Historians note March 1 movement’s violence

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Historians note March 1 movement’s violence

Scholars of history are calling attention to violence during the March 1, 1919, independence movement against the brutal Japanese colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula on the 100th anniversary of the movement.

The March 1 Independence Movement, which began in Seoul on that day exactly 100 years ago and spread throughout the country, has been known as a nonviolent civil resistance against Japan’s colonial occupation.

Detailed data is not available but historians estimate that more than two million Koreans had participated in over 2,000 demonstrations to call for independence from Japan.

The movement is also referred to as the “Manse” movement, as demonstrators shouted, “Daehan dongnip manse,” which means, “Long live the independence of Korea.”

Many historians say the Manse movement was more aggressive and violent than previously realized, as seen in the cases of numerous arson attacks against and assassinations of Japanese police. The violent nature of the Manse movement also influenced armed struggles in Russia and Manchuria, they note.

“The March 1 movement was not a peaceful Manse demonstration centered on Seoul, but a nationwide struggle for the right to survival by people from all walks of life. New materials have been unearthed to prove there were direct confrontations with imperial Japan,” said Park Hwan, a history professor at the University of Suwon.

“There were aggressive Manse movements in many villages and towns in Suwon and Anseong [in Gyeonggi], but very few facts were known about them,” Park said, calling for a thorough reexamination of the movement from various perspectives.

A total of 225 demonstrations occurred in March and April in 1919 in Gyeonggi, then a key traffic hub that linked the peninsula’s northern and southern regions.

In Suwon’s Songsan District, a group of 200 to 300 demonstrators led by Hong Hyo-sun and his younger brother Hong Myon-ok, held a Manse rally on March 26 and then made a surprise attack on a Japanese police substation on March 28, during which they beat a Japanese officer to death.

Park said that previous historical research focused on the suppression of Korean demonstrators and their sacrifices, but the aggressiveness seen in Gyeonggi has high historical value, as it had an effect on later armed struggles against Japan in Manchuria and Russia.

Lee Jong-un, who leads a March 1 movement commemoration association, said that the Manse movement of 1919 was nonviolent in its early days but turned increasingly aggressive in many regions, including the Gyeongsang region and Goyang in Gyeonggi.

“In Hwaseong and Anseong in Gyeonggi, the Manse movement proceeded like an independence war,” Lee said.

According to a study unveiled at a recent symposium, a group of about 1,000 residents in Anseong with torches in their hands carried out indiscriminate arson attacks on Japanese police substations, administration offices, post offices and stores.

In South Pyongan Province in North Korea, demonstrators threw stones and killed a Japanese police officer and his Korean assistant after being fired upon during an independence rally at a marketplace on March 4.

Historians, however, note that Japanese merchants and women were not targeted during Korean protesters’ attacks on Japanese police and other facilities.

“Despite their aggression, Korean demonstrators exercised self-control, as Japanese women escaping from an arson attack on Anseong were not harmed,” said Lee.

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