March 1st Movement

Today is a national holiday in Korea. It is the 100th anniversary of the March 1st Movement – a nation-wide protest against the Japanese occupation. In Korean it’s generally called ‘삼일운동’ (pronounce: Samil-undong) or Three One Movement.

Demonstrations in Full Swing

The protests were sparked by the reading of a declaration of independence which were in part inspired by the idea of ‘self-determination’ as proclaimed by Woodrow Wilson. The idealism of the time met with a harsh reality of the military occupation of the peninsula and the indifference of foreign powers to the cause.

The declaration was drawn up by Choe Nam-seon. At 2 PM, across the country, the declaration was to be publicly read. The activists in Seoul started to worry about the protests in Seoul getting out of hand, so they moved their meeting to a restaurant while thousands of students gathered at Tapgol Park. One student got his hands on a copy of the declaration and read it to the gathering crowd anyway. The declaration reads:

We herewith proclaim the independence of Korea and the liberty of the Korean people. This we proclaim to all the nations of the world in witness of human equality. This we proclaim to our descendants so that they may enjoy in perpetuity their inherent right to nationhood.

In as much as this proclamation originates from our five-thousand-year history, in as much as it springs from the loyalty of twenty million people, in as much as it affirms our yearning for the advancement of everlasting liberty, in as much as it expresses our desire to take part in the global reform rooted in human conscience, it is the solemn will of heaven, the great tide of our age, and a just act necessary for the co-existence of all humankind. Therefore, no power in this world can obstruct or suppress it!

March 1st Declaration of Korean Independence

Massive marches occurred all over the nation, and in many areas the police called in the military to keep things quiet. The movement ultimately failed, but it kept the spirit of resistance alive until liberation 36 years later.

Much of this history is memorialized at Tapgol Park, which I wrote about a while ago. Along the north east section of the park is a path with ten bas-relief illustrations depicting the events of the March 1st movement.

Panel One
1919, March 1st, 2PM. Tapgol Park.
After Jeong Jaeyong reads the declaration, thousands of students ran into the streets raising the cry of independence.

Panel Two
1919, March 2nd. Hamgyeong Province, Hamheung Country.
Protestors meet the Japanese Police with the cry of freedom. Angered, a soldier cuts the mouth of a young activist.

Panel Three
1919, March 1st, noon. Pyeongyang.
A group of Christians and followers of Cheondoism take up Korean flags and march against the Japanese forces.

Panel Four
1919, March 10th, afternoon. Hwanghae Province, Haeju.
Mounted police trample demonstrators. They tie a woman’s hair to a horse’s tail and drag her through the streets.

Panel Five
1919, March 10th. Gangwon Province, Cheorwon County.
Students hold Korean flags high and march toward the Japanese police who fired into the crowd and attacked with bayonets.

Panel Six
1919 April 15, afternoon. Suwon, Jeam-ri.
A platoon of soldiers round up Christians and followers of Cheondoism by gun point into a church yard and set the village on fire. Those who tried to escape were cut down.

Panel Seven
1919 March 1st. Cheonan.
Thousands of Koreans observe the local reading of the declaration and are attacked by Japanese forces. Twenty people were shot and Ryu Gwansun was arrested and sent to prison.

Panel Eight
1919 March 23rd. Gyeongsangnam Province, Jinju.
Hundreds of women march to the river, singing the Korean anthem. Japanese forces tried to stop them at bayonet point.

Panel Nine
1919 April 3, Namwon.
Thousands of citizens peacefully gather. The Japanese police cut them down, men, women, and children.

Panel 10
1919 March 23. Jeju
Even on faraway Jeju, thousands of men, women, and students stood up and protest for independence. They went out unarmed to march, never wavering despite the loss of life.

If you’re interested in visiting Tapgol Park, the easiest way to get there is from Jongno 3(sam)-ga station exit one. Go straight from there, it’s literally just a block away. Likewise Jonggak station, exit 11 would also work.


Until we are all free from tyrants.

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