Sunday, March 1, 2009

Independence Day

It's still February here in the Aloha State, but my blog's clock is on Seoul time, where it is now March 1st. This is a national holiday in Korea, Samilchŏl (삼일절/三一節; aka Samiljeol). 

It marks the day in 1919 when independence-minded nationalists in Japanese-occupied Korea convened in a restaurant in Seoul and signed a Declaration of Independence that was modeled after the American declaration of 1776 and inspired by then-US President Woodrow Wilson's "Fourteen Points" that outlined the right of nations to self-determination.

I prefer to call the holiday "Independence Day," because — just as in the United States in 1776 — independence was merely declared but not achieved. Independence from Japan would come twenty-six years later, on August 15, which would then be "Liberation Day," not Independence Day (and I think it's good for South Koreans to recall how that liberation was won and who shed blood to win it).

The military-run Japanese colonial government brutally suppressed the ensuing movement, which was timed for the funeral of Emperor Kojong. The Japanese authorities claim hundreds died, but Korean sources say it was in the thousands. Although independence was not achieved, it was a wake-up call to Tokyo and the rest of the world that Koreans were deeply dissatisfied with Japanese colonial rule. Changes were made, some of them cosmetic but others real, although many of the social and economic gains were lost in the 1930s and 1940s as Japan militarized and marched to war. 

The Joongang Daily has an interesting article on events surrounding this 90th anniversary of the Samil Movement, including a look back at views around the world in 1919. 

At left are surviving participants of the Samil Movement signing Taegŭkki, Korean national flags, at the Independence Movement Memorial in southern Korea's Andong. Judging by what age they would have been back then, probably average citizens in street demonstrations.

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