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Spring comes to Seoul

Spring comes to Seoul every year around the end of February, and every year for the past one hundred years it has always come with new hope for the independence of Korea—as yet unfulfilled.

March 1 is a holiday in Korea. It marks the 3.1 (samil) movement for independence, which began on March 1, 1919. Actually, it began on February 8, 1919, with Korean students in Japan issuing a declaration of independence in Tokyo. It spread quickly to every part of Korea. In Seoul, in Tapgol Park, a popular place then as now for people to mull about and enjoy the spring air, on the morning of March 1, hundreds of students gathered together to push for independence. The movement was met by the Japanese authorities with violence and repression.

Tapgol Park February 2018, preparing for Samil Jeol

Seoul on March 1, 1919 from a photo in a Red Cross pamphlet
public domain:

We have photos of these events thanks in part to one of my predecessors, Dr. Frank Schofield, a veterinarian who was a Canadian Presbyterian mission co-worker here, teaching medicine at Yonsei University. He went around Seoul with his camera, recording for posterity the Korean desire for independence as well as the Japanese response. He was also kept busy treating the victims of the crackdown in the mission hospital and Seodaemun prison. Schofield and other mission co-workers made great efforts to bring this situation to the attention of the world, which is a fascinating story in itself.

There is currently an excellent exhibit at Seoul City Hall on Korea’s Independence Movement and Canadians that chronicles these efforts.
I was there last weekend with Catherine Christie (another of my predecessors) and Lee JeongHoon, the editor of Ecumenian.

Although Korea was liberated from Japanese control by allied troops in 1945, the subsequent division of the Korean peninsula into North and South means that the dream of independence was never fully realized. If I have learned anything since coming here to Korea it is how closely connected the issue of Korean reunification is with the dream of independence. This year, being the 100th anniversary, therefore comes at a time of renewed hope.

Last week I saw a second butterfly cross my path: spring has indeed come to South Korea, and with it, new hope for the fulfillment of the dream of 1919.

Photo in a Red Cross pamphlet on the March 1st Movement
public domain:
"Monarch Butterfly" by Mike Baird CC BY 2.0 (altered)

See more of my reflections on the website for the United Church of Canada:
Waiting in Korea