March First Independence Movement (in 1919, against the Japanese colonial rule)
When World War I ended in 1918, the Paris Peace Conference was held to discuss what the winners of the war would get and how the losers of the war should be treated. Korean independence activists hurriedly dispatched a delegation to the conference in the name of the Sinhan Cheongnyeondang (New Korea Youth Association). On January 21, 1919, three days after the start of the conference, Emperor Gojong suddenly passed away. Judging that it was an opportune moment to inform the world of the Korean people’s determination to regain national independence, Korean religious people and students started making preparations for the independence movement. And just at the right time, Korean students issued the February 8th Independence Declaration in Tokyo, Japan.
Seoul was the cradle of the March 1st Independence Movement. Members of the Cheondogyo and Christian churches elected leaders of the movement in many parts of the country. Students also made preparations for the demonstration for the independence of Korea. Early on the morning of March 1, 1919, they distributed the text of the Declaration of Independence in downtown Seoul. This was the beginning of the movement. Around noon, many students left their schools and gathered in Tapgol Park in Jongno. The leaders of the movement gathered at the Taehwagwan Restaurant in Jongno. At 2:00 PM, the leaders held an independence declaration ceremony and reported it voluntarily to the Japanese police, whereupon they were arrested by the Japanese military police and the police. Thousands of people, including the students who had gathered in Tapgol Park, read aloud the Declaration of Independence, and started marching through the streets, shouting, “Manse!”
Similar street demonstrations were held on that day in six other cities in (present-day) North Korea including Pyeongyang, Jinnampo, Anju (Pyeongannam-do), Seoncheon, Uiju (Pyeonganbuk-do), and Wonsan (Hamgyeongnam-do).
Democracy, Peace, and Non-violence
The March 1st Independence Movement was carried out peacefully, and without recourse to violence, by Koreans who were longing for democracy. First of all, the demonstrators asserted that peoples all over the world should be allowed to live freely and equally without being ruled by foreign imperialists. The February 8th Independence Declaration announced by Korean students in Japan pointed out that Japan’s colonial rule of Korea was the rule of the sword, treating Koreans unjustly and unequally, that Koreans were
The March 1st Independence Movement sent a message to the whole world that there could be no peace either in Asia or in the world without Korea’s independence. At that time, the idea that Korea’s independence was a step toward the realization of peace was widespread. In the Declaration of Independence announced on March 20, 1919, the Korean National Assembly asserted, “Peace in Asia depends on Korea’s independence.” The Declaration of Independence of 1919 also announced that long-lasting peace in Asia could never be guaranteed if twenty million Koreans were allowed to be oppressed by force. Koreans put the spirit of non-violence into practice throughout the March 1st Independence Movement. People from religious circles, who set up the plan for the movement, said, “All our acts should respect the principle of public order so that our claim may be viewed as fair and just” in one of their three pledges associated with the movement. The street demonstrations showed the spirit of the street demonstrations. During the two-month-long March 1st Independence Movement, which was a struggle against Korea’s Japanese rulers, not a single Japanese civilian was killed. The spirit of democracy, peace, and non-violence of the March 1st Independence Movement was maintained by other independence movements that sprang up during the period of colonial rule. Students, young people, workers, farmers, and women, all of whom played a leading role in the movement, upheld that spirit in carrying out their own popular movements.
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