Yu Gwan Sun Heroine and Martyr – the Pursuit of Freedom and Independence

Yu Gwan Sun (1902-1920) was a heroine of Korea’s Independence movement using non-violent means to protest against the Japanese occupation. She was imprisoned after taking part in the March 1st Independence Movement and was a true inspiration for the whole nation. She died from her abuse & torture at the young age of 17 years.

The ID of a schoolgirl who became the face of a nation’s collective yearning for freedom

Yu Gwan Sun’s History

Yu was a student at Ewha Haktang in Seoul, which was established by American missionaries as the first modern educational institution for women in Korea. On March 1, 1919, Yu and four classmates joined others taking to the streets with cries of Mansei! (Long live Korean independence!). Protest organizers came to Ewha Haktang and encouraged Yu and her peers to join a student demonstration to be staged on March 5, she and her classmates marched at Namdaemun, a gate in central Seoul.

A few days later, Yu returned to her hometown, Cheonan, about 53 miles south of Seoul in South Chungcheong Province, with a smuggled copy of the Declaration of Independence. She went from village to village spreading word of the Samil (literally three-one, or March 1) Movement and rallying local residents to organize their own protests. By early April Yu was distributing homemade taegeukgi, or Korean national flags, and giving speeches calling for independence. The Japanese military police arrived at one of the protests and fired on the crowd, killing 19 people. Yu’s parents were among the dead.

By the time the authorities quashed the protests a few weeks later, an estimated two million people out of a population of 20 million had participated in 1,542 pro-independence marches, according to Djun Kil Kim, author of The History of Korea. More than 7,000 people had been killed, and about 46,000, including Yu, had been jailed. After being convicted of sedition, she was sent to Seodaemun Prison in Seoul where she was repeatedly beaten and tortured for speaking out. “Japan will fall,” she wrote shortly before dying of her injuries on Sept. 28, 1920, at 17.

“Even if my fingernails are torn out, my nose and ears are ripped apart, and my legs and arms are crushed, this physical pain does not compare to the pain of losing my nation,” she wrote in prison. “My only remorse is not being able to do more than dedicating my life to my country.”

Photos taken at Yu Gwan-sun Birthplace near Cheonan, South Korea

A Resistance

In March 2019 the movie, A Resistance was released in South Korea to mark the centennial of the March 1 Independence Movement. There have been several biographic films of Yu in the past, but A Resistance: The Story of Yu Gwan-sun directed by Jo Min-ho, delves deeper into her emotions as she spends her days inside the prison along with other inmates.

I wrote about histories like Yu’s in my book 📖 because we can gain wisdom and courage by acts of bravery by the oppressed against their aggressors. 

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