[THIS WEEK IN HISTORY]A revolutionary, a musician and a restriction on marriage

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[THIS WEEK IN HISTORY]A revolutionary, a musician and a restriction on marriage

Dec. 2, 1894

Jeon Bong-jun, a revolutionary of the late Joseon Dynasty, had a dream to make this world a better place. Born a plebeian, Mr. Jeon as a boy saw his father executed for leading an uprising against the occupational Japanese government. It is no wonder that years later Mr. Jeon would join the nationalistic Donghak religious group.

Jo Byeong-gap, a public official in Jeon's hometown of Gobu, North Jeolla province, first gave Jeon reason to act. Mr. Jo was leveling crushing taxes at the people and keeping the spoils. In January, 1894, with more than 1,000 fellow peasants and Donghak by his side, Mr. Jeon led an attack on the government office, raiding weapons and taking back plundered crops.

The uprising was a success, with Mr. Jo officially punished for his abuses, but it branded the Donghak as troublemakers. Mr. Jeon couldn't take the resulting suppression sitting down, and under the slogan of "protecting the nation and comforting the people," he sent urgent messages to Donghak leaders all over the country. His rallying cries were met: they started an insurrection, with Mr. Jeon reigning successful yet again as the government agreed to many crucial reforms.

A few months later brought another strike against the occupying Japanese forces. Leading 120,000 rebels, this was Mr. Jeon's grandest battle yet; it would also be his last. After fierce fighting in Gongju, Chungcheong province, Mr. Jeon was defeated and escaped to Sunchang, North Jeolla province. Informed against by a local villager, Mr. Jeon was caught on this date in history. He was sent to the capital and executed in March, 1895; his vision of an unoccupied Korea would remain unrealized for another half-century.

Dec. 5, 1905

Ahn Ik-tae, who wrote the national anthem of Korea, was born on this date in Pyeongyang. In 1921, despite being part of a revolt against the Japanese occupation, Mr. Ahn was invited to study at a national music school in Tokyo, and soon after went on to become a world-famous concert cellist, performing solo at Carnegie Hall. Even as his success kept him traveling, Mr. Ahn's dedication to his country's independence never waned. That he came up with the national anthem is a particular testament to his spirit. "Aegukga," a song of love of country, is a solemn 16-bar piece inspired by traditional Korean music. It became Korea's official anthem in 1948.

Mr. Ahn returned to Korea in 1959, but later married a Spanish woman, and died in Mallorca, Spain, in 1965, far from his native soil.

Dec. 5, 1957

The National Assembly passed on this date a bill that forbade couples of the same surname to marry. Through the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), it was not uncommon for family members to marry each other. The Confucian beliefs prevalent in the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) forbade this practice. A product of this belief system, the 1957 law was met with protest in this country of many Kims, Lees, Parks and Chois of different origins.

In 2000 the prohibition was narrowed so that the marriage ban would extend only to the descendants of your great-grandparents and their brothers and sisters.

by Chun Su-jin

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