Reaching out as one
North and South facing
Once a unity, but now an opposing coexistence - a place exists where we stare at each other in silence, where holding hands and embracing one another becomes a distant/ far reaching possibility, the hope to become ‘one’ is lost in our hearts, guarded by unforeseen barriers.
<Panmunjeom> Photo by Paju City
Panmunjeom (A term derived from the Korean War)
Above the Military Demarcation Line, which divides the North and South, is a place where North and South Korea can face each other without walls or barbed-wire fences. The ceasefire agreement was signed at the historical location of Panmunjeomon, on the 27th of July, 1953, now referred to as the DMZ. Panmunjeomon is located 62 km North-West of Seoul, 212 km South of Pyongyang, and 10 km from Kaesong. Panmunjeom is located in South Korea’s administrative district, Jinseo-myeon, Paju-si, Gyeonggi-do, but in North Korea it is situated in Panmun gun, Kaesong-si, North Korea’s administrative district.
The name Panmunjeom derives from the term Nulmunli, meaning, ‘wooden door’. Its name comes from a story where a King, in years previously, crossed over a river via a bridge, which was made almost immediately, by using an existing wooden door. Nulmunli, a secluded village near the Sacheon riverbank, is now referred to as Panmunjeom. After ceasefire negotiations moved from Kaesong to Nulmunli on 25 October 1951, Panmunjeom became a global focus on news channels around the world.
Why was the name Nulmunli changed to Panmunjeom? When ceasefire negotiations began at Nulmunli, its name was required in Chinese characters for the Communist, Chinese army. The location of the ceasefire negotiations was 1 km from the present-day North Panmunjeom, and there were 4 thatched-roof houses; 2 temporary buildings (used for meetings) and 3 barracks. On location was also a small shop and tavern. ‘Nulmunli’, in Chinese characters is written as ‘Panmun’(板門). When you add the ending letters ‘jeom’(店), the meaning changes to ‘a small shop’, and so forming the word ‘Panmunjeom’.
An additional/ alternative name for ‘Panmunjeom’, JSA
The official name for Panmunjeom, is Joint Security Area (JSA), which became widely recognized amongst the general public after the 2000 Korean film <JSA> directed by Chan-Wook Park. Panmunjeom is located inside of the DMZ, setting its primary zone at 800 meters East-West and 400 meters North-South of MDL, jointly guarded by the UN forces and North Korean army. If the name ‘Panmunjeom’ derives from the native community Nulmunli, which existed before the ceasefire agreement, JSA is an area artificially created on MDL to ensure safety whilst the Military Armistice Commission (MAC)is held.
板门店的正式名称是共同警备区（Joint Security Area：JSA），通过朴赞郁导演的2000年电影作品<共同警备区JSA>普及到普通市民。板门店是位于停战协定上的非武装地带（DMZ），并在军事分界线上设定东西800m、南北400m的正方形地区，由联合国军与北韩军共同警备的‘共同警备区’。如果说板门店是停战协定以前存在的NULMUNLEE这一自然部落由来的地名，那么共同警备区是停战协定之后进行军事停战委员会会议时，为了确保安全，在军事分界线上人为地设定的区域。
<ROK military forces and North Korean army at JSA> Photo by Paju city
In pre-existing times, both sides intersected the MDL within JSA, but it is no longer possible since the ax-brutality incident on August 18th, 1976, which resulted in a divided guardianship. The Panmunjeom area was protected by the United Nations Command beforehand, but since October 2004, ROK military forces have been in charge.
Breaking away from Panmunjeom to Unity and harmony as ‘one’
Panmunjeom is a symbolic place with a history focused on the tense relationship between North and South Korea. It was both the North and South’s place for political propaganda and military collision. It was a place where a crisis was fostered by incidents such as ax-brutality. In the past, there were instances where North Korean residents’ and foreigners’ from Communist nations abandoned Panmunjeom; however, on September 20th, 1971, Panmunjeom became a point of communication between North and South Korea, where the Red Cross preliminary conference was held. Panmunjeom is now regarded as a place of contact for North and South Korea to engage in negotiations and hold conferences. It is also a point of entry and exit for people visiting the North or South.
The late President Chung Ju-yung of the Hyundai Group visited North Korea with a herd of cattle. This incident is rumored to have been the primary reason of opening Panmunjeom to civilians. On June 16th, 1998, a French critic called Sorman praised Chung Ju-yung for his generous efforts in bringing forth 500 cows across the Panmunjeom MDL barrier. Sorman expressed it as “the last avant-garde art of the 20th century”. After the year 2000, an inter-Korean summit was held, and topics of reconciliation and cooperation were discussed. This was hosted in hope of future contact between the North and the South on location in Panmunjeom.
