Today, the first day of March is the Independence Movement Day in Korea. We call it Samiljeol (Three One Day) in Korean. This is the day to remember an important day of our history when people stood up for Japanese government during the Japanese ruling.
March 1, 1919, 33 activists read the Korean Declaration of Independence and planned to assemble at Tapgol Park in central Seoul. The activists choose a more private location out of concern that the gathering might turn into a riot. Despite their concerns, huge crowds gathered in Tapgol Park to hear the declaration publicly. Soon after, the crowds turned into a peaceful procession. The same activity happened throughout the country at 2 pm on the same day. The procession grew quickly. Approximately 2,000,000 Koreans participated in more than 1,500 demonstrations. Sadly, many were massacred by the Japanese police force and army. Many of the crowds were jailed in Seodaemun Prison where they faced torture and death without trial.
An 18-year-old girl Yoo Kwan-soon, who was one of the organizers of the movement became the symbol of Korea’s fight for independence through peaceful protest. Crowds participated in her demonstration, shouting “Long live Korean Independence! (대한독립만세!)”. She was arrested with other demonstrators, and both of her parents were killed by Japanese police during the procession. She was one of the many independence activists who was locked up in Seodaemun Prison. She continued to protest for the independence of Korea in prison, for which she received torture by Japanese officers. She never gave up any of the names of her associates during the harsh treatment. She then died in prison on September 28, 1920, as the result of the torture.
She’s often called as Korea’s Joan of Arc. She was one of the first iconic women I’ve ever known in Korea’s history. Her stern face I saw from the text book is still vivid in my memory. Her story is inspiring not just because she was active in the movement, but also she never abandoned her belief even with the strong resistance by the police. ‘What kind of torture did she get?’ was often a subject of conversation. We were a bunch of just curious kids. We picked up some of the most horrifying ways of torture and that got me thinking, would I act the same way she did? Would I not give up the information even with all the torture and pain? I really wasn’t sure. To this day, I’m not sure if I could. That’s why she’s a hero.
Without all those who sacrificed their lived, we wouldn’t be able to call this country Republic of Korea. So we thank you, remember you, and honor you all.