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March 1st Movement

March 1st Movement
Official name March 1st Movement
Samil Movement
Also called Manse Demonstrations
Observed by March 1, National holiday in South Korea since 1949
Type National
Significance Marks one of the first public displays of Korean resistance during the Japanese occupation of Korea
Date March 1, 1919
March 1st Movement
Hangul 삼일운동
Hanja 三一運動
Revised Romanization Samil Undong
McCune–Reischauer Samil Undong

The March 1st Movement, also known as Sam-il (3·1) Movement was one of the earliest public displays of Korean resistance during the occupation of Korea by Japan. The name refers to an event that occurred on March 1, 1919, hence the movement's name, literally meaning "Three-One Movement" or "March First Movement" in Korean. It is also sometimes referred to as the Man-se Demonstrations (Hangul만세운동; hanja萬歲運動; RRManse Undong).


  • Background 1
  • Events in Korea 2
  • Effects 3
  • International Reaction 4
    • The United States and Korea 4.1
    • Delegation 4.2
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


The Samil Movement came as a result of the repressive nature of colonial occupation under the military rule of the Japanese Empire following 1905, and the "Fourteen Points" outlining the right of national "self-determination" proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference in January 1919. After hearing news of Wilson’s speech, Korean students studying in Tokyo published a statement demanding freedom from colonial rule.

Adding to this was the death of former Emperor Kojong on January 21, 1919. There was widespread suspicion that he had been poisoned, credible since previous attempts (the "coffee plot") were well-known.

Events in Korea

The March 1st Movement monument.

At 2 P.M. on March 1, 1919, 33 activists who formed the core of the Samil Movement convened at Taehwagwan Restaurant in Seoul and read the Korean Declaration of Independence that had been drawn up by historian Choe Nam-seon. The activists initially planned to assemble at Tapgol Park in downtown Seoul, but chose a more private location out of fear that the gathering might turn into a riot. The leaders of the movement signed the document and sent a copy to the Governor General.

The movement leaders then telephoned the central police station to inform them of their actions and were arrested afterwards.

Before the formal declaration, Korea also aired the following complaints to be heard by the Japanese people through papers and media:

  • The belief that the government would discriminate when employing Koreans versus Japanese people; they claimed that no Koreans held important positions in the government.
  • The existence of a disparity in education being offered to Korean and Japanese people.
  • The Japanese despised and mistreated Koreans in general.
  • Political officials, both Korean and Japanese, were arrogant.
  • There was no special treatment for the upper class or scholars.
  • The administrative processes were too complicated and laws were being made too frequently for the general public to follow.
  • There was too much forced labor that was not desired by the public.
  • Taxes were too heavy and the Korean people were paying more than before, while getting the same amount of services.
  • Land continued to be confiscated by the Japanese people for personal reasons.
  • Korean village teachers were being forced out of their jobs because the Japanese people were trying to suppress their heritage and teachings.
  • The development of Korea had been for the benefit for the Japanese. They argued that while Koreans were working towards development, they did not reap the benefit of their own work.

These grievances were highly influenced by ‘‘‘Wilson’s Declaration of the Principle of Self Determination’’’.[1]

Despite the activists' concerns, massive crowds assembled in Pagoda Park to hear a student, Chung Jae-yong, read the declaration publicly. Afterwards, the gathering formed into a peaceable procession, which the Japanese military police attempted to suppress. Special delegates associated with the movement also read copies of the independence proclamation from appointed places throughout the country at 2 PM on that same day.

As the processions continued to grow, the Japanese local and military police could not control the crowds. The panicked Japanese officials called in military forces to quell the crowds including the naval forces. As the public protests continued to grow, the suppression turned to violence resulting in massacres and other atrocities. In one notable example, Japanese police herded the inhabitants of the village of Jeam-ri into a locked church before burning it to the ground, even shooting through the burning windows to ensure that no one made it out alive.

Approximately 2,000,000 Koreans had participated in the more than 1,500 demonstrations, many who were massacred by the Japanese police force and army.[2] The frequently cited The Bloody History of the Korean Independence Movement (Hangul한국독립운동지혈사; hanja韓國獨立運動之血史) by Park Eunsik reported 7,509 people killed, 15,849 wounded, and 46,303 arrested. From March 1 to April 11, Japanese officials reported only 553 people killed with over 12,000 arrested, 8 policemen and military killed, and 158 wounded. Many arrested were taken to the infamous Seodaemun Prison in Seoul where they faced torture, death without trial or due process.

In 1920, the Battle of Chingshanli broke out in Manchuria between exiled Korean independence fighters and the Japanese Army.


