[Vie3wpoint] Ahn’s battle remains unfinishedIf we had a learned and open-minded leader like Hirobumi Ito in the Joseon Dynasty in the 19th century, our history may not have included a lost era stolen by the Japanese and subsequent tragedies. Ito was born to a lower-class Samurai family in the Choshu domain, now Yamaguchi Prefecture, in 1841. Despite his modest background, he educated himself to become a self-made central figure in the Meiji era. As a four-time prime minister of Japan, Ito established the constitution and cabinet system, remaining widely revered among the Japanese today. The 100th anniversary of his death last year was publicly commemorated in Tokyo. In December, an amateur astronomer named an asteroid Hirobumi after the political father of modern Japan and registered it with the International Astronomical Association.
Korea’s period of a royal kingdom in decline was without a political figure like Ito, but instead gave birth to Ahn Jung-geun in 1879. Turning 30, Ahn, an aspiring resistance fighter, waited for a train to pull in at Harbin station on Oct. 26, 1909, and shot down 68-year-old political big shot Ito, who was named the first resident-governor to Korea ahead of annexation. At 10 a.m. on March 26 a hundred years ago, Ahn was executed in Ryojun prison in China.
A century has passed since Ahn pulled the trigger on Ito. Since last year, his descendants have paid respects to the most-revered independence fighter through various events. But we must do more than pay him ceremonial respect by contemplating, learning and spreading his pan-Asian philosophy.
What he stood for and aspired to is too great to be left on shelves gathering dust. We must revive his spirit and bring him to life. We must resurrect him beyond a mere heroic individual who gave his life for his country in a history-making resistance movement. We should not content ourselves by redefining his title as a general of an army because he was more than a general. He was a revolutionary thinker, reformer and philosopher who showed a new path for an Asian community that could coexist and co-prosper.
Veteran publisher Yi Ki-ung, head of the publishing house Youlhwadang, came upon his spiritual teacher Ahn while pursuing his life dream of creating a publishing hub in Paju. He had read Ahn’s trial records compiled by Lee Eun-sang in the 1970s. He picked up the book two decades later as he confronted many obstacles in creating the center of industry.
He was snubbed by bureaucrats and ridiculed by his publishing contemporaries as a simple realtor. At such difficult times, he had a chance to delve into Ahn and was enlightened and emboldened. He tried to imagine what Ahn must have gone through while standing before a Japanese-led trial. His troubles looked as trifling as a child’s whines next to Ahn’s suffering. He had a country, food, clothes and liberty. “I had more resources to fight with,” he recalled as he regained strength to ride against the storm.
His project finally took off and during that time he started to closely examine Ahn’s trial records and embarked on a new translation. In 1999, he published “Ahn Jung-geun, An Unfinished War.” He named the largest of the six bridges in Paju Book City after Ahn’s pseudonym Eungchil. His fans walked over the bridge Friday in memory of his martyrdom.
Ahn’s life and death, his accomplishments and his thoughts were far too large to be restricted to shaping and influencing just a few individuals. Depending on our efforts, his longing and hunger for peace could inspire the global community. Korean and Japanese scholars have compared his pan-Asian peace theory with German thinker Immanuel Kant’s philosophy of perpetual peace. Some Japanese scholars contend that if Ito, who opposed Korea’s annexation, had not been assassinated, Korea’s annexation may have been delayed or not taken place. We must study and build more on our hero. It should not be left to one event in a century. Ahn and his battle with Ito remain unfinished.
*The writer is an editorial writer on cultural affairs for the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Noh Jae-hyun