King’s funeral sparks independence movementMarch 3, 1919
Fate was not kind to King Gojong of the late Joseon Dynasty (1392 to 1910). In turbulent times when world powers such as China, Japan and Russia were eyeing the Korean Peninsula, the king was suffering a power struggle between his father, Lord Daewongun, and his wife, Queen Myeongseong (also known as the Last Empress or Queen Min). The royal court had become a shadow of its glorious past. The king did his best to save the country, but it was to be in vain.
With the queen assassinated by the Japanese in 1895 and his father ostracized from politics ― soon to be dead in 1898 ― the king was left alone to fight against the foreign powers. After the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) ended with Japan victorious, colonization of Joseon by Japan was only a matter of time.
After the Eulsa treaty that acquiesced Japanese colonization was signed by pro-Japanese officials of the court in 1905, King Gojong played his last card by sending secret envoys to international conferences. His ill-fated idea was to reveal Japan’s dark designs to swallow his country, but it failed quietly when Japan detected the plan. King Gojong was dethroned in 1907 to spend the rest of his life in depression until he died unexpectedly on Jan. 21, 1919, at the age of 67.
The death of King Gojong triggered an explosion of anger amongst the Korean people. The Japanese colonial government said the death was due to a heart attack, but rumors spread that the king was poisoned.
The most reliable theory, however, is that the king died of apoplexy while he was sleeping.
The day before his death, the king suffered a mental breakdown while bidding farewell to his son Lee Eun. The young crown prince was forced to go to Tokyo as a hostage and marry a Japanese court lady. King Gojong allegedly lost his balance at the sight of his crown prince’s departure and murmured softly, “My poor crown prince ...”
Weeks later, as the date of the state funeral approached, Seoul was full of people who had come to mourn the passing of their beloved king. More than 200,000 people crowded the capital, a perfect opportunity for independence fighters to rise against Japan. Two days before the funeral, a nationwide movement against Japanese rule broke out, and King Gojong rested in peace forever.
March 4, 1892
One of the first modern writers in Korea, Lee Gwang-su, called himself Chunwon, which means spring garden in Chinese characters. Born on this early spring day, Mr. Lee opened a new era of Korean literature by penning the first modern novel, “Mujeong” in 1917.
Born into a hard-up tenant farming family, Mr. Lee had an unfortunate childhood, losing his parents at the age of 10. With the help of a pro-Japanese group called Iljinhoe, Mr. Lee had the chance to study in Tokyo and majored in philosophy at the prestigious Waseda University.
While in Tokyo, Mr. Lee took an active role in the independence movement. Complementing a prolific career as a novelist, Mr. Lee also wrote for two major newspapers.
From 1937, however, Mr. Lee’s sympathies became pro-Japanese. He became involved in pro-Japanese literary circles, and went so far as to adopt a Japanese name.
After the liberation from Japan, Mr. Lee was treated as a traitor and imprisoned. During the Korean War (1950-1953), Mr. Lee was caught by the invading North Korean army and never heard from again. He was reported to have died of illness in Manpo, a small North Korean town.
March 7, 1989
Early morning on this date at a small movie theater in Jongno, central Seoul, a young poet was found dead. He was 29 years old, and a sudden stroke was announced as the cause of death. In his bag, one blue notebook was found, holding unpublished poems. Two months after his death, an anthology was published.
The poet was Gi Hyeong-do, also a writer for the JoongAng Ilbo. Joining the paper right after his debut as a poet, Mr. Gi was first assigned to the politics desk, but soon moved to the culture desk at his request. His co-workers remember Mr. Gi as a sensitive perfectionist, who took pains to get the proper wording, reading his articles over and over again.
His poems display an exquisite style and susceptive character. The collection still sells about 10,000 copies every year.
by Chun Su-jin