Korean independence movement

The Korean independence movement was a military and diplomatic campaign to achieve the independence of Korea from Japan. After the Japanese annexation of Korea in 1910, Korea's domestic resistance peaked in the March 1st Movement of 1919, which was crushed and sent Korean leaders to flee into China. In China, Korean independence activists built ties with the National Government of the Republic of China which supported the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea (KPG), as a government in exile. At the same time, the Korean Liberation Army, which operated under the Chinese National Military Council and then the KPG, led attacks against Japan.

Korean independence movement
Korean Volunteers.jpg
Korean Volunteers (1938)
Korean name
Revised RomanizationHang'il Undong, Dongnip Undong
McCune–ReischauerHang'il Undong, Tongnip Undong

After the outbreak of the Pacific War in 1941, China became one of the Allies of World War II. In the Second Sino-Japanese War, China attempted to use this influence to assert Allied recognition of the KPG. However, the United States was skeptical of Korean unity and readiness for independence, preferring an international trusteeship-like solution for the Korean Peninsula. Although China achieved agreement by the Allies on eventual Korean independence in the Cairo Declaration of 1943, continued disagreement and ambiguity about the postwar Korean government lasted until the Soviet–Japanese War of 1945 created a de facto division of Korea into Soviet and American zones, eventually leading to the Korean War (1950-1953).

August 15, the date of the Surrender of Japan in 1945, is an annual holiday called Gwangbokjeol ("Restoration of Light Day") in South Korea, and Chogukhaebangŭi nal ("Fatherland Liberation Day") in North Korea.


Before Japanese invasion of KoreaEdit

The last independent Korean monarchy, the Joseon dynasty, lasted over 500 years (from 1392 to 1910), both as the Joseon Kingdom and later as the Empire of Korea. Its international status and policies were conducted primarily through careful diplomatic manoeuvring with the power en vogue in China (during this period of time dynastic control of China saw the end of the Yuan dynasty and the rise and fall of both the Ming dynasty and the Qing dynasty), though other interactions with other international entities were not absent. Through this maneuvering and a dedicated adherence to strict Neo-Confucianist foreign and domestic policies, Joseon Korea retained control over its internal affairs and relative international autonomy though technically a suzerain of the ruling Chinese dynasties for most of this period. These policies were effective in maintaining Korea's relative independence and domestic autonomy in spite of a number of regional upheavals and a number of invasions (including the Japanese invasions of Korea from 1592–98 as well as the First and Second Manchu invasions of Korea).[citation needed]

However, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with the increase of Western imperialism, the weakening of China also made Korea vulnerable to foreign maneuvering and encroachment, both as a target in and of itself and as a stepping-stone to the "larger prize" of China. This period (roughly from 1870 until annexation by Japan in 1910) was marked in Korea by major upheavals, many intrigues, the inability of Joseon Korea and the later Empire of Korea to right itself amidst all of the maneuvering around it by foreign powers, numerous revolts, and other indicators of a turbulent time. By the end of the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895 it was evident internationally that China could no longer protect its foreign interests, much less its own, against its opponents, and that its attempts to modernize its military and institutions were unsuccessful.[citation needed]

Among other things, the Treaty of Shimonoseki that ended the war stipulated that China would relinquish suzerainty and influence over Korea, recognize Korea's full independence and autonomy, and end the tribute system which had linked China and Korea for many centuries. In practical reality, this stipulation implied the handover of primary outside influence in Korea from China to Japan, as Japanese forces had occupied positions in the Korean Peninsula during the course of the war. This paved the way for the Japanese government to tighten its influence on Korea without official Chinese intervention. In 1905, the Eulsa Treaty made the Empire of Korea (Korean imperial status had been established in 1897 to put King Gojong on equal legal footing with his neighboring sovereigns and to fully sever Korea's superficial ties of suzerainty to China) a protectorate of Japan; in 1907, the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1907 stipulated that Korea's policies would be enacted and enforced under the guidance of the Japanese resident general; and in 1910, through the Japan–Korea Annexation Treaty, Japan officially declared its annexation of Korea, a move for which Japan had been preparing for an extended period of time. All of these treaties were procured under duress,[1] and Emperor Sunjong of Korea refused to sign them and considered them illegal and not binding (though he had no real power to oppose its enactment and enforcement).[citation needed]

Notably, both the 1905 treaty (and by extension the 1907 treaty) and the 1910 annexation treaty were declared "already null and void" when the normalization of relations between the Republic of Korea and Japan was negotiated in 1965.[2]

Japanese ruleEdit

The period of Japanese colonial rule that ensued was oppressive to a far-reaching degree, giving rise to many Korean resistance movements. By 1919 these became nationwide, marked by what became known as the March 1st Movement.

