[Writer's Choice] March 1st Movement

Amy Jung, Feb. 21, 2019, 3:41 p.m.


The March 1st Movement is one of the earliest public displays of Korean resistance during Japan's rule of Korea. Japan ruled Korea from 1910 to 1945 with brutality as Japan's government exploited Korea's natural resources, press, and labor force. Under Japanese rule, Koreans were required to speak Japanese and adopt Japanese names with many feeling that the Korean identity was diminishing. 

Korean students studying in Tokyo heard American President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points speech at the Paris Peace Conference, which was delivered on January 8, 1918. The speech was a statement of principles for peace to be used in peace negotiations after the end of World War 1. These students heard the speech and believed it was calling Korea to declare their independence from Japan. 

On March 1, 1919, 33 Koreans gathered at a restaurant to read out the Korean Declaration of Independence written by Choe Nam-seon. They then turned themselves in at the police station and were arrested. They had originally planned to read the proclamation of independence at nearby Tapgol Park, but they were afraid that the peaceful gathering would turn into a riot. Activists across the country read the proclamation of independence out loud and spurred many to protest. 

It's believed that over 2 million Koreans would join over 1,500 demonstrations in the next 12 months. The majority of these protests were nonviolent, but the Japanese government responded to these protests with excessive force. 

One infamous incident is known as the Jeam-ri Massacre in which Japanese police locked 29 village residents into a church and set the building on fire. 

The movement ended with the loss of 7,500 lives, 16,000 people wounded, and 46,000 people arrested. Those who were arrested were sent to Seodaemun Prison where they were brutally tortured with many dying in prison because of said torture. 

Ultimately, the March 1st Movement fails in gaining Korea its independence. But it strengthened national unity and the Japanese government briefly allowed Korean to write and distribute Korean literature under its "culture policy." This policy would later be reversed when World War II begins. 

Today, March 1st is a national holiday in both North and South Korea. Korean commemorate this day by flying the Korean flag and participating in re-enactments of the nonviolent protests that put Korea on the path to democracy.

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