Introduction to Jeju-do

Jeju-do, which was formerly known as Cheju-do before 2000, is one of the nine provinces that form South Korea. It’s the country’s biggest island, but it’s the smallest province according to both population and size. Jeju-do is situated across the Korea Strait, southwest of Jeollanam-do.

According to the island’s foundational myth, there were three demigods from Samseong, which is believed to have been a part of the northern slopes of Mt. Hallasan (1947 m). These three demigods became the progenitors of the Jeju people, who would found Tamna (2345 B.C. – 1405 A.D.).

King Taejo of Goryeo (r. 918-943), who founded the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) attempted to establish the same relationship that the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C. – 935 A.D.) enjoyed with the Tamna. The Tamna, however, refused, so the Goryeo court sent troops to force the Tamna to submit. In 938 A.D., Go Jagyeon (r. 933-938 A.D.), the chief of Tamna, would ultimately submit to the Goryeo. Later, in 1105, the Tamna name was abolished and Tamna-gun (district) was assumed. It was then that Goryeo officials were sent to manage the island. In 1153, Tamna was completely dropped, and the current name of the island of Jeju was adopted. Jeju means “province across the sea” in English.

During the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), the people of Jeju were treated as foreigners. And in the 17th century, King Injo of Joseon (r. 1623-1649) issued an edict banning Jeju people from travelling to the Korean mainland. In 1910, and like the rest of Korea, Jeju-do was annexed, as well. This led to severe hardships for the people of Jeju-do. Because of this deprivation, a lot of Jeju people were forced to find work on the Korean mainland. They also found work in Japan, as well. During Japanese Colonization (1910-1945), Jeju was known as Saishu.

After Japanese Colonization came to an end, Jeju-do would become its own province in 1946. However, and not long after it became a province, the Jeju Uprising of 1948 would occur. Like the rest of the Korean Peninsula, Jeju was torn between the two ideologies of communism and democracy. Jeju communist sympathizers would go on to attack police stations and government offices. This resulted in the government cracking down severely. It would result in indiscriminate attacks on civilians. In total, thousands of Jeju citizens were interned in camps and 14,000 to 30,000 people were killed over the 13 month uprising.

Eventually, these hostilities were quelled, and like the rest of Korea, Jeju-do would grow economically. With this economic growth, which largely centred on tourism, and a renewed sense of independence from the mainland, Jeju would be the first and only Self-Governing Province of Korea on July 1, 2006. In total, Jeju-do has two major cities: Jeju City to the north and Seogwipo to the south.

Religiously, the largest group are the irreligious at 49.8%. This is followed by 32.7% that consider themselves Buddhist. The third largest religious demographic on Jeju-do is Christianity with a population of 17.5% (Protestants 10.3% and Catholics at 7.2%).

While not having as many Buddhist temples as other provinces in Korea because of the islands size, Jeju-do does have some beautiful ones like Yakcheonsa Temple and Sanbanggulsa Temple in southern Seogwipo and Gwaneumsa Temple in the northern city of Jeju City. Below are a few examples of Jeju-do Buddhist temples.

Jeju-do Temples

  1. 1. Gwaneumsa Temple – 관음사 (Jeju City, Jeju-do): 8.5/10
  2. 2. Sanbanggulsa Temple – 산방굴사 (Seogwipo, Jeju-do): 7/10
  3. 3. Bomunsa Temple – 보문사 (Seogwipo, Jeju-do): 5/10