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1919 in Korea: National Resistance and Contending Legacies

  • Gi-Wook Shin (a1) and Rennie Moon (a1)


This excerpt, written in 1920 by a then seventeen-year-old girl, Yu Kwansun, while imprisoned at Seodaemun Prison, is a powerful expression of Korean national resistance against Japanese colonialism. As a student at Ehwa Haktang in Seoul, Korea, she joined other protesters on March 1, 1919, shouting “Mansei!” (“Long live Korean independence!”), which became the first nationwide protest movement against Japanese rule. After being convicted of sedition, Yu was sent to Seodaemun Prison in Seoul, where she demanded the release of other prisoners and continued to express her support for Korean independence, even organizing a large-scale protest on the first anniversary of the movement. She was transferred to an underground cell, where she was repeatedly beaten and tortured for speaking out. She reportedly wrote the excerpt above before dying of her injuries on September 28, 1920, at the age of seventeen.



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1 Inyoung Kang, “Overlooked No More: Yu Gwan-sun, a Korean Independence Activist Who Defied Japanese Rule,” New York Times, March 28, 2018.

2 Ibid.

3 Shin, Gi-Wook and Sneider, Daniel, Divergent Memories: Opinion Leaders and the Asia-Pacific War (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2016), 65.

4 Chonguk, Hong, “Pukhan Yŏksahak ŭi 3.1 Undong Insik” [The March First Movement in North Korean Historiography], Seoul kwa Yŏksa 99 (2018): 153202.

5 Armstrong, Charles K., The North Korean Revolution, 1945–1950 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2003).

6 Pak Ch'an-sŭng, “Current Issues in the Study of the March First Movement,” Seoul Journal of Korean Studies 2 (1989): 133–45; Gi-Wook Shin, “March First Movement of 1919 (Korea),” in The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social and Political Movements, eds. David A. Snow, Donatella della Porta, Bert Klandermans, and Doug McAdam, 3 vols (Malden, Mass.: Wiley, 2013), 2:710–11.

7 Bruce Cumings, “The Legacy of Japanese Colonialism in Korea,” in The Japanese Colonial Empire, 1895–1945, eds. Ramon H. Myers, Mark R. Peattie (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984), 478–96.

8 Nishi Masayuki, “March 1 and May 4, 1919 in Korea, China & Japan: Toward an International History of East Asian Independence Movements,” Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus 5, no. 10 (2007): 1–8.

9 Peter H. Lee and Yongho Ch'oe, eds., Sources of Korean Tradition: Volume 2: From the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Centuries (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), 337–39.

10 Pak Ŭnsik, Tongnip Undong Chihyŏlsa [Blood History of Independence Movements] (Shanghai: Yusin Press, 1920).

11 Michael Edson Robinson, Cultural Nationalism in Colonial Korea, 1920–1925 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988), 49.

12 Ibid.

13 Gi-Wook Shin and Michael Edson Robinson, Colonial Modernity in Korea (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Asia Center, 2001), 12.

14 Bruce Cumings, Origins of the Korean War, Vol. 1: Liberation and the Emergence of Separate Regimes, 1945–1947 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981).

15 See Hong, “Pukhan Yŏksahak,” op. cit. note 4.

16 On the candlelight protests, see Gi-Wook Shin and Rennie J. Moon, “South Korea after Impeachment,” Journal of Democracy 28, no. 4 (2017): 117–31.

17 Haenganbu (Ministry of the Interior and Safety, Korea), “3.1 Undong Mit Taehanmin'guk Imsi Chŏngpu Surip 100 Chunyŏn Kinyŏm Saŏp Ch'ujin Wiwŏnhoe ŭi Slŏch'i Mit Unyŏng e Kwanhan Kyujŏng” [Establishing the Foundation for Promoting the 100th Anniversary of the Establishment of the March 1st Movement and Provisional Government], January 30, 2018, (accessed June 26, 2018).

18 Masayuki, “March 1 and May 4, 1919,” op. cit. note 8; Shin Yong-ha, “Why Did Mao, Nehru and Tagore Applaud the March First Movement?” Korea Focus 17, no. 2 (2009): 34 (originally published in Chosŏn Ilbo, February 27, 2009); Xu Guoqi, Asia and the Great War: A Shared History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).

19 Masayuki, “March 1 and May 4, 1919,” op. cit. note 8.

20 Shin, “Why Did Mao, Nehru and Tagore Applaud,” op. cit. note 18.

21 Rhee Seung-keun, “March 1st Movement and Its Impact on Chinese May 4th Revolution,” Korea Journal 11, no. 1 (1971): 15–19.

22 Emily S. Rosenberg, “World War I, Wilsonianism, and Challenges to US Empire,” Diplomatic History 38, no. 4 (2014): 852–63, 861.

23 See Erez Manela, “The Wilsonian Moment in East Asia: The March First Movement in Global Perspective,” Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies 9, no. 1 (2009): 11–27.

24 See, e.g., Jawaharlal Nehru, Glimpses of World History (London: Penguin UK, 2004).

25 Xu, Asia and the Great War, op. cit. note 18.

26 Shin, “Why Did Mao, Nehru and Tagore Applaud,” op. cit. note 18.

27 See Shin, Gi-Wook, Ethnic Nationalism in Korea: Genealogy, Politics, and Legacy (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2006).

28 Rhee, “March 1st Movement and Its Impact,” op. cit. note 21, 15.

29 Shin and Robinson, Colonial Modernity in Korea, op. cit. note 13.

30 Manela, “The Wilsonian Moment,” op. cit. note 23, 11.

31 Iriye, Akira, “The Rise of Global and Transnational History,” in Global and Transnational History: The Past, Present, and Future (London: Palgrave Pivot, 2013), 118.



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