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Overlooked No More: Yu Gwan-sun, a Korean Independence Activist Who Defied Japanese Rule

Yu was born on Dec. 16, 1902, the second daughter of five children to Christian parents near Cheonan, in what became South Korea when the peninsula was divided in 1945, after World War II.

She was influenced by her father, who taught her about Christianity and instilled traditional Confucian values of nationalism and civic awareness. Nine members of the Yu family — spanning three generations — were involved in the independence movement.

Yu was an intelligent child who attended a nearby Presbyterian church and memorized Bible verses easily, according to curators at the Ewha Museum in Seoul. An American missionary, Alice J. Hammond Sharp, encouraged Yu to attend the Ewha school to advance her education, something few Korean women did at that time.

Overlooked No More: Yu Gwan-sun, a Korean Independence Activist Who Defied Japanese Rule
Overlooked No More: Yu Gwan-sun, a Korean Independence Activist Who Defied Japanese Rule

The Korean Peninsula came under Japanese military rule three years after Yu was born. It was formally annexed in 1910, the start of a 35-year struggle for independence. Yu would not have remembered a free Korea, and she died long before liberation in August 1945.

The March 1 Movement did not immediately result in Korea’s independence, but it crystallized a sense of national unity and was a catalyst for the resistance. Today, March 1 is a national holiday in South Korea, where the 100th anniversary of the movement will be commemorated next year.

In August 2015, Yukio Hatoyama, a onetime leader of Japan, visited Seodaemun, which is now a national museum.

“As a former prime minister, as a Japanese citizen and as a human being,” Hatoyama said, “I am here today to offer my sincere apologies, from the bottom of my heart, to those who were tortured and were killed here.”

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