March 1st Movement

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March 1st Movement
San Yi Yun Dong .jpg
Official nameMarch 1st Movement
Samil Movement
Also calledManse Demonstrations
Observed byMarch 1, National holiday in South Korea since 1949
SignificanceMarks one of the first public displays of Korean resistance during the Japanese occupation of Korea
DateMarch 1, 1919
March 1st Movement
Revised Romanization Samil Undong
McCune–Reischauer Samil Undong

The March 1st Movement, also known as Sam-il (3-1) Movement (Hangul: 삼일 운동; Hanja: 三一 運動) was one of the earliest public displays of Korean resistance during the rule of Korea by Japan from 1910 to 1945. The name refers to an event that occurred on March 1, 1919, hence the movement's name, literally meaning "Three-One Movement" or "March First Movement" in Korean. It is also sometimes referred to as the Man-se Demonstrations (Hangul : 만세운동; Hanja :  萬歲 運動 ; RR : Manse Undong).

Hangul Native alphabet of the Korean language

The Korean alphabet, known as Hangul, has been used to write the Korean language since its creation in the 15th century by King Sejong the Great. It may also be written as Hangeul following the standard Romanization.

Hanja Korean language characters of Chinese origin

Hanja is the Korean name for Chinese characters. More specifically, it refers to those Chinese characters borrowed from Chinese and incorporated into the Korean language with Korean pronunciation. Hanja-mal or Hanja-eo refers to words that can be written with Hanja, and hanmun refers to Classical Chinese writing, although "Hanja" is sometimes used loosely to encompass these other concepts. Because Hanja never underwent major reform, they are almost entirely identical to traditional Chinese and kyūjitai characters, though the stroke orders for some characters are slightly different. For example, the characters and are written as 敎 and 硏. Only a small number of Hanja characters are modified or unique to Korean. By contrast, many of the Chinese characters currently in use in Japan and Mainland China have been simplified, and contain fewer strokes than the corresponding Hanja characters.

Korea under Japanese rule Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910–1945

Korea under Japanese rule began with the end of the short-lived Korean Empire in 1910 and ended at the conclusion of World War II in 1945. Japanese rule over Korea was the outcome of a process that began with the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1876, whereby a complex coalition of the Meiji government, military, and business officials sought to integrate Korea both politically and economically into the Empire of Japan. A major stepping-stone towards the Japanese occupation of Korea was the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1905, in which the then-Korean Empire was declared a protectorate of Japan. The annexation of Korea by Japan was set up in the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1910, which was never actually signed by the Korean Regent, Gojong.



The Samil Movement arose in reaction to the repressive nature of colonial occupation under the de facto military rule of the Japanese Empire following 1905, and inspired by the "Fourteen Points" outlining the right of national "self-determination", which was proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference in January 1919. After hearing news of Wilson's speech, Korean students studying in Tokyo published a statement demanding freedom from colonial rule. [1]

In law and government, de facto describes practices that exist in reality, even if not officially recognized by laws. It is commonly used to refer to what happens in practice, in contrast with de jure, which refers to things that happen according to law. Unofficial customs that are widely accepted are sometimes called de facto standards.

Fourteen Points peace treaty

The Fourteen Points was a statement of principles for peace that was to be used for peace negotiations in order to end World War I. The principles were outlined in a January 8, 1918 speech on war aims and peace terms to the United States Congress by President Woodrow Wilson. But his main Allied colleagues were skeptical of the applicability of Wilsonian idealism.

The right of a people to self-determination is a cardinal principle in modern international law, binding, as such, on the United Nations as authoritative interpretation of the Charter's norms. It states that people, based on respect for the principle of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity, have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no interference.

Former Emperor Gojong died on January 21, 1919. There was widespread suspicion that he had been poisoned, credible since previous attempts (the "coffee plot") were well-known, and other leaders had been assassinated by Japanese agents. [2]

Gojong of Korea Emperor of Korea

Gojong, the Emperor Gwangmu, was the last king of Joseon and the first Emperor of Korea.

Events in Korea

The March 1st Movement monument. DecIndep31.jpg
The March 1st Movement monument.
Japanese barricade at the entrance of Pagoda Park in Seoul to prevent the peaceful demonstration. L'Independance de la Coree et la Paix-04.jpg
Japanese barricade at the entrance of Pagoda Park in Seoul to prevent the peaceful demonstration.
A Korean house burnt by Japanese. L'Independance de la Coree et la Paix-06.jpg
A Korean house burnt by Japanese.

