March first movement

The March first movement was the earliest Korean resistance against the Japanese rule between 1910 and 1945. The name refers to the events that occurred on March 1, 1919 and hence the name. It was also known as San – il movement. Sometimes the movement is also referred as Man – se Demonstrations.

Inspired from the US

The movement was inspired by the “Fourteen Points” that was proclaimed by the US President Woodrow Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. The peace conference was also called the Versailles Peace Conference. It was the meeting of the victorious allied powers of the world war. After listening to his speech, the Korean students published statement demanding freedom from colonial rule.

Events – Causes of the movement

The 33 activists of the movement on March 1 1919 met at Taehwagan Restaurant and read out loud the Korean Declaration of Independence. It was drawn by the historian Choe Nam – Seon. The activists had initially planned to meet at a park. But they chose a private place fearing that the gathering might turn into a riot.

The leaders were arrested for their actions publicly afterwards.

Influenced on the Fourteen points speech of the President Woodrow Wilson the leaders also published grievances and complaints of the Korean people. Some of them were as follows

  • Discrimination – Japanese government employed more Japanese and no Koreans held important positions in the government.
  • Poor quality of education to the Koreans as compared to the Japanese.
  • Mistreatment of Koreans by the Japanese occupiers.
  • The government officials (both Korean and Japanese) were arrogant
  • Laws were changed and new laws were introduced more frequently.
  • Lands were confiscated by the Japanese for personal uses.
  • The resources and labor of Korea were exploited

The declaration was read aloud by a student. As the gathering turned into a procession, the local and military police could not control the crowd. They called in military forces and naval forces to suppress them. This turned into a violence and resulted in Japanese massacres of Koreans. Around 2 million participated and several thousands were killed.

Consequences of the movement

The movement acted as a catalyst for the Korean independence movement. Many Korean leaders were exiled in Manchuria, Shanghai and other parts of China. It also influenced the non violent resistance in India and many other countries. It led to the formation of the Korean Liberation army. It was allowed to operate in China.

The Governor General Hasegawa Yoshimichi took responsibility for the loss of control though most of the repressive measures were taken by his predecessors. He was replaced by Saito Makoto. The military forces were replaced by civilian forces.

International reactions to the movement

The fourteen points included the terms of the US relations with Korea. It spoke about a free and impartial adjustment of all colonial claims. However, Mr Wilson, the then president of the US did not want to challenge the global power relations. As Japan was a victor and Korea was its colony, the status of Korea was not taken for discussion.

The first Korean congress convened at Philadelphia in support of independence of Korea.


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