Jeon Tae-il

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Jeon Tae-il
Revised RomanizationJeon Tae-il
McCune–ReischauerChŏn T'ae-il

Jeon Tae-il (August 26, 1948 – November 13, 1970) was a South Korean worker and workers' rights activist who committed suicide by burning himself to death at the age of 22 in protest of the poor working conditions in South Korean factories.[1] His death brought attention to the substandard labor conditions and helped the formation of labor union movement in South Korea.[citation needed]


A tailor himself, Jeon witnessed the horrendous working conditions in the Seoul Peace Market (Hangul: 서울평화시장; Seoul Pyeonghwa Sijang). Such conditions included rampant tuberculosis due to poor ventilation (or the lack thereof) in the sweatshops, and the enforced injections of amphetamines to keep sleep-deprived workers awake and to work them overtime without proper compensation.[citation needed]

Also, protesting against such was, by association, protesting against the oppressive rule of Park Chung-hee, South Korea's then-dictator president. Although Jeon succeeded in briefly creating awareness, he soon met with resistance from the government, which almost entirely ignored labor regulations and frequently sided with the employers who were accused of exploitation. Scornful Labor Department officials told Jeon and his colleagues they were unpatriotic for complaining, and employers simply cracked down harder. Ultimately, in order to force attention onto the issue he set himself on fire and ran through the streets of downtown Seoul shouting slogans such as, "We are not machines, enforce the labor code". He was transported to a nearby hospital but did not survive the wounds suffered from burning himself.[citation needed]

His death was not in vain as it mobilized and motivated other workers to take up the struggle and this eventually led to the creation of labor unions that were gradually able to secure workers' rights. Also, his death became a catalyst for uniting many university students, some religious officials, and the newspaper media, which continuously silenced their support for the cause of the workers.[citation needed]

The biographic film A Single Spark details Jeon's struggle. A bestselling biography of him was published in 2001.[2]

The 2012 Documentary film Mother tells the story of Jeon's mother, Lee So-Sun. On April 2012, his younger sister, Jeon Soon-ok, was elected a member of National Assembly of South Korea, as a member of Democratic United Party(constituency: proportional representation)


  1. ^ 류재택 [Ryu Jae-taek] (2005), "전태일", Doosan Encyclopedia, retrieved 2010-10-04
  2. ^ 조영래 [Cho Yŏng-nae] (2001), 《전태일평전》, 돌베개 [Tol Pegae], ISBN 978-89-7199-134-3, OCLC 49858116

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