Two abandoned hospitals in Gwangju have shared histories in more than one way. At one time the old Gwangju Red Cross Hospital and Nam Gwang Hospital were owned by the same corrupt businessman. Both hospitals were featured on the big screen as well. Both hospitals were featured in the Korean historical drama motion picture, 택시운전사 (taek shi eun jeon sa). I would like to take you on a two-part tour of both places. Today I will show you the former Gwangju Red Cross Hospital.
At one time both the Gwangju Red Cross Hospital and the Nam Gwang Hospital were owned by Lee Hong-ha. Lee, before he was sentenced for embezzlement, was a prosperous businessman that founded schools and hospitals. The 81-year old man is currently serving the rest of his days in prison. You can read more about Lee’s deeds here.
A memorial plaque sits at the corner in front of the abandoned hospital. There are many memorial plaques spread out through the city of Gwangju, South Korea. They commemorate the day in 1980 the citizens of Gwangju stood up to the Chun Doo Hwan’s brutal military dictatorship. It began as a student protest against martial law enforced across the nation. It escalated when students were beaten or killed by soldiers implementing the law. Then people from all walks of life rose up to defend their rights. The citizens were able to drive out the army for a short time but were ultimately squashed. The death toll from the uprising unknown because of the military hauling away bodies and burying them in undisclosed locations. There are a handful of movies based on the events that happened in Gwangju. 택시운전사 (English: A Taxi Driver) is the most current film depicting the historical event. The film is based on the true story of German journalist Jürgen Hintzpeter and the taxi driver Lee Sa-bok sneaking past the army cordon to document the events happening in Gwangju. The Gwangju Uprising or May 18th Gwangju Democratization Movement is a fascinating look into Korean history. I recommend watching the plethora of movies made on the subject and your own armchair research into the events. It’s a captivating glimpse into modern Korean history.
Here are some stills I was able to collect during a recent watching of the movie. The production shot external shots in the back, using the parking lot/courtyard for certain scenes while also utilizing the 응급실 (emergency room) and first-floor hallway for others.
Here are the photos of the same area I captured during a visit in the winter of 2018.
Long before the hospital was owned by a shady businessman, it was a small hospital where a significant historical event took place. As mentioned earlier, a plaque memorializes the doctors, nurses, and citizens who gave blood to save the lives of the wounded.
Why would this place of historical value be left to rot and be forgotten? Well, I imagine it sits in legal limbo. I guess the government owns it now. The hospitals and universities established by Lee that were seized by the government after Lee went to prison in 2013. In the succeeding years, it appears some squatters have taken on caretaking responsibility. This hospital is one of many historical spots that have been left to wither away. Fortunately, the city is starting to realize the importance of dedicating money to preserve and honor the memory of those who lost their lives in the Gwangju Uprising. In the August 2019 “Gwangju City Hall” section of Gwangju News, plans are being evaluated to turn the old hospital into a “Children’s Culture Space.” It’s good to see places in Gwangju being rehabilitated and repurposed. I wonder if the high praise surrounding A Taxi Driver convinced politicians to revitalize the old hospital.
I’ll end it here by presenting a few of the highlights from the rest of our visit during the winter of 2018. A lot of the beds, TVs and other medical equipment had been consolidated into giant stacks in two separate rooms. We found an art room where people had been painting on canvas. In that same room was an emergency transceiver. I wonder if it was the same one used to call for help during May 18th. This hospital captured our imaginations.
I’ve been keeping this location close to the vest for a while now. It was amazing that we got in and explored it. The history that surrounds this hospital made me be extra protective of it. A month ago, Mr. Urbexpat and I dedicated an entire weekend to checking out Nam Gwang Hospital. Already knowing it had connections to Lee Hong-ha, I was dumbfounded that it also had the A Taxi Driver connection as well. While I would never be an urbex tour guide, I thought it would be fun to give the internet a tour through my pictures and words. I hope you stick around for the next leg of the journey. Nam Gwang Hospital left me in shock and awe. The amount of stuff we saw jawdropping. This hospital warrants multiple visits.
I look forward to seeing you for part 2 of the 택시운전사 Hospital Tour.