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Fighting for National Independence with Brush Strokes Shin Chae-ho


Fighting for National Independence with Brush Strokes <b>Shin Chae-ho</b>
Countering Japan with a Brush
“If you want to love your country, you must know its history. If you want others to love your country, have them learn about its history.” Those are the words of a Korean historian who stressed the importance of history as a fundamental element of patriotism. He was also a prominent independence activist who protected his nation’s spirit when it was colonized by Japan. He often said that to help Korea get back on its feet, it’s essential to awaken the minds of Korean people. He is none other than Shin Chae-ho, who is highly revered by Koreans as the nation’s great historian.

From a scholar to a devoted patriot
Shin Chae-ho was born in 1880 in South Chungcheong Province. At age 6, he began receiving Chinese literature lessons from his grandfather, and at 10 was already writing poems. At age 13, Shin became well-versed in the Confucian Chinese texts called “The Seven Chinese Classics,” thus earning the title of a child prodigy. Thanks to his outstanding academic skills, Shin enrolled in the Confucian academy Sungkyunkwan in 1898. That is also when he developed interest in nationalism. Back then, the civil rights movement was in full swing in Seoul, with all kinds of rallies being staged in the city. Shin willingly accepted the wind of change by joining national independence organizations.

Shortly after the Korea-Japan Protectorate Treaty was signed in 1905, Shin, outraged by Korea’s forced annexation to Japan, launched a patriotic enlightenment movement. He quit his prestigious post as a teacher at Sungkyunkwan to become a journalist, making the first step toward becoming a nationalist. The following year, Shin wrote powerful essays about national independence to inspire his nation to regain its lost sovereignty.

In 1907, Shin and a group of other independence activists founded the secret independence organization “Shinminhoe,” or “New Korea Society.” In 1909, Shin and his colleagues established the Youth Society and wrote the biographies of Korean heroes to instill pride in the nation. But when Joseon was forcefully annexed to Japan in 1910, Shin exiled himself to China to fight for his home country’s independence.

Historic research becomes independence movement
A year after arriving in China, Shin and the members of the New Korea Society went to the Russian Far East city of Vladivostok, where they established the Liberation Society. While serving as its vice chairman, Shin rediscovered the ethnic roots of the Korean nation. He found that the Korean people used to live not only on the Korean Peninsula but on the vast land of Manchuria as well. He visited areas that once belonged to the ancient Korean kingdom of Goguryeo to find the traces and spirit of Korean ancestors and study Korean history. Shin focused his efforts on establishing Korea’s national identity and separating its history from the history of China and Japan. Shin always stressed that independence must be achieved with effort. He worked hard to correct Japan’s historical distortions and bolster his country’s national pride. His works were published in 1931 in the Joseon Ilbo under the title “The Early History of Joseon.”

Awakening the Nation
In 1931, when his work was published, Shin was imprisoned in Lushun, China. He was arrested by the Japanese in 1928 for his anti-Japanese efforts. In 1936, his health deteriorated and he eventually died in prison. His nickname, “Danjae,” was based on the poem “Dansimga,” which is about great Gogureo generals who tried to regain the former Goguryeo territory in Manchuria. Refusing to succumb to Japanese rule, Shin always held his head up, even when washing his face. His spirit and teachings live on to this day and inspire present-day Koreans to strengthen Korea’s status in the international scene.

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