This year, March 1st marked the 100th anniversary of the Independence Movement, which was the largest scale resistance movement by Korea against Japanese colonial rule in 1919. It was a nationwide street demonstration led by Korean people that lasted for two months.
The movement was caused by a longing for liberation from the Japanese forces. Furthermore, the president of United States, Wilson announced the national self-determination principle at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Students and leaders decided that was the right moment to inform the world that the Korea was not a Japanese colony but an independent nation. Citizens of the movement started to prepare a national protest for liberty.
Finally, on March 1st 1919, 33 Korean leaders – who had high reputations in Christianity, Cheondogyo, and Buddhism – held a Declaration of Independence ceremony at the Taehwagwan Restaurant in Jongno, Seoul. In the afternoon, the people gathered at Topgol Park in Jongno and read out the Declaration of Independence. Thousands of people shouted “Daehandongnipmanse” on the street, which means long live Korean independence. The streets were filled with Taegeukgi, which is the national flag of Korea and represents people’s long-cherished desire for independence. Other street demonstrations were held on the same day in northern cities including Pyeongyang, Jinnampo, Anju, Seoncheon, Uiju, and Wonsan.
The demonstration spread rapidly and continued for over two months throughout the entire country. 276 street demonstrations were held until March 14 around the northern regions; demonstrations continued 50~60 times a day throughout the nation until early April. Over two million people, 10 percent of the population, participated in the street demonstrations. More than 7,500 of them were killed by Japanese forces and 16,000 were injured. As many as 46,000 protesters were imprisoned by the Japanese police.
Among them, the figure who best symbolizes the movement is independence fighter Yu Gwan-sun because she took a leader of the street demonstrations in Seoul and her hometown. She was arrested by the Japanese military police and died for hers country at age 18 in Seodaemun Prison.
After the movement, many things changed. The Korean Provisional Government was established in Shanghai, China. Under the Korean Provisional Government, a lot of resistance movements were organized. This provisional government concentrated on guiding and controlling diplomatic activities and the wars of independence. Japanese colonial rule also changed the way it dominated Korea. Before the movement, the Japanese enforced a military rule; later Japan instituted a policy to obliterate Korean culture by prohibiting Korea traditions, including banning the use of Korean language and forcing the switch of Korean names to Japanese.
To memorialize the spirit of the resistance, March 1st was designated as a national holiday in 1946 immediately after Korea’s liberation from Japan. The movement was named after its inception day, March 1st. In addition, South Korea’s Constitution has clarified that the Republic of Korea succeeds the Korean Provisional Government.