Today is a holiday in Korea. It is called Sam Il Jeong. “Sam” means three. “Il” means one. March is the 3rd month, and today is the first day of March. “Jeong” means “movement.” On this day, in 1919, the independence movement of Korea from Japanese occupation began. Many people have off work today, and if you go out into the streets, you can see Korean flags flying everywhere. The streets are lined with Korean flags, and there are flags on their cars. There is traditionally a lot of bitterness coming from the Koreans to the Japanese, and this day symbolizes part of that bitterness. One of my favorite Korean books, “Tales of a Korean Grandmother,” is always talking about what pests those little men from Japan were in Korea. Historically, Japan has been a terror in Korea. They aren’t anymore, but there was a time that they caused a lot of trouble in Korea.
This particular time, the Japanese were ruling Korea. They had taken over in 1910. They were lords of Korea, and the Koreans were at the bottom of the rung. The Koreans were poor. They were forced to work hard. They were forced to learn to speak Japanese by law and not allowed to speak Korean. It was a very oppressive military rule. The Japanese in charge of Korea was Governor General Hasegawa. The Koreans were just not happy at all about what was going on, and could you blame them?
In January of 1919, there was a Peace Talk Conference in Paris. American President Woodrow Wilson gave a speech about the right of self determination. He outlined 12 points having to do with people having the right to be in charge in their own country. Korean students studying in Tokyo in Japan heard the speech. These students let the word know that they demanded independence from Japan.
The Korean people listened to them. On January 21, 1919, the last Korean emperor died, and there were people in Korea busy planning what came next. Choe Nam Seon, a Korean historian, put together the Korean Declaration of Independence. Copies of it were carried throughout Korea by delegates. It was first read out loud on March 1, 1919 at the Taewagwon Restaurant in Seoul. It was heard by 33 people at 2:00 that afternoon, and then all 33 signed the Declaration of Independence.
After they signed it, they sent it directly to Governor General Hasegawa. The leaders of the movement also telephoned the Central Police Station in Seoul to tell them what they did and were promptly arrested.
The plan had been for these leaders to go to Pagoda Park and read the Declaration of Independence out loud in front of a crowd that was assembled there. They planned on reading it at the same time that it would be read by delegates all over the country. However, they were in jail. A student realizing they weren’t there, got up and read it to the crowd. After the reading, the crowd left together forming a march for freedom.
The Japanese policemen were not happy about the march at all! There were 1,500 marches all over the country at the same time. 2,000,000 people were marching in the streets for freedom. The police cracked down! 7, 508 Koreans were killed, 5, 849 Korean were wounded, and 46,303 Koreans were arrested that day. There was a newspaper article by a foreign journalist in a town called Jeam-ri. He saw the Japanese policemen force all the people who were marching into a church building, and they set the church building on fire. The Japanese policemen were shooting at them through the windows to make sure that everyone in that church building died. There were 8 Japanese policemen killed and 158 wounded that day.
Between March 1st and April 19th, 553 more Koreans were killed and 12,000 Koreans were arrested. They put the ones in Seoul in Seodemoon Prison. They executed many of them, and when they did, they executed them in public so everyone could see.
On April 19, 1919, the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea was set up in Shanghai. It was fueled by what had happened on March 1st of that year. The war ensued. Japan was very upset by what happened, and they kicked Governor General Hasegawa out of office and replaced him with Saito Makoto. The Americans watched, but they didn’t get involved right away because they didn’t want to be responsible for what was happening even though the speech President Woodrow Wilson had given had influenced the Koreans to revolt. The speech may not have been directed anywhere in particular, but the Koreans took it to heart. World War 2 ensued, and everyone has seen the TV show MASH. Americans did end up coming to the aid of the Koreans.
Koreans celebrate today, March 1st, in Korea because it is on this day, Korea began their independence from Japan. The streets are lined with Korean flags today. People are flying flags on their cars. I received a text message from a car company reminding me that today is a special day in Korea. People visit Pagoda Park and Seodemoon Prison in Seoul on this day to remember the sacrifices that were made for Korea’s freedom from Japan.