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  • Background and Significance of the March First Independence Movement in Korea

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    <Background>

    After Japan’s forceful occupation of Korea in 1910, the Korean army raised in the cause of justice and patriotic martyrs initiated the independence movement throughout the nation, fighting against the unjust invasion of Korea by Japan. The Japanese Government General of Korea imposed forceful military rule and inflicted severe oppression on the Korean people, while trying to eliminate the just foundation of the national resistance movement by annihilating Korea’s inherent culture and thoroughly dominating its economy.

    For these reasons, leaders of the Korean independence movement sought refuge on foreign soil including China, Manchuria, Siberia, and the Americas in preparation for the movement or waited for the opportunity while going underground by organizing a secret society. Some of the nationalist leaders who had been searching for the opportunity thought that it was the optimal opportunity to strive for national independence when anti-Japanese sentiment intensified after US President Wilson’s announcement of the principle of national self-determination, the February Eighth Independence Declaration by Korean students studying in Japan, and the death of King Gojong all coincided together, whereby they actively planned for the nationwide March First Independence Movement.

    <Significance>

    In the modern history of Korea, the March First Independence Movement has a great meaning. It occurred in Seoul and spread throughout the nation following the railroad and the marketplaces before its forceful cessation due to the oppression of Japan in April 1920. Over 2 million people participated in the demonstration shouting “Dongnip Manse (Long Live Korean Independence!)” and attacked the governing buildings of the Japanese Government-General of Korea. More than 50,000 Koreans were arrested by the police.

    The majority of the Korean population participated in the March First Independence Movement despite differences in class and region, as well as differences in age and gender to unify in one spirit. They all gathered to cry out in their yearning for national independence and spread the injustice of Japanese oppression to the rest of the world. This, proving that every Korean strongly desired the establishment of an autonomous nation while under violent threats of the Japanese military, triggered countless numbers of national movements resistant to Japan inside and outside of the country after the March First Independence Movement. In April 1919, when the March First Independence Movement reached its climax in Korea, the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea was launched in Shanghai, China, reflecting the national spirit of the movement. According to the spirit, the government did not aim towards restoring an empire or kingdom but towards building a democratic republic where people became the masters of their own country. Established right after the beginning of the March First Independence Movement, the government guaranteed the rights to freedom, human rights, association, and equality of the Korean people and affirmed the realization of a republican government through which the will of the people is reflected in politics by the provisional assembly. The policy to found a country designed by the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea was a political principle that was not only followed by all independence movement organizations, but has also been succeeded by the country of the Republic of Korea.