"It was the people of Kwangju who influenced the banking situation in Seoul. We had five farmers who harvested more than 20,000 bags of rice a year. In Kyongsangdo (the rival eastern region), there were just two."
Such comparisons are made repeatedly and casually by the people of the Cholla region--in recent years usually with bitterness.
"Regionalism in Korea dates back to early history," Hong explained, taking a listener through the time of the Three Kingdoms (57 BC to AD 668), when the Paekche throne was centered in Cholla, and on through more recent centuries, when the east and the north became dominant.
"But it was a friendly competition," he said. "It was never abnormal, not until Park Chung Hee came to power" in 1961.
Park, a native of the Kyongsang city of Taegu, began the modern development of South Korea, and he launched it in the east. The first superhighway was built from Seoul, through Taegu, to Pusan, the southern port. Industry followed.
"In the economy, military, civil service, all the top jobs were given to people from the east," Hong insisted. "From top to bottom, 80% of the places of influence are now held by easterners. And Chun Doo Hwan (also from Taegu) has continued these policies."
Ever since the 500 years of the Yi Dynasty (1392-1910), he said, the Cholla provinces have been suppressed by superior political, military and economic power in the east and the north.
"We got nothing," the old man said, "so we found satisfaction in culture. The majority of the nation's best poets, musicians and calligraphers come from Cholla. We are smarter. Even they (the easterners) admit it.
"Even today, people here eat and dress better than in the east. During the Korean War, many people from Cholla had to flee to Pusan. The easterners were poor people then, and they couldn't cook. We couldn't stand their food. We taught them how to cook."
Now, he said, the cuisine in the southeast is bearable. All this, he insisted, has given the easterners a complex about the Cholla provinces.
"Envy," said Whang Mi Jin, a 22-year-old Kwangju student. "We know regionalism isn't healthy, but there has got to be better balance. And I think that, given the opportunity, we'll do better than the other provinces."
The people in the industrially developed eastern provinces, however, do not see it that way. They portray their western neighbors as sanctimonious bumpkins.
The regional rivalry has long since spilled over into politics, to a point where issues are lost in animosity. Two of the three major candidates for the presidency are easterners--Roh, the ruling party nominee, and Kim Young Sam, president of the major opposition party. Kim Dae Jung, the opposition leader from Kwangju, will have difficulty winning votes in Kyongsang, whatever the merits of his candidacy, but he will carry the Cholla provinces.
Beyond an honorable resolution of the Kwangju uprising, the people of Cholla want a fair shake on development.
View Toward Japan
"No question about it, they've been taken advantage of," a foreign resident said. "But one thing people here tend to overlook is that development of the east during the Park years was designed for the trade with Japan (which faces the eastern provinces). The Japanese had put investments in there."
Looking to the future, he pointed out a similar advantage for the Cholla provinces. They face China. South Korea and China do not have diplomatic relations, but third-country trade between the two Asian neighbors has already begun.
The government is already enlarging Kwangju's port of Mokpo, and Roh said on his visit here that the unused Mokpo airport will be similarly redeveloped. Korean politicians hope for normal relations--and trade--with China in the early 1990s.
Yoo Hak Sang, Kwangju director for the quasi-governmental Korea Institute for Economics and Industry, said his staff has prepared a 600-page report outlining development priorities for the area. Deficiencies in transport and communications have already been largely overcome, he said, and local technical high schools turn out more than enough skilled workers.
"Seventy percent of them now have to go east or up to Seoul to find jobs," he said.
A joint venture of the Daewoo conglomerate and Carrier, the American air-conditioning company, has just entered production, and Pohang Iron & Steel Co., a Korean industrial giant, is building a state-of-the-art mill nearby.
All these promises and possibilities may bring Kwangju and the Cholla provinces back into the South Korean mainstream in the years ahead, but not until the scars of 1980 have begun to heal. That will take more than time.
Lawyer Hong credits the government with making some concessions after the Kwangju incident. More than 3,500 people were arrested during the uprising, he said, and 300 or more were put on trial. Five were sentenced to death and six to life imprisonment.
"All were freed within three years," the lawyer said. "That's unprecedented in trial history."
But it does not erase what the people here see as the original injustice. Hong, who headed a civilian group that tried to arrange a truce between the soldiers and demonstrators, complained: "I should have been given a big award. Instead I was imprisoned (for 19 months)."
Both Hong and Chun, of the Bereaved Families Assn., whose members received indemnities of $12,500 for each victim, insist that the stain can only begin to be expunged by honor for the dead and democracy for the country.
Chun and his backers want a monument erected to the slain insurgents somewhere in Kwangju. One suggestion is to demolish the provincial capitol and build a park on the grounds.
Lawyer Hong says a fair presidential election in December would be a beginning toward reconciliation.
"I have not voted since the (authoritarian Park Chung Hee's) Yushin constitution was put in (in 1972)," he said quietly. "This December, if the election's clean, I'm going to vote."