Japanese rule was oppressive but changed over time. Initially, there was very harsh repression in the decade following annexation. Japan's rule was markedly different than in its other colony, Formosa. This period is referred to as amhukki (the dark period) in Korean historiography and common parlance in Korea. Tens of thousands of Koreans were arrested by the Japanese colonial administration for political reasons.[3] The harshness of Japanese rule increased support for the Korean independence movement. Many Koreans left the Korean Peninsula for Manchuria and Primorsky Krai in Russia, some of whom formed resistance groups and societies in Manchuria to fight for Korean independence. Koreans also carried out armed struggles against Japanese forces in Manchuria and Korea. In 1919 and 1920s, Korean independence army units engaged in resistance activities in Manchuria, which traveled across the Korean-Chinese border, using guerrilla warfare to fight against the Japanese army. Some went to Japan, where groups agitated clandestinely. There was a prominent group of Korean Communists in Japan, who were in danger for their political activities.[3]

Partly due to Korean opposition to Japanese colonial policies, this was followed by a relaxation of some harsh policies. The Korean crown prince married the Japanese princess Nashimoto. The ban on Korean newspapers was lifted, allowing publication of Choson Ilbo and The Dong-a Ilbo. Korean government workers received the same wages as Japanese officials, though the Japanese officials received bonuses the Koreans did not. Whippings were eliminated for minor offenses but not for others. Laws interfering with burial, slaughtering of animals, peasant markets, or traditional customs were removed or changed.[4]

After the Peace Preservation Law of 1925, some freedoms were restricted. Then, in the lead up to the invasion of China and World War II, the harshness of Japanese rule increased again.[citation needed]

World War II diplomacyEdit

Although the Empire of Japan had invaded and occupied northeast China from 1931, the Nationalist Government of China avoided declaring war on Japan until the Empire directly attacked Beijing in 1937, sparking the Second Sino-Japanese War. After the United States declared war on Japan in 1941, China became an Ally of World War II, and tried to exercise its influence within the group to support Pan-Asian and nationalist movements, which included stipulating a demand of the complete surrender of Japan and immediate independence of Korea afterwards.[5]

China tried to promote the legitimacy of the Provisional Government of Korea (KPG), which was established by Korean exiles in China after the suppression of the March 1st Movement in Korea. The KPG was ideologically aligned with the Chinese government of the time, as independence leader Kim Gu had agreed to Chiang Kai-shek's suggestion to adopt the Chinese Three Principles of the People program in exchange for financial aid.[5] At the same time, China supported the leftist independence leader Kim Won-bong and convinced the two Kims to form the unified Korean Liberation Army (KLA). Under the terms in which the KLA was allowed to operate in China, it became an auxiliary of China's National Revolutionary Army until 1945. China's National Military Council had also decided that "complete independence" for Korea was China's fundamental Korean policy; otherwise, the government in Chongqing tried to unify the warring Korean factions.[5]

Although Chiang and Korean leaders like Syngman Rhee tried to influence the U.S. State Department to support Korean independence and recognize the KPG, the Far Eastern Division was skeptical. Its argument was that the Korean people "were emasculated politically" after decades of Japanese rule, and showed too much disunity, preferring a condominium solution for Korea that involved the Soviets.[5] China was adamantly opposed to Soviet influence in Korea after hearing about Soviet atrocities in Poland since its liberation.[5] By the Cairo Conference, the US and China came to agree on Korean independence "in due course", with China still pressing for immediate recognition of the exile government and a tangible date for independence. After Soviet-American relations deteriorated, on August 10, 1945 the United States Department of War agreed that China should land troops in Pusan, Korea from which to prevent a Soviet takeover. However, this turnaround was too late to prevent the division of Korea, as the Red Army quickly occupied northern Korea that same month.[5]

