeongGi arts and culture, GGCF

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