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VIII. THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE LIBERATION MOVEMENT

 

2. Movement to Protect National Rights and the Independence Struggle

 

(1) Resistance to Save the Nation by the Righteous Army

 

In confronting the Japanese invasion, the Righteous Army waged a valiant armed struggle against the aggressors. The Righteous Army began to rise up with the murder of Myonsong Hwanghu (Queen Min) and the enforcement of the short hair policy. The Righteous Army was formed in the tradition of the armed forces that repelled the Hideyoshi Invasion. The Righteous Army units, under the command of Yu In-sok and other Confucian scholars, punished the pro-Japanese bureaucrats and the Japanese throughout the country.

The Righteous Army, who put down their guns by the order of the King to disband, waged a full uprising again when the aggressions by Japan became full-fledged after the Russo-Japanese War. Under the leadership of Min Chong-sik, Ch'oe Ik-hyon and Sin Tol-sok, the Righteous Army attacked the Japanese army, Japanese merchants and pro-Japan bureaucrats in the Kangwon, Ch'ungch'ong, Cholla and Kyongsang provinces.

Ch'oe Ik-hyon was captured by the Japanese army and dragged away to Tsushima Island where he refused to eat the food given by the Japanese army and finally died as a martyr. The Righteous Army commander Sin Tol-sok was a commoner, but his soldiers numbered over 3,000.

The movement to save the nation by the Righteous Army expanded with the forced abdication of King Kojong and the disbanding of soldiers, peasants, fishermen, hunters, miners, merchants, and laborers, embracing all classes and social strata.

The men of the Righteous Army were united and implemented an operation to recapture Seoul in 1907.

That is, ten thousand troops under the command of Yi In-yong, were concentrated in the city of Yangju. They formed 24 units and were organized to recapture Seoul.

 

In order to restore full sovereign rights, armies of freedom fighters were formed in numerous locations across the country and fought against the Japanese imerial army.

These soldiers marched as far as 30 Li (standard of measure for distances; 12km) outside of Seoul but as a result of counter-offensives by the Japanese, they retreated and dispersed.

The Japanese mercilessly oppressed members of the Righteous Army. The Japanese army which had mobilized two army divisions and even its warship for the purpose of subjugating insurgents, did not hesitate to burn down villages, massacre and plunder grain. Thus, in the period between August 1907 and 1909, over 17,000 Righteous Army soldiers were massacred and another 37,000 were injured.

Units of the Righteous Army fleeing from these Japanese attacks gradually moved into the mountains to wage guerilla wars. Furthermore, as Japan began to steal the national rights of Choson and set up a network of oppression via its gendarme, the Righteous Army of Choson waged wars of resistance, setting up bases in Manchuria and the Maritime Province of Siberia.

Among the battles of resistance waged by the Righteous Army in various places, the patriot An Chung-gun who had been active in the Maritime Province, assassinated the mastermind of Japanese aggression, Ito Hirobumi, at a railroad station, and Chon Myong-un assassinated Stevens, a pro-Japanese diplomatic advisor in San Francisco.

 

(2) Enlightenment Movements of Patriotic Organization

 

Amid the Russo-Japan War, as Japanese policies of aggression became more blatant, the harbingers of enlightment developed a movement to recover the lost national sovereignty by nurturing nationalist forces. They organized various social organizations and carried out enlightenment activities in order to stir up patriotism.

The enlightenment movement developed in two directions. One was directed toward reviving national commerce with national capital in order to create a healthy and self-sufficient economy, and the other was directed toward heightening the national consciousness and thus revive the educational basis to build a self-reliant and independent nation.

One of the movements for a self-sufficient economy was to repay the national debt of 13,000,000 won which the Japanese government loaned to the Taehan Cheguk in order to invade it. All nationals participated in this movement and large amounts were collected, but the movement was suspended as a result of Japanese suppression.

On the other hand, the harbingers organized a society called the Sinminhoe (New People's Society) propagated a nationwide enlightenment movement in various areas of politics, media, society, culture, and education. The Taehan Maeil Sinbo, the Hwangsong Sinmun and other newspapers and publications by various organizations of the time played an important role in inspiring ideas of self empowerment and reform among the people. In particular, the thousands of schools established in the country by leaders of the enlightenment movement, greatly contributed to the patriotism of Korean youths.

The enlightenment movement was promoted at a time when the fate of the nation was dubious, but it was not able to greatly assist in the recovery of national rights because of the severity of Japanese oppressions.

However, it is of great significance that many leaders at that time became the leaders of the anti-Japanese resistance movement, and the youths who were educated by them grew up to become the primary force in the national independence movement.

 

(3) Establishment of Independence Movement Bases Overseas

 

When Japan robbed Korea of its national sovereignty and established a military government, an independence movement was nearly impossible at home. The independence movement carried out their activities at home through clandestine educational and religious organizations, such as the Kwangbokhoe.

But at the same time, bases of the independence movements were set up in Manchuria and the Maritime Province to carry out a full-fledged resistance movement. Many Koreans had lived in these areas for a long time, but around 1910, hundreds of thousands of Koreans emigrated to these areas to flee Japanese oppression.