Ideologies and concernsEdit

Although there were many separate movements against colonial rule, the main ideology or purpose of the movement was to free Korea from the Japanese military and political rule. Koreans were concerned with alien domination and Korea’s state as a colony. They desired to restore Korea's independent political sovereignty after Japan invaded the weakened and partially modernized Korean Empire. This was the result of Japan's political maneuvers to secure international approval for the annexation of treaty annexing Korea.[6][7][8] During the independence movement, the rest of the world viewed what was occurring in Korea as an anti-imperialist, anti-militarist, and an anti-Japanese resistance movement.[9] Koreans, however, saw the movement as a step to free Korea from the Japanese military rule.[9]

The South Korean government has been criticized as recently as 2011 for not accepting Korean socialists who fought for Korean independence.[10]


There was no main strategy or tactic that was prevalent throughout the resistance movement, but there were prominent stages where certain tactics or strategies were prominent.[11]

From 1905 to 1910, most of the movement’s activities were closed off to the elite class or rare scholar. During this time, militaristic and violent attempts were taken to resist the Japanese including assassination. Most of the attempts were disorganized, scattered, and leaderless to prevent arrests and surveillance by the Japanese.[citation needed]

From 1910 to 1919, was a time of education during the colonial era. Many Korean textbooks on grammar and spelling were circulated in schools. It started the trend of intellectual resistance to Japanese colonial rule. This period, along with Woodrow Wilson’s progressive principles abroad, created an aware, nationalist, and eager student population.[9] After the March 1st movement of 1919, strikes became prominent in the movement. Up to 1945, universities were used as a haven and source of students who further supported the movement. This support system led to the improvement of school facilities. From 1911 to 1937, Korea was dealing with economic problems (with the rest of the world, going through the Great Depression after World War I). There were many labor complaints that contributed to the grievances against Japan’s colonial rule. During this period, there were 159,061 disputes with workers concerned with wages and 1018 disputes involving 68,686 farmers in a tenant position. In 1926 the disputes started to increase at a fast pace and movements concerning labor emerged more within the Independence Movement.[9]

Types of movementsEdit

There were broadly three kinds of national liberation groups: (a) the Christian groups which grew out of missionary efforts led by Western missionaries primarily from the United States prior to the Japanese occupation; (b) the former military and the irregular army groups; and (c) business and intellectual expatriates who formed the theoretical and political framework abroad.[citation needed]

Religious groupsEdit

Catholicism arrived in Korea towards the end of the 18th century, facing intense persecution for the centuries afterwards.[12] Methodist and Presbyterian missionaries followed in the 19th century starting off a renaissance with more liberal thoughts on issues of equality and woman's rights, which the strict Confucian tradition would not permit.[13]

The early Korean Christian missionaries both led the Korean independence movement active from 1890 through 1907, and later the creation of a Korean liberation movement from 1907 to 1945.[14] Korean Christians suffered martyrdoms, crucifixions, burnings to death, police interrogations and massacres by the Japanese.[15][16][17][18][19]

Amongst the major religious nationalist groups were:

Military and the Irregular army groupsEdit

Supporters of these groups included French, Czech, Chinese, and Russian arms merchants, as well as Chinese nationalist movements.

Expatriate groupsEdit

Expatriate liberation groups were active in Shanghai, northeast China, parts of Russia, Hawaii, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.[20] Groups were even organised in areas without many expatriate Koreans, such as the one established in 1906 in Colorado by Park Hee Byung.[21] The culmination of expatriate success was the Shanghai declaration of independence.

Sun Yat-sen was an early supporter of Korean struggles against Japanese invaders. By 1925, Korean expatriates began to cultivate two-pronged support in Shanghai: from Chiang Kai-Shek's Kuomintang, and from early communist supporters, who later branched into the Chinese Communist Party.

Little real support came through, but that which did develop long-standing relationships that contributed to the dividing of Korea after 1949, and the polar positions between south and north.

