[THIS WEEK IN HISTORY]Failed assassination bid marks start of revoltJan. 8, 1932
Early in the morning on this date, Lee Bong-chang opened his eyes at a courtesan house in suburban Tokyo. Dressed in a Japanese robe, he left the room, holding a name card carrying his Japanese name, Shojo Kinoshita. In his hand, he held a small, unassuming paper box, containing two hand grenades.
Reaching his destination, the Yoyogi parade ground in downtown Tokyo, Mr. Lee found his target, the Emperor Hirohito of Japan, holding a military review.
The military parade on this date was to welcome the visit of the king of Manchuria, a puppet nation established by Japan. After Japan took control in the Manchurian Incident in 1931, Japan began to consolidate its route to invade the Asian continent. Because of this move, the anti-Japanese activism in China and Korea showed clear signs of escalating.
The Korean side of this movement, based in Shanghai and led by the respected leader Kim Gu, came up with a plan to strike back, with Mr. Lee, who volunteered to be a martyr. Born in a poverty-stricken family in Seoul, Mr. Lee went to Tokyo working at various low-level jobs, suffering because he was a Korean. Making up his mind to do something for his lost country, he went to Shanghai and prepared for the action he would take.
Among the Japanese public in the center of Tokyo, Mr. Lee took aim and launched one hand grenade at the emperor, as he made his way out of the parade ground. The projectile missed, however, and Mr. Lee, who had started waving the Korean flag he had hidden in his clothes, cried out, “Hail the independence of Korea,” as he was being arrested.
Taken to a police station, Mr. Lee persistently resisted, saying things like, “I am a person who deals with your king. You people do not deserve to be rude to me like this.” In court, he remained elusive about his fellow activists, which only led him to be sentenced to death. Mr. Lee was executed in Ichigaya Prison the following year. He was 31 years old.
Jan. 8, 1949
Much anti-Japanese activism and sentiment remained long after the liberation in 1945, when Japan surrendered to the Allies. Among the first projects of the Syngman Rhee administration, the first government of the Republic of Korea founded in 1948, was, not surprisingly, to punish Koreans who had been pro-Japanese during colonial rule.
At the country’s first National Assembly in October of the same year, the “Special Investigation Commission for Anti-Korean People’s Activities” was founded, better known by the Korean abbreviation Banminteukwi.
With the wholehearted support of the government, the commission commenced operations, cracking down on more than 300 suspects for four months. The arrests, however, did not mean the end of its job as the commission kept itself busy investigating about 1,000 more suspects.
The commission, however, soon faced a crisis. Many of the pro-Japanese people during the colonial rule took the higher positions in the social hierarchy even after the change of regime and a counter movement against the crackdown began, initiated by a group of people calling themselves the People’s Enlightenment Association.
Many of the commission members were even investigated by the police, under the allegation that they were communist spies. After such vicissitudes, the commission ended up being disbanded the following year, leaving the situation unresolved, which has led to today’s controversy at the National Assembly.
by Chun Su-jin