West Gold Train takes you to Gunsan
Korail’s newly launched West Gold Train line runs along the West Coast and through Gunsan in North Jeolla Province, one of its seven destinations. Gunsan is nestled on the north edge of the Okgubando Peninsula, a jut of land defined by the Geumgang River to the north and the Mangyeonggang River to the south. The city also officially covers a group of nearby islands, known as the Gogunsan Islands.
With a present day population of approximately 270,000 and an area of 680.76 square kilometers, the city has been known throughout its history as a hub of trade. Early in Goryeo (918-1392) and Joseon (1392-1910) times, Gunsan served as a port where ships carrying rice toward Seoul and beyond laid anchor.
The region also housed a number of large warehouses that stored great qualities of grain produced in the fields near the mouths of the Geumgang and Mangryeonggang Rivers.
The city’s role as an important base for trade continues up to today. Since Gunsan Port was first opened to non-Korean traders in 1899, the city has expanded with goods constantly coming in and out of the port. It kept leaping forward rapidly, especially between the 1930s and the 1940s, times when modernization set off in earnest across the region.
The city has now positioned itself as the centerpiece of the domestic rice trade and rice exports in general, and as a city that has helped to reinvigorate such interactions.
Not only capitalism, but traces of imperialism took root across the region as well. Such traces from early modern times can be found in every nook and cranny in downtown Gunsan. The city has proclaimed a modern historic district to preserve the buildings and legacies. Though built under an exploitative colonial system, they are part of the city’s actual history and they serve as a lesson and as a reminder for future generations.
After the nation’s liberation from colonial rule in August 1945, however, the city’s seemingly unstoppable prosperity came to a halt and went into limbo. All transactions at the port that relied on Japanese capital were completely cut off.
In addition, during the industrialization period after the 1960s, the city fell far behind in terms of development, as it relied on only primary industries and the food processing industry.
Starting in the 1990s, Gunsan started turning to secondary industries that focused more on heavy industry, on par with China’s rapid economic growth.
This was made possible thanks to the city’s geographic location, halfway along the West Coast and facing mainland China across the West Sea.
Just south of Gunsan, construction of the Saemangeum Seawall, the world’s longest man-made dyke that measures some 33 kilometers long, also serves as a turning point in the growth of the city.
The project has made a milestone attempt at reclaiming land from the sea, linking Bieungdo Island and Sinsido Island with Daehang-ri in Byeonsan-myeon, Buan-gun County, to the south. The seawall has been under construction for more than 20 years.
Gunsan continues to grow with the times. There are only small bits of construction remaining along the seawall, finalizing the reclaimed land. An international marine tourist zone on the Gogunsan Islands, a group of islands jutting out southeast of Gunsan, is being constructed. Finally, a tourist fishing port on Bieungdo Island is soon to be completed.
Gunsan is transforming itself once again into one of the nation’s most international cities, building on its geographic location and reclaiming its role as a maritime center.
By Wi Tack-whan, Sohn JiAe
Photos: Wi Tack-whan
Korea.net Staff Writers
This article was made possible in cooperation with Korail and the tourism promotion department in Gunsan City.