[THIS WEEK IN HISTORY]Exile in Shanghai; Seoul launches subway lineApril 11, 1919
Shanghai is remembered in the early 20th century as the “Paris of Asia.” The streets of Shanghai glowed with a cosmopolitan spirit, welcoming an influx of foreigners from many parts of the world. Among the foreigners were Korean independent fighters, who established a government-in-exile on this date. After the nationwide independence movement of March 1, 1919, there was a great need to establish a government for Korea. Leaders of the movement gathered and formed a government-in-exile.
Shanghai was a beautiful city that never slept, bustling with vitality day and night. To independence activists, however, Shanghai meant more pain than joy. After the official colonization of Korea by Japan in 1910, the Korean Peninsula became dangerous for the freedom fighters.
Shanghai became the de facto stronghold for activists around the world. Shanghai was physically close to Korea and good because the city was in China.
China had an antagonistic relationship with Japan as well. For the desperate activists, the city was a safe refuge from the Japanese.
So the activists found a rather shabby yet safe quarter in the central part of the city down a back alley. Syngman Rhee headed the government (and he later became the first president of the Republic of Korea after liberation from colonization in 1945). The building had a group of rooms that the activists could use for living and working, complete with kitchen and shower facilities.
Until the long-awaited liberation, this exiled government served as the base where leaders like Mr. Rhee and Kim Gu planned assassinations against Japanese government officials.
Today, however, the building still stands in the back alley of Shanghai’s downtown as a tourist attraction for Korean visitors. The Chinese government, by request of the Korean government, has preserved the site, with decades-old Korean flags still in the rooms.
April 12, 1971
Today’s Seoul without a subway system is hardly imaginable. Following cities like New York, London and Tokyo, Seoul has one of the largest subway systems in the world with eight lines and the total length of railroads reaches 340 kilometers (212 miles).
Before this date, however, Seoul didn’t have a subway and relied only on buses, cars and trolleys.
At 10 a.m. on this date, then-President Park Chung Hee appeared at City Hall square for the groundbreaking ceremony with then-Mayor Yang Tak-sik.
Standing before more than 30,000 citizens, the president made a speech, followed by a girls’ choir that sang “A Song for Subways.”
The building of the subway system was an ambitious plan that cost 26 billion won in 1971, nearly triple the amount of money it would cost today.
The first section started at Cheongnyangni, in the northeastern part of the city, to Seoul Station with nine stations along the way. The biggest hassle during construction was to avoid cultural artifacts buried in the throughout Seoul because of the city’s centuries-old history.
The opening was planned to occur on Liberation Day on Aug. 15, 1974, when the city government planned a set of grand events.
Buy many of such events, however, were canceled, but it had nothing to do with subway. Then-First Lady Yuk Yeong-su, wife of President Park, was shot to death on this date during the day’s commemoration.
But the subway started to run, and it is now a critical for the mobility of Seoul’s citizens.
by Chun Su-jin
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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