A day for heroes

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A day for heroes

A toast and a shout inside a restaurant 87 years ago began the path to freedom

Of greatest importance was keeping the secret safe.

Japanese authorities had heard rumors of an uprising for independence from Japan, but failed to stop the events that were to unfold in Korea in the late winter of 1919, two days before the funeral of Emperor Gojeong.

Inspired by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's principle of self-determination, Korean students studying abroad rallied for independence. An underground movement began in Korea. Leaders chose March 1 to rally the nation.

On that day at 2 p.m., the 33 revolutionary leaders, including the hero Son Pyeong-hee and other signatories to the declaration, met at a restaurant near Pagoda Park. After a short speech by Han Yong-eun, they raised their glasses and shouted "Manse!" "Long live Korean independence!" three times. The police rushed in and promptly arrested them.

Meanwhile, peaceful protests began at Pagoda Park and across the nation. For a month, the protests continued, only to be quashed.

Even though Korean independence did not come until decades later, March 1 is celebrated as the beginning of the independence movement.

For a look at liberty's roots, visit the sights - and listen to the echoes - of 1919


This quiet plot of land in Jongno 2-ga, set off from the main street by wooden gates, was the cradle of the March 1 independence movement. Because of an extensive renovation, its gates have been shut for a year. Pagoda Park, called "Tapgol Gongwon" in Korean, will reopen Friday at 9 a.m. Samiljeol festivities are scheduled for 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Traditionally, people gather at Pagoda Park to re-enact part of the historic events of 1919. Last year, when sentiments were raw due to the furor over a Japanese history textbook, about 1,000 people gathered at the park to yell "Manse," a revolutionary cry for liberty. Most wore white, the color of the nation and a sign of peace and purity.

In 1919, while the signatories of the declaration of independence were making their fateful toast at Myeongwolgwan restaurant less than 100 yards from Pagoda Park, thousands of Koreans gathered at the park. The Japanese police estimated the crowd at up to 5,000, while Korean witnesses said there were as many as 100,000. At 2 p.m., Chong Jae-young read the declaration to the crowd, which then rushed out the gates and marched on the main streets.

For more information about the park and its history, call 02-731-0534.


The Independence Hall of Korea opened in 1987 in South Chungcheong province. Its exhibits shed light on the independence movements during the Japanese colonial period.

The hall, in Cheonan city, is removed from the historic sites of the independence movement, but is another place to celebrate the courage displayed by the heroes from the colonial period.

Organizers are expecting about 1,500 people to attend the hall's festivities Friday, which start at 10:45 a.m. Two paths will be marked leading from the hall to nearby historic sites. For more information, call 041-560-0251~4.


About 8 kilometers east of Independence Hall is the hometown of the woman patriot Yu Gwan-sun. On Feb. 28, 1919, Yu, known as Korea's Joan of Arc, raised a beacon fire to signal others in the movement. On March 1, more than 3,000 villagers gathered at the nearby market to shout "Long live Korean independence!"

The night before March 1, people gather at the Beacon Place to light torches in Yu's honor. To reach the home from Independence Hall, take national road No. 696 to A-unae.

To this ardent anti-colonialist, Korea's stormy past holds the key to its future

Kim Guk-joo grew up in the town of Wonsan, South Hamgyeong province, North Korea, to the pungent scents of herbal medicine and the valiant stories of freedom fighters. The only son of a Korean herbalist, Mr. Kim was hardly aware that one day he would become the president of the Korean Independence Movement Veterans Association.

The 33 leaders of the March 1, 1919 movement are long dead. "Those patriots paved the way for us," said Mr. Kim, who joined the anti-Japanese movement in the 1940s as a spy. "They gave us the spirit to continue the fight for freedom." Mr. Kim went on to become a two-star general and served in the Korean War.

On a recent afternoon, the 72-year-old veteran was granted access to Pagoda Park, which was otherwise off-limits to visitors due to renovations. His posture erect as a young soldier's, his shirt starched and ironed and his lapels perfectly straight, Mr. Kim took his time walking past a groundskeeper dusting the steps of the pagoda.

"Growing up during the Japanese occupation, you could not escape the tales of patriots," he said. Mr. Kim recalled that after aching for a free nation and seeing his heritage being erased, he signed his name on a silk parchment and declared, "I will give my life for my country."

He looked around the quiet park, telling stories about patriots such as Han Young-eun and Yu Gwan-sun. "Many of the people in Seoul were here when they cried out, 'Manse!' The movement began as a peace movement," Mr. Kim pointed out. He suggested that Korea's nonviolent posture influenced other similar independence movements overseas.

"Soon afterward, Gandhi began his peace demonstrations, as did China," he said. As a truck roared by and then faded in the distance, Mr. Kim yelled out "Manse!"

Back in his office in Wonnam-dong, Mr. Kim sat underneath a Korean flag and spoke about war and forgiveness, summing it up with, "We live in the same world." Looking through notes for a book on Korean history that he is writing, he said, "How did our people ever fall under another country's rule? We have to learn from our past and be united and be strong."

by Joe Yong-hee

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