Masses fight for independence and democracyJune 10, 1926
Following Japan’s colonization of Korea in 1910, King Sunjong remained a leader only in title. And with the demise of the king, the centuries-old Joseon Dynasty finally collapsed.
The king’s subjects were loathe to let him go easily, however. Well aware of the public’s frame of mind, when his funeral was held on this date, the Japanese colonial government quartered a 7,000-man army inside Seoul and anchored fleets at the port of Incheon, west of Seoul, and at the port of Busan. It’s little wonder that the funeral set a flame to the tinderbox of the people’s wrath. This period, later dubbed the June 10 Independence Movement, was a time when Korea saw different classes of society, from students to laborers, united under a common goal.
An estimated 24,000 students followed King Sunjong’s coffin through downtown Seoul. With the Japanese focused on cracking down on established independence fighters, students could avoid the police’s wary eyes. They printed national flags to distribute along the funeral parade route, and encouraged the public to participate in the movement. In parts of downtown like Jongno, Euljiro and Dongdaemun, students and others gathered, shouting slogans like “Go away, Japanese imperialists!” while demanding land reform and an eight-hour workday. In their effort to encourage other citizens to join the movement, the students met success ― an important development because until then, pro-independence activities had taken place sporadically and had no focal point.
Without delay, the Japanese army took steps to suppress the movement, arresting more than 1,000 students. The June 10 movement inspired other student groups to hold school strikes around the country and acted as a spark to anti-Japanese protests in Gwangju, South Jeolla province, three years later.
June 10, 1987
More than once in the annals of Korean history, June 10 has been a date for grassroots struggle against the tyrannies of the times. Such was the case in 1987.
Few human beings could stay calm at the sight of a student being tortured and killed by intelligence agents, or watching a student bleed from the head after being hit in the face by a gas bomb. Such incidents were all too real in early 1987, in the midst of Chun Doo Hwan’s military regime. Park Jong-cheol, a Seoul National University student, was a victim of torture, and Lee Han-yeol, a Yonsei University student, was injured in June.
Small wonder that Koreans ― especially pro-democracy activists ― couldn’t sit idle. On this date, they rose up against the regime.
A group of democracy activists, including future presidents Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung, as well as religious figures from Catholicism as well as Buddhism, held rallies across the country, triggering a nationwide revolution. To add fuel to the fire, Roh Tae-woo, the regime leader’s closest aide, was appointed a presidential candidate.
For about 20 days, more than 5 million people across the country joined in street demonstrations, demanding the arrival of true democracy. Streets were jammed full of people ― businessmen in suits as well as students in jeans. The confrontation between the masses and the riot police went on for weeks, tear gas and Molotov cocktails flying through the air. On June 26, the uprising reached its climax, with 1 million people in 33 cities around the nation taking part in demonstrations.
President Chun had no choice but to engineer a compromise. On June 29, his longtime subordinate Roh Tae-woo delivered a speech, later dubbed the June 29 Declaration, in which he outlined a constitutional amendment to arrange for such revisions as direct elections for president, a change to the presidential election law to guarantee fair competition and the restoration of Kim Dae-jung to public life.
This movement, later named the June 10 Democratic Uprising, is now remembered as one of the most important examples of the people flexing their collective muscle in the pursuit of justice.
by Chun Su-jin