Royalist influenceEdit

The constant infighting within the Yi family, the nobles, the confiscation of royal assets, the disbanding of the royal army by the Japanese, the execution of seniors within Korea by Japan, comprehensive assassinations of Korean royalty by Japanese mercenaries, and surveillance by Japanese authorities led to great difficulties in royal descendants and their family groups in finding anything but a partial leadership within the liberation movement. A good many of the righteous army commanders were linked to the family but these generals and their righteous army groups were largely dead by 1918, and cadet members of the families contributed towards establishing both republics post-1945.

List of notable leaders of the movementsEdit

Before Annexation PeriodEdit

Provisional GovernmentEdit

Edification movement leadersEdit

Leaders who Engaged in Armed StruggleEdit

Military leadersEdit

Religion/Student leadersEdit



Communist leadersEdit

Foreign supportersEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "McKenzie FA. Korea's Fight for Freedom. 1920"
  2. ^ Hook, Glenn D. (2001). Japan's International Relations: Politics, Economics, and Security, p. 491. "It is confirmed that all treaties or agreements concluded between the Empire of Japan and the Empire of Korea on or before August 22, 1910 are already null and void.", p. 491, at Google Books
  3. ^ a b Seth, Michael J. (2006). A concise history of Korea : from the neolithic period through the nineteenth century. Lanham [etc.]: Rowman and Littlefield. ISBN 9780742540057.
  4. ^ Seth, Michael J. (2006). A concise history of Korea : from the neolithic period through the nineteenth century. Lanham [etc.]: Rowman and Littlefield. p. 270. ISBN 9780742540057.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Liu, Xiaoyuan. "Resume China's Korean Connection". Recast All Under Heaven: Revolution, War, Diplomacy, and Frontier China in the 20th Century. pp. 40–43, 45, 48–49, 51–52, 56–57.
  6. ^ ""반일정서 비판하는 보도, 100년전 일진회 합방성명서 닮아"".
  7. ^ "[미리 보는 저리톡] "감정적이고 미숙"…혐한 부추기는 한국 보수상업언론의 속내는?".
  8. ^ "[이범준의 법정&영화]한·일의 복잡한 갈등 보며 곱씹어본다…"국가란 무엇인가"".
  9. ^ a b c d Andrew C. Nahm, ed. (1973). Korea Under Japanese Colonial Rule. Western Michigan University.
  10. ^ Lee (이), Ji-hye (지혜) (2011-08-14). '사회주의 독립운동가' 번번히 유공자 탈락…유족들 불만 팽배. Nocut News (in Korean). Retrieved 2011-09-03.
  11. ^ C. I. Eugene Kim, ed. (1977). Korea’s Response to Japan. The center of Korean Studies Western Michigan University.
  12. ^ "Catholicism in Korea". Tour2KOrea.com. Archived from the original on 15 March 2008. Retrieved 2007-09-20.
  13. ^ "Protestantism in Korea". Tour2KOrea.com. Archived from the original on 12 March 2006. Retrieved 2007-09-20.
  14. ^ "March 1st Independence Struggle" (in Korean). asianinfo.org. Retrieved 2007-09-20.
  15. ^ "제암리 찾은 日기독교계 17인 제암교회서 '무릎 사죄'(종합)".
  16. ^ ""만세 주동자 구출" 日헌병대건물 진입한 54명 집단학살 당해".
  17. ^ "화성 3ㆍ1운동의 두 차례 순사 처단… 제암리 학살로 이어지다".
  18. ^ "[안성용의 정보방] 일제의 최대 만행 '맹산학살'은 왜 모르나".
  19. ^ "[기고] 합천학살사건을 아시나요".
  20. ^ "Encyclopedia of Korean Culture (in Korean)".
  21. ^ Nam, Gi-tae (2007-10-15). "덴버광역한인회-박희병 지사 묘비 제막식 (Denver metropolitan area Korean association holds grave unveiling ceremony for Bak Hui-byeong)". Korea Daily (in Korean). Retrieved 2007-11-28.[dead link]
  22. ^ "Korean National Army Corps" (in Korean). encykorea.aks.ac.kr/. Retrieved 2018-08-23.

External linksEdit