Teenage girl gave her life to be free

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Teenage girl gave her life to be free

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Kim Jeong-ae represents the descendants of Yu Gwang-sun, a famous student independence fighter.Provided by the Yu Gwan-sun Memorial Committee

Yu Gwan-sun was a galvanizing figure: a girl of just 18 who felt the calling to fight for freedom, killed by the Japanese in 1920.

Kim Jeong-ae, a representative of Yu’s family descendants, has done numerous interviews about the famous student independence fighter from Cheonan, South Chungcheong.

But she admits that there’s a lot we don’t know about her. “She died so young, at just 18,” said Kim in a recent interview. “She didn’t leave any possessions, and she isn’t survived by any children.”

Mostly Kim has heard about Yu from her father-in-law, Yu’s older brother U-seok. But the untimely and tragic death of his little sister was not something that he enjoyed talking about, Kim says. After organizing a mass protest in Cheonan, Yu Gwan-sun was arrested and died in prison a year later.

Rumor and myth once clouded our understanding of her life. But in recent years that has begun to change. “Yu’s birthday has been corrected from March 15, 1902 to Dec. 16, 1902, and the date she died from Oct. 12, 1920 to Sept. 28 the same year,” Kim said.

Another myth about the young heroine is the state of her body when it was returned to her family. Koreans generally believed that it was cut into six pieces and dumped in a box, but Kim says that wasn’t the case.

“My father-in-law said he checked the body himself when it was returned,” Kim said. “Since it was delivered several days after the death, of course she wasn’t in good shape. But my father-in-law said she was in one piece and her face was peaceful.”

Kim believes were Yu alive today, she might be fighting for the nation’s standing in the international community or devoting her life to the poor and the elderly.

“Although a lot of attention has been paid to Yu, I believe she is just a representative of all the others who participated in Korea’s independence movement,” Kim says. “We have to make it our duty to find all of them and give them the honor they deserve.”
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