Religions -- organized and not -- and a revolt

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Religions -- organized and not -- and a revolt

Feb. 25, 1801
Roman Catholicism was only a heretical creed when first introduced to the Joseon Dynasty in the late 18th century from China. Roman Catholics denied patriarchal and Confucian courtesies, which stirred up the aristocrats and the royal line.
A small group of progressive scholars, however, started to accept the new religion from the West, joined by people who were tired of the corrupt and sluggish ruling class. The ruling elite, who did not concern themselves with religion at first, cracked down on Roman Catholics on this date, with what is called the Sinyu Persecution.
When King Sunjo took the throne at 11 years old, his mother, the queen, issued a decree to oppress Roman Catholicism. More than 100 devotees were executed and around 400 were exiled. Lee Seung-hun, allegedly the first baptized Korean, died a martyr, followed by his two sons and two grandsons.
The persecution, however, was also about power, not just religion, as many new progressives were also Roman Catholic.

Feb. 26, 1937
On this date, a religious cult named Baekbaek made big news. More than 150 leaders of this group were arrested on the charge of murdering 314 followers. The head of the cult, Jeon Hae-ryong, took his life rather than face charges by the police.
First propagated in Gapyeong village, Gyeonggi province, in 1923, the cult claimed that it would evangelize the depraved society, and introduce a new world of light and hope. Mr. Jeon, however, had less noble aims in mind. He manipulated his faithful into giving him their property and made all his women followers into his mistresses.
To hide his crimes, he formed a community on a secluded mountainside in Gyeonggi province, where the believers lived as farmers. When he suspected any of his followers of not handing over all their assets or of wavering in the faith, he killed them and their family. The cult finally came to an end when Yu Gon-yong, whose father and sister were Baekbaek devotees, reported the cult to the police.
Mr. Yu had sneaked into the community, only to see his sister be taken as a mistress of Mr. Jeon. When Mr. Jeon asked to Mr. Yu to donate all of his money to the group, Mr. Yu tried to stab the cult leader, but failed. Mr. Yu did manage to report Mr. Jeon and the cult to the police.
Mr. Jeon’s skull is now kept in the National Institute of Scientific Investigation as an example of a criminal’s remains.

March 1, 1976
March 1 to Koreans historically is a day to rise up against oppression. In 1919, the biggest movement against Japanese colonialism took place. In 1976, progressive leaders from various circles declared their support for democracy against the military regime at Myeongdong Cathedral in central Seoul.
The throng at first looked like a typical Christian mass, but it ended with a reading of a statement and the handing out of anti-dictatorship manifestos. Current President Kim Dae-jung, whose term of office ends today, was one of the leaders. The military regime charged 12 participants with attempting to overthrow the government.

by Chun Su-jin
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