The Righteous Army units and the leaders of the enlightenment movement joined hands in establishing these bases of the independence movement and made preparations to attack the Japanese in Korea.

Hong Pom-to was representative of leaders of the Independence Army unit who carried on the traditions of the Righteous Army and engaged in the independence struggles in Manchuria and the Maritime Province. He was a commoner who led a unit composed of hunters and carried out activities in the forests of Paektu Mountain. Later when Korea lost its sovereignty, he led the Righteous Army abroad where he reinforced his military strength and continuously attacked the Japanese army crossing the Korean border.

 

Anti-Japanese freedom fighters and national leaders established overseas headquarters for the independence movement and trained future fighters.

The representatives of the Sinminhoe, who had led the patriotic enlightenment movement, also established Korean villages and trained independence fighters in Manchuria and the Martime Province of Siberia. Yi Sang-ryong and Yi Tong-hwi established the majority of nationalist and military schools in Manchuria and the Maritime Province where they trained leaders in the independence movement. They were the main forces in the anti-Japanese Independence War which was fiercely waged from the early 1920s.

 

(4) Development of the Independence Movement

 

The Independence Movement, which was rising both at home and abroad, finally exploded into nationwide demonstrations after the forced abdication of Emperor Kojong. This was known as the March First Movement.

Because the March First Movement was planned in utmost secrecy by Son Pyong-hui, Yi Sung-hun, Han Yong-un and other nationalist leaders, it was not detected by the intelligence network of the Japanese imperialists. On March 1,1919 when a declaration of independence was read in P'agoda Park, countless citizens raised high the T'aeguk flag and marched into the streets of Seoul as they cried "Taehan Tongnip Manse (Long Live Korean Independence!)".

During a month after the first outbursts of the Manse Movement in Seoul, more than two million people participated in the Independence Manse demonstrations on 1,500 occasions in 211 counties. The strength of our people's ardent desire for independence was thus revealed.

 

After holding a Declaration of Independence ceremony in T'aehwagwan in Seoul, on March 1. 1919. all thirty-three national leaders were arrested
A contemporary painting of the Independence Movement at P'agoda Park in Seoul, March 1. 1919.

 

The Japanese imperialists were greatly taken back by these Independence Manse Movements.

Japan ignored the people's demands and mercilessly suppressed them by mobilizing police and military forces. At that time, the number of people slaughtered by Japanese swords and guns exceeded 7,500, with another 16,000 being wounded and 47,000 arrested. Seven hundred civilian homes, 47 churches and two schools were reduced to ashes. In particular, all the inhabitants of a village in Che'am-ni, Suwon were imprisoned in a church and slaughtered by setting fire to the church.

As the Japanese imperialists suppressed the peaceful demonstrations of Koreans, the resistance was only strengthened. As the Manse demonstrations spread to the country districts, the farmers who were robbed of their land by the Japanese took hoes and spades to attack the Japanese Myon offices and police stations. When peaceful expressions of their opinions were rejected by the Japanese, they could not but use violence against the Japanese.

 

A street demonstration by Korean female students in March 1919.
The Declaration of Independence proclaimed on March 1. 1919.

 

The March First Movement which took place not only at home but also in Manchuria failed due to Japanese suppression. Although this movement was unable to bring about independence immediately, it was an epoch-making event which expressed the will of the Koreans and their strength to the world. The March First Movement also laid the groundwork for unifying the independence movements which were, till then, dispersed. Thus, the March First Movement developed into an ideological model for future national independence movements.

The March First Movement greatly contributed to implanting a consciousness for national independence not only in the Korean people but also to the small nations all over the world. Upon hearing the news of the March First Movement, China also rose up in its May 4 Movement and, in India and many other nations in Southwest Asia, movements for national autonomy sprang up.

 

(5) Activities of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea

 

When the heat of the March First Movement swept across home and abroad, provisional governments were established in Seoul, P'yong'an province, Kando, Vladivostok, and Shanghai. In September 1919, these governments were combined to establish the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea.

This government began with a modern constitution based on democratic principles and consisted of legislative (Uijongwon) and executive (Kukmuwon) branches. All of the nationalist leaders of the independence movement both at home and abroad participated in these two branches of government and the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea became, in name and reality, the representing institution for Korea's nationalist independence movement.

Furthermore, Korea had established a democratic government for the first time in 10 years after losing its rights as a nation.

The Provisional Government first adopted a system in which the President was to supervise all affairs of the state, then through a number of constitutional amendments, a parliamentary system in which the Prime Minister would be responsible for administering the affairs of the state was adopted. During its initial stage, Rhee Syng-man became the President and then Kim Ku served as the Prime Minister of the Provisional Government.

 

The sweeping victory at Ch'ongsan-li

The Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea combined the movements at home and abroad and maintained close relations with the people at home. Through liaison units which were established in the Korean provinces, counties and Myons by the Provisional Government in secrecy, the people were able to participate in the movement providing funds for its activities.

But, the liaison system was discovered by Japan in 1921 and due to its oppression, was severely weakened.

