March 1st is a holiday that marks an important moment in Korean history as it truly jump-started a united effort by Korean people for independence. Last year, we commemorated the day by sharing some of this history in our blog; this year, we’re celebrating by sharing some facts that you might not have known about the March 1st Movement.
1. Colonial rule began around August of 1910, and Koreans were under oppression from the Japanese government for about 10 years when Emperor Gojong of Korea passed away.
Rumors circulated that the cause of his death was due to poison administered by Japanese officials, and this incited anger amongst the people of Korea.
2. The reason why the movement began on March 1st was because the 3rd was the funeral of Emperor Gojong and the 2nd was a Sunday.
Military enforcement by the Japanese government was expected to be stricter on the day of and before the scheduled funeral. As a result, the 1st was the best day to gather as many people as possible to voice their dissent.
3. The only assistance that Koreans received from America was from the American missionaries in Korea.
Missionaries had received orders from the headquarters of their churches not to become involved, but with many of their Korean colleagues and students leading the revolution and then being imprisoned by the Japanese, some missionaries assisted Korean activists. One professor at Union Christian College in Pyongyang was arrested and sentenced to six months imprisonment and hard labor for sheltering students who were fleeing from Japanese police after a demonstration.
4. The grievances listed in the Korean Declaration of Independence were highly influenced by American President Woordrow Wilson's "Fourteen Points" speech.
The March 1st Movement officially began at 2 p.m. on March 1, 1919 where 33 activists who formed the core of the Samil Movement convened at Taehwagwan Restaurant in Seoul. Here, they read out loud the Korean Declaration of Independence, which had been drawn up by historian Choe Nam-seon. These grievances were highly influenced by American President Woodrow Wilson's "Fourteen Points" speech, which involved principles for peace that were to be used for peace negotiations in order to end World War I. Prior to March 1st, however, Korea also published and broadcast the complaints so as to be heard by the Japanese people through papers and media.
5. March 1st was planned to be a peaceful movement from the beginning.
The thirty-three activists that organized the gathering purposefully chose to make event a non-physical and non-aggressive movement. Instead of approaching through military and combative means, Koreans aimed to strategically activate social and economic changes whilst under colonial rule.
Although the March 1st Movement ended in violent suppression by the Japanese government, it marked the first time since being colonized by the Japanese that Koreans had come together and united in the name of Korean independence. The March 1st movement also made the difficulties faced by Koreans more visible to the world, garnering attention internationally. The effect of the March 1st Movement would go on to affect later attempts at securing Korean sovereignty once more.