When “going to the valleys” is not a good idea

Many languages have all sorts of euphemisms for death. “He’s gone to meet his maker”, “He’s pushing up the daisies” are a couple of the expressions in English. In Korean, there’s the picturesque phrase “He’s gone to the valleys.”

The ridges and valleys of Jirisan
The ridges and valleys of Jirisan, on Google Earth

The valleys in question are in the Jirisan region of South Gyeongsang province.
Jirisan has always been a place of refuge for those who oppose the established order. With its mountainous terrain and deep valleys, there are plenty of places to hide, plenty of water and vegetation to provide cover and nutrition. Jirisan was a centre of resistance against the Japanese invasion of 1592. In the 19th century, the remnants of the 1862 peasants revolt escaped to the mountain areas, as did the Donghak rebels of 1894.

But it was the 1950s when the expression “He’s gone to the valleys” first came into use. From the late 1940s through the time of the Korean War, Jirisan was a haven for guerrillas, partisans and others who opposed the ROK government, either for patriotic reasons of favouring a unified government for the whole of the peninsula, or for the ideological reason of favouring a communist, Soviet-sponsored regime over a rightist US-sponsored regime.

The counter-insurgency effort was a bloody affair – as evidenced by the two museums commemorating the partisan struggle in Sancheong County. It was fatal both for the partisans themselves and for the government forces who were trying to flush them out. Anyone who went to the valleys of Jirisan at that time rarely came out alive.

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