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[Op-Ed] Feb. 8 Independence Declaration

Posted February. 08, 2009 07:19,   


“We, the Chosun Youth Independence Association, solemnly pledge to achieve the nation’s independence in front of all countries around the world that won justice and freedom, on behalf of the 20 million Korean people.” Korean freedom fighter Geunchon Baek Gwan-soo read the declaration of independence at a rally of 400 Korean students at the auditorium of Chosun YMCA in Tokyo on Feb. 8, 1919. The declaration reverberated through the heart of Japanese colonialism and jolted the Japanese government. It was prepared by an association of Korean students studying in Japan after realizing that the principle of national self-determination advocated by then U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was applied to defeated countries in World War I only.

Prior to this, the association held a speech contest at the same venue in January to firm up their commitment to independence and selected 10 representatives to spearhead the movement, including Choi Pal-yong, Kim Do-yeon, and Baek Gwan-soo. The representatives set up the Chosun Youth Independence Association, drew up a “petition to convene a rally and the declaration of independence,” and sent Song Gye-baek to Korea and Lee Gwang-soo to Shanghai on a secret mission. After sneaking into Korea, Song informed Hyeon Sang-yun and Choi Rin of their plans and delivered the draft of the declaration to Song Jin-woo, Choi Nam-seon and Sohn Byeong-hee, who were preparing a separate nationwide independence movement.

The rally was dispersed by Japanese police and the 10 representatives and other 27 Korean students were arrested. Their brave act, however, helped trigger the May 1 Independence Movement. The Chosun YMCA building, the venue of the rally, is said to have been in an area in Nishi-Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. But the area has turned into a boulevard and the new YMCA building for ethnic Koreans was built in 1980, some 500 meters away from the original place. YMCA Korea is reportedly pushing to erect a monument in the original place. Officials in the organization, however, have differing opinions on where the exact place was.

The Patriots and Veterans Affairs Ministry in Seoul said in a 2002 report, “The former Chosun YMCA is assumed to have been located in Nishi-Kanda, a little away from the existing building.” This means even the ministry doesn`t know where the place is. A ceremony for the 90th anniversary of the declaration was held yesterday at the YMCA Korea in downtown Seoul, but it’s disturbing to know that the venue of the historical event remains unidentified. Given this, it comes as no surprise that plenty of maps and Web sites describe the “East Sea” as “Sea of Japan.”

Editorial Writer Park Seong-won (swpak@donga.com)