Parts of the text have been adopted in full or with modification for optimal reading experience from the following sources under the CC-BY-SA license.
JAPANESE OCCUPATION – SAD HISTORY (1910 ~ 1945)
The period from 1910, when the Korean Empire was annexed by Japan, to 1945 when it was liberated, is one of the saddest and most painful periods in Korean history. After the annexation, Japan set up the Government-General of Joseon and systematically suppressed Koreans with administrative, legislative, judicial, and military forces in their hands, and persistently tried to plant their spirit and culture. Korean names were forcibly changed to Japanese names, and the mandatory use of the Japanese language by students, alongside the abolition of Korean language courses in all schools, were intended to thoroughly “Japanize” Koreans. Cultural property looting and economic exploitation were also frequent. This evil deed reached its peak through the Pacific War and World War II. The Japanese imperialists committed countless crimes against humanity, including forced labor, military sexual slavery brothels, and horrific experiments on the living bodies of the Korean people. While some argue that the Japanese colonial government’s urban planning had a positive impact on the modernization of Seoul, they also acknowledge that the purpose was strictly exploitation, on the pretext of “development” and this indelible scar is why many Koreans still have anti-Japanese sentiment.
History of Japanese Occupation – Timeline
1916 – The final wave of Uibyeong rebels is defeated by Japanese forces
1919 – Spurred by the sudden and mysterious death of Gojong, March 1st Movement, organized by Yu Gwan Sun and other independence activisits, began. Declaration of Korean Independence / Nationwide peaceful demonstrations are crushed by Japanese military and police forces after two months / Governor-General Hasegawa resigns / The establishment of The Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in Shanghai
1920 – Battle of Cheongsanri, Korean independence Army, led by Kim Jwa-jin, victory
1932 – Korean independence activist Lee Bong Chang fails in his attempt to assassinate Emperor Hirohito in Tokyo
Korean independence activist Yun Bong Gil bombs Japanese Military gathering in Shanghai
1945 – The Empire of Japan surrenders to the Allies. According to the terms of Potsdam Declaration, Korea becomes independent
History of Japanese Occupation – Korean Independence Fighters
Kim Gu 김구 (1876 ~ 1949) was an independence activist and politician of the Provisional Government of Korea during the Japanese Occupation. After Korea’s liberation from Japan’s colonial rule, he tried to establish an independent and unified government but was assassinated by Ahn Doo-hee 안두희 in 1949. Baekbeomilji 백범일지, a diary written during his career in the provisional government, remains a valuable historical record.
Ahn Jung-geun 안중근 (1879 – 1910) was an independence activist and a martyr at the end of the Korean Empire. He assassinated Prince Ito Hirobumi, the main culprit of the invasion, and former Resident-General of Joseon, at Harbin Railway Station in Manchuria. The Order of Merit for National Foundation was posthumously awarded.
Yun Bong-gil 윤봉길 (1908 ~ 1932) was an independence activist during the Japanese Occupation. In 1932, he threw a bomb at an event venue in Hongkou Park in Shanghai which was celebrating the Japanese Emperor’s birthday and victory in the war, causing significant damage to Japanese colonial leaders. Along with Ahn Jung-geun’s attack on Ito Hirobumi in Harbin, this is considered one of the greatest achievements of the Korean independence movement.
Ahn Chang-ho 안창호 (1878 ~ 1938) was an independence activist and educator at the end of the Korean Empire and during the Japanese occupation. He led educational activities to foster national competence and independence movements to regain the sovereignty of Korea. He established the New People’s Association, Daeseong School 대성학교, and Young Korean Academy. His pen-name is Dosan 도산, which is also the name of a park in Seoul established to commemorate his achievement and legacy.
March 1st Movement & Ryu Gwan-sun 유관순
Ryu Gwan-sun 유관순 (alternative spelling Yu Gwan-sun, 1902 – 1920), was an organizer of the March 1st Movement, one of the earliest public displays of Korean resistance during the Japanese Occupation, is a symbol of Korea’s fight for independence against imperial Japan. The event was a peaceful protest where thousands of Koreans gathered to cry out “Daehan Doklip Manse” 대한독립만세 (“Long Live Korean Independence”), while waving thousands of Korean flags. It went on for hours until the Japanese military police started firing at the unarmed protesters. Sadly, 19 people died, including Ryu’s parents. After getting arrested, she was severely tortured and interrogated, but never gave away the whereabouts of her collaborators. She later died in jail from the after-effects of torture.
Let’s honor the sacrifice of Korean independence fighters with a Korean flag.
WHO WERE THE “COMFORT WOMEN“?
It refers to the military sexual slavery system set up and operated by the Japanese military, which led to numerous crimes such as wartime rape and sexual abuse, committed against the women in colonies and occupied territories. It was done under the connivance and with the direct involvement of the Japanese government – during World War II, the Japanese government had to find a way to satisfy the sexual desires of their soldiers, and they set up illegal military brothels, recruited and managed women from colonies and occupied areas, including China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and even the Netherlands. The term wianbu 위안부 (ianfu in Japanese) literally means “comfort women,” and was a euphemism used by the Japanese military. The so-called recruitment process had problems. Many of them were forcibly conscripted while many others were defrauded by a broker who guaranteed them a factory job. They were locked up against their will and sexually exploited and are still suffering from the trauma of that time. Each of the affected countries is demanding an open and sustained apology from Japan. Korean civic organizations have been installing what’s known as the “Statue of Peace” sonyeosang 소녀상 (“statue of a girl”) around the world to raise awareness of the atrocity and console the victims.