Many Koreans living abroad also participated in the independence movement of the Provisional Government. Koreans living in Japan, the U.S. and China sent funds through diplomatic organizations set up by the Provisional Government in these countries or published/distributed information on the independence movement.

When Japan invaded the Chinese continent, the Provisional Government moved its office to various other places in China to continue to carry out its independence activities. In particular, in 1940, it organized an army (Kwangbok-kun) in Chungching to make preparations for war. This army was comprised of young Korean men who were active in Siberia and China and strengthened its fighting capabilities by absorbing Choson volunteers as well.

When the Pacific War broke out in 1941, the Provisional Government ordered the Kwangbok-kun to participate in the war as a member of the Allied Forces. The Kwangbok-kun was dispatched to the Indian and Burmese fronts and fought side by side with the British troops against Japan.

Kwangbok-kun then prepared to wage attacks against Japanese forces in Korea, but even before the operation for the recovery of their homeland began, Japan was defeated in World War II.

 

(6) The Independence Army's Armed Struggle

 

There were some brilliant battles waged during the independence movement by the independence fighters in Manchuria and the Maritime Province. By 1910, numerous bases for independence fighters were already established in these areas and engaged actively in battle. These units reorganized its ranks with the March First Independence Movement and the Korean border to attack Japanese troops in Korea. The greatest triumphs were reaped by the Taehan Tongnip-kun under the command of Hong Pom-to and the North Route Army led by Kim Chwa-jin.

The Taehan Tongnip-kun continued to wage small battles with the Japanese army in Kando. On 1920, it encountered a battalion of Japanese troops in Pong'o-dong, Kando and killed 500 of its troops.

The defeated Japanese mobilized two army divisions and challenged the Korean troops in its largest battle. The united forces of Korean armies lured a Japanese regiment into the valley of Ch'ongsal-li and slaughtered 3,300 of its men in October 1920 within one week.

To revenge the two defeats, Japanese troops made surprise attacks against the inhabitants of Manchuria. In the attacks, made during the end of the 1920's, over 10, 000 Korean people were killed and a dozen Korean villages were burnt.

 

The patriot Yun Pong-gil (1908~1932). On April 29. 1932. in Shanghai, he was arrested for throwing a bomb at the birthday ceremony for the Japanese emperor.

In spite of the attacks by the Japanese, the armed struggles of the Independence Army continued. In Manchuria, the Ch'amuibu, Chonguibu and Sinminbu were organized in order to administer to the Korean people through the Provisional Constitutional Government while at the same time perpetrating guerrilla warfare against the Japanese army.

Such armed resistance continued even after Japan dominated the territory of Manchuria. However, when Japanese oppression reached its height in Manchuria, the Korean people relocated to China and Siberia to continue battles of resistance.

 

(7) Domestic Anti-Japanese Struggles After the March First Independence Movement

 

Students, laborers and farmers also played important roles in the independence movement. This was quite natural since the independence movement had an effect on all classes of people.

In the process of the March First Movement, students took charge of writing and distributing declarations of independence and expanded these activities to organize a nationwide movement. In particular, 400 Korean students residing in Japan proclaimed a declaration of independence, which is known as the Declaration of February Eighth, even prior to the March First Independence Movement.

 

A minor crash between Korean and Japanese students in Kwangju on November 3. 1929. expanded into a nationwide anti-Japanese movement. (Reported in the Dong-A daily on January 17. 1930.)

Such student activities were displayed in the Tongnip Manse Movement of 10th (1926) and in the anti-Japanese movement of the Kwangju students (1929). In the case of the Kwangju Student's Movement there was an explosion of nationalist feelings, and citizens participated to develop a nationwide anti-Japanese movement. Almost all of the schools participated. More than 3,000 students were either expelled or indefinitely suspended from school as a result of their activities in this movement.

As their economic conditions worsened, the labors' and farmers' anti-Japanese struggles were even more acute. From 1920, laborers began to form various labor organizations and waged dozens of labor strikes. The general strike of the Wonsan dock workers which arose in 1929 was the most outstanding strike both in

From the 1920's, farmers also formed various farmers' organizations to resist against the landlords and their protectors, the Japanese. As a result, in Amt'ae-do, land rents were lowered for tenant farmers and farmers succeeded to some extent in achieving some of their other demands.

As the domestic independence movement gradually became more diverse and economic struggles of laborers and farmers increased in frequency, the national leaders attempted to bind such movements into one organized body.

From the early 1920's, when Japan's policy to divide the Korean people was strengthened, Yi Sang-jae and others declared the need for national unity in order to achieve national independence, and formed the Sin'ganhoe (New Fraternal Society) in 1927 which transcended differences in ideologies.

The Sin'ganhoe established 140 branches nationwide and had a membership of 40,000 people, to become the core of the domestic independence movement until 1931. Sin'ganhoe also greatly served as a great inspiration to the students, laborors and tenant farmers on the road to independence.

The spirit of Sin'ganhoe was succeeded by other independence movements and implanted the idea of transcending differences in class and ideologies to unite for national liberation.

 

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