A Man Never Returns Home Alive Before Achieving his Goal
‘A man never returns home alive before achieving his goal.’ With these solemn words, a man went into exile in China on March 6th, 1930, leaving his beloved family behind.
Two years later, on April 29th, 1932, the man threw a bomb at members of the Japanese imperialist government in Hongkou Park in Shanghai, China. He was executed on December 19th that same year, at the tender age of 24. This young patriotic martyr was Yun Bong-gil, who died in exaltation as an independence fighter against Japanese colonial rule.
Rejecting Colonial Education
Yun Bong-gil was born to a farming family in Yesan County, South Chungcheong Province on June 21st, 1908. He entered the Deoksan Primary School in 1918. When the March 1st Independence Movement broke out the following year, however, he refused to receive colonial education and dropped out of school, saying, “I won’t learn the Japanese language and end up being their slave.”
Later, he entered Ochi Village School to study Chinese classics and read newspapers and magazines under the instruction of his teacher Seong Ju-rok.
Engaging in Rural Enlightenment Campaign
Yun began to engage in a rural enlightenment campaign in 1926. The 19-year-old teacher set up a night school to eradicate illiteracy. He also wrote a textbook for farmers in 1927 to educate them.
Yun established the ‘Revival Institute’ in the next year to rejuvenate the agricultural community through a campaign for increasing production and joint marketing. In 1929, he organized a monthly working group called Woljinhoe(월진회) to help farmers improve their standard of living, and recruited people who would push for reform in farm villages.
His efforts to help educate farmers began to show results shortly, but Yun realized that under Japanese colonial rule, Koreans would only find true happiness in independence. He left for Manchuria in 1930 with the belief that he should do something important for his country.
Joining Independence Movement
Yun thought he should lend his support to the Korean provisional government in Shanghai, China, in order to carry out the independence movement successfully. He arrived in Shanghai in August of 1931 via Dalian and Qingdao. There, he met with Kim Gu, the leader of the provisional government. They heard the Shanghai daily newspaper’s announcement of joint celebrations at Hongkou Park to commemorate the birthday of the Japanese emperor and Japan’s victory in the Shanghai Incident.
It was a golden opportunity for Yun, who had run all the way to realize his dream of achieving national independence. Three days before the event, Yun joined the Korean Patriotic Society led by Kim Gu to demonstrate to the world that what he would be doing was not a personal act but represented the intentions of Korean people.
On April 29th, 1932, Yun went to Hongkou Park, bringing bombs disguised as a water bottle and a lunch box with him. At 11:40 a.m., just after the Japanese national anthem began, Yun took the pin off the water bottle bomb and threw it at the grandstand with all his strength. Major Japanese figures, including Yoshinori Shirakawa, the commander of Japanese troops in Shanghai, collapsed amid smoke and flame. It was the moment of the historic Shanghai bombing.
My Blood will Fertilize the Flower of Independence
Yun’s heroic deed drew worldwide attention quickly. Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek said, “A young Korean man has accomplished something tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers could not do.” Chiang treated the Korean provisional government as the government of his ally and paved the way for Korean men to receive military training at Chinese military schools. That helped the sluggish provisional government gain steam as a center for independence movements.
Yun was arrested at the scene. He was sentenced to death at a court martial, 27 days after the bombing, and was taken to Osaka. He was executed by a firing squad on December 19th, 1932.
Yun gave his final statement before the execution. “Korea is weak now and is ruled by an outside force. But I do believe my country will achieve independence without fail, following the general world trend. As a Korean man, I’ve done what I should do. Now I can die without regret.”
Thirteen years later, Yun’s dying wish came true as Korea regained independence. His remains were returned to his home country in 1946 and were buried in Hyochang Park in Seoul. On March 1st, 1962, the South Korean government posthumously conferred with the Order of Merit for National Foundation, pinning the Republic of Korea Medal on him. It represents Korean people’s heartfelt dedication to the patriotic martyr’s noble sacrifice.