A national massacre, a grave desecration and a disgrace

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A national massacre, a grave desecration and a disgrace

April 15, 1919
The first generation of Christians in Korea had more on their minds than just prayer ― such as spurring the independent movement against the Japanese colonial government.
The congregation of Jeam-ri church in a small country town in Gyeonggi province, was one such hotbed of Korean nationalism. The Methodist church members held two anti-Japan demonstrations, one on March 31, 1919, and another on April 5.
But on this date, about 2 p.m., Arita Tosio, a Japanese general, arrived in town. The general locked the villagers in the church and then showered them with bullets.
A woman tried to pass her baby out through a window, but a Japanese soldier stabbed the baby to death. For good measure, the Japanese troops set fire to the church and the village.
Twenty-two villagers died in the church, and six more in the ensuing fire. The smell of the burning bodies, houses and livestock reportedly could be detected some 10 kilometers (6 miles) away.
Two days later, Frank W. Scofield, a missionary and physician from Canada, came to the village to gather remains and bury them. Dr. Scofield went on to report the massacre to the United States, inflaming public opinion.
Many decades later, Jeam-ri villagers rebuilt their church, and more than 3,000 Japanese Christians came in order to express their regrets.
April 18, 1868
In 1866, Ernst Jacob Oppert, an explorer and merchant from Prussia first tried to set foot on Korean soil. At the time, “hermit kingdom” status was in place, with Korea locked away from the Western world.
But on this date, Mr. Oppert, along with the French Roman Catholic priest Stanislas Feron and the American businessman Frederick Jenkins, sailed in on a steamer and landed in Deoksan, South Chungcheong province.
The visitors’ one and only purpose had nothing to do with business or exploring a new culture ― it was to rob the grave of Prince Namyeon, grandfather of the then-king of the Joseon Dynasty, Gojong. Mr. Feron had heard that the grave was to be “a rich royal tomb.”
Locals were incensed. The Westerners went to the grave site and spent two days digging, but they had to leave before they were able to steal anything. Mr. Oppert later said that the intention of his journey was “to introduce the secluded country to the world.”
For Koreans, though, one of the most horrible deeds imaginable is to have an ancestor’s grave defiled.
Little wonder then that Gojong’s father and regent Daewongun became enraged at the news. Daewongun hardened his anti-foreigner stance even more.
None of the tomb’s desecraters was punished, and they went back to their countries. Mr. Oppert later penned two books on the Joseon Dynasty: “A Forbidden Land” and “Voyage to the Corea.”
April 20, 1907
King Gojong, by the beginning of the 20th century, was desperate to keep Korea from Japanese annexation. On this date, the king sent two agents to The Hague in the Netherlands to take part in an international peace conference. Japan thwarted these efforts, though, as soon thereafter the king had to abdicate the throne.


by Chun Su-jin

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