『Young men in Korea, defend your country stoutly. If you lose your country, where can you find freedom, justice and peace? Stateless people will only see slaves’ humiliation and wandering. 』
These words are inscribed on the statue of patriotic martyr Cho Myeong-ha in Seoul Grand Park in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province.
Leaving for Japan with Ardent Wish for Korea’s Independence
Cho Myeong-ha was born in Songhwa(송화) County, Hwanghae Province on April 8th, 1905, as the second son in a family of four sons and one daughter. It is said that he was an intelligent and upright man. In March 1926, Cho began to work at the Sincheon(신천) County office, which was a Japanese organization at the time. After hearing about pioneering independence activists such as Kim Gu and Roh Baek-rin(노백린), who had also been born in the same province, Cho was determined to throw himself into the independence movement. To join the anti-Japanese movement, he believed that he should learn more about Japan, the colonial ruler. His friends gave him some money to use for travel expenses, and he crossed the Genkai Sea to go to Osaka, Japan
Leaving for Taiwan for Anti-Japanese Movement
In Japan, Cho disguised himself as a Japanese man named Akikawa Domio to work at an electric company and a shop, while attending school at night. He couldn’t find a proper opportunity to achieve his goal in Japan, so he decided to go to Shanghai, China, where the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea had been established. In 1927, Cho made a stopover in Taiwan.
At the time, Japan was preparing to dispatch troops to China’s Shandong Province in order to invade China. As a forward base, Taiwan was a strategic location. For this reason, large numbers of Japanese forces were deployed in various parts of Taiwan.
Cho continued to use his Japanese name, Akikawa Domio, in Taiwan to pretend to be Japanese. He got a dagger to be used for his patriotic deed and learned how to use it. He put poison on the blade of the dagger so he could use it whenever opportunities arose. In 1928, Cho heard that Japanese army general Kunihiko Kuninomiya, who was also a member of the royal family, would visit Taiwan.
Throwing Dagger to Resolve Sorrow of Korean People
‘I will kill Kuninomiya with my own hands and resolve the deep sorrow of our people.’
Cho’s determination was rock-solid. He closely examined Kuninomiya’s travel schedule and prepared for his mission. When the fateful day arrived on May 14th, 1928, Cho went to the place where Kuninomiya was expected to pass by. Of course, Cho was carrying the poisoned dagger in his chest.
Guards and soldiers were lined up on both sides of the road. At 9:55 a.m., a roofless car carrying Kuninomiya came into sight. Cho, who was in a crowd, whipped out his dagger and quickly jumped on to the back of the car. With all his strength, he threw the dagger at Kuninomiya. But the dagger hit the driver on the back, inflicting a minor injury on Kuninomiya. Cho shouted “Long live Korean independence!” and he was arrested by the Japanese military and police on the spot.
Young Man Wishing for National Independence Executed
Regarding Cho’s act, the Japanese government and the Japanese Government-General of Taiwan announced that it was an accidental incident caused by a young pessimist who was thinking of a suicide. They apparently feared the incident might spread anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea and China. The 24-year-old Cho was then sentenced to death and he was executed in October that same year. Until the very last moment of his death, he cherished his wish for independence of his homeland.
“I’ve taken revenge for my country. I have nothing to say. I’ve long been prepared for this moment of death. My only regret is that I’m going to die without seeing my country achieve independence. I’ll continue with independence movement even in the world beyond.”
Three months after Cho died, Kuninomiya also lost his life, as poison from Cho’s dagger spread all over his body.
Cho devoted his youth to his nation’s independence. When Korea was finally liberated from Japanese colonial rule in 1945, 17 years after his death, his face must have been glowing with a radiant smile, which is as bright as flowers floating about in the wind near his statue during these warm spring days.