At 2 p.m. on March 1, 1919, 33 activists who formed the core of the Samil Movement convened at Taehwagwan Restaurant in Seoul; they read out loud the Korean Declaration of Independence, which had been drawn up by historian Choe Nam-seon. The activists initially planned to assemble at Tapgol Park in downtown Seoul, but chose a more private location out of fear that the gathering might turn into a riot. The leaders of the movement signed the document and sent a copy to the Governor General.

Seoul Special City in Seoul Capital Area, South Korea

Seoul, officially the Seoul Special City, is the capital and largest metropolis of South Korea. With surrounding Incheon metropolis and Gyeonggi province, Seoul forms the heart of the Seoul Capital Area. Seoul is ranked as the fourth largest metropolitan economy in the world and is larger than London and Paris.

Korean Declaration of Independence declaration of Korean independence from the Japanese empire, proclaimed by protesters at the March 1st Movement of 1919

The Declaration of Independence is the statement adopted by the 33 ethnic representatives meeting at Taehwagwan, the restaurant located in Insa-dong, Jongno District, Seoul on March 1, 1919, after World War I, which announced that Korea would no longer tolerate Japanese rule.

Choe Nam-seon was a prominent modern Korean historian, pioneering poet and publisher, and a leading member of the Korean independence movement. He was born into a jungin family in Seoul, Korea, under the late Joseon Dynasty, and educated in Seoul. In 1904, he went to study in Japan, and was greatly impressed by the Meiji Restoration reforms. Upon his return to Korea, Choe became active in the Patriotic Enlightenment Movement, which sought to modernize Korea.

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 descendants so that they may enjoy in perpetuity their inherent right to nationhood.

In as much as this proclamation originates from our five-thousand-year history, in as much as it springs from the loyalty of twenty million people, in as much as it affirms our yearning for the advancement of everlasting liberty, in as much 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!

The movement leaders telephoned the central police station to inform them of their actions and were publicly arrested afterwards.

Before the formal declaration, Korea also published and broadcast the following complaints, in order to be heard by the Japanese people through papers and media:

These grievances were highly influenced by Wilson's declaration of the principle of self determination as outlined in his "Fourteen Points" speech. [3]

Massive crowds assembled in Pagoda Park to hear a student, Chung Jae-yong, read the declaration publicly. Afterwards, the gathering formed into a peaceable procession, 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 p.m. on that same day.

As the processions continued to grow, the Japanese local and military police could not control the crowds. The panicked Japanese officials called in military forces to quell the crowds, including the naval forces. As the public protests continued to grow, the suppression turned to violence, resulting in Japanese massacres of Koreans and other atrocities.

Approximately 2,000,000 Koreans had participated in the more than 1,500 demonstrations. Several thousand were massacred by the Japanese police force and army. [4] The frequently cited The Bloody History of the Korean Independence Movement (Hangul : 한국독립운동지혈사; Hanja : 韓國獨立運動之血史) by Park Eun-sik reported 7,509 people killed, 15,849 wounded, and 46,303 arrested. From March 1 to April 11, Japanese officials reported 553 people killed, and more than 12,000 arrested. They said that 8 policemen and military were killed, and 158 wounded. As punishment, some of the arrested demonstrators were executed in public. [5]

Park Eun-sik Korean politician

Park Eunsik was a Korean historian and the second President of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in Shanghai during part of 1925. Soon after the impeachment of Syngman Rhee from the presidency, Park was elected the president, but he soon died from illness while in office. Park was succeeded by Yi Sang-ryong as the president.

In 1920, the Battle of Cheongsanri broke out in Manchuria between exiled Korean independence fighters and the Japanese Army.


The March 1st Movement provided a catalyst for the Korean Independence Movement. Given the ensuing suppression and hunting down of activists by the Japanese, many Korean leaders went into exile in Manchuria, Shanghai and other parts of China, where they continued their activities. The Movement was a catalyst for the establishment of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in Shanghai in April 1919. It also influenced the growth of nonviolent resistance in India and many other countries. [6] The Korean Liberation Army was subsequently formed and allowed to operate in China by the Nationalist Government of China. During this period, there was a mobilization of Catholic and Protestant activists in Korea, with activism encouraged among the diaspora in the U.S., China and Russia.

