March 1, 1919 is one of the most important dates in modern Korean history and its spirit continues to live on every March 1st when the streets of Korea are filled with national flags and people enjoy a National holiday.
Independence Movement Day is a public holiday in South Korea referring to an event that occurred on March 1, 1919, hence the movement’s name. Samiljeol literally means “three one movement day” or simply “first March movement day” in South Korea. The day of Korean Independence Movement has been commemorated as a public holiday in South Korea since 1949.
The origin of Samiljeol dates back 95 years to one of the earliest public displays of Korean resistance during the oppressive Japanese occupation, when activists in South Korea gathered and proclaimed the Korean Declaration of Independence in Tagol Park, Seoul. The Korean Independence Movement rapidly spread throughout the country bringing about significant changes in Japanese policy for Korea and highlighting to the world the Korean’s plight. Finally the country was liberated on 15 August 1945.
The Movement came as a result of the “Fourteen Points” outlining the right of national “self-determination” proclaimed by US President Woodrow Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference in January 1919 and in the immediate aftermath of the suspicious death of Emperor Kojong in January 1919.
”We herewith proclaim the independence of Korea and the liberty of the Korean people. This we proclaim to all the nations of the world in witness of human equality. This we proclaim to our descendents so that they may enjoy in perpetuity their inherent right to nationhood.
Inasmuch as this proclamation originates from our five-thousand-year history, inasmuch as it springs from the loyalty of twenty million people, inasmuch as it affirms our yearning for the advancement of everlasting liberty, inasmuch as it expresses our desire to take part in the global reform rooted in human conscience, it is the solemn will of heaven, the great tide of our age, and a just act necessary for the co-existence of all humankind. Therefore, no power in this world can obstruct or suppress it!
Victims of the outdated notions of aggression and brute force, we have now suffered for a decade, for the first time in our long history, under foreign tyranny; our right to existence deprived, our spiritual growth stunted, our national pride and honor damaged, and our opportunity to make our own creative contribution to the progress of world civilization lost.
Surely, if we are to eradicate our longstanding sense of injustice, if we are to extricate ourselves from today’s pain, if we are to forestall tomorrow’s threat, if we are to resuscitate our trampled national pride, if we as individuals are to reach our full potential, if we are to deliver our children from the legacy of shame, if we are to bequeath to our future generations blessing and prosperity, our first and foremost duty is to secure the independence of our people. If each and every twenty million of us carry a sword in our hearts and if we are supported by today’s shared human conscience ready to stand by us equipped with arms of justice and morality, what can stop us from pressing forward to defeat the strongest? If we regroup and build up our strength, what aim can we not accomplish?
Though Japan has repeatedly violated its promises since the Treaty of 1876, we do not here condemn its perfidy. Though its scholars and government officials dismiss our great dynastic achievements in order to prop up its claim that our history began as a foreign colony with a primitive civilization, though it merely seeks a conqueror’s gratification willfully ignoring the ancient foundation and the outstanding characteristics of our people, we do not here take it to task. We are pressed to reprimand ourselves, and thus have little time to reproach others. Busy with today’s work, we have little time to chastise yesterday’s actions.
Today, our only duty is to rebuild ourselves, not to demolish others. It is to explore our new destiny according to the solemn dictates of our conscience, not to squabble with others over fleeting grudges and old animosities. It is to restore our natural, rational foundation by rectifying the unnatural, irrational ambition of the Japanese politicians in the grip of obsolete ideas. The annexation made without national consensus has inevitably led to intimidation used as a temporary measure, inequality caused by discrimination, and statistics falsified to justify it. Just look at the result today! The chasm of rancor has grown so wide that bridging the two peoples with differing interests seems all but impossible.
