New Horizon; Feb. 8 Declaration of Independence (III)

Korea Times (Seoul, Korea), April 12, 2000 | Go to article overview

New Horizon; Feb. 8 Declaration of Independence (III)


The February 8 Declaration of Independence (2-8 DI) is a forceful, magnificent declaration. It is exemplary in every respect. It eloquently laid out the justifications for demanding the immediate independence of Korea. The ``2-8DI'' marked the starting point of the organized Korean student movement. The distinct and unique characteristics of the ``2-8DI'' was that it was staged exclusively by Korean students studying in Tokyo in 1919. It was a pure, spontaneous student movement grown out of a combative resistance mood against the Japanese annexation of Korea in 1910 through fraudulent means.

The Korean students in Tokyo were liberated from the oppressive atmosphere of the military rule by Governor-general Terauchi in Korea and were separated from conservative family tradition and ties. General speaking, they were from relatively well to do families with a scholarly tradition. They usually finished their middle school course in Korea before they came to Japan. They represented the idealistic elite and were possessed with a Messiah's sense of mission to liberate their country from bondage.

What are the spiritual and intellectual backgrounds of the ``2-8DI'' drafted by Yi Kwang-su? What are the major differences that exist between the ``2-8DI'' and that of the March First Movement (MFM) drafted by Choe Nam-son ?

According to Prof. Kim Song-sik as elaborated on in his ``Brief History of the February 8 Declaration of Independence'' (2.8 Tongnip-sonwon Yaksa), the``2-8DI'' and the ``MFM'' were both rooted in nationalism. However, the former represents militant nationalism to regain the sovereign independence of Korea, while the latter belonged to a humanitarian nationalism.

Therefore, the former stood on a combative stance to fight over obstacles in the way to regain the right for national existence. The latter, on the other hand, was an optimistic stance and described the declaration of independence as a justifiable expression of the principle of coexistence of mankind and consequently its expression was in a moderate tone. It is natural, therefore, that the former ``2-8DI'' represented an uncompromising fighting spirit for national independence and advocated engaging in ``bloody combat to the last drop of blood'' (hyul-jon), while the latter, the ``MFM,'' stood on the principle of peaceful resistance. The former belongs to the liberal nationalism of the 19th century, while the latter, the humanitarian nationalism of the 18th century.

The movement of the Korean students in Tokyo was inseparably geared to the two institutions, namely, the Korean YMCA in Tokyo and the Student Fraternal Association (SFA) or ``Hak- woo-hae''. They constituted two bastions of the student movement in Tokyo. The YMCA offered a place of worship, auditorium and avenue for a wide range of activities, social as well as academic contact, for the Korean students in Tokyo. The SFA was organized as the pivotol organization for coordinating and supervising all the activities of Korean students in Tokyo. Practically all Korean students in Tokyo were enrolled in it. Ostensibly, the SFA started with the objectives of promoting the development of intelligence, moral character and healthy body of the members and to facilitate academic research of the members. …

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