U.S. centers burn; a woman fights for freedom

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U.S. centers burn; a woman fights for freedom

March 9, 1983
The early 1980s were difficult times for the pro-democracy movement in Korea. After Park Chung Hee’s military regime ended with his assassination in 1979, Koreans looked forward to true democracy on the peninsula. The expectations met with frustration when yet another military officer, Chun Doo Hwan, took the Blue House in a coup d’etat.
Democratic activists could not just sit idly by and watch another military regime take power. This led to a mass protest in May of 1980 in Gwangju, South Jeolla province. Chun’s military regime dubbed the protest a riot and sent armed forces to the city, with orders to use all force necessary to disperse protesters. Many civilians were killed in the bloodshed that followed. The Chun administration strictly controlled news of the tragedy, but that did little to assuage the anger of activists.
Many also believed the United States had turned a blind eye to the disaster. Beginning in the winter of 1980, college students expressed their anger by setting fire to U.S. Cultural Centers around the country. A center in Gwangju was the first one to be targeted by arsonists, followed by several others across the nation. A fire at a center in Busan in 1982 was of particular note, as a student studying in the center’s library was killed.
Kim Hyeon-jang and Moon Bu-sik were found guilty of playing leading roles in the arsons and sentenced to death on this date. The judge was Lee Hoi-chang, who would run for president against Roh Moo-hyun in 2002. Later granted clemency, Mr. Moon and Mr. Kim were released from prison in 1988. Mr. Moon published a collection of poems after his release, and shifted his leftist views toward the center. Both Mr. Moon and Mr. Kim were offered entrance to the conservative Grand National Party last January; they both declined.

March 10, 1991
Park Noh-hae is a poet who wanted to turn the world into a paradise for the working class. He took a leadership role in a card-carrying leftist group, called the Union of Socialist Laborers in South Korea, that was branded anti-state by the government in October of 1990. Mr. Park, who had a powerful role in the organization, was arrested for violating the National Security Law on this date. After his release, Mr. Park kept publishing his works from prison. His most recent focus was on bringing peace to Iraq. He went to the embattled country during the recent war in hopes of establishing peace.

March 13, 1944
Not every freedom fighter against Japan’s colonial rule was male. Activists like Kim Maria are not as well remembered, but her dedication to liberating the country was second to none. She died on this date after suffering the effects of torture from her days in a Japanese prison years earlier. The country was liberated from Japan only a year and five months after her death.
Both of Ms. Kim’s parents died when she was a young child. She went to Seoul as a teenager to honor her mother’s wish that she graduate from university, a rarity for women in Korea at that time.
She stayed with her uncle, where she was introduced to a number of patriots opposed to Japanese plans for colonization.
When Japan officially colonized Korea in 1910, Ms. Kim decided to go to Tokyo to study. But studying wasn’t the only thing she did in Tokyo. In 1918, Ms. Kim joined an independence movement group based in Japan. Taking an active part in a Feb. 8 independence movement protest by Korean students in Tokyo, Ms. Kim was investigated by police and was put on a blacklist.
After being cleared of charges, Ms. Kim sailed back to her home country to deliver a written manifesto for independence, which she hid inside her clothes. Visiting cities and towns around the peninsula, Ms. Kim and her fellows encouraged another independence movement at home. This helped foster the March 1 Independence Movement protest, now commemorated by a national holiday. Ms. Kim, however, was caught by the Japanese police again on March 5. After severe torture, she served five months in jail.
After the release, Ms. Kim exiled to China and then to the United States to enter local colleges to major in sociology and theology.
In 1935, Ms. Kim went back home to teach theology at a school in Wonsan, now in North Korea. Until she died, she devoted herself to missionary work as well as independence movement. Following her will, she was cremated and her ashes were sprinkled over the Daedong River in Pyeongyang.

by Chun Su-jin
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