Lee Bong-chang,Independence Activist


Bombs Thrown at Japanese Emperor Rattle the World

On the morning of January 8th, 1932, a procession for Japanese emperor Hirohito was marching near Sakuradamon in Tokyo. The emperor was returning to the palace after observing the New Year’s military parade that was held at the Yoyogi training ground in the suburbs of Tokyo.

All of a sudden, there was a sound of explosion. Instantly, the street turned into a tangled mess of the frightened royal procession, police guards, and citizens. After some commotion, a young man was caught by Japanese police. It turned out the man threw hand grenades at the Japanese emperor. His bold and shocking action sent chills throughout Japan, and gave hope to oppressed nations around the world. The man was Korean independence activist Lee Bong-chang.

Anti-Japanese Spirit Grows

Lee Bong-chang was born in Yongsan, Seoul, on August 10, 1900. He was the second son of Lee Jin-gyu(이진규), who was the descendant of Prince Hyoryeong(효령) of the Joseon Dynasty.

When he was 11 years old, Lee entered Munchang(문창) Elementary School in Yongsan, which had been set up by the indigenous religion of Cheondogyo(천도교), and graduated from the school at 15. Unfortunately, he couldn’t further his education because his family became worse off. So he got a job at a Japanese-run bakery.

He suffered ill treatment there, and eventually the boy quit the job. He went to Manchuria in 1918 and became an apprentice train driver with the South Manchuria Railroad Corporation. But there, Lee was also discriminated and humiliated by Japanese employees, who called him “Josenjing,” a derogatory term referring to a Joseon person or Korean. Discrimination in wage and promotion was particularly severe. Lee soon realized that he had to suffer all the humiliation and sorrow because his nation was deprived of its sovereignty by Japan.

In 1924, Lee organized an anti-Japanese group named Geumjeong(금정) Youth Association. Determined to “know the enemy in order to defeat the enemy,” he went to Japan and learned the language while traveling to Nagoya, Tokyo and Yokohama. He was adopted by a Japanese family and changed his name to Kinoshita Shojo. He worked as a shop clerk, an iron factory worker, and a laborer to learn the Japanese way of living.

Joining the Korea Patriotic Legion

Lee went to Shanghai, China, in December 1930 to devote himself to the Korean independence movement. But this enthusiastic man was not welcomed from the beginning. He visited the office of Korean residents in Shanghai in January 1931, expressing his willingness to join the independence movement. However, officials there were reluctant to accept him as they were suspicious of the stranger.

The Korean Provisional Government was set up in Shanghai on April 13, 1919, right after the March 1st Independence Movement. But the provisional government had since been in the doldrums as imperialist Japan was gaining strength. It was only natural for the provisional government to doubt the Korean man using a Japanese name.

But Kim Gu, the leader of the Korean independence movement, learned what Lee really had in mind. After several secret meetings with him, Kim allowed Lee to join the Korea Patriotic Legion, which Kim organized himself. Kim pushed for a plan to assassinate the Japanese emperor, as Lee wished.

Flame of Patriotic Struggle

It took a whole year to prepare for the assassination. While Kim Gu was collecting money, Lee was working at a print shop and a music store operated by Japanese people. He managed to obtain a hand grenade with the help of Kim Hong-il, who served as a colonel in the Chinese army at the time, and another one from Kim Hyun. Having prepared everything, Lee made an oath on December 13, 1931, at the house of Ahn Gong-geun(안공근), the youngest brother of independence activist Ahn Jung-geun.

“I’m 31 years old. Even if I live 31 more years, I don’t think I’ll be given more pleasure than now. I’ll now fulfill my sacred mission to surprise the world for the sake of my country’s independence and freedom.”

Lee then took a commemorative photo, holding a hand grenade in each hand against the background of the Korean national flag of Taegeukgi. He went to Japan on December 17th. On January 8th the following year, Lee took an unprecedented action of directly aiming the two hand grenades at the Japanese emperor, the heart of Japan’s imperialism.

Lee was arrested on the spot and was sentenced to death on September 30th, 1932. He died at Ichigaya Prison on October 10th.

His short life ended in execution, but his brave action created quite a stir inside and outside the nation. Korean patriots overseas began to gather at the provisional government in Shanghai, and the assassination attempt led to another independence fighter, Yun Bong-gil’s bombing at Hongkou Park in Shanghai on April 29 in the same year.

After Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule, Kim Gu recovered Lee’s remains and buried them at Hyochang Park in 1946, along with those of other patriotic martyrs Yun Bong-gil and Baek Jeong-gi(백정기). The government of the Republic of Korea awarded Lee the Presidential Medal of the Order of Merit for National Foundation in 1962. Korean people will forever remember Lee as an enthusiastic independence activist burning with patriotic spirit.

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