Children as Independent Beings
On May 1, 1923, 120,000 flyers entitled “An Open Letter to Adults” were passed out to the public. The letter called upon adults “not to look down on children but to speak to children with respect and to speak softly.” Children at the time were viewed as subordinate beings and were often treated unfairly, forced by strict ethics to act like little adults. The author of the letter, Bang Jung-hwan was the first person to challenge the rigidity of the Korean culture and strongly argue that children are independent beings who must be honored, respected, and cared for.
“Eorini,” the Word of Hope and Dreams
Bang Jung-hwan, a children’s story book writer who was devoted to children’s issues, was born on November 9, 1899. A talented writer and artist, Bang joined a Cheondoism (or “Religion of the Heavenly Wavy”) organization in his teens and founded a literary circle through which he became actively involved in promoting children’s rights issues. Bang went on to study philosophy and children’s arts at the Toyo University in Japan and established a Cheondoism Children’s Group in 1921. That year, Bang set off on a lecturing tour, delivering impassioned speeches calling on adults to respect and love their children, further engaging himself in the equal rights movement for children. In 1922, Bang published “Gift of Love,” a translated collection of children’s classics that instilled hope in the hearts of suffering children from the colonial era.
In 1923, Bang coined the term “Eorini,” meaning “young people who share equal rights as adults.” On March 20, 1923, Bang issued the nation’s first children’s magazine “Eorini” in an effort to popularize the concept of “Eorini.” Unfortunately, the magazine did not sell very well since poverty-stricken parents could not afford to buy them for their children. The magazine, however, is widely perceived to have opened a new era in Korean children’s literature. Children’s writers including Yoon Geuk-young, Ma Hae-song, and Lee Won-soo featured their works “Spring in My Hometown,” “Happy, Happy New Year,” and “The Tiger and the Dried Persimmon” in the magazine. The founder of the magazine Bang himself penned and published orally narrated children’s stories in the magazine, further strengthening the groundwork for children’s literature. On May 1, 1923 in Tokyo, Japan, Bang founded the “Saek-Dong Hoi,” a research organization dedicated to the study of children’s issues, and named this day “Children’s Day.”
Bang died on July 23, 1931 at the age of 31; with his last words, he said, “I am leaving the children. Please take a good care of them.” Under the oppressive Japanese rule, Children’s Day was temporarily abolished in 1937 and Koreans began to celebrate May 5th as the day of appreciation and love for children since 1946. Bang will be forever remembered as a pioneer in the struggle for children’s rights and his achievements appreciated for his relentless efforts, dedication, and love for Korean children.