On August 15th, 1995, 50 years after Japan´s unconditional surrender in World War II and the end of its 35-year rule in Korea, the demolition of the impressive Japanese General Government Building, also known as the Government-General Building and nicknamed the Seoul Capitol by the US occupation forces, began with the removal of the copperplate dome.
Located in the north of South Korea’s current capital, German architect Georg De Lalande began its design in the neoclassical style adapted from Europe in 1911. After he passed away in 1914, his Japanese colleague Nomura Ichiro took over and finished the job.
While the ground-breaking ceremony took part on June 25th, 1916, work was officially completed on October 1st, 1926, when the office of the Governor-General moved there. On November 13th, 1996, the massive granite structure of the once largest government building in East Asia had faded into history.
For its construction, most of the Gyeongbokgung, the main royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty which ruled from 1392 to 1897, was torn down after Korea was annexed by Japan on August 22nd, 1910. This complex, left in ruins since the Japanese invasion of Korea of 1592 and 1597, had only been restored since 1867 and remained unused by the Korean Royals since 1895.
The constituent National Assembly of South Korea had its offices in the former colonial headquarters since May 31st, 1948. After being sworn in on July 24th, the country’s first President Syngman Rhee (1875-1965) also worked from there and proclaimed independence on August 15th, cementing the partition of the Korean Peninsula which persists until now.
Following a three-month use as army headquarters by the invading North Koreans after the outbreak of the Korean War on June 27th, 1950, it was set it on fire upon their retreat and the interior completely destroyed.
Subsequently left in a ruinous state, new military dictator General Park Chung-hee (1917-1979) restored it in late 1962 for government functions. Following the last State Council meeting on May 19th, 1983 and extensive renovations, it housed the National Museum of Korea from summer 1986 to early 1995.
Freshly elected President Kim Young-sam (1927-2015) announced on August 9th, 1993 that this hated symbol of Japanese imperialism and Korean humiliation which was defacing Gyeongbokgung would have to go soon, without presenting any practical reasons to destroy it.
Opponents of the controversial proposal argued that South Korea was no longer troubled by such symbolism and that reminders of the colonial era were needed, just as the old Seoul Station and Seoul Metropolitan Library became landmarks of the city.
Unfortunately, due to a combination of strong nationalistic feelings and persistent anti-Japanese animosities, these conservationist voices weren’t heard and the removal went ahead as planned.
Today, the top of the dome and several other recognizable pieces of the building can be seen at the Independence Hall of Korea, which opened on August 15th, 1987 in Cheonan as the nation’s largest exhibition facility.
On the other hand, after a 40-year government initiative which began in 1989, by the end of 2009 approximately 40% of the old Gyeongbokgung had been restored or reconstructed.