‘The strongest man’ fought injustice

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‘The strongest man’ fought injustice

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Cha Chang-gyu holds a picture of his father. Both his father and his grandfather led uprisings against the Japanese in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi. By Kim Hyung-eun

Cha Chang-gyu, 69, never got to meet his grandfather Cha Hee-sik in person. He passed away in 1939, just a year before Cha was born.

But since his youth, Cha’s father and grandmother told him that his grandfather had led a major uprising in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi in April 1919 as part of the March First Movement. When Cha was in elementary school he decided to make it his life’s mission to find out about his grandfather’s achievements and to see him honored.

“The principal at the elementary school was keen on local history,” Cha recollected. “Most of the stories I heard about my grandfather and his fight for independence come from him.”

Cha Hee-sik was a farmer in Hwaseong, known in the village as “the strongest man” because of his large, muscular physique. The villagers used to tell stories about the local well, which required a large rock to build. Cha was the only one who dared move it. Hee-sik was a vigorous man, a leader with a strong sense of justice. That was why when he heard about the March First Movement in Seoul, he had to act.

“He summoned the villagers, planned a demonstration for April 3, and spread the news to all corners of the village,” Cha Chang-gyu said.

At first, about 200 people gathered. They read out the declaration of independence and marched to the township office, which was controlled and operated by the Japanese authorities. The group swelled to 2,000 along the way. They destroyed the office.

A Japanese soldier fired into the crowd, killing some. The protestors grew violent and murdered the soldier. Later, many were arrested, including Cha Hee-sik. Hee-sik was held at Seodaemun Prison in Seoul until September 1939. Weak from mistreatment and torture, he died three months after his release. In 1968 he was given the Order of Merit for National Foundation.

“After his arrest, the Japanese blacklisted our family, harassing and watching us,” Cha Chang-gyu said. ”What hurts the most is that, aside from this one photo I have, there are none left from his possessions.” Today Cha is a secretary general at the Korea Liberation Association.
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