Introduction to the Sinchon Massacre Museum
The Sinchon Massacre Museum of American War Atrocities! To give it its full title. This is probably the most macabre place you can visit in North Korea. When you consider quite how seriously the DPRK take the Korean War and Japanese colonialism, this is really saying something.
The official story goes as such. During occupation by UN forces led by the USA up to 35000 people were massacred. Obviously there are two sides to this story.
Said massacre took place between Oct 17th and Dec 7th 1950. When the museum was open to tourists it was seldom visited. This is not due to the nature of the museum, but more to the remoteness of Sinchon/Sincheon..
In many respects, the museum encapsulated anti-American feelings that persists in the DPRK. In that sense, the museum gave an excellent insight in the mindset of the Korean people when it comes to making peace with the USA. Had it been open during the Trump – Kim summit, one wonders how it would have been presented.
The Sinchon Massacre
North Korea claims that up to 35000 people were killed mostly by the Americans and their supporters, such as the south Korean military, over a period of occupation lasting 51 days.
Judging by these figures, it would have represented 1/4 of the population of Sinchon at the time of the massacre. There are various claims of atrocities committed by the Americans including women having their breasts cut off, men having nails slammed into their heads and most poignantly, people being put into a building and then being burnt alive.
One of the “highlights” of the museum is having a story of this recounted by one of the survivors. Again, as we said, not for the faint hearted.
The opposing view of the massacre
The International Association of Democratic Lawyers, which itself is openly left-wing, confirmed many elements of the massacre, but were as is often the case accused of being communist sympathizers.
Even southern Korea experts have reported that some form of massacre took place, although stating that it was right-wing extremists rather than rank and file soldiers.
Regardless, it is agreed that what happened in Sinchon was a massacre, the only differences being in relation to how bad it actually was. This is certainly one place and set of incidents that cannot simply be thrown under the “propaganda” bandwagon.
Check out the Wikipedia entry to explore some of the different views on the matter.
The Sinchon Massacre Museum
The museum was initially inaugurated in 1958 with its full title of The Sinchon Museum of American War Atrocities, but has obviously seen a few changes over the years. It was visited in 1998 by General Kim Jong Il after which it received some renovation, and again in 2014 by Chairman Kim Jong Un as a way to “strengthen the anti-U.S. lessons for our military and people”. In 2015, it was announced after a further visit by Kim Jong-Un that the site would be greatly expanded. It has since been rebuilt and moved to a newer grander location.
Since the recent detente in relations between the USA and North Korea talk of the museum and indeed of the massacre has quietened somewhat.
The museum itself houses a number of rooms which are dedicated to various aspects of the massacre. Again, it is quite a surreal and intense place.
Sinchon County is sometimes referred to as Cinchona Town and is in South Hwanghae province. The county is divided into 1 town – Sinchon Town and 31 counties. It is served by the Korean State Railway, which you can read all about here.
Can you visit Sinchon Museum?
The current Sinchon Museum, which was erected in 2015 is, at the time of writing, not open to tourists. This is due to the fact that there is currently no signage in English, although foreign media have visited the site.
It is hoped, and indeed assumed, that the museum will be opened to foreign tourists in the future, particularly as and when the country again opens to tourism.
With that being said, a lot may depend on how relations are at the time between the DPRK and the USA, as it is unlikely to be pushed to tourists if the relationship is going well (it really is quite anti-American).
Although the previous Sinchon Museum of American War Atrocities was very much open to foreign tourists, with its intensity it tended not to be visited by “regular” tour groups and was the more the reserve of specialist tours, or independent travelers to North Korea.
And that is the story of the Sinchon Museum of American War Atrocities, keep following our blog to see if and when this interesting site is again open to tourists. We are hopping to run a Korean War specific tour in 2021 that would include Sinchon, the many sites related to the massacre and of course the museum.
Keep the faith people, we will be traveling again!