Get to know their stories in depth. The Comfort Women: Japan’s Brutal Regime of Enforced Prostitution in the Second World War [Amazon]
WHY DO KOREANS LIKE THE ROSE OF SHARON SO MUCH?
“Three thousand li (unit of measurement for length) of splendid rivers and mountains, filled with mugunghwa.” As can be seen from a passage from Korea’s national anthem, Koreans have loved and cherished mugunghwa, also known as the “Rose of Sharon.” The flower, which literally means “Flower of infinitude/eternity,” is named so because the continuous blooming and fading were seen as such. Moreover, Korean people identified themselves with the flower and regarded it as a symbol of the Korean national spirit, that has survived unabated despite numerous hardships and struggles. For this reason, Namgoong Eok 남궁억, the president of Hwangseong Newspaper 황성신문 and independence activist during the Japanese Occupation, established the Mogok School in September 1919 and made efforts to spread mugunghwa to the entire country. Although mugunghwa has never been officially designated as the national flower of Korea by law, it’s customarily recognized as the national flower of Korea and is used as a symbol of the nation.
WHY ARE KOREANS SO FURIOUS OVER THE JAPANESE “RISING SUN” FLAG?
Imagine wearing a T-shirt with a big print of the Nazi Hakenkreuz striding through the streets of Jerusalem. Even if you are the biggest thrill-seeker in the world who enjoys living dangerously, this isn’t something you wouldn’t dare to do because it’s the symbol of racism and all the inhumane atrocities the Nazi’s had done during the Holocaust. But did you know that in Korea, like Hakenkreuz, there is something Koreans are furious about?
Yes, it’s the “Rising Sun Flag” of Japan. To the eyes of foreigners not familiar with the Asian people’s pain and suffering during the Japanese colonial era, it might look like a cool variation of the Japanese flag, one of the reasons why it’s widely used on items like T-shirts and cell phone cases. But for the Asian people affected by the Japanese colonial era, it simply isn’t a trendy image. This is because the flag was recognized as an imperial flag as it appeared as a symbol of the Japanese military in the Pacific War, which involved and exploited many Asian countries on the pretext of protecting Asia against Western forces. Many foreign celebrities, stars, as well as companies and organizations, inadvertently wore clothes or introduced products with the Rising Sun Flag and apologized after receiving complaints from Koreans.
Not only that, but many popular Korean idol stars have also come under fire for wearing clothes or using products that have the design. However, some scholars point out that there is a misunderstanding about the Rising Sun Flag – it was a flag that has long been used by the Japanese military, and does not only symbolize Japanese imperialism. Technically, it’s the current Japanese flag that was used as the national flag during that heinous time, and it’s factually incorrect to place the Rising Sun Flag in the same position as the Hakenkreuz for that reason. While scholars should discuss whether to treat the Nazi Hakenkreuz and the Rising Sun Flag the same way, it’s important to understand that they are equal in that they bring painful memories to the affected countries and their people.
WHAT’S THE NATIONAL ANTHEM OF KOREA?
During the Japanese Occupation and before the founding of the Republic of Korea, Korea didn’t have an official national anthem, and they made a makeshift national anthem, where they set the song’s lyrics to the tunes of a Scottish folk song, “Auld Lang Syne.” Later in 1935, the lyrics were set to the melody composed by Ahn Eak-tai (alternative spelling, Ahn Ik-Tae) 안익태, and was adopted as the national anthem of the Provisional Government of Korea, which existed from 1919 to 1948. Aegukga 애국가, literally meaning “The Patriotic Song,” has four verses, but on most occasions, only the first one is performed at public events.
Verse 1: 동해 물과 백두산이 마르고 닳도록 하느님이 보우하사 우리나라 만세.
(Until that day when Mt. Baekdu is worn away and the East Sea’s waters run dry,
May God protect and preserve our country!)
Refrain: 무궁화 삼천리 화려강산 대한 사람, 대한으로 길이 보전하세.
(Hibiscus and three thousand ri (Korean unit of measurement) full of splendid mountains and rivers; Great Koreans, to the Great Korean way, stay always true!)
Verse 2: 남산 위에 저 소나무 철갑을 두른 듯 바람서리 불변함은 우리 기상일세.
(As the pine atop Namsan Peak stands firm, unchanged through wind and frost, as if wrapped in armor, so shall our resilient spirit.) / Refrain
Verse 3: 가을 하늘 공활한데 높고 구름 없이 밝은 달은 우리 가슴 일편단심일세.
(The autumn skies are void and vast, high and cloudless;
the bright moon is like our heart, undivided and true.) / Refrain
Verse 4: 이 기상과 이 맘으로 충성을 다하여 괴로우나 즐거우나 나라 사랑하세.
(With this spirit and this mind, let us give all loyalty, in suffering or joy, to love our nation.) / Refrain
Translation from wikipedia.org/wiki/Aegukga