3 Things you need to know about Gwangbokjeol (Aug 15), the National Liberation Day of Korea
August 15 is one of the most meaningful days to Koreans. It is Gwangbokjeol, the National Liberation Day of Korea . You can see many Korean national flags “Taegeukgi” hung in the street or on the windows of the houses.
1. Why is Gwangbokjeol so special?
August 15 is the day when Korea was liberated from the Japanese colony in 1945 and also when Korean government was established in 1948 after overcoming the fuss generated from the liberation. On August 15, 1945, Japan declared unconditional surrender and the World War 2 was over, which made Korea restore our own power. Gwangbok means to regain the light, which perfectly describes the restoration of national independence that was lost for 36 years under the Japanese invasion.
2. People who sacrificed their lives for greater purposes.
Many people were suffered and killed during the colonial period. Some voluntarily gave up their lives in exchange of the liberation of Korea. Ryu Gwansun (1902~1920) is the most famous figure who became the symbol of the March 1 Movement (1919) that took a big role in taking back Korea’s independence. She was only a 16-year-old student when she organized the March 1 movement at her home town. In the demonstration on March 1st, her family members were brutally killed by the Japanese soldiers and she was imprisoned. Even though she was locked up in the prison, she continued to declare the liberation of Korea. However, due to the harsh torture that 16-year-old body could not stand, she passed away in the prison.
Ahn Jung Geun (1876~1910) was a Korean independence activist and nationalist who is known for his assassination of Ito Hirobumi, the prime minister of Japan and former Resident-General of Korea back when Korea was about to be colonized by the Japan. He shot Ito Hirobumi and yelled for Korean Independence in Russian, waving the Korean flag. He was later sentenced to death by the Japanese government but his views of pan-Asia, a concept of European Union among Korea, China & Japan were highly praised even by the Japanese.
You can visit Ahn Jung Geun’s memorial hall located in Seoul.
Kim Gu (1876~1949) is another historic figure who cannot be excluded when talking about the liberation. During the Japanese colonial period, he moved to China to establish the provisional government of Korea that worked as the main quarter for the liberation movements. As he was always threatened to be killed by Japan, he had to move to one place to another frequently, but never gave up working for the liberation.
Finally after the liberation, Kim Gu came back to Korea, but Korea was divided into South and North. He insisted on building one single country, instead of two. However, in 1949, one year later after the establishment of South Korean government, he was assassinated by a Korean soldier. There are many political rumors behind his death, but nothing has been proved yet.
3. The place of despair and will, Seodaemun prison.
When people in Seoul were captured for the action that led to the liberation of Korea, they were sent to Seodaemun prison located in Seoul. People who were captured went to court run by Japanese and were tortured brutally in the prison. After the liberation, the prison changed into an educational place to remember how the prisoners under the Japanese colonial were treated inhumanely.
You can learn more about the historical backgrounds of the anti-Japanese struggle and the historical figures during the colonial rule by visiting the Independence Hall of Korea located in Cheonan.