Yesterday was March 1st (and it still is 3/1 in America, hence the date on this post), and it was a national holiday. What holiday was it? Independence day… sort of.
I had no clue what the holiday was all about until I consulted the all-knowing Wikipedia for enlightenment. Here are some excerpts from the full Wikipedia entry:
The March First Movement, or Samil Movement, was one of the earliest displays of Korean independence movements during the Japanese rule of Korea. The name refers to an event that occurred on 1 March 1919, hence the movement’s name, literally meaning “Three-One Movement” or “March First Movement” in Korean.
The inspiration for the Samil Movement came as a result of the repressive nature of Japanese policies under its military administration of Korea following 1905. At 2 P.M. on 1 March 1919, the 33 nationalists who formed the core of the Samil Movement convened at Taehwagwan Restaurant in Seoul, and read the Korean Declaration of Independence that had been drawn up by the historian/writer Choe Nam-seon and the poet/Buddhist monk Manhae. Coinciding with these events, special delegates associated with the movement also read copies of the independence proclamation from appointed places throughout the country at 2 PM on that same day, but the nationwide uprisings that resulted were also brutally put down by the Japanese police and army.
Approximately 2,000,000 Koreans had participated in the more than 1,500 demonstrations, many who have been massacred by the Japanese police force and army.
According to the frequently referenced The Bloody History of the Korean Independence Movement (한국독립운동지혈사, 韓國獨立運動之血史) by Park Eunsik, 7,509 were killed, 15,849 were wounded, and 46,303 were arrested. During March 1 to April 11, Japanese officials reported that 553 people were killed with over 12,000 arrested, while 8 policemen and military policemen were killed and 158 were wounded.
Many of those arrested were taken to the infamous Seodaemun Prison in Seoul where they were imprisoned without trial and tortured. Several hundred people were murdered in extrajudicial killings in the “death house” at the rear of the site.
The March 1st movement resulted in a major change in Japanese imperial policy towards Korea. Japanese 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) and was replaced by Saito Makoto. Some of the aspects of Japanese rule considered most objectionable to Koreans were removed. The military police were replaced by a civilian force, and 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.