To boldly right old wrongs, opening a new relationship based on true mutual understating, is certainly the best way for both countries to avert disaster and foster amity. To forcibly bind twenty million people filled with bitterness and enmity will not secure lasting peace. Moreover, it will exacerbate the apprehension and distrust of four hundred million Chinese people who hold the key to East Asian stability, which will undoubtedly lead to the unrest and eventual downfall of the entire region. Therefore, establishing Korean independence today will permit Koreans to return to their rightful lives, will enable the Japanese to break away from their wrongful path and concentrate on their responsibility as a major player in East Asia, and will free the Chinese from their nightmare of uncertainty and anxiety about Japan. Korean independence will indeed be an indispensable step toward the stability of East Asia, which will in turn contribute to the attainment of world peace. With the well-being of all humanity at stake, the establishment of Korean independence is a grave issue that transcends mere animosity between two nations.
Behold! A new world is approaching before our very eyes! The age of might has receded, and the age of morality has arrived. The spirit of humanism cultivated throughout the past century now begins to throw its light on a new chapter in world history. Just as a new spring has come, hastening the rebirth of every living thing, our pulse, once frozen in the bitter cold and snow, now quickens in the warm breeze and sunshine. The good fortune of heaven and earth has returned to us, and we ride the changing tide of the world. Do not hesitate or flinch! By protecting our inalienable individual right to freedom, we will enjoy our lives to the full. By realizing our bountiful creativity, our national civilization will flower in the warmth of spring that pervades the world.
We hereby rise up! Conscience is on our side, and truth marches with us. Men and women, young and old, leave your darkened corners and partake in the joyful resurrection along with all creation! The spirit of our many ancestors protects us from within, and the tide of the new world from without. To begin is to succeed! Let us march straight into the light!
We hereby pledge the following:
- Today’s undertaking reflects the demands of our people for justice, morality, survival, and prosperity. Therefore, we will act solely in the spirit of liberty, never in the spirit of enmity.
- To the last person and to the last moment, we will forthrightly express the will of the Korean people.
- We will respect order in all our actions and ensure that our demeanor and claims are always honorable and upright.
The first day of the third month of the 4252nd year of the founding of Korea”
Huge crowds assembled in Pagoda Park to hear a student, Chung Jae-yong, read the declaration publicly before forming into a peaceful march, which the Japanese military police attempted to suppress. Special delegates associated with the movement also read copies of the independence proclamation from appointed places throughout the country at 2 pm on that same day.
As the public protests continued to grow the Japanese government reacted by heightening its suppression of dissent and by the hunting down of activists. The suppression turned to violence resulting in massacres and other atrocities. In one notable example, Japanese police herded the inhabitants of the village of Jeam-ri into a locked church before burning it to the ground, even shooting through the burning windows to ensure that no one made it out alive.
Approximately 2,000,000 Koreans participated in more than 1,500 demonstrations, many who were massacred by the Japanese police force and army. The Bloody History of the Korean Independence Movement by Park Eunsik reported 7,509 people killed, 15,849 wounded, and 46,303 arrested. Many arrested were taken to the infamous Seodaemun Prison in Seoul where they faced torture and death without trial .
During this time one courageous 18-yr old girl, Yoo Kwan Soon, made hundreds of Korean flags and galvanised independence demonstrations, Yoo Kwan Soon was arrested, imprisoned, and tortured to death. To this day Yoo Kwan Soon is regarded as “Big Sister Yoo Kwan Soon” and a national hero of Korea.
The March 1st Movement proved though to be the catalyst for the establishment of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in Shanghai in April 1919. The government did not gain formal recognition from world powers but continued to resist the occupation by coordinating the armed resistance against the Japanese imperial army during the 1920s and 1930s. This struggle culminated in the formation of Korean Liberation Army in 1940
The provisional government’s goal of self-determination was achieved with the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945.
Independence Movement Day Celebration
On Samiljeol every year since 1953, those who died fighting are commemorated at a ceremonial ringing of the bell in Bosingak, Seoul. The Mayor of Seoul, other dignitaries and invited guests in three groups of four persons toll the bell 11 times to remember the 33 heroic Koreans who in 1919, signed the Declaration of Independence.