The March 1 Movement of 1919, Korea’s Declaration of Independence, Commemorated Nationwide

March 1, 2022. At the invitation of a youth-led organization known as International World in Korea (IWIK), an affiliate organization of the Seoul Metropolitan Government, the headquarters of Challenge Korea, locals and foreigners commemorated the Day of the Korean Independence Movement, the March 1st movement in Seoul.

On March 1, 1919, a group of Korean intellectuals gathered at a restaurant in Seoul to formally present Korea’s declaration of independence from Japanese colonial occupation to the world.

Kalkidan Miheretu, the organization’s team leader and an Ethiopian student at Korea University in Seoul, called on participants to stand to show their reverence to the heroes who sacrificed their lives for independence and the liberation of their beloved country of the oppressors. This was followed by a moment of silence for the Ukrainian people who are being invaded by the Russian army.

Kalkidan, in his interesting presentation on the historical significance of the March 1 movement for modern Korean nationalism, reminded us of the historical background of the occupation and the long struggles of the people that followed. The presentation highlighted the end of the painful relations between the two countries. After years of war, Korea was annexed by the Empire of Japan in 1910. The war on Korean culture continued even after the annexation. Schools and universities forbade speaking Korean. It has been declared a crime to teach history from unapproved texts. Authorities burned more than 200,000 Korean historical documents in a bid to erase Korea’s historical memory. Manual labor and loyalty to the Emperor were emphasized. There was also widespread suspicion that the former Emperor Gojong died of poisoning.

It has been noted that the movement was inspired by a speech by US President Woodrow Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference in January 1918, which emphasized the right to national self-determination. Korean students studying in Tokyo issued a statement demanding freedom from colonial rule.

On March 1, 1919, at 2 p.m., 33 activists who formed the core of the movement gathered at the Taehwagwan restaurant in Seoul. They read aloud the Korean Declaration of Independence which was drawn by historian Choi Nam-Seon, signed the document and sent a copy to the Governor General.

After reading the statement, the leaders of the movement telephoned the central police station, informed the police of their actions and were subsequently publicly arrested.

Here is a translation of the statement they made:

“We hereby proclaim the independence of Korea and the freedom of the Korean people. This is what we proclaim to all the nations of the world as a testimony of human quality. This is what we proclaim to our descendants so that enjoy their inherent right to nationality in perpetuity. Insofar as this proclamation originates in our five-year history, insofar as it springs from the loyalty of twenty million people, insofar as it affirms our eternal freedom , insofar as it expresses our desire to be part of the worldwide aspiration for advancement reform rooted in human conscience, it is the solemn will of heaven, the great tide of our time, and a righteous act necessary to the coexistence of all mankind, therefore no power in this world can obstruct or suppress it!

Beginning in Seoul and quickly spreading across the country, it was considered a turning point in the Korean resistance movement as it prompted nationwide anti-Japanese rallies. Koreans’ suppressed anti-Japanese sentiments were unleashed in a great outburst, and mass demonstrations took place in many parts of the country, forming the largest nationwide protest rallies against foreign rule in Korean history.

About 7,000 people were killed by Japanese police and soldiers and 16,000 were injured. 715 private homes, 47 churches and 2 school buildings were destroyed by fire. About 46,000 people were arrested, of whom some 10,000 were tried and sentenced. By the time the Japanese finally suppressed the movement 12 months later, around 2,000,000 Koreans had taken part in more than 1,500 protests.

Entrance to Seoul National Cemetery where activists are buried.

The presentation noted that although the movement failed to achieve its overarching goal of national independence, it played an important role in strengthening national unity, spreading independence movements in many other local governments and the establishment of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in Shanghai in April 1919 following the exile of the leaders of the Korean movement to different parts of China, where they continued their activities.

On May 24, 1949, March 1 Movement Day was declared a national holiday in Korea and since then celebrated with the reading of the 1919 Declaration of Independence in Seoul Pagoda Park, the lifting of the 태극기 (taegeukgi) – the Korean flag in homes, businesses and institutions and by organizing various parades, concerts and exhibitions to commemorate the day.

The event was organized by International World in Korea (IWIK), an international exchange organization made up of foreigners and young Koreans. It was started as a small group in 2012 and currently runs various exchange and cooperation programs through communications with many members locally and internationally. IWIK representative Sol Kim explained his organization’s mission at the event, which is that it strives to promote the spirit of global citizenship through collaborations and exchanges among foreigners in Korea and local youth and to foster cooperation through various volunteer activities. He also added that their organization has recently carried out several volunteer activities with foreigners in Korea to spread a positive influence on society and has endeavored to enhance exchanges between Korea and other countries through cooperation with the Korean government, institutions, organizations, broadcasting agencies, embassies, etc.

Comments are closed.