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An Island that Resisted Japan with Blood Was United as One

An Island that Resisted Japan with Blood Was United as One

Posted August. 15, 2005 03:05,   


“The name of the island is tranquil, yet the people of the island are not tranquil; the name of the mountain gathers cranes, yet cranes do not come.”

This is the verse that a loyal patriotic Korean recited during Japanese colonial rule lamenting the loss of the country at Soahn Island, Wando-gun, Jeonnam.

Soahn Island, also known as the island that resisted against Japan, is 20.8km south of Wando. It takes about an hour by boat to reach it. The resistance against Japanese forces was so strong there that the total jail-term of the islanders during 35 years of Japanese rule amounts up to 300 years,

Although the population of the island is roughly 3,800, there are 20 residents decorated with Medals of Merit for the National Foundation, or the most independence contributors out of all the small counties in Korea. Their number almost matches up the Naeap Kim family clan’s number of national merit awardees, which is 27.

A descendant of an independence contributor, Kim Nam-cheon (82), said, “Considering the Naeap clan was a noble family with its grounds in Andong, Gyeongsang Province, the people of Soahn county were commoners living on a small island in Jeolla Province, but they left a big footprint in the history of resistance against Japan.”

Soahn Island is in the way between Mokpo and Jeju Island, so the islanders opened their eyes to the outside world early. They founded private schools and night schools and adopted new education in the 1900s, and illiterates there were almost nonexistent.

The start of their resistance was a lawsuit demanding the return of their land. In 1909, the Japanese turned over the entire land in Soahn county to a kindred of the Chosun dynasty, and the islanders filed a suit to the Seoul District Court. After 13 years of legal struggling, the islanders won the suit, and to celebrate, they collected about 14,000 won (currently about 100 million won) and upgraded Joonghwa Academy into an official school, Soahn Private School.

Patriots from all over the country volunteered to teach at the Soahn School, making it famous as a cradle of anti-Japanese resistance. One example is Lee Si-wan, who worked as the Dong-A Ilbo regional manager. With small and big anti-Japanese news coming from a tiny island that is barely visible on a map, Lee went to the Soahn School and taught students.

Soahn Anti-Japanese Movement Commemoration Project Association Director Kim Won-taek (58) said, “When the Soahn School did not hang the Japanese flag and engaged in other anti-Japanese movements, the Japanese forcefully shut it down in 1927. The ‘Farewell Song’ created by Mr. Lee when the school was closed is still widely sung by local residents.”

Song Nae-ho (1895-1928), from Bija-ri, made Soahn Island a shrine of anti-Japanese resistance. Having graduated from Seoul Joongang School in 1913, he came back and started to teach at Joonghwa Academy at the age of 19. During the 1919 March 1 Independence Movement Day, he led the protests in Wando and created an underground organization called “Ilshimdan” (One Mind Group) and sent his agents to Hwangpo Military School in Guangdong, China.

In all, 88 independence movement activists from Soahn Island worked with Mr. Song. During Japanese colonial rule, some chose the path of nationalism and some chose the path of socialism.

After liberation, Soahn Island became entangled in the conflict between leftists and rightists, and has the painful memory of 270 Soahn residents perishing due the 1950 Bodo League Case. This was a case where people accused of being leftist were punished or even killed. Due to this reason, Soahn’s history of anti-Japanese resistance has not been fairly appraised.

It was in 1990 that the commemoration project began. Residents of the county and started to collect money to set up an anti-Japanese Movement Commemoration Tower and publish a history book. For the first time, back then, Song Nae-ho and 13 others were decorated as independence contributors. With socialist independence movement activists being decorated, county residents are hoping to recover half of the lost independence movement history.

Seung-Ho Jung shjung@donga.com