Church Was Rally Point in Freedom Fight Against Japan

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Church Was Rally Point in Freedom Fight Against Japan

The Chondogyo movement, founded by Choi Su-un in 1824, is a patriotic folk religion that worships Tangun, the legendary founder of Korea. The main church building of the movement, located in Kyongun-dong, Seoul, was built specifically as a headquarters for the underground nationalist movement during the Japanese annexation of Korea (1910-45). Construction of the church began in December 1918, just months before the the beginning of the March 1, 1919 revolutionary movement. The building served as a meeting place for many Korean independence fighters.

Sohn Byung-hee (1861-1922), the third Chondogyo leader, announced to the Japanese authorities his plans to build a church eight months before construction began. But his seemingly innocent plans to construct a religious building served to cover a more sinister - from the Japanese perspective - plan. Funds for construction were collected from Chondogyo members nationwide, with each household asked to pay 10 won (now equivalent to about $120). But of the 1 million won collected, only 30 percent was used to pay for the church; the rest was used for revolutionary activities.

Upon its completion, the building became known as one of Seoul's modern architectural landmarks, along with the old Capitol Building and the Myeongdong Cathedral. The Chondogyo building's four-story dome is in typical baroque style. The spacious interior of the building has a peaceful, reverential atmosphere. Although Japanese and Chinese engineers were responsible for the building's external appearance and structure, there are some subtle clues to the real purpose of the building. For example, the white concrete ceiling is adorned with a patterns of birch tree flowers, which symbolize Korean patriotism.

The building is also well-known as the stage from which the educator Bang Jeong-hwan (1899-1931) launched his initiatives to assist young children. He declared the first Children's Day on March 1, 1923. Mr. Bang tried to promote awareness of children's special needs, giving them the title orini or "young one" to encourage them to develop their own identity.

by Park So-young

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