The Port of Masan lies on the shores of Masan Bay some 35 nautical miles west-northwest of the Port of Busan in southeast South Korea and some 95 kilometers east-northeast of the Port of Gwangyang. The Port of Masan is the gateway between the Changwon Industrial Complex and Masan's Free Trade Zone with the rest of the world. In 2003, more than 429 thousand people lived in the Port of Masan.
The Port of Masan is connected to Busan by both rail and road, making it a busy market center for marine products and for produce grown in the Kimhae plain and the Namchon River valley. In addition to being a service center for its hinterland, the Port of Masan has acquired factories that produce textiles, chemicals, and machines in addition to its traditional industries of making marine products and brewing liquor.
During the period of Korea's Three Kingdoms from 57 BC until the 7th Century AD, the future Port of Masan was called Golpo. In 757 AD during the rule of the Silla Dynasty's King Gyeongdeok, the town of Happo-Hyun was established, and it continued to be a busy fishing village and center for regional trade for many centuries.
In late 1265, Korean officials told the Mongol Kublai Khan leader that Japan would be easy to conquer. By 1274, the Koryo Korean state had constructed more than 300 ships to support the Mongol invasion of Japan. In October, five thousand Korean soldiers joined 20 thousand Mongols, departing from the Port of Masan to attempt to invade Japan. The attempt failed; however, the Mongols stayed in the Port of Masan for some time, influencing the cities culture and traditions.
Pressured by Japan to open for trade, the Port of Masan was opened in 1899 to handle shipments of salt, fish, cotton, and other consumer goods.
In 1960, the Democratic Party of Masan led a protest of electoral corruption, and about a thousand citizens of the Port of Masan gathered to demonstrate in front of the Democratic Party Headquarters in the city. The protest resulted in violence in which some students were killed. Authorities blacked out the city and sent in US Marines to bring order to the Port of Masan.
Shortly after the demonstrations, the body of one of the students, Kim Ju-yul, who had disappeared during the earlier demonstrations, was found in Masan Harbor. When it was learned that he had died from injuries caused by a grenade, mass demonstrations in which some 40 thousand residents participated ended in more deaths as police fired on the protestors. United States troops were again called in to restore order. When public anger sparked rebellion against the existing government throughout South Korea, and the government declared martial law.
These 1960 events in the Port of Masan led to what is now called the April 19 Movement and the resignation of President Syngman Rhee. They also led to the beginning of the Second Republic, which lasted for eight months. In 1961, a military government assumed leadership of South Korea.
Protests emerged again in the Port of Masan, and in Busan, in response to brutal treatment by police of female textile workers who conducted a sit-in strike. By the time the events were over, workers in the Port of Masan's Free Export Zone had created four labor unions.