Panmunjeom, having managed the longest ceasefire in world history, did not experience a smooth transition. According to national policy, Panmunjeom was visited by either many people or none at all. With polarizing ideologies in coexistence, many people shared unsettling emotions, yet some remained positively hopeful. Soldiers’ of North and South Korea continue to guard their posts in silence while standing side by side. It is almost impossible to predict future progress between the opposing sides; however, that day will draw closer with high hopes and strong faith.
Browsing around Panmunjeom
■ North and South Joint Area
● A ceasefire meeting venue
There are seven one-story barracks in a line from East-West of JSA. Among them is the center barrack, Panmunjeom’s place of negotiation and ‘the Military Armistice Commission (MAC)’ meeting room (the heart of ceasefire agreement). To the left of this location is the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) meeting room. T2 is also known as the MAC’s conference room, a tourist attraction where visitors and tourists from the North and South convene. Within this conference room, visitors from the North and South can cross over into the two countries. Visitors’ are under constant guidance and supervision, and opposite entrances are temporarily inaccessible.
● Bridge of No Return
‘Bridge of No Return’ is located above the Sacheon River behind the side of peace house. MDL intersects the center of this bridge where captives of either side were repatriated. The name ‘Bridge of No Return’ was coined, as no one could return once they had crossed the boundary. This bridge was used as an access point from Kaesong to JSA, but it’s been a non thoroughfare zone since the ax-brutality incident on August 18th, 1976.
‘不归桥’位于我方和平之家后面砂川江上。军事分界线横跨这条桥中间，签署停战协定之后交换俘虏时，双方俘虏通过这条桥遣送到对方，而因为只要跨过这条桥，任何人都无法再回来，所以被称为‘不归桥（Bridge of No Return）。该桥曾作为从开城进出共同警备区而使用，但于1976年8月18日发生斧头事件之后被禁止通行。
■ Southern region
● House of freedom
The house of freedom looks like a shield-shaped kite which signifies our thoughts and dreams of unification. The curves of both sides of the building form a conjoined covering of two hands, which also symbolizes unity. The house of freedom today is a four-story building, which was newly constructed in 1998. There is a lobby; pressroom and amenities on the first floor; a waiting room; office and conference room (to be used for postal services) on the second floor - as well as a North-South liaison office, a North-South Red Cross liaison office; and a council chamber (to be used as a visiting room for separated families). On the top floor, an observatory and multipurpose room are located. This building was planned for the purpose of active exchange between North and South Korea.
● The house of peace
The building was specifically designed to expand South Korea’s meeting facilities in preparation for negotiations between the North and South in Panmunjeom in 1989. In 1992, a North-South hot line was installed, but it was moved to the house of freedom after its completion in 1998. The house of peace is a three-story stone building with a total floor space of 600 pyeong (or about 2,000m2). A VIP room and pressroom are located on the bottom floor; a conference hall on the second floor; and a banquet hall on the third floor, which is used to accommodate delegates, or host gatherings after meetings.
■ Northern region
Panmungak is a building that represents the North side within Panmunjeom. The North did not open Panmunjeom to the public for 12 consecutive years after the conclusion of the ceasefire agreement. It was accessible to the public only in 1964, when Yookgakjung was built, which is now called ‘Panmungak’. Yookgakjung was then destroyed in 1969 and Panmungak was newly constructed. Panmungak seemed like a magnificent stone building when seen from the South - one of its features is the narrow width of its inner space. In 1994, North Korea started the pivot construction, expanding its width, converting it into a three-story building. The construction ended in December.
Tongilgak was built by the North as an additional meeting facility in Panmunjeom in 1985. Symmetrical to the South’s house of peace, the total floor space of this building is 460 pyeong (or about 1,500 m2), with one basement level and one ground level. Since May 1992, it has been used by the North as a liaison office for major negotiations. At the time, 5-6 personnel resided at the office carrying out their liaison work with the South through two-direct portals. Tongilgak is not easily spotted, as its location is 100 meters North-West of Panmungak.
● 72-hour bridge
Since the ax-brutality incident in 1976, the ‘Bridge of No Return’ was closed and security within Panmunjeom changed from joint security to divided guardianship. North Korea’s access point to Panmunjeom was through the Bridge of No Return, but after its closure, it was difficult for them to use. Hence, a concrete bridge was built northwards of the Sacheon River, behind Tongilgak, out of urgency. The UNC named this bridge ‘72-hour Bridge’ because it took 72 hours to construct.
November 11, 2015
December 3, 2016
『Panmunjeom Report』 (2003), Jang Seung-jae, Life and dreams
『Past that was left for the future, DMZ』 (2010) Hahm Gwang-bok, Education Center for Unification, Ministry of Unification
Education Center for Unification, Ministry of Unification (www.uniedu.go.kr)
Special office for Inter-Korean Dialogue, Ministry of Unification (dialogue.unikorea.go.kr)
National Intelligence Service (www.nis.go.kr)