The March 1st Movement provided a catalytic momentum for the Korean Independence Movement. The ensuing suppression and hunting down of activists by the Japanese resulted in the expatriation of Korean leaders into Manchuria, Shanghai and other parts of China where they continued their activities. The Movement was a catalyst for the establishment of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in Shanghai in April 1919 and also influenced nonviolent resistance in India and many other countries.[3] The Korean Liberation Army was also subsequently formed and allowed to operate in China by the Nationalist Government of China. The movement also saw a rise in mobilization of Catholic and Protestant activists as well as activism mobilized in the U.S., China and Russia.

The Japanese government reacted to the March 1st Movement by heightening its suppression of dissent and dismissing the Movement as the "Chosun Manse Violent Public Disorder Incident" (朝鮮萬歲騷擾事件). Governor-General Hasegawa Yoshimichi accepted responsibility for the loss of control (although most of the repressive measures leading to the uprising had been put into place by his predecessors) and was replaced by Saito Makoto. The military police were replaced by a civilian force, and limited press freedom was permitted under what was termed the 'cultural policy'. Many of these lenient policies were reversed during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II.

On May 24, 1949, March 1st was designated a national holiday in South Korea. General General Choe Hong-hui dedicated the first of the three patterns (삼일 틀 – Sam-il teul) trained by III degree black belts of taekwon-do to the Sam-il Movement.

International Reaction

The United States and Korea

President Woodrow Wilson issued his Fourteen Points in January 1919. The points included… in terms of US relations with Korea, ‘a free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims.’ [4]

However, as manifested at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, Wilson was not interested in challenging global power relations. Since Japan was one of the victors, a discussion of the status of Korea was inappropriate.[4]

In April 1919, the US State Department told the ambassador to Japan that "the consulate [in Seoul] should be extremely careful not to encourage any belief that the United States will assist the Korean nationalists in carrying out their plans and that it should not do anything which may cause Japanese authorities to suspect [the] American Government sympathizes with the Korean nationalist movement."[5]


Japan violently suppressed the March First Movement, and true to its word, the United States remained silent.[4] Despite this, representatives were chosen to go and represent Korea’s interests at the Paris Peace Conference. Dr. Rhee (representing Hawaii), Rev. Chan Ho Min (representing the West Coast) and Dr. Henry Han Kyung Chung (representing the Midwest) were selected but never made it to Paris due to visa problems and the fear that the delegates may not be allowed to reenter the United States.[6]

A delegation of overseas Koreans, from Japan, China, and Hawaii, did make it to Paris. Included in this delegation, was a representative from the Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai, Kim Kyu-sik (김규식).[4]

After considerable effort, he managed to arrange passage with members of the Chinese delegation to the peace conference, making the trip with a Chinese passport and under a Chinese name in order to evade the Japanese police. The Chinese, of course, were eager for the opportunity to embarrass Japan at the international forum, and several top Chinese leaders at the time, including Sun Yat-sen, told U.S. diplomats that the peace conference should take up the question of Korean independence. Beyond that, however, the Chinese, locked in a struggle against the Japanese themselves, could do little for Korea.[7]

However the United States did not pay any substantial attention to them, and the delegation was blocked from official participation due to the status of Korea as a Japanese colony.[8]

The failure of the Korean nationalists to gain support from the Paris Peace Conference ended the possibility of foreign support.[9]

See also


  • Cumings, Bruce. Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History. New York: W.N. Norton and Company, 1997.
  • Han, Woo-keun. The History of Korea. Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 1988.
  1. ^ Eugene Kim (ed.), ed. (1977). Korea’s Response to Japan. Western Michigan University. pp. 263–266. ;
  2. ^ March First Movement - Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c d Hart-Landsberg, Martin (1998). Korea: Division, Reunification, & U.S. Foreign Policy. Monthly Review Press. P. 30.
  5. ^ United States Policy regarding Korea, Part I: 1834-1941. US Department of State. pp. 35–36. 
  6. ^ Chang, Roberta (2003). The Koreans in Hawai’i: A Pictorial History, 1903-2003. University of Hawaii Press. P. 100.
  7. ^ Manela, Erez (2007). The Wilsonian Moment. Oxford. P. 119-135, 197-213.
  8. ^ Kim, Seung-Young (2009). American Diplomacy and Strategy Toward Korea and Northeast Asia, 1882-1950 and After. Palgrave Macmillan. P. 64-65.
  9. ^ Baldwin, Frank (1972). The March First Movement: Korean Challenge and Japanese Response. Columbia University.

External links

  • Full text of Samil Proclamation of Korean Independence
  • Further explanation including Japanese actions and photographs
  • Torture Murder of a Teenage Girl, Yu Kwan-soon
  • The Jeam-ri Massacre
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