Independence Movement Day (삼일절)

Today, March 1, is a national holiday in Korea. It’s the observance of March 1 Movement Day (삼일절), commemorating a day in which Koreans openly resisted the occupation by the Japanese and fought for their independence. It is also sometimes called the Samil Independence Movement.

On March 1, 1919,  a series of demonstrations took place across Korea rallying for independence from Japanese occupation. Japan proclaimed its annexation of Korea in 1910, fully occupying the country, after having had a presence on the peninsula for years before that.

It began at 2 p.m. on March 1, 1919, with thirty-three nationalists who made up the core of the Samil Movement coming together at the Taehwagwan Restaurant in Seoul to read the Korean Declaration of Independence. The declaration had been drawn up by the historian Choe Nam-seon and the poet Manhae (also known as Han Yongun). At the same time, movement delegates read the independence proclamation at previous appointed locations throughout the country. The proclamation read:

“We herewith proclaim the independence of Korea and the liberty of the Korean people. We tell it to the world in witness of the equality of all nations and we pass it on to our posterity as their inherent right.We make this proclamation, having 5,000 years of history, and 20,000,000 united loyal people. We take this step to insure to our children for all time to come, personal liberty in accord with the awakening consciousness of this new era. This is the clear leading of God, the moving principle of the present age, the whole human race’s just claim. It is something that cannot be stamped out, stifled, gagged, or suppressed by any means.”

Koreans took to the streets, marching and shouting “Mansei!”, which means “long live Korea” or “may Korea live 10,000 years.” The Japanese worked to suppress the movement, which 12 months later was fully contained. But before it was put down, approximately 2 million Koreans had participated in the more than 1,500 demonstrations.

The fight was not without cost. During the movement, about 7,000 people were killed by the Japanese police and soldiers, and 16,000 were wounded. Many lost property as well, with more than 700 private houses, 40-plus churches, and a couple of school buildings being destroyed by fire.

More than 45,000 people were arrested, of whom some 10,000 were tried and convicted. Many fighters who were arrested were kept in Seodaemun Prison, without trial, where they were tortured and some were executed. The prison still stands today as a reminder of Korea’s past, and is open for tours (see yesterday’s post).

The day is commemorated in Korea by flying the flag and re-enactments of the day have started to take place. You’ll find a description of how the day was commemorated last year on Dynamic Korea, the site of the Korean embassy.

If you’d like to learn more, here are a couple of resources for you.

– This is an excellent seven-minute video that recaps the movement and what it accomplished for the Korean people.

– A Korea Times column about the March 1 Movement:

So today, in honor of Korea and those who fought for its independence, we say: Mansei! Mansei!


4 thoughts on “Independence Movement Day (삼일절)

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