The Japanese government reacted to the March 1st Movement by heightening its suppression of dissent and dismissing the Movement as the "Chosun Manse Violent Public Disorder Incident" (조선 공공 만세 폭력 사건). Governor-General Hasegawa Yoshimichi accepted responsibility for the loss of control (although most of the repressive measures leading to the uprising had been put into place by his predecessors); he was replaced by Saito Makoto. The military police were replaced by a civilian force. Limited press freedom was permitted under what was termed the 'cultural policy'. Many of these lenient policies were reversed during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II.

On May 24, 1949, South Korea designated March 1st as a national holiday. General Choe Hong-hui dedicated the first of the three patterns (삼일 틀 – Sam-il teul) trained by III-degree black belts of taekwon-do to the Sam-il Movement.

International reaction

United States and Korea

President Woodrow Wilson issued his Fourteen Points in January 1918. The points included… in terms of US relations with Korea, "a free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims." [7]

However, as manifested at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, Wilson was not interested in challenging global power relations. Since Japan was one of the victors and Korea was its colony, a discussion of the status of Korea was not undertaken. [7]

In April 1919, the US State Department told the ambassador to Japan that "the consulate [in Seoul] should be extremely careful not to encourage any belief that the United States will assist the Korean nationalists in carrying out their plans and that it should not do anything which may cause Japanese authorities to suspect [the] American Government sympathizes with the Korean nationalist movement." [8]


Japan violently suppressed the March First Movement. The United States remained silent. [7] Despite this, the Korean National Association planned a three-man delegation in the United States to attend the Paris Peace Conference and attempt to represent Korea's interests. Dr. Rhee (representing Hawai'i), Rev. Chan Ho Min (representing the West Coast) and Dr. Henry Han Kyung Chung (representing the Midwest) were selected, but they were unable to attend. They encountered visa problems and feared that the delegates may not be allowed to reenter the United States. [9]

A delegation of overseas Koreans, from Japan, China, and Hawai'i, did make it to Paris. Included in this delegation, was Kim Kyu-sik (김규식), a representative from the Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai. [7] After considerable effort, he managed to arrange passage with members of the Chinese delegation to the peace conference. He traveled on a Chinese passport and under a Chinese name in order to evade the Japanese police. The Chinese were eager for the opportunity to embarrass Japan at the international forum, and several top Chinese leaders at the time, including Sun Yat-sen, told U.S. diplomats that the peace conference should take up the question of Korean independence. Beyond that, however, the Chinese, locked in a struggle themselves against the Japanese, could do little for Korea. [10]

The United States did not pay any substantial attention to these individuals, and the delegation was blocked from official participation as Korea was classified as a Japanese colony. [11]

The failure of the Korean nationalists to gain support from the Paris Peace Conference ended the possibility of foreign support. [12]

See also

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  1. Neuhaus, Dolf-Alexander. ""Awakening Asia": Korean Student Activists in Japan, The Asia Kunglun, and Asian Solidarity, 1910–1923". Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review. 6 (2): 608–638. doi:10.1353/ach.2017.0021.
  2. "Did you know that ...(22) The coffee plot". koreatimes. 2011-09-09. Retrieved 2017-09-06.
  3. Eugene Kim, ed. (1977). Korea's Response to Japan. Western Michigan University. pp. 263–266.
  4. March First Movement - Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  5. Ebrey, Patricia Buckley, and Walthall, Anne (1947). East Asia : a cultural, social, and political history (Third ed.). Boston. ISBN   9781133606475. OCLC   811729581.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. 1 2 3 4 Hart-Landsberg, Martin (1998). Korea: Division, Reunification, & U.S. Foreign Policy. Monthly Review Press. p. 30.
  7. United States Policy Regarding Korea, Part I: 1834–1941. US Department of State. pp. 35–36.
  8. Chang, Roberta (2003). The Koreans in Hawai'i: A Pictorial History, 1903-2003. University of Hawaii Press, p. 100.
  9. Manela, Erez (2007). The Wilsonian Moment. Oxford. P. 119-135, 197-213.
  10. Kim, Seung-Young (2009). American Diplomacy and Strategy Toward Korea and Northeast Asia, 1882-1950 and After. Palgrave Macmillan. P. 64-65.
  11. Baldwin, Frank (1972). The March First Movement: Korean Challenge and Japanese Response. Columbia University.

Further reading